By the third day of Coachella, you hit a sort of wall. Between the sun, the lack of sleep, and, in some cases, the illicit substances, the festival certainly does a number on your mind and body. The crowds are slower to arrive on the grounds, and there’s a general laziness that pervades as people look for shady places to lounge in between bands, no longer having the energy to frolic about from stage to stage with the same enthusiasm.
But you’ve got to give Goldenvoice credit—they certainly know how to turn the ante up, stacking the last day with must-see bands and bringing the rock harder than on any of the other previous days with acts like OFF!, Death From Above 1979, Chromeo, Lightning Bolt, HEALTH, Ratatat, Best Coast and The National. Followed by a one-two punch of The Strokes and Kanye on the main stage to close out the weekend. There was so much to see, I hardly knew what to do with myself.
Death From Above 1979
One of the shows I was most looking forward to was Death From Above 1979, whose triumphant musical return after disbanding in 2006 worked fans into such a frenzy, they allegedly caused a riot at their SXSW show a month prior (apparently there were cops onstage and a horse got punched in the face? At least, that’s the story according to Sebastien Grainger, lead singer/drummer). It would seem that the time off has done the band a world of good—they’re sounding better than ever and the Coachella crowd they played to on Sunday had to have been one of the largest they’ve ever performed in front of. It’s good to see that their loud, chunky, synth-heavy brand of dance-punk still gets the kids moving, and while there weren’t any riots at their Coachella performance, the crowd surfers certainly kept the security guards occupied.
Duck Sauce at the Sahara Dance Tent
The sun had just set when the powerhouse DJ duo of Armand Van Helden and A-Trak, collectively known as Duck Sauce, took the stage at the Sahara Tent. Both members are well-established DJs and producers in their own right, with A-Trak being a co-founder in Fool’s Gold Records, so it seems as if Duck Sauce is their opportunity to let loose and have some fun, producing such absurd but catchy tracks like the unlikely hit, “Barbra Streisand.” The band’s silly sensibilities translate to their live show in the form of a giant blow-up duck positioned next to their DJ perch and hundreds of duck bill masks donned by the crowd.
Despite their good-natured tunes and antics, I think what struck me most about the performance had less to do with the music and more to do with the visuals Muti Randolph’s installation, Mirage, was enveloping the crowd in. The grid-like panels of LEDs suspended just above the audience displayed minimalist, abstract patterns flashing in time to the music. Muti and his team decided to use the audio-input as a way of generating reactive visuals, ensuring that the music and its corresponding light display were gloriously matched and in sync with one another, creating an immersive experience unlike any other. The panels, which stretched the entire length of the tent, gave the outdoor setting an architectural, club-like feel that momentarily transported the crowd out of the desert and into what could have been any one of the world’s hottest clubs.
Since I was already wearing my dancing shoes, I headed over to catch Ratatat. After getting off to a bit of a slow start, they delivered a solid set of their guitar-driven electronic dance tunes to an enthusiastic crowd. Every time I see Ratatat I’m reminded how, despite their electronic leanings, at the heart of it all, these guys are really a rock outfit. Evan Mast and Mike Stroud wouldn’t look out of place in any metal band with their scraggly long hair, beards, and the expert way they wield their axes, so it always comes as a bit of a surprise to see these guys craft songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mixtape alongside the likes of Daft Punk or The Chemical Brothers.
Kanye’s performance was to be the crown jewel that would close out this epic three-day festival of music and self-indulgence, and I can think of no better finale. If there’s one man who knows how to put on a spectacle, it’s Kanye. I mean, come on, the man showed up on a crane lift in the middle of the crowd, then walked onstage like a boxer entering the ring to take the heavyweight title. Keeping in line with the visual aesthetic set up in his 35-minute music video for Runaway, he was joined onstage by dozens of feather-clad dancers in beige leotards, performing a routine that would have made Twyla Tharp proud.
Between the fireworks and the ballerinas that closed out the night, Kanye definitely delivered on his legendary showmanship, but the one disappointment was the lack of highly anticipated guest performers (it was rumored that Rihanna, who had been spotted around the festival days prior, would be joining him onstage). Nevertheless, his hour-and-a-half long set of hits new and old definitely left the crowd with the high they were looking for.