Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 12:52 pm | Partly Cloudy 69º


Paul Mann: Coachella Opens with Music That Rocks — But Long Lines That Don’t

Coachella Los Angeles Azules Click to view larger
Los Angeles Azules, one of Mexico’s most famous music groups, opens Coachella 2018 on the main stage. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The first day of Coachella 2018 began as a frustrating experience for many. The biggest Coachella ever suffered from growing pains that taxed every corner of the infrastructure. Hourlong lines greeted people at will call. There was another 90-minute wait to get on the shuttle. Then, there was a 30-minute trek through security before finally entering the massively expanded festival grounds. Once inside, there were long lines for bathrooms, food, drinks and even identification checks to buy drinks.

Most everyone at the festival looked dazzling, dressed in their best festival fashions. It is amazing how many high school and, for that matter, junior high school kids have the $500 it cost just for a ticket to Coachella. Then, there are the $12 craft beers, $14 dumplings and $15 hamburgers. Coachella 2018 resembles Disneyland during a holiday weekend more than the Coachella of past years. In fact, that is the best way to describe what Coachella has become — a theme park of music festivals. Even a 62-year-old music fan could marvel at the infrastructure from a quiet corner in the beer garden while sucking on a $16 top shelf whiskey.

There was a perfect view of the Sahara electronic music stage. The former tent stage has been transformed into a massive metal orb, complete with state-of-the-art multimedia visuals. The main stage continues to expand, looking more like the one-off Desert Trip festival that Coachella's promoters produced in 2016 and purported to be the most massive stage ever assembled for a concert. The massive sound system stretches for nearly a mile, from front to back of the main stage. As dusk falls, the gargantuan stages light up with multimedia, surrounded by colossal art installations, creating a surreal electronic city. The gleaming festival sits on polo fields, surrounded by the spectacular mountains and palm trees of the California desert, painted in soft hues by the desert sunset.

Despite mainstream pop, headline acts installed to lure the masses, the one constant of nearly 20 years of Coachella is the quality of the live music. With almost 300 performers stretched across eight stages over three days, the lineup is chock full of indie music acts from across the globe, sure to offer up something for nearly every musical taste.

The opening lineup was full of quality music. Coachella always attracts a large contingent of music fans from Mexico, so it was fitting that the first band to play the main stage was one of Mexico’s most famous music groups, Los Angeles Azules. The 18-strong musical ensemble performs traditional Latin cambia music. The music took a rock turn when the traditional band was joined by surprise guests, including the electro-pop band Kinky and glam rocker Jay de la Cueva from Moderatto. The latter led the group in the final song draped in a Mexican band, triumphantly sounding a bit like Spanish pop superstar Manu Chao.

Some of the best bands at Coachella that almost nobody saw:

The beauty of Coachella has always been discovering new bands and, even with 125,000 fans moving in a multitude of directions, music fans could walk right up to the front of the stages of performers going up against the more well-known headline acts. PVRIS rocked an early set in the Gobi tent to a minimal crowd. The Massachusetts indie rockers fronted by lead singer Lynn Gun played a rock-drenched set, rare at this year's Coachella, for the lucky few.

The newest and smallest venue at Coachella, the Sonora tent, became an indie music sanctuary in every sense of the word. The air-conditioned enclosure is kept pitch black except for the stage and offers a great place to escape the desert sun. With a lineup of exciting new indie bands, the venue offered up great tunes throughout the day into early evening. The venue never got crowded because of the lack of headline acts, which suited all who relaxed inside, sprawled across the floor. The Marias, a Los Angeles “psychedelic-soul” band, played a well-received early afternoon set fronted by charming lead singer Maria. According to their Facebook page, “This time last year we were playing at a pizza parlor. And yesterday we played at Coachella!”

Greta Van Fleet was one of the few rock bands to garner a big crowd at Coachella 2018. While most of the millenia crowd gravitated to EDM and hip-hop artists, the young Michigan rock band attracted the masses. The band, boosted by multiple mentions from Led Zeppelin icon Robert Plant, does have some striking similarities in sound and style to that legendary band.

Swedish singer Leon attracted a much smaller crowd in the Gobi tent, as the sensual 24-year-old performer came up against a brilliant desert sunset that seemed to attract the masses to the outdoor art installations.

Early evening saw one of the few hip-hop shows not swarmed by millenials when French rap duo The Blaze played the Gobi tent. They had the misfortune of going up against California rapper Vince Staples on the main stage. Staples was joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, wowing a massive crowd.

Most of the massive crowd stayed put in front of the main stage as a delayed set by SZA also included a collaboration with Lamar as well as Tennessee rapper Isaiah Rashad. SZA was catapulted to fame when the neo soul singer was nominated for Best New Artist at last year's Grammys and with her collaboration with Lamar.

The crowd pretty much stayed in place in front of the main stage all the way through to the final act, The Weeknd. While the golden-throated innovative singer performed with massive multimedia backdrops, the set felt a bit anticlimactic. The performer has played Coachella before and nearly every other music festival, relentlessly touring after the past several years. Playing his hits early and bringing out no special guests like the previous performers, many in the crowd headed for the exits by the second half of the set.

Not surprisingly, the hidden gems of Coachella's Friday lineup could be found scattered about the festival during the main stage closing hip-hop marathon. Almost no one saw the fascinating set of Dreams in the Mohave tent. The band had the distinction of being the first band ever to play Coachella without ever having released any recorded music. The band is a collaboration of Australian musician Luke Steele, famous for his work in Empire of the Sun, and Australian rocker Daniel Johns, most well known from the band Silverchair. The view from the front of the stage was that of a few hundred people watching the show in awe of the glam rock performance. The set included neo-psychedelic visuals, sparkling parachute pants, fur coats and bare skin. The flamboyant performers seemed to be giving the nod to the large LGBTQ community in nearby Palm Springs. The festival has wisely continued the tradition of booking bands prevalent in the gay community, offering up yet another layer of diversity in the multimusical and culture palette of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival.

Another LGBTQ-friendly performance was presented to a small crowd in the Gobi tent while the hip-hop marathon continued on the main stage. Seattle-based art rocker Mike Hadreas, better known by his stage name Perfume Genius, turned in a charismatic performance. About 200 people watched, wearing special glasses provided by the band that created an aura around the performers and turned light sources into glowing hearts. A brilliant indie band backed the young performer with multilayered rock sounds. The flamboyant singer turned in an excellent set marked by bombastic dance and vocal changes, creating an electrifying performance.

The incredible performance of the first night of Coachella 2018 was another set that almost no one at the festival saw. As the masses pressed toward the main stage for The Weeknd, the final set of the night on the Outdoor stage featured one of the godfathers of electronic music, Jean-Michel Jarre. As the set began in the chilly desert night, music fans could walk to the very front rail of the second-largest stage at the festival. Jarre may be the most significant live music star in the world, garnering crowds of more than a million people for his legendary performances. The show was essentially the same one he assembled for his first mini tour of the United States last year. But the unique multimedia presentation created by Jarre looks all the more remarkable in the open desert air.

While his set began with a small audience, that didn't stop Jarre from presenting a spectacular show. Flanked by two talented musicians, each playing drums and keyboards, Jarre appeared on a platform in front of myriad keyboards. Multiple layers of LED light walls began morphing around him, creating a multidimensional vision of lights and graphics. Huge lights and myriad-colored lasers also were incorporated into the show — all carefully choreographed to the music. The result was a spectacular display that rivaled anything seen in the massive EDM installation in the Sahara venue. In fact, the giant EDM music festivals, so reliant on large-scale visual presentations today, owe their evolution directly to Jarre’s original live performance vision. Jarre became known to the pop music world back in 1976 with his breakthrough electronica album, Oxygene. He was a pioneer of the genre along with Giorgio Moroder from Italy and Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream in Germany. But what made Jarre unique among his peers was his vision of live performances with gigantic state-of-the-art multimedia displays unmatched in the concert world.

Jarre showcased new music from his two-part LP Electronica alongside classic material from breakthrough albums such as Oxygene and Equinoxe. One of the only political moments of the first night of Coachella came during the song "Exit." Jarre dedicated the song to his friend Edward Snowden. Large media clips of Snowden were played during the song espousing the public's right to privacy from government oversight. Later in the set, on the song "Conquistador," Jarre broke into an electric guitar solo showcasing his rock talents. Jarre even played an iPad on the song "Immortals," late in the set.

But the most spectacular performance of the evening came during the last song of the standard set, "The Time Machine," when Jarre played the laser harp. As large green lasers shot straight into the desert night sky, Jarre donned special gloves and played the rocketing beams like strings on a harp.

Weekend two of Coachella begins Friday. Perhaps more people will catch Jarre’s magnificent set.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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