The first double takes came when Chicago’s fast-rising Chance the Rapper brought out Justin Bieber in the early afternoon. The decision was perplexing but alternately emblematic of the new Coachella. As the festival has sought to retain its indie cred, it’s also reinvented itself a desert oasis for superstars to party, network, and quaff over-priced wine in the VIP section.
What’s interesting is how that’s allowed for unlikely connections between cross-generational artists. During Friday night’s set, OutKast mentioned that both Prince and Odd Future enfant terrible Tyler, the Creator were watching from backstage. And on the final night of the festival, baby-faced British deep house revivalists Disclosure conscripted help from original RB queen bee Mary J. Blige.
At a festival that’s seen its share of would-be divas, gifted vocalists, and indie-pop flagbearers, Blige floored the crowd. Performing “F for You” in a black leather vest and matching short skirt, Blige reminded the world why she’s one of the most soulful and dynamic singers of the last 20 years. She scrambled onstage like a young Tina Turner, reaching the recesses of the massive field with her booming but agile voice.
Disclosure’s two young British brothers also towed out guests Aluna George and Sam Smith, who proved that the Coachella crowd was almost as responsive to meticulous house grooves as bludgeoning bass. The latter was provided by Calvin Harris, whose main-stage set at 7:30 might as well have been the official headlining performance, judging from the crowd’s manic euphoria.
Over the last half-decade, the Scottish-bred DJ has done everything from ironically claiming to invent disco to creating a decidedly un-ironic fusion of dubstep, rave, and Top 40 pop. Crowd whispers intimated that Rihanna might come out to perform their collaborative smash, “We Found Love.” It never happened, but the crowd lost their collective minds anyway. Maybe it was the drugs, which it seemed that most were on—at least if you believe that it’s possible to connect MDMA usage with glowstick body armor. Harris’ music is as unsubtle as snuff porn, but for a wired audience, he tapped into their desire for relentless stimulation and ceaseless bass drops.
Then there was Drake, who couldn’t withstand the temptation to seize the limelight—especially not when his semi-rival, Jay Z already stole headlines on Saturday night. He and Jhene Aiko did a duet of their “From Time,” and sealed it with a lingering hug and Drake telling the crowd, “this is my first time at Coachella and it’s a motherfuckin’ honor to be here with you tonight.”
The most surprising of the rarefied guests might’ve occurred during the Arcade Fire’s marathon finale. For ostensibly no reason other than “why not,” the Canadian indie rockers brought out Deborah Harry to perform her Blondie hit “Heart of Glass.” It was a moment that united the disparate generations onstage and in the field, exhibiting Coachella’s pinpoint ability to walk the line between nostalgia and novelty.
Otherwise, Arcade Fire was ruthlessly efficient in supplying big-tent indie rock and mating Bruce Springsteen and The Talking Heads with the Merge Records catalog. They might not be remotely as iconic as those rock legends, but they retained a broad power and giddy energy, despite frontman Win Butler’s proclivity for stating the obvious. He dressed like a rhinestone cowboy while riffing on how much the VIP section sucked—which is kind of like bemoaning Godzilla for being too insouciant with Tokyo’s real estate. But songs from Funeral and the best of their last two records offered evidence why they’ve become the best arena-rock band to break out of the mid-aughties indie-rock bubble.
This was merely the abridged version of Sunday’s event: Beck delivered one of his most kinetic sets in years, eschewing newer material for a greatest hits litany from “Loser” all the way to the falsetto-soul workout “Debra.” Little Dragon helped ensure that Coachella’s funk quotient was filled, and earlier in the evening, Lana Del Rey displayed why she’s one become of the most polarizing artists of the last half-decade.
Offering torch ballads for the Instagram era, she’s perfected the debauched-Barbie aesthetic; her voice carried well deep into the field and her fanatical audience clung to every affected word. Love or hate her, there was a clearly haunting quality to the music. Few artists are more adept at acting so affected and disaffected at the same time. — Jeff Weiss