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The 2014 edition of the Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival was a weekend punctuated by stellar performances and non-stop surprises, spread across the Empire Polo Field’s six stages. With so much going on on the grounds, it was impossible to see every one of the 182 bands on the Coachella 2014 bill — but that didn’t stop us from trying. When all was said and done, these were the 10 sets we wish we could relive.
10. Lorde (Saturday, Outdoor Theater, 7:55 p.m.): Lorde’s status as a musical dynamo has been so secure for months that it’s already difficult to remember when she was an unknown teenager in New Zealand — which she was at this time last year. The 17-year-old giddily shared with the crowd how surreal her Coachella debut felt, but the power of her nighttime performance — which included her pop hits “Royals” and “Team,” but was highlighted by her Pure Heroine centerpiece “Ribs” — suggested a performer that was used to dazzling the festival circuit. Lorde is still living her fantasy, and her audiences are still reaping the rewards.
9. Motorhead (Sunday, Mojave Tent, 9:50 p.m.): Bringing the meanest guitar riffs of the weekend was iconic British metal band Motorhead. The band drew a faithful audience of devil-horn-hoisting headbangers to their evening set on the Mojave stage. Lemmy Kilmister and company’s onslaught of heavy metal hits had already satisfied fans by the time the band brought out special guest Slash for a rendition of “Ace of Spades” that tore to roof off the place.
8. Arcade Fire (Sunday, Coachella Stage, 10:20 p.m.): Although it’s only been three years since Arcade Fire last headlined Coachella, the indie stars are already a much different band than they were when their 2010 album The Suburbs was their shiny new toy. In 2014, Win Butler and co. are ready to boogie, and the danceable tracks from the band’s new album, Reflektor, comprised the backbone of a highly engaging headlining set on Sunday night. Songs like “Joan of Arc,” “Afterlife” and “Here Comes the Night Time” fit snugly next to the best tracks from Funeral, Neon Bible and Suburbs, and lest anyone mistake the band’s Coachella set as a ho-hum run-through of its current North American tour, the guest appearance by Debbie Harry for a rendition of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” showed that a consistently great live band can still conjure unique moments when the time is right.
7. Banks (Saturday, Gobi Tent, 3:45 p.m.): Los Angeles singer-songwriter Banks may have only one EP, last year’s London, to her name, but that didn’t stop hundreds of vocal supporters from carving out some time on Saturday afternoon for the promising alternative R&B artist. Banks spent 35 minutes exceeding expectations by tinkering with her style (the dimly lit studio version of “Warm Water” was flipped into a shimmering acoustic take) and keeping her audience fully invested (a cover of Aaliyah‘s “Are You That Somebody?” prevented anyone from leaving the set early). Coachella is about uncovering new talent as well as hailing established acts, and few artists on either end of the spectrum at Coachella were as successful as Banks in Weekend 1.
6. Chromeo (Friday, Coachella Stage, 7:55 p.m.): Coachella sometimes does right by smaller artists with crowd-pleasing live shows by plopping them at a prime time slot on the main stage; this year’s winners were Chromeo, who played there on Friday evening immediately following seasoned hit-maker Ellie Goulding. The electronic group’s Dave 1 and P-Thugg more than earned their keep with the explosive performance, serving up scorching disco cheese in the form of relentless dance cuts “Night by Night,” “Bonafied Lovin'” and new single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It).” Chromeo have yet to score a crossover hit, but that didn’t stop them from effectively starting the party on Coachella’s opening night.
5. Pharrell Williams (Saturday, Outdoor Theater, 10:35 p.m.): Sadly, the sweeping dust and unrelenting wind in Indio on Saturday night prevented Pharrell’s falsetto from fully blooming, with the hit maker sounding audibly hoarse as his set rumbled forward. Still, the guest stars (Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and many more) and set list (smashes like “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” “I Just Wanna Love U [Give It 2 Me]” and “Hot in Herre”) helped the producer secure his share of unforgettable moments and continue his recent hot streak. With “Happy” served as the sumptuous dessert, Pharrell’s Coachella set was a full course of delirious fun, weather be damned.
4. Lana Del Rey (Sunday, Outdoor Theater, 8:15 p.m.): Just as Lana Del Rey is ready to move on from her Born to Die era with an upcoming sophomore album Ultraviolence, the pop singer has proven that her shaky early performances are a thing of the past. During her highly attended Coachella show, Del Rey showcased the gentleness of her voice and a new confidence in her demeanor, debuting her thrilling new single, “West Coast,” in between playing her already fiercely loved songs and thanking the audience for their enthusiasm. If Ultraviolence contains as much of a studio leap as Del Rey has obviously made as a live performer, the album could be an extremely special collection from an artist having an unassailable moment.
3. Calvin Harris (Sunday, Coachella Stage, 7:30 p.m.): Once a year, Coachella hands the main stage over to an EDM producer who has the honor of hosting the polo field’s biggest dance party. Hit-making Scottish artist Calvin Harris took his turn Sunday night and delivered a set that drew one of the largest crowds of the weekend. None of the expected guest performers took the stage, but Calvin’s dazzling light show and non-stop barrage of hits was more than enough to keep the masses moving.
2. Future Islands (Saturday, Gobi Tent, 7:05 p.m.): When Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring performs, he often holds his right arm up in front of his face and clenches his fingers together, grasping at a mysterious feeling existing in the air in front of him. Herring sees things that no one else does, and accomplished things onstage that no one else in modern rock is doing — that is, singing in an unhinged growl, smacking his face with his open palm, gyrating his pelvis like he’s in the “Single Ladies” video, all in the span of a minute. The indie-pop trio draws its power from its singer’s unchecked antics, but Future Islands are far from a gimmick — its Coachella performance was so breathtaking because Herring’s gonzo approach was paired with sparkling dance songs like fan favorite “Tin Man” and new single “Seasons (Waiting on You),” the latter of which gained notoriety thanks to its Letterman performance and subsequent viral video. Whether you were a hardcore fan or a curious novice, if you caught Future Islands’ Coachella set, you witnessed something very special.
1. Outkast (Friday, Coachella Stage, 11:05 p.m.: No, it wasn’t perfect; there was no “Player’s Ball,” they ran out of time before they could play “The Whole World,” and Andre 3000 had his back turned to the crowd for “Hey Ya.” Still, it was Outkast, performing on the same stage, opening with “B.O.B.” and speeding through the majority of its strongest songs, and it was mind-blowing to see live. Busting out of a giant see-through cube onstage, Big Boi and Andre 3000 kicked off the rust rather quickly and invited guests like Janelle Monae, Future and Sleepy Brown in on the celebration. The first half-hour was essentially hip-hop nirvana (“Rosa Parks,” “Gasoline Dreams,” “Aquemini,” “ATLiens”), and while the show slowed down as the MCs were given prolonged solo moments, the hits-filled finale atoned for the waiting game — all seven years of it. Outkast will play dozens of other festivals in 2014, but this was the first step, the historic return that so many had prayed would happen. Outkast is whole again, and the world now seems to make a little more sense.
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