David Byrne; Tyler, the Creator; Alvvays and Other Great Coachella Day 2 Sets That Aren’t Beyonce
Beyoncé’s performance to cap off Coachella’s second day was so spectacular that it nearly rendered the 125,000 attendees amnesiac to anything that had come before. But there were other great sets that day — here are five other shows from Saturday that are slowly coming back to us:
Coincidentally, the ex-Talking Head also brought a marching band of sorts to Coachella, though his was a fraction of the size of Beyoncé’s, and they were dressed in gray business attire (minus shoes). Reports had been coming in from the east coast about how uniquely theatrical the setup is on his new “American Utopia”-supporting tour, and the brain that designed “Stop Making Sense” didn’t disappoint. Byrne’s entire 10-piece support team was as mobile as he was — keyboardists and bass drummers included — and spent the entire hour, to borrow a phrase from Ms. Knowles, getting into formation… albeit with a more casual physicality than her battery of dancers. Whether they were choreographed to new or vintage T-Heads material, it felt goofy, smart and warmly communal. And this so far largely apolitical festival got an unexpected Black Lives Matter moment from Byrne to cap the set, when he and his crew lined up side by side to drum and shout a cover of “Hell You Talmbout,” Janelle Monae’s 2013 salute to the African American fallen. As they left the stage three hours before Beyoncé went on, it was hard to imagine, at that moment, that we’d see anything better. That we did is no slight to the genius of Byrne’s show, which returns to L.A. at the Shrine Aug. 25.
Nile Rodgers & Chic
Beyoncé couldn’t have asked for a better opening act on the main stage than Rodgers’ ongoing revue… even if they were way, way, way opening, in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. (Rodgers mentioned that they were the first act of the day on that stage because Wizkid, scheduled for even earlier, hadn’t been able to get into the country.) The crowd was tiny at first, then grew exponentially as young passers-by, to whom the moniker Chic may mean little, heard the sounds of songs even most teens know by heart, if not name. Knowing that he was performing to a crowd that may not have bought a three-day pass just for Chic, Rodgers prefaced the performance by noting that they’d just come back from Australia and faced a journalist there who praised their skills as a cover band, not knowing that Rodgers as a producer and/or co-writer was responsible for songs that pop up in the set like David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” as well as “Le Freak” — a savvy way of letting the young audience know that, too, without overtly patronizing. “Get Lucky” wouldn’t have seemed like a choice candidate for a touching moment in the set, but it became one, as the survivor among Chic’s two mainstays talked about his own struggle with aggressive cancer and how the Daft/Pharrell collaboration was among the first he delved into in recovering… which led into a gospel-like intro from one of the two current female vocalists before the ode to fortune got louder and dafter.
Tyler, the Creator
The day had so many odes to the power of an epic community on stage — from Beyoncé, Byrne and Chic — that it took Tyler to remind us that the current state of the urban art is the sight of one lone male on stage for an entire set, whether that’s him or the Weeknd the night before. There are benefits and drawbacks to that kind of musical solipsism. The guy who raps “I f—ing hate you, but I love you” brings enough of a split personality to the proceedings that any other presences alongside him might make the stage feel overcrowded. He ended on an uncharactistically all-sweet note, with “See You Again,” but before that, his relationship songs were pretty, shall we say, aggro… or, at the very least, “passive-aggressive,” as he notes in one tune. His aggrieved loner status was heightened in a visually provocative way with screens that set him amid a beautiful forest, and a set that had him pondering toxic love while seated on a tree stump. By commercial rights, he probably should have been second on the bill to Beyoncé, not Haim… but it’s also easy to see why festival organizers might have thought they should put a couple of hours between her “Run the World (Girls)” set and a guy known for having some lyrical issues with women.
One of the stories of this year’s Coachella is a heightened attention to booking women. A story in the local paper, the Desert Sun, did the math and counted up 38 female solo artists and 13 bands including women among the 167 acts on the 2018 bill — far from any kind of actual parity, but at least representative of what is commercially out there in the traditionally male-dominated genres of rock and hip-hop. Given that increased sensitivity to doing the right gender thing, it made sense that Haim directly opened for Beyoncé, even if they might never share a bill outside an ex-rock festival. The group of three sisters (plus side dudes) said they’d been coming to Coachella as spectators for 10 or 11 years and made no secret of the fact that this kind-of hometown gig probably represented the height of their collective lives; their not being too proud to geek out is part of their appeal. The music can get a little slicker than they personally are; it’s rock with screaming guitar solos but also very processed keyboards and drums that nobody would mistake for Monterey-era revivalism. You almost can’t love L.A. and not love Haim (as their patron saint, director Paul Thomas Anderson, knows) — and the Valley cityscapes they showed behind their best song, “Want You Back,” reinforced their local-underdog-makes-good story.
This dreamy indie-pop act from Canada released one of the best dreamy indie-pop albums in years with last fall’s “Antisocialites.” And while that album’s shimmering production creates a lush bed for their songs, it actually obscures how powerful frontwoman Molly Rankin’s voice and melodies are. The daughter of John Rankin, fiddler in renowned Celtic folk group the Rankin Family, the influence of that music on Alvvays is subtle but brings a lot to Molly’s understated but indelible songwriting. And while “Antisocialites” is very much an album that could have come out on a British indie label like 4AD or Creation 25 years ago, in a live setting the band delivers powerfully, especially considering the feathery touch of its music on album: Rankin’s voice and melodies are at the forefront, but guitarist Alec O’Hanley embellishes with Smiths-ian chords and counterparts, and (relatively) new drummer Sheridan Riley adds brings not only a solid backbeat but strong harmony vocals as well. The band was unexpectedly high on Saturday’s bill, and their winning set proved why.