Every Coachella Weekend 2 Performance I Saw, Ranked
With a well rounded lineup, high profile band reunions, and better production than ever, Coachella provided a legendary experience for music fans of all types. Of course, the long shadow that Prince’s untimely death cast over Weekend 2 could not be ignored, but the countless heartfelt tributes to the iconic musician helped uplift our spirits.
The following are my performance reviews of every band I caught, rated on a 10-point scale (I’m OCD like that). For a frame of reference, here’s a link to my full archive of concert reviews, which I’ve been keeping ever since I moved to Los Angeles a decade ago.
Chainsmokers = 0
Trying to battle our way just to get to the Sahara tent in that massive crowd that started forming near the Mojave was like climbing mount Everest. It was also windy and dusty as hell. This was trampling death conditions. It was a battle of wills, and those leading our group were far more determined than we were to get a good spot in the tent, so unfortunately we lost them in that crowd. It’s like following a caravan of cars across town, but the leading car keeps on running yellow lights like an asshole. So be it. They had the will power, we didn’t.
ALSO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE LEAVE YOUR INFANT CHILDREN AT HOME. I literally had to give parenting tips to two clueless women pushing a stroller with a child in it who were inexplicably determined to head towards the Sahara. I told the friend to lead the stroller so she could be its blocker (she was walking beside it and both her and the mom were getting nowhere while looking extremely stressed out). The toddler wasn’t crying though. Maybe they’ll grow up to be resilient and there’s still hope for their bloodline.
Also, for what little bit of Chainsmokers music I did hear, it sounded like awful EDM big room fare. I suspect that some music out there might actually be worth trampling a baby for, but it wasn’t theirs.
Matt and Kim = 4
As they carried on with their the inane banter and extremely forced party rocking, it occurred to me that I’ve seen this situation before: Have you ever been stuck in high school with two really loud class clowns who were simultaneously competing with each other for the attention of the rest of the students? After a while it’s not even funny anymore, just exhausting and profoundly sad. That’s exactly how I felt watching their schtick. The music itself wasn’t terrible though. I’ve drank beer to worse.
Jack U = 7
Similarly, Jack U was poorly paced and nothing but gimmicks. To their credit, Skrillex and Diplo can hype up a crowd into a frenzy with big room EDM drops… but that’s all it is: hype. I felt like the predictability of their build ups and drops and them constantly shouting on the mic was spiritually exhausting and insulting to my intelligence. If the movie Idiocracy ever has a sequel, Jack U should be its soundtrack. If it wasn’t for the crowd energy, they would have scored a 4.
Rhye = 7.75
I love this band and their first album, but I have yet to see them in a proper setting (the Outdoor Theater during midday is not it). First, they admitted that it was a struggle to sonically compete with the sound bleed from Run The Jewels. Also, they took a more jammy approach to their old material, which betrayed those songs’ original blissfulness. If they played any new material, it wasn’t memorable.
Disclosure = 7.75
By far the least impressive performance I’ve ever seen from them. I was underwhelmed by the R&B slow jam vibes of their last album, but thought the new songs worked well within a 2 hour performance on their tour. The Coachella main stage demands more of a high energy, hits oriented set, and they unfortunately took their sweet time really getting into it. I’m cool off seeing them again for the next three years. Not hating, just burned out.
Bob Moses = 8
They’re a synth pop duo of decent talent who’s carved out a nice little stylistic niche within a very crowded genre. However, I am not convinced that they will ever grow out of their comfort zone of late night detached cool. Cut Copy, Yeasayer, Deloreon, Holy Ghost, and LA’s own Satchmode all have wider range and greater musicianship and showmanship.
LCD Soundsystem = 8
I really liked their performance, especially the touching cover of Prince’s “Controversy”, but for inexplicable reasons the crowd was not feeling them at all. It didn’t help that the volume was lower than usual. They’re one of the greatest dance acts of the modern era, but nobody on that field was dancing and the crowd continued to thin out as the set went on. James Murphy has never been particularly charismatic, but I don’t think he’s fully to blame here. Maybe there’s a generational disconnect? Maybe better stage production would have helped? This should have been at least a 9.25.
Chvrches = 8
Electro pop done about as well as you can possibly do it. Great performance and energy from a genre that does nothing for me emotionally. I didn’t really catch any grooves worth dancing to either. I appreciate the effort though.
Bat for Lashes = 8.25
I don’t particularly love their music because the emotional and stylistic range seems a bit limited, but Natasha Khan is a mesmerizing live performer. Charisma, graceful dance moves, charming banter with the crowd. Her catalogue will never compare, but her stage presence already rivals Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, Prince and Grace Jones. She radiates warmth.
Zhu = 8.25
A disappointment because he radically changed his set from last weekend’s performance to something much more etherial and ambient. For Weekend 1, Zhu was much more fuller sounding: more vocals, more rapping, thicker bass lines, more swinging double time high hats, more Bone Thugs N Harmony. I still found myself dancing, but last night’s set was more geared towards 6AM chill outs… not a great match with the shoulder to shoulder crowd of the Sahara tent. Still though, you gotta respect his ambition. Most electronica DJs wouldn’t bring out a live guitarist and saxophonist and let them jam. Most electronica DJs wouldn’t retool their set to provide a complete new experience for next week’s show. Do yourself a favor though and check out the Soundcloud of his W1 set, which probably would have scored a 10 in my book.
Rufus Du Soul = 8.5
I only caught three songs, but you can add Rufus to the list of synth bands that are better and more ambitious than Bob Moses. I need to catch more of them.
Nicole Moudaber & Skin = 8.75
Solid house music set with elements of techno in it. Well paced, no gimmicks. It was a hell of a dance party in there.
Gary Clark Jr = 8.75
After hearing his new album and seeing his Coachella set, it’s obvious to me that Gary is in a good place spiritually. He’s got money, fame, a beautiful wife, and a newborn child. Thus, his new material is a lot more mellow R&B, rock ballad fare. This isn’t a good thing. He’s losing his edge and his angst as a blues rock guitar god. For the sake of his fans and his growth as an artist, I need him to get a divorce, have a string of bad rebound relationships, fall into alcoholism, and make the same deal with the devil that Robert Johnson did. If that doesn’t happen, so be it, but at the very least, please play more shredding guitar solos. Unleash the beast!
Run The Jewels = 8.75
A great set, as good as they’ve ever been… however I’ve now seen them like three times in the past two years, so I was chatting with friends and sipping beer mostly during their set. As was the case at FYF, I am so impressed at how well they scale to main stage status. They take no shortcuts and always come fierce. Underground, grimy, political rap has never made this many people rock the fuck out before. Dead Prez and Public Enemy could only dream of their level of crowd command.
Crystal Fighters = 8.75
Not only were they able to recreate the joyful sunny melodies of their recordings, they enhanced it with great stage presence and what felt like additional vocalists. I wish the crowd was larger and more warmed up, but everybody in that tent had a fun experience.
Underworld = 9
Underworld is never not great, and this Coachella was no different. We were quite removed from the action though, watching it all the way from the beer garden, but it was awesome nonetheless. The reason why we were in the beer garden is our friend found a thousand dollars that somebody had dropped backstage in one of the artist’s areas, so beers were on him. Literally the greatest groundscore ever, and something that would never happen in the GA areas (the most money I’ve ever found on the ground at a concert was $20, because I am the 99%).
Hudson Mohawke = 9
HudMo does hip hop, trap and bass music in such a clever yet grimy way. Not only is his production on point, he has a solid intuition on how to sequence a festival set. Both Diplo and Mimosa used to have this same spark, but they lost it a long time ago. Luckily HudMo seems truly dedicated to his craft and not the bullshit party scene that can often times surround it.
Lord Huron = 9.25
Pleasantly surprised at how much beefier Lord Huron sounds live, thanks to excellent drumming and more aggressive guitars. They transcended folk music and tapped into the raw grittiness of classic rockers like Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Outdoor Theater was an excellent setting, but let’s please start giving them more primetime hours.
Sia = 9.5
After her performance was over, I felt like I owed somebody more money. Her? Her costume designer? Her tour manager? Her choreographer? Goldenvoice? LACMA? MOCA? Kristen Wiig? Paul Dano? The Screen Actors Guild? Somebody please take my money!
Btw, this was the hardest show I’ve ever had to rate because it was more performance art or broadway show than it was a traditional concert performance. I was impressed and inspired and it commanded my full attention, but it was also emotionally distant. You wouldn’t dare dance, sit down, or even talk to your friends otherwise you’d risk missing more of the acting on stage.
Sia is a visionary though and her dream universe was marvelously and vividly executed. We’ll never see anything like that again.
2manydjs (Despacio sound) = 9.5
I’ve always loved instrumental, orchestral, soulful disco. I even put out a whole mixtape dedicated to that vibe. Never before though have I heard it on a sound system like that, in a perfectly crafted setting that downplayed the presence of the DJs and focused instead on drawing dancers into the center of the room. It was analog audiophile bliss, plus good feng shui. Even the dance floor surface felt right. 2manydjs had already blown my mind in the Sahara tent the night before with their era / genre spanning set, and then they did it again with disco purism.
Miike Snow = 9.5
I’m not a big fan of pop, nor did I ever really follow Miike Snow. However I cannot deny the uplifting power of their music and frontman Andrew Wyatt’s talent and charisma. Surrounded by my beautiful friends in a packed (yet still very comfortable) tent full of blissful fans singing along word for word was magical.
During the performance I was having trouble figuring out where their influences were distilled from (pop music is ambiguously universal like that). For example, on some of their songs there was a brass section, but they played it with such polish and lack of individual flourishes that I wondered if any of those guys had ever even heard of John Coltrane or the city of New Orleans.
In fact, from top to bottom, their performance was so idealistic, sincere, open, and absent of any ego or fear that I was convinced that they weren’t American. Everything that makes American music great: its style, its urgency, its fundamental roots in the blues and jazz… all of that is a mask to hide pain. It’s an attempt to reclaim dignity from a society bent on stealing it from you.
Is Miike Snow what soul music sounds like from a society without Fox News or MTV? No WorldStarHipHop? No prison industrial complex? No wars? No slavery or racism? No Skid Rows? Where nobody is familiar with the term “active shooter”?
It was like experiencing 8 days of Burning Man in just 30 minutes.
I might have cried.
After the fact, I was told that Miike Snow is a Swedish band.
St. Germain = 9.5
Jazz and house music infused with North African rhythms. Words cannot properly describe how beautiful this performance was. It was tribal yet global, soulful, funky, uplifting and deeply spiritual. This is “world music” in the best way possible: they connected the dots from the entire African diaspora… I heard elements of Afro Caribbean along side the African American music tradition. The musicianship was flawless, both within the groove of the songs and in the many solos. The crowd was excellent too: older, seasoned, and fully grasping of the magic of the moment. In a perfect world, an act like St. Germain would be a main stage headliner, but I’m quite happy with them flying under the radar. This is music for old souls.
2manydjs = 9.75
That was a perfect set spanning 80s and 90s old school jams and modern dance music. Song selection, pacing, clever blends and mashups (the New Order to Tame Impala transition was particularly impressive). I’ve heard great sets from Z-Trip, Diplo, Girl Talk, and Four Color Zack that have come close to what 2manydjs achieved, but somehow fell short due to either self indulgent gimmickry or lackluster crowd / venue. This was mashup culture’s potential fully realized. Also, I was surrounded by so many friends in that moment, some that I only get to see once a year. To witness so many different crews meeting each other for the first time and dancing and smiling together was a mashup feat of its own.
Ice Cube = 10
A living legend putting in a legendary performance. There was never any question of Ice Cube’s talent or body of work, but most hip hop fans would probably agree that he had lost his hunger for the art of rap a long time ago. Getting rich off family comedies and buddy buddy cop films tends to do that to people. Not only did he choose a perfectly curated set of hits and rap his ass off, he also brought out Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, and Eazy-E’s son (for a true NWA reunion along with Yella and Ren). He had something to prove last night, not only to old and new fans, but to himself. Very ballsy move to include police brutality footage when playing “Fuck The Police” too (I saw footage of Walter Scott’s killing in the video mix). You may not agree with Ice Cube’s worldview, but you have to respect him for not pulling any punches on America’s biggest stage.
Also, if there was ever any doubt over which weekend is better, Ice Cube just ended the debate. I had a whole crowd of strangers chanting “Weekend 2! Weekend 2! Weekend 2!” with me as we were walking away from the main stage in complete elation.
Guns N’ Roses = 10
Wow. Just wow. That was the best rock n roll performance I’ve ever seen. Every doubt I had going in about their chemistry or Axl’s voice were erased within minutes. They played with an angst and urgency of men 30 years younger. Slash slayed it as expected, but I had no idea that Duff McKagan was a virtuoso in his own right (there were plenty of choice spots for both of them to showcase their skills, but it never felt forced or self indulgent). I also had no idea that Axl was such a good piano player. Throughout the entire performance I was reminded of just how good of song writers these guys were. Axl’s lyrics and voice have an emotional gravitas that you just don’t find in other metal bands. Most of those 80s songs were about partying, strippers, or a hot high school teacher. Instead, Guns N’ Roses music was about pain and longing. There’s soul to it, and on that stage with its world class production, it was transcendant.
They’ve been through hell. Last night they took us to church.
Maceo Plex = 10
Pure. So so pure. This is everything I ever wanted out of house music. Hard. Lean. Frequent, yet unique beat switchups that never lose momentum and stay within the pocket of the groove. The Yuma tent had the perfect crowd and energy too at 11:00pm. Nobody was on that dance floor who didn’t belong there: no rookies, no children, no wallflowers, meaning I had plenty of space to do my thing. You don’t need drugs or alcohol to lose yourself to the beat in a setting like that. Endorphins and alpha waves naturally kick in, time slows, you close your eyes but still somehow take in all that’s around you while you never stop moving. Reality changes. You change. You leave a different person, if you ever leave at all (if Maceo Plex’s set was still going, I’d no doubt still be in that tent right now).
Check out my full archive of reviews here.