This year, I’m attending Coachella for the first time. I’ve been to other festivals in different parts of the world; Glastonbury, Phoenix, Reading and Donington in England, Riot Fest in Denver, Movement in Detroit, to name a few. They’re all different; they all have their own quirks. And I’m told that Coachella 2018 is a very different beast from that which was born in this desert valley back in 1999. Whether that’s a good thing or not is subjective, but there are so many bands performing over the seven stages (more if you count the various houses and parties), that there really is something here for everyone.
In advance of the festival, I was offered all kinds of advice, and numerous warnings. It is, they said, fucking hot. They’re right. Writing between bands in what feels like a oven is challenging. The lines to get wristbands and then to get in, not to mention the traffic, are an ordeal, made worse when the gates were 90 minutes late opening.
No complaints, though; this thing is phenomenal. First impressions are that the effort they put into the design of the in-tent stages is far more impressive than in Britain. The Sonora Stage in particular, with the graffiti-adorned walls and floor, is spectacular. I’m told there are 125,000 people here, but the festival spread over such a large space that it feels relatively clear when moving from stage to stage. This is a blessing.
First band I caught was Pvris on the Gobi Stage, opening with Lynn Gunn sitting at the piano and singing the delicate opening part to “Heaven,” all lush and melancholic, before the chorus kicked in and the crowd went, if not wild, then significantly untamed. Gunn is a tremendous frontwoman, and a supremely talented multi-instrumentalist. The crowd was all hers as she switched between keys and guitar, allowing the gorgeous sea of pumping, atmospheric electro-pop to wash over them. With hooks that won’t quit, a voice that soars and an overwhelming feeling that the band is about to break big, Pvris provided an early but much-needed shot of adrenaline.
Over at the aforementioned Sonora Stage, L.A.’s The Marias weighed in with their own brand of jazzy dream-pop. Maria herself sways hypnotically onstage as her bandmates provide the subtle melodies. There’s an element of French pop about the set, while Maria’s vocals simultaneously take in Portishead, Kate Bush and ’60s R&B. There are no bass drops here, no bangin’ tunes. This is music to relax to and, with the sun blasting outside, it was very welcome.
Greta Van Fleet are from Frankenmuth, Michigan, and, if anyone has ever been to Frankenmuth, they’ll know how strange that is. About 90 minutes outside of Detroit, the place is known for its year-round Christmas store, and the German restaurants. So the fact that this hard-rocking band of brothers were birthed there is weirdly wonderful. They catch some stick for sounding like Led Zeppelin, and they inarguably do sound like Led Zeppelin. But really, why give a shit? More importantly, the guys can shred, singer Josh Kiszka can fucking wail, and the songs stick in the head long after they’ve left the stage. There aren’t too many hard-rock bands on the Coachella bill this year (X Japan and A Perfect Circle might be the only others), but the Mojave Stage tent was full for these guys. More next year, please.
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The Regrettes, another L.A. band and cover stars in this week’s L.A. Weekly, have a quirky indie-pop-punk vibe that blends with elements of ’60s girl groups like The Ronettes. The fact that “Surrender” by power-pop veterans Cheap Trick blasted out before they took the stage is telling; verses that build to anthemic choruses are this band’s bread and butter. The Sonora Stage (quickly becoming my favorite area at the festival) wasn’t heaving for this set, but the fans who were there were rabid. The Regrettes are not typical Coachella fare nowadays, but they certainly brightened my day.
Over on the main stage, Vince Staples simply laid waste to a clearly ecstatic crowd. Making his second Coachella appearance, Staples wasn’t about to squander his cherry spot on the bill, pacing like a caged tiger from the opening line of “Get the Fuck Off My Dick” (“Get the fuck off now, get the fuck off my dick”). Surrounded by TV screens with images of twerking, boxing (pretty sure it was Ali), news reports of Martin Luther King Jr., and so much more beaming down on Coachella, Staples proved that he’s now in the hip-hop premier league.