Coachella: Red Hot Chili Peppers Deliver Hit Parade; Folk-Rockers Lumineers, Rodriguez Highlight Day 3
As the wind whipped through the final day of Coachella's first weekend, it became clear to those at the front of the stage that the techs getting the stage set up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' festival-closing headlining set had a choice: take down the video screens that clearly were a part of the Peppers' production, or leave them up, risking them blowing uncontrollably around the stage. So they chose the former, leaving behind grandiose production elements in favor of solid -- but not-quite-revelatory -- musicianship.
It's a sort of metaphor for this year's edition of the festival, which never quite hit the watercooler moment. On the final day of the first weekend (the lineup repeats next week), there were no superstar surprises, no Daft Punk appearance and, during the Chili Peppers' set, not even a new song: just a major band, playing through their major hits, for a major audience.
It's been the story of this Coachella from the start, when the two-weekend blowout nearly sold out before the lineup was even announced, but on the field it became immediately obvious: This festival, at least this year, no longer was about “music fans" but about “Coachella fans” -- that is to say, the tens of thousands of revelers who packed the field had no specific allegiance to a band, a genre or an affiliation.
It meant, for instance, that Nick Cave, who prowled the main stage with maniacal glee, singing dark murder songs backed by a choir, got no more than a passive interest from the smallish crowd who gathered to see him despite performing with the verve of a frontman entertaining hundreds of thousands. One could argue it was because of the conflicting schedule that pitted the goth star against the once-again-reunited hip-hop supergroup Wu Tang Clan, who pulled the second-largest throng of the festival to the Outdoor Theater (bested only by the Peppers' finale). Unleashing monster Wu-branded beach balls into the audience while posse-rapping their way through songs from their seminal Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), they too had trouble grabbing the audience's attention as it became increasingly clear that many were just as disinterested: The throngs were just looking for where the party was at.
Or maybe they were just seeking shelter from the wind, which left an unrelenting layer of grimy dust on all attendees -- and prompted what seemed to be many early exits, with attendees ducking for cover and shielding their faces with masks, shirts and handkerchiefs. They found respite -- sometimes -- in the tents, particularly for a near-packed set from Rodriguez, the obscure '70s songwriter who in his later life has found a resurgent career thanks to the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Although the audience was gracious, and even rowdy at times for the folksy singer, he clearly had difficulty bringing it, performance-wise: Even as his band tried to keep up with him during “Sugar Man” and “I Wonder,” they often sounded like an isolated group, backing the crooner with a different version of the same song.
On the pro end of the scale were Vampire Weekend, making their third Coachella performance (and first on the main stage) a tight, scripted, wholly enjoyable affair. New, vocoder-enhanced cuts from their forthcoming Modern Vampires of the City found perfect homes in the set amid crowd favorites such as "Walcott" and "Giving Up the Gun."
Similarly, the Lumineers drew a massive crowd during the day to sing along to their neo-folk hit “Ho Hey,” with the Colorado band clearly floored that they'd graduated to main-stage status from tiny clubs in just over a year. Newcomer Grimes, colorfully dressed and exuberantly energetic, drew a capacity crowd for her Bjork-ish electronic-tattered set (complete with a backup dancer in what appeared to be a custom saber-tooth hat). In the same tent, genre pioneers OMD reunited later in the night for a surprisingly lively run-through of '80s electro-rock.
To their credit, the Peppers made good on their headliner status, offering crowd-pleasing cuts such as “By the Way,” “Under the Bridge,” “Californication" -- songs whose hooks have been subconsciously hammered into a generation's head. Indeed, this was the veteran group's third time in the Coachella headliner slot.
Singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and, especially, relative newcomer Josh Klinghoffer headbanged with controlled fury throughout. But going through the rock motions isn't what gets people talking; if Coachella's goal is to remain the must-see fest of the summer, it would be in the organizers' best interest to make sure that next year, something or someone gives you something you can't see elsewhere -- or never have before.