Drake headlined Coachella, but like poor Justin Bieber, the intense crowds during his weekend-closing set meant that my wristband wasn't elite enough to get me any closer than this to seeing his face without the mediation of the on-field megascreens.
Coachella wrapped up the first of two back-to-back festivals last weekend, drawing around 100,000 people to the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California, for three days of music, art installations, and so much people-watching. It's possible that this year's topliners (Drake, Jack White, AC/DC) didn't inspire the same level of home-mortgaging frenzy to acquire wristbands on the secondary market as last year's more pop-adjacent Outkast reunion, but the combination of less crowding, perfectly decent desert temperatures, and an absence of a surprise guest appearance from a dust storm made for an incredibly enjoyable festival weekend. Some photos of the bands, crowds, and scenery below.
For Interpol's Friday-night main-stage performance, Paul Banks ditched the band's usual staid dress code in favor of something more desert evening appropriate.
These kids, however, were saving all of their enthusiasm for AC/DC.
...and with Angus Young sporting a red velvet shorts suit, who can blame them?
Lykke Li serenading the Mojave tent on Friday
Somehow Caribou sound even more amazing in person than on their immaculate records, but live drums over electro is one of my top five musical weaknesses.
It's Todd Terje Time! Is this what meth feels like?
FKA twigs thrilling the Gobi tent on Saturday night.
Father John Misty (Saturday night, Outdoor Stage): Remember when this charismatic troubadour was a guy named Josh Tillman who played the drums for Fleet Foxes?
Jamie xx deployed military-grade vibrations that made me intensely grateful that all Coachella wristbands came with complimentary acoustically decent earplugs. (Sunday, Gobi)
Conor Oberst, with reunited Desaparecidos, calling for his own deportation via T-shirt and raging against the insanity of lush green golf courses in the middle of a desert during a drought.
So stoked for the return of Desaparecidos.
Not infrequently, you'll decide to check out some band you've never heard only to be astounded to learn that they're so wildly popular that kids would trample their own best friends to get a better spot to witness a buzzy hit song being performed. For me, this year, that band was Glass Animals, and that song was "Zaba."
...and then there's the thing where you find out that a beloved local band is internationally huge. This year, that band was Odesza. Getting anywhere near their Sunday-night set was a study in fortitude, but seeing them open their set with help from the USC marching band made for a real Coachella Moment.
Just look at the blissful effect of Odesza's chillest vibes
Of the many amazing things about Jenny Lewis, one of the most friviously wonderful might be the attention to detail that is a color-coordinated wine bottle.
Ryan Adams hauled his entire rec room of nostalgic kitsch on stage for a Sunday golden hour set.
Annie Clark, the always unmissable St. Vincent. (Sunday, Outdoor Theater)
Even though I never managed to find enough time to stand around long enough to decipher the ongoing class-struggle plotline, this three-story helicopter-topped corporate hippopotamus headquarters (an upgrade from a previous year's small power station), situated at an auditory confluence point of three stages and irregularly emitting low drones and animal noises, may have my favorite performance of the whole festival. Even better: The hippos are apparently available for parties. For the first two days, this giant robot caterpillar roamed the grounds. Despite the [actually pretty successful!] ban of selfie sticks from the grounds, it remained a popular spot for self-portraits and using the absence of "NARSISSTICS" as an excuse to trust strangers with your camera for a minute.
When the caterpillar transformed into a giant rainbow-winged butterfly on Sunday morning, though, the real selfie swarming truly began.
Coachella Kids Corner:
Watching shows from atop someone's shoulders is generally inadvisable in polite society, but is somehow more charming and acceptable when it's a kid doing it.
This girl has already attained a more elite level of festival status than any of us will ever dream of achieving.
This festival is bananas.
A Report from the Front Lines of the EDM Tent
I think the last time I visited the Sahara tent was way back in the dark ages, when it hosted bands like LCD Soundsystem and Kraftwerk. Since then, the "tent" has been massively upgraded into a giant illuminated aircraft hangar that's a magnet for Coachella's parallel-world EDM contingent.
People at the front of the tent are super happy even before the music starts...
...and every drop, a happiness multiplier (this is during David Guetta's closing set; the Black Eyed Peas apparently stopped by later).
Although, at least once during the weekend, Goldenvoice seems to put a major EDM act on the mainstage just to make sure that everyone from the Sahara tent is still capable of traversing the grounds. This is when I learned that I was in the 0.001 percent of attendees who couldn't have correctly answered the question "What is a Kaskade?" I'm terrible at estimating crowd sizes, but it seemed like he was the only one to rival Drake for sheer number of people lined up at the mainstage all weekend.
Among the many improvements to the festival grounds this year—including much-hyped general admissions area real bathrooms (not pictured)—Coachella stepped up its already strong concessions game with a craft beer emporium, contributing to a general sense of "making room for grown-ups" in a large "terrace" area slightly away from the high-traffic corridors surrounding the stages. This, along with a long list of vendors, bars, snack shops, and restaurants (a few of which took app-based reservations) remind you that festival foods don't need to be terrible, overpriced, and uninspired.
This is only about 30 percent of the people who were watching Drake close the festival on Sunday night. At one point during his set—which started 20 minutes late, enough to go through a burn book of other hiphop and R&B hits—Drake took a seat on a plain metal chair, ceding the stage to a surprise appearance from Madonna, who danced around him during her medley. When she ended the set with an awkwardly passionate kiss, Drake looked genuinely surprised, but that may have been some of those old Degrassi-honed acting chops on display. For most of the rest of the night, though, he held the stage down on his own, selectively deploying his "hundreds of hits" to comply with his own mother's special preshow request to "go on that Coachella stage tonight and... kill that motherfucker."
Did you make it to Indio or watch online? Which, if any, artist killed it harder? Starting Friday, Coachella will get the bands back together and do it all over again to find out who can kill it the hardest. Unlike last weekend's YouTube free live streams (which let me listen to the last few songs from Drake's set while still beating the traffic out of the dusty parking lots), you'll either need a wristband to catch the festival in person or a cable package with AXS.tv to follow the action from home.