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“How many of ya’ll have been with us from the beginning?” asked rap megastar/headphone mogul/producer Dr. Dre during the third and final day of the first weekend of the Coachella Music & Arts festival Sunday night in Indio, Calif., after reminding the audience that he and his partner for the night, Snoop Dogg, had been recording together for 20 years. And — though it can’t be true, given that at least a third, if not a half, of the crowd had yet to be conceived two decades ago — the audience went nuts.
As well it should have, and as it did for most of Dre and Snoop’s 80-minute hip-hop revue, a special-guest laden extravaganza that may have lacked the fireworks of last year’s superlative Kanye West set or the novelty when Jay-Z set a rap precedent the year before that but instead was delivered as a tight blast of hip-hop nostalgia, even as it kept one foot planted in the future.
Although Dre has been a behind-the-scenes fixture in the genre nearly since its inception, he’s never been much of an out-front performer, so it was somewhat surprising to see him so comfortable trading verses amid smiles with Snoop on such classics as “Gin & Juice” and “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” And it was as the guests rolled out that both Dre and Snoop’s heretofore-unknown abilities to be generational unifiers became apparent: Young star Wiz Khalifa charmed his way through “Young, Wild & Free,” his current hit with Snoop; 50 Cent blasted his Dre-produced smash “In Da Club”; and — as had been rumored for weeks — Eminem emerged for a series of songs, each more immediately hard-hitting than the next.
But the most notable guest was virtual, and long dead. Tupac Shakur, the hip-hop legend who was killed in 1996, was resurrected via hologram to trade verses with Snoop on “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” Was it as weird as it sounds? In a word, yes — especially because if you weren’t looking at it dead-on (and probably 50 percent of the field wasn’t) — the hologram looked just as if it were an image on a screen, perhaps not the best use of the effect’s rumored $1 million price tag.
Still, no effects were needed for sing-alongs of dance-floor staples including “Still D.R.E.” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” — just two superstars slamming through their careers with blunted love.
Of course, Dre-Snoop wasn’t the only notable performance of the day. Rihanna showed up for a cameo during producer Calvin Harris’ DJ set, and Florence + the Machine played about 45 well-received minutes. The reunited ’90s cult band At the Drive-In delivered, and more, with frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala nailing hacky sack-style mic kicks in-between scream-sung verses delivered with the power of at least 500 suns. The electro duo Justice performed on the main stage for one of the largest nonheadliner crowds of the festival, though their light show was somewhat underwhelming, and what they’re doing on that stage — other than pushing “play” on a computer and blasting their new album — is still a great mystery.
Swedish joke-punk band The Hives reminded their small-but-expanding crowd first of their existence and then of their awesomeness, with frontman Pelle Almqvist berating fans to get them to participate in antics like call-and-responses and synchronized jumps. (They acquiesced.) And L.A.’s own Fitz and the Tantrums proved that, performance-wise, they belong on a monster stage — and that their club-level songs are up to the task, too.
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