Hey Coachella fans, this is going to be a much shorter review of the annual festival than I usually do, primarily because I just didn't like Coachella 2017 all that much...but a lot of that has to do with my own mindset going in and then negative stuff happening once there (one of my children was among the reported pick pocket victims) that basically led to a three-day festival experience full of interruptions and unfortunate meet-up timings/locations with friends that led to watching way too many sets from beer gardens and distant locations.
So rather than complain on and on and call out the dud performances, of which there were several this year, I'll just highlight the sets that did make a positive impression on me, with one or two exceptions, and move on.
But first, a few words about the massive expansion the festival underwent this year...which to my mind ended up delivering an equal mix of good and bad.
On the positive side, with the expanded grounds, sound bleed between the stages, particularly the main and outdoor stages, has been significantly reduced. It's still a problem between the outdoor and the Mojave (which swapped spots with the Gobi this year), but by-and-larged, way better. Also, despite selling an additional 20,000 plus tickets this year, crowding wasn't an increased problem when moving around the grounds...the added space did absorb the numbers.
But on the negative side, not enough was done to accomodate the added numbers from a food/amenities standpoint - expect much longer lines during peak hours at most food canteens, and an additional downside, it feels like over-21 sponsors had too much say in the new layout. Most charging stations and other 21st century day-to-day festival necessities were move mostly inside the beer gardens, leaving the under twenty-one crowd with fewer options for phone charging locations, water stations, and food.
But by far the worst aspect of the grounds expansion was the increased distance between stages - which really changes how one most attack the festival and reduces how many sets one can realistically attended, especially if your a grazer who likes to catch 15-20 minutes of as many sets as possible. Despite a less than fantastic sound system, the new punk/garage/latin music oriented Sonora tent was cool - fun graffitti design to its interior, air conditioned, with couches and bean bags available for those luck enough to snag them, but it's so far removed from the outdoor/Mojave/Gobi you need to plan at least 15 minutes travel time back and forth.
All this said, even with the larger crowd numbers, 2017 was not a 2010-like clusterF***. As has been the trend in recent years, overcrowding was really only an issue at the biggest mainstream electronic, Hip Hop and teeny-bopper pop sets of the weekend, and crowds continue to get smaller and smaller each year for most of the festival's rock-oriented acts.
If you want to get a good seat for Hans Zimmer, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Kendrick Lamar and the other hip hop and club oriented electronic artists get to their sets early, otherwise you are fine showing up just before start.
Now on to those band's that made a positive impression. I've labeled those that were particularly strong with a DON'T MISS for Weekend 2ers.
Dudda Tassa & The Kuwaitis
- Radiohead's travel mates opening act for the entirety of their current US tour, The Isreali-based collective of Arabic musicians performing Iraqi music kicked off the fest with a pleasant and engaging international feel.
DON'T MISS - Klangstof
- The Dutch/Norwegian art rock outfit delivered on of the first day's best early hours sets with a collection of slow burning, passionate Sigur Ros/Radiohead inspired songs.
DON'T MISS - Stormzy
- I skipped this set for rock options, but my hip-hop obsessed children all attended and felt this was actually one of the weekends very best rap shows.
DON'T MISS - Preservation Hall Jazz Band
- My top set of Friday. These champion's of the classic New Orleans sound were positively on fire early Friday. If I had moved in closer early for this set, rather than watching first two-thirds from beer garden, could see this being my favorite set of entire weekend. Loads of fun, think twice about skipping this set.
King Gizzard & The Lizzard Wizard
- Fans will mostly likely love this set as band was in super high energy mode front-to-back for their late afternoon week 1 performance...but the extremely repetitive nature of their music does wear thin after a while - definitely try to catch, as they are the most rocking at on Friday's lineup, but don't worry about catch their full 50 minutes - see any 15 minutes of their set and you've basically seen it all.
- Not sure the main stage late afternoon was best spot for this new agey electronic artist, but his internationally accented, new-agey music was appealing enough.
- A lot of attendees hated this first ever American performance by the legendary Australian DJ act, but I found it to be high energy and a lot of fun. Not as good as Father John Misty though, which is a problem as all those great Since I Left You Tracks
came late in the Week 1 setlist after start of FJM's set.
DON'T MISS - FATHER JOHN MISTY
- possibly the best sounding set of the weekend, FJM pulled more older material into his Coachella set than he has been on his recent tour promoting his dark, misanthropic new album Pure Comedy...and that's a good thing. But backed by a 10-12 piece orchestra, this was a big, nuanced set. Could have used more stage banter, something FJM is typically celebrated for, but given how dark the Pure Comedy material is, I understand why FJM choice to mostly stay silent between songs.
- While still a very quite, subtle band, The Xx have added a layer of dynamics to more recent material, and those classics from their fantastic 2009 debut still pack a lot of punch. A chill set, but worthwhile.
- The second of many mood-oriented electronic shows I took in over the weekend, this was an atmospheric but pretty low energy set. Worthwhile, but skip if your in the mood for something that really pops.
DON'T MISS - Radiohead
- Yes, the sound completely dropped out on Radiohead three times during the first third of their show, killing three songs - Ful Stop, 15 Steps, and Let Down - midflight. But the legendary art rocks kept their composure and delivered a solid set filled to the brim with over a dozen of their beloved numbers in addition to the excellent Moon Shaped Pool material. If they can avoid the sound problems on their second go-around - don't be surprised if this is the very best set of all of Weekend 2.
DON'T MISS - QUITAPENAS
- a lively, talented latin act out of Long Beach, CA well versed in a number of south-of-the-border and African genre's - this was one of the best dance parties of the weekend and definitely a stand out in the new Sonara Tent lineup.
- For those needing a Robyn/Madonna fix, this young UK electro-popper was probably the closest thing in the 2017 line-up and put on a spirited show.
- Can't say I loved their music, a somewhat cheesy blend of new wave and Springsteenish bar band tropes, but as performers this band, and especially their frontman, were first rate, giving it their all. One of the weekends best and only bets if you are looking for bar band flavored rock.
- Not a positive review here - despite her monster 2016 hit Your Best American Girl I found this to be a very low key monotonous singer-songwriter set and not nearly at the level of the edgy standard set by the PJ Harvey, EMA, Torres artists she seems to want to be considered in the company of.
DON'T MISS - Floating Points Live Set
- for my money going in (if you're not counting Hans Zimmer), the best of the many primarily instrumental electronic acts on this year's lineup, and their set confirmed that belief. Be sure to get their early as Silhouettes, their best track on record and live, was their show opener.
DON'T MISS - Kaleo
- Didn't see this Icelandic, Black Keys like blues/soul outfit - but everyone of my friends there with me at the festival who did raved about their set.
DON'T MISS - Car Seat Headrest
- As I assumed going in, Car Seat was kinda ragged live in a Japandroids/Cloud Nothings way, failing time and again to deliver many of the instrumental and vocal nuances on their fabulous 2016 major label debut Teens Of Denial
, but this was still one of the hardest hitting, most forceful rock sets of the weekend - especially the opening double whammy of Vincent
and Fill In The Blank.
- most attractive band, male or female, at the 2017 fest - the Atomics, hands down - a brother/sister quartet, all for of the family members also models, they are all incredibly easy on the eyes, but surprise, the also play an infectious straight-forward brand of punk-pop that never feels out of style.
Two Door Cinema Club/Tycho/Moderat
- I caught a good portion of all three of these acts around the next act I will mention who was a weekend 1 exclusive - but none made a very strong impression even though Moderat fans seemed to love their set. I didn't.
George Clinton and Parliament/Funkedelic in the Heinken Dome
- A weekend one only feature, my friends and I got in for second half of George's two hour set and it ended up one of our favorites - could barely see the band through the crowd on the tiny unelevated stage, but the band was rocking, closing out the portion of the set I saw with an extended version of We Got The Funk
! It was awesome.
- Another big stage, New-agey instrumental electronic set that just like Bonobo had a huge crowd. These guys were decent, though from my far back vantage point after coming late from George Clinton wasn't able to get too into their set, but they are a little more post-rock than Bonobo or Floating Points, so if you like this general style of music, but want a little more flair/punch, I'd go with these guys.
- This set was a favorite of many over the weekend, but I must have missed most of the fireworks, because after the opening twenty minutes or so, most of which was eaten up by an impressive but lengthy opening buildup, I felt I had gotten enough from this set and moved on.
- I'd call this a don't miss except most of the rap fans in attendance felt Schoolboy Q who went on twenty-five minutes before Bon Iver on the Outdoor theatre was one of the best hip hop sets of the weekend - so you'll need to make a choice here, but Bon Iver was excellent - as good in terms of dynamics/sound/elevating his material as he was in his magical 2012 set, but not quite as good, because the material he was working from this time, 90% from his latest album, isn't as strong as the material from his first two albums that dominated his 2012 set. Still, if you want a textbook lesson in maximizing the sonic possibilities of the Coachella Main Stage - this is the set to see. No one right now elevates his/her material in a live performance better than Bon Iver.
- Thumbs down for me on the set for this exciting South American DJ/Producer who also moonlights as half of the rock/electronic hybrid DARKSIDE. I only caught the first half of this set, which was bogged down by a tedious fifteen minute atmospheric but otherwise lacking introduction before the first song fit in proper. Might have felt better for me earlier in the weekend, but after absorbing all the slower/moody electronics of DJ Shadow, Floating Points, Bonobo, Tycho and Moderat already - I just wasn't in the mood for another slow building/primarily instrumental electronic set. Word is it got much better in it's last twenty minutes, but I was long gone by then, having split for the start of....
DON'T MISS - Lady Gaga
- surprise, surprise - though not much of a fan of her recorded work - I have to give credit where credit is due - this gal is a tremendous singer and live performer who poured everything she had into each moment of this set, leading to what I felt was the strongest of all the headliner sets. Much more rock oriented than the bulk of her more R&B/pop driven mega-peers (Beyonce, Rihanna,Katy Perry) this was a show that ended up appealing to a wide range of listening tastes. It wasn't as freaky or as costume change driven as say her recent super bowl show, but it was a major production nonetheless.
- I didn't stay for long as my kids were getting tired, but if your in the mood for some creepy, John Carpenter-styled synth-rock, definitely check out this horror soundtrack outfit that's gained so much notoriety for their scoring work on the hit series Stranger Things
Overall, Sunday was my favorite day of the fest 11-6pm, and my least favorite day of the week in the evening hours.
- One of the top post-punk acts of the last few years, these Canadians who last year went by the name of Viet Cong (which itself was built primarily out of members of the even edgier, now-defunkt garage-rock outfit Women) possess a very difficult, acidic sound that won't please many but while delight a smaller portion of those in attendance. I like a lot of their material, especially the Viet Cong, tracks, so it was a thrill when they unleashed Bunker Buster for the first time on tour in a long, long while. Like Car Seat Headrest, the live renditions of their songs loses a lot of the nuances of the album, but also like Car Seat Headrest, this was still an impassioned show, and the bands drummer may be the best I saw all weekend - he's and absolute force.
DON'T MISS - Ezra Furman
- While I admit there's a very difficult complete overlap with jam band Pond...I would highly recommend going with the snarkier, more indie, but still rocking Furman, who delivered my favorite set of the weekend. Opening with a 4 song blitzkrieg of his liveliest early material, Furman then bit the hand that feeds him, taking on AEG head Philip Anschutz, who is rumored to have financed anti-LGBTQ organizations (though none of these claims have been genuinely substantiated), and then, with that said, the band then settled into their less explosive but so good and humorous mid-tempo material of 2015's awesome Perpetual Motion People
. Furman was overflowing with personality throughout the show, and the band's backing vocals were surprisingly first rate for an act with such a throwback saloon-type feel.
DON'T MISS - Lee Fields & The Expressions
- This year's standout old time soul act was fully on point for the small portion of their main stage set I was able to catch betweeen trips to the Outdoor Theatre.
- Born of the ashes of Chicago's glam-pop act Smith-Westerns, the more folksy, alt-countrish Whitney put on a charming if somewhat light on fireworks midday set. If you like a band trying to recapture some of the sounds of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass - this would be a good act to catch.
DON'T MISS - Toots & The Maytals
- this all-time, now 75-year-old reggae great has lost more than a step or two, but he's still got a hell of a voice when he chooses to serve it up, and in the moments in between in his joyous mainstage set got the crowd into a number of fun call and response moments. While not nearly as sharp as Jimmy Cliff was a few years back - this is still the set to catch during this time slot.
- This was my first time ever seeing Banhart, and while the Aught's freak-folker wasn't great, there was an appealling chill vibe to most of this set and the band sounded fantastic. Highlights included fan favorite Long-Haired Child and the closing number, for which Banhart brought out Nirvana Bassist Krist Novocelic to rip things up - on accordian. Novocelic actually acquitted himself quite well.
- One of my favorite acts of the last few years, while still quite good, this was not one of Future Islands best sets. They are just not a band meant for bigger stages, which rob frontman Sam Herring of some of his singing right to you small venue power. Another drawback, the new Far Fields
material, even though sounding exactly like their older material, doesn't cut through like those Singles
and In Evening Air
tracks. Thankfully, two-thirds of their set was dedicated to older songs. But again, if you haven't seen Future Islands, definitely go week 2, but get up close. If you have already seen before, I might skip - I find it unlikely given the stage they are on that this will top what you've seen before.
- I skipped out of Future Islands a little early to catch one more Sonora act and was glad I did. While their sound was quite muddy, tons of spirit to this rock ensemble with three lead singers, and a punkish cover of The Rolling Stones Dead Flowers towards the end of the set was to die for.
DON'T MISS - Hans Zimmer
- Feel bad for T.S.O.L because the reunion for that little remembered but important early LA Punk band goes head to head against one of the best sets of the weekend. But the call here is easy - go with Zimmer - and get there early to get a good slot, as his orchestra isn't fully mic'd and the sound drops of in patches around the outdoor stage quickly as one moves back. But just an epic collection of reknown movie sound track moments - thought they could have done more with the visual aspects of the show, but the music on it's own was more than enough.
- Sporting a straightened out hair-do and a sleek glittery pant suit, this was a sexed-up pop star Lorde compared to the teenage every girl that played the outdoor theatre, but she still managed to connect big-time with her youthful fan base and boy, has she improved as a liver performer. Probably the biggest positive surprise of the weekend for me...I had no interest in seeing her again, was dead set on Real Estate into New Order, but my son talked me into joining him to stake out a good spot for Kendrick. So yeah, this 51-year-old saw Lorde again. Some may have been turned off by her chattiness between songs, but I felt it was fairly endearing, and liked the weird glass cage on mounted pedastals that was utilized in various ways throughout her production.
- I am in a significant minority here. Most attendees seemed to have loved Kendrick's closing headliner set just two days after dropping latest album DAMN!, I was really disappointed. Some of it had to do with the set list - as much as I admire Kendrick for his rapping skills, his thoughtfulness, and his conceptual daring, I've never felt he is an elite beat maker on par with Kanye, Dr. Dre, Ghostface Killah, The Bomb Squad or the rap royalty of eras past, so for Kendrick to leave two of Pimp Your Butterfly
's hard hitting tracks - Blacker The Berry
- for a heavier smattering of material from the just released new album was disappointing and frankly a poor substitute. Then there was giving up fifteen minutes of his already brief 70 minute set to Future, Travis Scott, and Schoolboy Q to perform hits they had already performed in their own shows earlier in the festival. And finally, throw in the fact that despite being a forceful rapper, Kendrick just doesn't exude much personality, and you end up with a show that despite a first rate production design, (including dubbed interstitial Kung Fu movie spoofs), just wasn't all the exciting for me with the exception of 5 knock your socks of minutes of King Kunta. Even with Radiohead's audio problems, this was without question my least favorite of the three headlining sets.