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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 5:00 am | Fair 55º


Paul Mann: Coachella Makes History with McCartney

Legendary Beatle helps bring out the stars for the ninth annual desert festival

The 10th annual Coachella Music & Arts Festival got under way Friday in near perfect weather in Indio. Since the festival expanded to a three-day event several years ago, there has been enormous pressure to come up with ever more popular and unique headliners to fill the Empire Polo Club fields with music lovers. Although the festival is built around the idea of mostly alternative dance music and avant guard acts, festival promoters always add a trump card to attract the masses. It was hard to see how they could top superstar Prince and Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd extravaganza last year, but they succeeded by inviting Paul McCartney to perform a rare U.S. concert, and one of his first festival appearances.

First, however, there was an entire day of masterful musical performances. From young, new and unique electronic music stars to legendary performers, it was impossible to take it all in. With five stages of music, the Do Lab performance artists, and a myriad of other activities, Coachella can at times be overwhelming. But the festival is so well designed, it is always easy to move about.

Some of Friday’s highlights included a truly legendary singer, Leonard Cohen. With a unique, deep haunting voice, and a masterful band of musicians, his performance was eloquent. Eighties pop sensation Morrissey, played a set on the main stage, which surely made his fans happy, sprinkled with hits from his original the Smiths‘ True to form, he stuck to his usual schtick, growling with outrage at “The smell of burning flesh,” wafting from the food stands. A militant vegetarian, he scoffed, “What is that horrible smell of burning flesh. I hope that its human”. He also found it necessary to rip off his shirt, as he was so famous for in the ‘80s, when he was 40 pounds lighter and 25 years younger. As usual, the Sahara tent was on fire with young dance fans gyrating feverishly to electronic music, including an explosive headline set by Crystal Method. They even had a pair of robots appear on stage, who turned out to be LAMFO. The rapping duo turned the packed tent into a dancing frenzy.

But the real story was legendary Beatle, McCartney.

The music blogs were rampant with skepticism over whether this 1960s-generation pop star could generate enough excitement to win over a much younger dance-oriented audience. But Sir Paul proved to the officially sold-out crowd that he was worthy of five generations of hype. In what may have been the longest concert McCartney ever played in the United States, he performed with a precision band of rockers and a massive light and sound stage show for nearly three hours. Gigantic vertical jumbotrons projected his smiling face across the field crammed full of thousands of fans. A huge horizontal video screen in the middle of the stage projected psychedelic animations, customized for every song he sang.

The Coachella Music & Arts Festival attracted enthusiastic crowds throughout the day.
The Coachella Music & Arts Festival attracted enthusiastic crowds throughout the day. (L. Paul Mann photo)

McCartney turned the evening into a joyous celebration with an intimate connection to his audience. Sharing his English humor and wit, he bantered with the crowd time and again, exploring historical anecdotes and showering admiration on his fans. His set list included songs from nearly 50 years of music making. It was an emotional but celebratory McCartney who dedicated much of the night to his departed love ones. He sang a song for his late wife, Linda, who died 11 years to the day Friday. He played songs rarely in his normal touring repertoire, especially for the festival, including an awesome version of “A day in the life”, which morphed into John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” He paid tribute to John on several occasions. Then he played an acoustic version of the Beatles hit, “Something,” on a mandolin that George Harrison had given him and taught him how to play. Switching to electric guitar, he even paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix by playing some of his explosive riffs.

The masterful band jammed on several occasions, proving they were all consummate musicians. Then the encores began, well after midnight. I actually lost count of how many there were, but I remember at least seven, including “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Get Back,” “Lady Madonna,” “Yesterday,” Helter Skelter,” “Sgt. Pepper” and “The End” medley.

Coachella made history on this evening in the desert, since McCartney has recently nixed the idea of a world tour to spend more time with his young daughter, and may never play such an intense set of music again. For most of us who were there, it was the closest we will ever get to seeing a Beatles concert, and will remember it always. Well done, Sir Paul.

Click here for a slideshow of Day One.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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