Festival Review: Coachella 2014

photo credit: Mekael Dawson

photo credit: Mekael Dawson

By: Eden Frost
Coachella 2014
Indio Valley, CA
18-20 April, 2014

While the weekend may be over, the memories and musical vibes from Coachella 2014 aren’t going anywhere. Three days of amazing artists, people and effervescent energy all together in one place keeps Coachella on a level of it’s own, and this past weekend was another one for the books.

Lit up by the hot sun and the contagious smiles of festival goers, Indio’s Empire Polo Club geared up for its second weekend of the legendary music festival. Fresh off the hype and excitement from weekend one, Friday came in with a bang. Jagwar Ma, Grouplove, Ellie Goulding and Broken Bells were some of my favorites leading up to OutKast’s headlining act that night.

Jagwar Ma’s electric tribal beats were exactly what I was expecting. They had the crowd in Gobi tent in a collective trance-like sway with tracks like “What Love” building up the beat and the crowd’s energy at the same time. Seamlessly transitioning from song to song, the end of their set seemed like one great progressing track leaving listeners with the perfect head bob to carry on around the festival and to their next shows.

I made my way to main stage to see Grouplove, whose crowd was enormous, much larger than their debut at the festival two years ago. It is always fun to go back to an artist from years before and remember when they nervously took the stage and thanked people for coming out to hear them, and now see how far they have come. While they still made sure to play their catalyzing hit “Tongue Tied,” Grouplove now had fans singing along to nearly every word of every song. It’s in crowds like this that you can’t help but feel excited and have an amazing time, which is exactly what happened when Ellie Goulding came on after.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Goulding’s performance was one of my favorites from Friday, and the entire festival. The sun may have been setting, but the crowd’s energy was at an all time high. She took the stage showcasing both her beautiful voice and personality. Clearly excited and humbled to be playing for such a large and excited crowd, she exceeded my expectations. She covered the basis of her hits “Lights”, “Starry Eyed” and “I Need Your Love” and did a really passionate and charged performance of “Anything Could Happen.” She worked the stage, asking the crowd to excuse her “dorky” dance moves and cast such a happy mood on everyone as we all danced and watched the orange sky dim and cast silhouettes of the beautiful mountains.

As I headed over to the Outdoor Stage for Broken Bells, I heard the chords to my favorite track “The Mall & Misery.” Lead singer James Mercer (front man for The Shins) projected his alluring vocals into the crowd and singing the lyrics “let your mind go” commanded everyone into a state of pure musical bliss. Laying back on the grass and looking up into the night sky, “The High Road” and “Vaporize” were two other tracks that stood out in the indie rock group’s wonderful set.

Highly anticipating OutKast’s headlining set for the night, I was eager to decide for myself whether or not they still had it. One of the downsides to hitting up the festival’s second weekend is all of the criticism and expectations that come up after groups have their first set of shows. After hearing mixed reviews about OutKast’s performance the previous weekend, it was clear that those people were either missing what I saw, or the group stepped it up for this performance. They definitely catered to their more old school fans, focusing on a heavily rap based performance, not going into their more mainstream hits till later on in the show. Everyone was thrilled when they started to play “Hey Ya” and everyone was up shakin’ like a polaroid picture throughout the song. As my friend’s and I maneuvered through the crowd to get going, the opening piano chords to “Roses” made us stop, laugh and sing along through the chorus and our first day was closed on a solid note.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Saturday’s sun was burning bright and Bear Hands was first on my schedule. The Mojave tent was a good place to start the day with some shade and great music. The New York band had a decent crowd for such an early set time, and it was clear why. Their indie rock sound and punk vocals give an interesting balance with some electronic notes and I’m hoping to see them back in a few years at one of the main stages.

I was most excited for the next band on my list, Foxygen, who was performing at the Outdoor Stage. Their recorded sounds encompass major 60s vibes with some electric twists, powerful vocals slightly reminiscent of Mick Jagger, and a psychedelic sound that keeps me listening to more and more of their songs. However, their performance wasn’t quite the same. Lead singer Sam France seemed to be channeling some sort of Iggy Pop persona prancing around the stage half dressed in golden leather pants and stopping to talk in between tracks, making a bit of a fool of himself. The stage was full of energy with three dancers (who were poorly synchronized) moving to the sounds of “On Blue Mountain” and “Waitin’ 4 U” and while the Los Angeles duo was definitely trying to leave a lasting impression on the audience, their image detracted from their music. I’m hoping it was the heat of the day, or the hype of Coachella, that got to them because I still caught glimpses of their talent and creativity and hope the next time I see them they’ll have the kinks worked out.

Another band I was really looking forward to was Temples, and this crew didn’t disappoint. Back at Mojave tent, the crowd spilled out of the white top and everyone was really feeling the Britpop vibes and dream-like sounds of this psychedelic English band. Their live performance was even better than their recorded tracks and “Keep In The Dark” was definitely my favorite from their set list. With the steady drumming and aaaah-ing vocals, everyone stomped and shook along with this new band. It was hard to believe they just formed in 2012 and I am definitely looking forward to more album releases and shows to come from this highly praised band as they get a few more years under their belt.

Ty Segall, Warpaint, The Head and the Heart, MGMT, Foster the People and the Pixies kept me busy the rest of the day and each act kept getting better and better.

Ty Segall and The Head and the Heart rocked the Outdoor Stage. Segall showcased his own singing and songwriting skills as well as covering some classic rock hits like Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” at the end of his set. He has an impressively developed sound for such a young artist and has a really soulful and classic rock sound to his 26 year old voice.

Things mellowed out a couple hours later with The Head and the Heart as the band filled the golden skies with their airy folk-rock music. There is such a sweet sound that comes from bands that showcase both male and female vocals. This Seattle band definitely has that figured out and does a great job of harmonizing and balancing softer sounds with a powerful follow up, crafting a really mellow and beautiful performance.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Back at the main stage, MGMT drew a huge crowd of people looking forward to their electric feel. The band had an incredible visual show to go along with their charged performance. Lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden sported a GoPro capturing on stage antics as well as glimpses of the crowd that were projected onto the side lining screens in distorted filters and colorful frames. As the sun set and the sky grew darker, the bright colors of the hallucinatory lights grew more and more vivid and the audience got louder and louder, singing along to “Kids”, “Time to Pretend” and of course, “Electric Feel.”

Another band that killed it with their light show was the indie-pop band Foster the People. Rays of electric green lights flooded the sky and the pulsing lights and music could be seen and heard throughout the festival. Fresh off the release of their second album, Supermodel, the band was excited to bust out some of their new hits but still covered a decent amount of  their debut album Torches in the first part of their act before I left. As expected, everyone was up on his or her feet and singing along to the band’s biggest hit “Pumped up Kicks”, but my favorite was “Call It What You Want” that blasted from the stage as I headed over to Pixies. Black Francis is still killing it after all these years and gave a crowd pleasing and charged performance of “Wave of Mutilation” to the overflowing audience crowded around the Mojave tent. The band rounded out their set with a slowed down take of their hit “Where is My Mind?” that was a little awkward for people singing along. It is always important to artists to keep reinventing some of their greatest hits during live performances and deliver what the fans want on their own standards but this version could have been better by sticking with the original arrangement.

Saturday night definitely saw the largest crowd for the festival and with a sea of gridlocked music fans, a while till the later headlining acts, and full day on Sunday, I headed out of the festival early that night catching glimpses of Sleigh Bells and Queens of the Stone Age on my way out. Friends had nothing but good things to say about Pharrell’s performance at the Outdoor Stage and the captivating light show and dancing at Sahara tent for Skrillex later that night.

Day three came up way too fast and despite my dust caked lungs and tired feet I was geared up and ready for the final day’s artists. Flight Facilities, Neutral Milk Hotel, Little Dragon, Lana Del Rey, Beck and Arcade Fire and a ride on the ferris wheel filled up Easter Sunday and brought the festival to an amazing close.

Jeff Mangum, lead singer of the indie-rock band Neutral Milk Hotel, kept to his priorities of a raw and live musical performance and shut the side screens of for the band’s show. Wanting people to focus on the music and enjoy it in the moment is something important to Mangum and while he still partakes in the large scale and widely popular festivals he does so on his terms. The band’s heavy lyrical content and material is balanced out by their folksy rhythm and calming rock sounds and NMH fans were definitely pleased by this Sunday evening performance at the Outdoor Stage.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Catering to a very different sound is the electric and synthetic pop band from Sweden, Little Dragon, who played at Mojave tent. After having seen them perform a few times in the past, I was pretty excited for their unique pop instrumentals and lead singer Yukimi Negano’s absolutely enchanting voice, but was slightly disappointed by this performance. It could have been the overflowing crowd or overly loud amplification of the electric-pop sounds, but something seemed muddled at this performance for a group that’s usually super spot on.

After hearing pretty horrible reviews of her performance last weekend, and knowing her reputation for lousy live shows, I was pleasantly surprised when Lana del Rey took the Outdoor Stage. The beautiful singer continued to profess her appreciation for her fans and while that sort of detracted from her stage presence, everyone’s favorite “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” were comparable to her successful recorded versions.

Main Stage was the place to be the rest of the night and I was so stoked on Beck’s performance. When I saw him at Outside Lands a couple summers ago, his voice and stage presence were totally lost in such a large venue. However, his performance Sunday night was one of my favorites from the weekend. Mixing in his top hits (“Where Its At” and “Debra”) and covering other artists from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, The Black Keys and even sampling some of the upcoming artist Arcade Fire, Beck gave an awesome show, keeping people dancing even after three very tiring days.

The grand finale for the night was Canadian band Arcade Fire, who has headlined the festival in the past. They started off with a lot of energy and excitedly announced that they wanted to bring out some guests. The joke was on us as everyone cheered for whom they thought was Daft Punk (often rumored to be the surprise guest at many shows) taking the stage with the indie-rockers as “Get Lucky” started to play. Despite the hoax, the band gave a great performance and was a great end to an amazing weekend.

Many of the bands that took the stage the past couple of weekends are keeping up with lots of following tour dates and making appearances at upcoming festivals (such as Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta this May, Sasquatch in Washington, Chicago’s Lollapalooza and Outside Lands this august in San Francisco.) So in case you missed out on the desert festivities, there are plenty of chances to get some stage time with your favorites. Till next year, Coachella! Thank you for another amazing weekend!