You forget about the wind. It’s always a force to be reckoned with at the Coachella Arts & Music Festival, but in recent years, the gusts have become strong enough to throw the chemically-imbalanced revelers off-tilt.
The lounge knifing of Last Shadow Puppets guided me through the flower children and neon palms waving rhythmically in the wind, all the way to the Mojave tent. It was here that Alex Turner’s croon was a tug on the leash of delight, far less swagger and bravado than his Arctic Monkeys day job, more in-the-moment earnest sensuality.
I’d never seen Coachella so packed on a Friday night, generally regarded as the soft-open day. The intensification was, of course, due to the reunited LCD Soundsystem, returning in the twilight of EDM’s total desert domination to spin nostalgia and usher in a new era of live devotion.
But first came Sufjan. Dressed as the Ultimate Warrior with gigantic angel wings, Sufjan Stevens was untethered in the best of ways – the quiet folk haunt of “Seven Swans” was jarred out of tranquility when he bashed his banjo against the ground. A determined man with a sense of divine purpose to his every action, Stevens commanded the chaotic, balloon-parasite experience like a brother of Willy Wonka, guiding the enraptured sea of multicolored millennials into the free wonder of their youth. It’s the key to his captivation in live performance, and he pulls it off beautifully.
“This is for Slash,” Sufjan joked before a ridiculously funny ’80s-lean guitar solo during “Impossible Soul.” It’s unlikely that Slash will throw a fretboard nod to reciprocate, but hell – Axl’s sitting on Dave Grohl’s Oxycontin throne for reunion shows nobody ever thought we’d see, so let’s not call anything impossible just yet.
Of course, Coachella isn’t complete without high-profile party crashers, and Mr. Kanye West helped the 2016 iteration of Coachella kick off accordingly on Friday with not one but two surprise appearances during the opening of the California desert music festival. West joined A$AP Rocky on stage on Friday to perform “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” from Kanye’s The Life of Pablo album, but things didn’t go as planned. Kanye’s mic was a problem from the start, cutting his vocal 10 words into the track. Ye rapped on, unaware, but eventually the sound was cut entirely due to A$AP overreaching his allotted time slot.
After a wild taste of Austrian DJ/producer Parov Stelar, we took part in the massive migration to the main stage for LCD Soundsystem’s headlining set. James Murphy and co fulfilled every starry-eyed mandate of a wildly anticipated reunion show, working up from “I Can Change” through ”Tribulations” and “You Wanted a Hit,” having little sign of wear since their return after disbanding in 2011. Then came the wrecking ball of “Someone Great,” followed by an intensely captivating “Losing My Edge,” with updated lyrics involving bands trading in their turntables for Ableton Live setups. Even as a fairweather fan, it was hard to deny the massive concentration of energy in the crowd, hanging on every note.
“The last time we played here, Jay-Z played after us and we were honored because we really like him,” recalled Murphy. “But tonight he’s not here and we’re sorry.”
Then things got wild. During “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” Murphy went off-script, singing lyrics that were at once alien and all-too familiar.
“Nothin’ lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change… And it’s hard to hold a candle.. in the cold November rain.”
No fucking way.
So LCD Soundsystem covered Guns n Roses. That should’ve been the end, but if you’re going to go all out, it seems the Friday headliners believe you should really go all out. So Murphy, who worked with the late David Bowie on a remix of his track “Love Is Lost” in 2013, led his band into a stirring rendition of the great one’s “Heroes”.
The smoothest start to any Coachella in history has set a strong pace for the next two days. Ball’s in your court, GNR.