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Palm trees and music in SoCal

What began 15 years ago as a shaky financial proposition, which had trouble paying the musical acts on time in its initial years, and debuted three months after the debacle that was Woodstock 99, the Coachella Arts and Music Festival is now considered one of the premier festivals in the country along with the likes of Lollapalooza, South by Southwest (SXSW) and Bonnaroo. The appeal of Coachella is its massive lineup of headliners and up-and-coming acts of diverse genres spread across two weekends and multiple stages at the very serene setting of Indio, California's Empire Polo Club. The event is also known for reunion performances (e.g. Jane's Addiction in 2001, Iggy Pop and the Stooges in 2003, the Pixies in 2004, Rage Against the Machine in 2007) as well as surprise appearances and unannounced collaborations. One of the major draws this year are the first reunion performances of Outkast.

Unlike some of the other festivals, Coachella usually isn't plagued by the standard complaints of overflowing Port-A-Potties and $10 water bottles (water is $2). However, while Indio is beautiful, the attendees have to deal with the near 100 °F heat of being in the Inland Empire desert. And Coachella has a reputation for being a venue that attracts wealthy assholes and "trust fund babies" that stand with their phones over their heads during the ENTIRE concert (because all of YouTube and Instagram are dying with anticipation for those selfies and shitty sideways videos). A general admission three-day pass for one of the two weekends costs $375, and a "VIP" pass (which consists of access to such things as "shaded areas," couches and picnic tables) is $799. Since tickets sold out in less than three hours when they went on sale back in January, Coachella passes for this past weekend were running as high as $3,000 on StubHub. Many critics have pointed out the irony of this, given that the idea for Coachella originally grew out of a Pearl Jam concert protesting Ticketmaster's policies.

But even with the pricing, it still comes down to whether the close to 100,000 attendees feel like they had a good time and got their money's worth in partying and music, as well as what (if any) buzz may be generated by certain artists. So what happened during the first weekend of this year's festival? Who stood out and who didn't? Venture below the fold for performances, reviews, entertainment news and pop-culture musings that came out of this weekend.

Another aspect of Coachella is the opportunity sponsors have taken to leverage the event for branding and style trends. Similar to how different interests sponsor parties and events around the Democratic and Republican national conventions to garner influence, many fashion labels and clothing retailers are on hand trying to market different bohemian "Hippie Chic" looks (i.e. lots of young women in denim short-shorts, flower head-bands and bikini/crop-tops), with the likes of Lacoste, Forever 21, Marc Jacobs and others throwing big parties and afterparties. And there were reports last week that celebrities were being paid in the five-figures to attend Coachella and wear certain brands while tweeting and posting images on Instagram.

Coachella 2014 features 184+ artists, plus the other unannounced ones that pop up during sets. The three headlining acts were Outkast on Friday, Muse on Saturday and Arcade Fire closing things up on Sunday. There was a noticeable shift toward electronic dance music (EDM) in this year's lineup, rather than the traditional rock acts of the past.

Since it's a hell of a lot of bullet points and words down the page, I can't provide analysis for all of the acts, so I'm going to pick out some of the artists being talked about and provide some details about their performances.

  • Outkast: Atlanta natives André "3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton rose to stardom during the late '90s and early aughts with their fusion of "Dirty South" hip-hop and funk sensibilities. That success hit its apex with the releases of Stankonia (2000) and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003), with the latter having the group's multi-platinum, crossover hit "Hey Ya!" After acting in and releasing a soundtrack for the film Idlewild in 2006, Benjamin and Patton decided to go in different directions, with one trying his hand at acting and the other releasing solo albums. Reuniting for the first time since their self-imposed hiatus on Friday night, the duo was joined on stage with Janelle Monae and Future, and performed 28 tracks over 90 minutes, including “B.O.B.,” "Ms. Jackson," and "So Fresh and So Clean." It was Outkast, it had energy and the crowd seemed to enjoy the performance overall. However, the set wasn't without its problems. It was plagued with technical difficulties, and Benjamin and Patton seem to be working out some of the rust of their onstage chemistry. More than a few of the song transitions were jarring, and some of the crowd had already left before "shaking it like a Polaroid picture" to the finale of "Hey Ya!," with the performance having run up against the 1:00 AM curfew for the festival.
  • The Replacements: The Minnesota alt-rock/punk group's set at Coachella was just their fourth live performance in 22 years, after reuniting last year for Riot Fest. This particular performance is the first time the group had performed in California since 1991. The story I heard about seeing The Repacements live is that they tend to fuck up a lot of their songs like they've never practiced before or they're a group that's drunk out of their minds, even though they're stone sober, but still make it a really enjoyable experience. But that wasn't quite the story this weekend. From all reports and reviews, many thought it was a good performance of "Alex Chilton" and other tracks of their discography. However, there was a really small turnout for the show (only a few hundred people), and by the time the set was over only half of the audience had stayed throughout. Also, singer-guitarist Paul Westerberg wasn't able to connect with the audience at all while trying to banter with 'em in-between songs, which was met with silence more than a few times.
  • Girl Talk: Gregg Gillis, whose stage name is Girl Talk, was the warm-up act for Outkast Friday night. Gillis, whose specialty is mashups, gave a performance that turned the main stage into a house party while mixing Aerosmith, Kanye West, The Who, The Beatles and Snoop Dogg to name just a few. It also featured appearances by Busta Rhymes, Too $hort and Juicy J, and the energy from the crowd made for a great experience.
  • Haim: The sister act from the San Fernando Valley, which has been compared to the Wilson sisters of Heart, have a pop-rock, power ballad sound that comes through when performing songs like "Falling" from the trio's debut album Days Are Gone. Their set also included a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," but it also had technical problems and some distractions caused by the wind. And bassist Este Haim displayed her "bass face," which were present on signs in the crowd as well.
  • Blood Orange: Dev Hynes' sound has been likened to an "amalgam of Hall And Oates and Prince." For the set, Hynes was joined onstage by girlfriend Samantha Urbani of the band Friends and rapper Despot during the performance of "Clipped On."
  • Ellie Goulding: The electronica influenced pop star impressed critics with her 50 minute performance on Friday that had the vibe of a dance party. Backed by a seven-piece band, Goulding's set drew a huge audience at the main stage, while performing "I Need Your Love" and "Anything Could Happen," as well as covers of Alt-J's "Tesselate" and James Blake's "Life Round Here."
  • The Knife: The best explanation I have for the performance by the Swedish electronic music duo is that it was their attempt to "bring their album to life" instead of just performing it. In order to do that sort of interpretation of their 2013 album Shaking the Habitual for the Coachella audience, the brother-sister duo of Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, as well as nine dancer/instrumentalists dressed as neon ninjas, and had an act that mixed techno with some wild voguing while performing all 10-minutes of "Raging Lung."
  • Chromeo: The Canadian duo of David Macklovitch and Partick Gemayel are known for their mixture of '80s synthesizer based beats, and considered one of the better dance-funk bands of the last ten years. Their set, and accompanying light show, included synth-drenched tracks like “Night By Night,” “Tenderoni" and  “Needy Girl.”
  • Empire of the Sun: The Australian electronic music duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore garnered a big audience for their performance, which featured elaborate costumes, cascading lasers, quite limber dancers and glowing instruments.
  • Muse: The English rock band is one of the headliners of the festival, but were playing against Skrillex and Nas. Matt Bellamy and company opened with "Stockholm Syndrome" and ended with "Knights of Cydonia," but also included favorites like "Uprising" and a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" in tribute to Kurt Cobain. One consequence of being out in the middle of the desert is the possibility of sandstorms, and that was a factor with Bellamy's voice during this performance.
  • Future Islands: The Baltimore synthpop quartet's set has received mixed reviews. Frontman Samuel Herring's stagecraft has been likened to Morrissey and Glenn Danzig. While others think it was too close to "what Cookie Monster might sound like after a bottle of whiskey."
  • The Pet Shop Boys: Singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe were playing at the same time as Muse, but still had their devotees. They were on the Mojave Stage, with an over-the-top visual design created by costume and set decorator Es Devlin, playing tracks like “Fluorescent,” as well as classics from their discography like "West End Girls,” “Opportunities” and “Always on My Mind.”
  • Nas: I'm old enough to remember, that among hip-hop fans, there used to be arguments over who "owned" New York? Jay-Z or Nas? Now both Jay-Z and Nas are in their forties, and considered "elder statesmen" for the genre. Nas' midnight set ran through Nas' debut album Illmatic, with the big surprise being former rival Jay-Z's appearance. Both pitched in for Jay's “Dead Presidents” (the track which has been cited as a source of their former feud), as well as “Where I’m From.” And the night closed with Diddy being brought out to help with "Hate Me Now," and popping bottles of Ace of Spades champagne to celebrate Nas.
  • Skrillex: In Billboard's review of Skrillex's set, they mention how many of the electronic dance music artists are trying to top Daft Punk's stage performances that featured an unfolding pyramid and a hell of a lot of kilowatt hours of light. Sonny Moore (a.k.a. Skrillex) tried his best over the weekend to up his game by performing his dubstep/electronic punk from a futurist looking jet fighter raised high above the stage. And it seemed to work for the capacity crowd that came wanting to listen to dance music.
  • Pharrell: This was the performance that seemed to have a surprise cameo for almost every track. Pharrell, wearing his trademark Vivienne Westwood hat, performed his recent hits, but was also joined onstage by Nelly for "Hot in Herre," then Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy for "Pass the Courvoisier Part II," Tyler, the Creator for "Lapdance" and Snoop Dogg with "Drop It Like It's Hot" and "Beautiful." But the crowd went absolutely nuts when Gwen Stefani, who may or may not be performing solo next weekend at Coachella, appeared for a duo of "Hollaback Girl." However, Pharrell's performance did have some problems, with Williams complaining of how the wind and dust were affecting his voice. And many critics have noted in their reviews that Williams seems more comfortable onstage when he's not the center of attention, and instead surrounded by others in a collaboration.
  • Lorde: The 17-year old New Zealander told a packed audience the following: “This is actually the first big thing I ever booked. I said … holy fuck, we booked Coachella. I was screaming on the phone. We are so lucky to be here. This is mental.” Her set included singles like "Royals" and "Team," as well as "Glory and Gore" (which opened the show), "Million Dollar Bills” and "Tennis Court."
  • Motörhead: For those that were seeking heavy guitar riffs, the English rock band was joined onstage by Slash of Guns N' Roses for a rendition of "Ace of Spades." Longtime frontman Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister said in interviews the band was playing the festival to reach a "different crowd."
  • Neko Case: The singer-songwriter performed tracks off her 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood as well as her latest 2013 album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Her sound, which is somewhere between indie rock and alt-country, is full of narrative and soul.
  • Calvin Harris: The set began with “Feel So Close,” and Harris telling the audience to sing along “if you know the words to this.” Harris also mixed other songs into his set including Icona Pop’s "I Love It," Simian’s "Never Be Alone," The Killers’ "When You Were Young" and Harris' own "We Found Love," "‘I Need Your Love" and "Sweet Nothing."
  • Solange: The 27-year old model and singer has been trying to build her own identity separate from her big sister, Beyoncé. To that end, Solange has put together an R&B sound and a whole lot of grinding, while putting her own spin on Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting," the Dirty Projectors' "Stillness Is the Move" and an arrangement of Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady." However, the big moment when the crowd went nuts is when Beyoncé joined her onstage.
  • Pixies: The Pixies were added last minute to this year's Coachella schedule. The reason may have something to do with Indie Cindy, the band’s first album in 23 years. That album has received scathing reviews, and the move to replace founding bassist/vocalist Kim Deal with A Perfect Circle’s Paz Lenchantin has also engendered some fan discontent. However, the Pixies drew a good crowd this weekend that responded to “Wave Of Mutilation,” "Caribou," “Bone Machine” and "Where Is My Mind?"
  • Chvrches: The Scottish trio impressed many playing tracks off their debut album The Bones of What You Believe. Many critics are complimenting Lauren Mayberry as charming the crowd and exhibiting great range and delivery with songs like "The Mother We Share."
  • Lana Del Rey: Big crowds came to see Lana Del Rey in a performance that engendered mixed reactions. It was either characterized as "a rambling and rocky set that was deeply flawed but never less than utterly enchanting," or "star-making." Her first words as she walked on stage were “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola” (i.e. the opening lyrics to her song "Cola"), and from there things began to ramble. She performed tracks such as "Summertime Sadness," "National Anthem," "Video Games" and debuted her new single "West Coast." But then Del Rey decided to wander around the stage, start asking people to bum a cigarette in-between songs and things went off the rails a little bit. However, the audience didn't seem to mind it.
  • Banks: Jillian Banks is thought to be "up-and-coming" in R&B, and she played to a sizable crowd with her two-piece band. Banks performed a mix of tracks from her albums London and Fall Over like “Before I Ever Met You” and “This is What it Feels Like,” as well as covering Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.”
  • Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap, the second mix-tape of Chance The Rapper (aka Chancelor Bennett), has been lauded by critics and considered one of the best albums of 2013. So obviously if you want to have someone come on stage for a duet, you're going to get the noted hip-hop authority Justin Bieber ... wait, what? The Bieb didn't receive the warmest of welcomes, but the two performed the Bieber track “Confident” on which Chance The Rapper is featured.
  • Jhené Aiko: The beautiful 26-year-old R&B singer has been turning heads. When I see someone live, I go into it knowing that it's probably not going to sound the same or as good as how it's been processed for the album/track. However, sometimes that's not a bad thing. It can give a different vibe and create a much more interesting performance ... or not. With Aiko, the difference is there and sometimes it pulls me out of the song. Sometimes she sounds amazing, and sometimes she sounds like a contestant who's all over the place on American Idol. But what the hell do I know? I'm just one dude, and she's got thousands cheering for her. In fact, both Drake and Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) showed up at Coachella during Aiko's set. Drake and Aiko sang a duet of Nothing Was The Same's "From Time" and Childish Gambino joined her to perform "Bed Peace," their John and Yoko-referencing collaboration from her 2013 EP.
  • Beck: This set was a mix of Beck's many hits, a few covers like Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love" and a little bit of new stuff from the album Morning Phase. Beck’s son Cosimo appeared onstage to play tambourine during the finale of "Where It’s At" and "One Foot in The Grave."
  • Queens of the Stone Age: The band played Coachella for the first time in 12 years on Saturday night, with a set list that combined elements of ...Like Clockwork and past hits like "Go With The Flow," "Little Sister" and "Feel Good Hit of the Summer." They were also another act that had to play through wind and dust, with things getting so bad that audience members were leaving midway through the performance.
  • Arcade Fire: The last set of the weekend, by Arcade Fire last night, was interesting in more ways than one. Lead vocalist Win Butler decided to rail against the fake VIP areas at Coachella during the set, as well as the electronica/EDM heavy lineup at the festival by giving a "shout out to all the bands playing instruments this weekend." The band was joined onstage by Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and went on to perform Blondie's "Heart of Glass" with the band which segued into Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" from their album The Suburbs.
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