When the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival‘s 2019 lineup was announced, there was plenty of talk about how rock music was underrepresented among the 175+ acts. The world-renowned music festival/cultural event had previously hosted headliners like Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, AC/DC, Guns ‘N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Muse, The Cure, Oasis, Radiohead, The Killers and more. This time, Tame Impala was the only top-billed rock band to fill that role.
Over the past two decades, Coachella has become a barometer for the current music climate. Last week, Rolling Stone even published an article suggesting the guitar solo is becoming an endangered species.
Although the 2019 festival roster was weighted more heavily toward pop, rap, R&B, hip-hop, Latin, dance and EDM, astute concertgoers could still find some rock music this past weekend spread across seven stages.
Below, read this writer’s experience taking in the best of the rock and indie/rock scene that Coachella had to offer at this year’s festival.
On Friday night at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., The 1975’s spectacular 55-minute set featured multiple phrases that flashed across large screens flanking the main Coachella Stage. One stated “rock ‘n’ roll is dead,” but the Manchester, England alt-rock band proved otherwise, especially with Adam Hann’s excellent guitar work. It was most prominent during the upbeat hit singles “Give Yourself a Try,” “Chocolate,” “Sex” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You).”
A tenement building scene served as a backdrop for the Broadway-styled presentation of the soulful and jazzy “Sincerity is Scary.” Front man Matt Healy briefly reverted back to his teenage years by putting on a rabbit ear hat, backpack and headphones,
He sang it while walking across a treadmill placed along the stage edge. Majestic ballad “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” with a dramatic uplift akin to early Radiohead, was a standout and saw Healey display a rare serious side. Infectious final song “The Sound” had fans loudly singing along.
Earlier Friday, Beach Fossils drew a good-sized afternoon crowd to the Gobi tent. Arriving onstage to a shrewdly-filmed send-up of SNL’s intro, the Brooklyn indie rock band went down a storm. They enraptured the crowd with atmospheric tunes such as set opener “This Year” and “Sugar” (off 2017’s Somersault) reminiscent of prime 1990s shoegaze and alt-pop (think: Ride, Ocean Blue).
Front man Dustin Payseur said the dreamy “Sleep Apnea” was about “existential dread on a sunny day.” Later, he joked about wanting to see a mosh pit and teased the crowd with an Oasis snippet. Elsewhere, “Sleep Apnea” and the jangly “Adversity” fared well live.
The fully enclosed, air-conditioned Sonora tent stage provided a welcome respite from the heat. Designed like a hip, small Los Angeles club, it had a separate bar, couches and murals. Here, The Frights had balloon sculpture towers next to their instruments and several twisted balloons were thrown into the audience.
Several of the alt-rock band’s songs veered toward the whimsical punk side (like fellow San Diego area native Blink-182) and a few young, obviously inexperienced stage divers tried their luck, often with poor results. A hard-hitting “All I Need” made the most impact, while “Over It” prompted pogo-ing en masse.
Also noteworthy on Friday: Kacey Musgraves, Let’s Eat Grandma and Hooray for the Riff Raff.
Coachella art installations never disappoint. They’re always a wonder to behold when you’re relaxing, grabbing food or a drink and serve as the perfect spot to take photos – especially in our current social media-obsessed society.
One of the best art pieces was Hazardous Interstellar Professional Operations (H.I.P.O.), designed by Dedo Vabo, which revolved around hippos preparing to launch a rocket. At night, people could peer into windows and see the “hippos” busily scrambling around. Colossal Cacti, by Office Kovacs, were bright and eye-catching, especially after sunset.
Everybody also seemed to love the revamped return of Overview Effect (AKA the giant roaming astronaut) from Poetic Kinetics.
A half dozen large paisley patterns comprised the Mismo installation by Sofia Enriquez. Sarbale ke – a dozen colorful hut-type structures – were patterned after baobab trees in West Africa. Also making a return engagement was Spectra, the seven-story spiral translucent observation deck of various hues.
Early Saturday afternoon, Wallows played the Mojave tent and drew a large crowd. Led by singer/guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters (who are both actors — no wonder there were so many screaming female teens around), the young LA alt-pop band was like a breath of fresh air.
Several strong songs from the band’s just-released debut album Nothing Happens, such as the jaunty, trumpet-enhanced “Ice Cold Pool” (segueing into a snipped of Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?”), “Remember When” (and its Peter Hook-inspired bassline) and the racing set closer “I’m Full,” variously recalled The Strokes and ‘80s UK act Orange Juice. The recent sprightly rock radio hit “Are You Bored Yet?” received the loudest response. Clairo guests on the studio version and was scheduled to play Coachella the next day, but apparently wasn’t available to reprise her singing role in person.
After constantly hearing the top five alternative hit “She’s Kerosene” on heavy rotation at KROQ/106.7 FM last year and raves about gigs from colleagues, this writer was eager to see if The Interrupters lived up to the hype. Performing on the Outdoor Theatre stage, the Los Angeles ska-punk band didn’t disappoint. Lead singer Aimee Allen and guitarist Kevin Bivona were balls of energy and all over the stage. They always kept the proceedings interesting.
At various points, Bivona thanked event promoter Goldenvoice for doing its part to keep punk rock alive in LA over the years, humorously introduced his brothers in the band and described the inspiring ska-tinged “Title Holder” as being about “fighting addiction and PTSD – you’re not alone.” Fans near the stage skanked right along.
A small mosh pit developed during the vigorous chant-worthy, fist pumping anthem “Take Back the Power,” which Bivona said was a “protest and unity song … there’s no room for racism or homophobia.” Allen, whose voice resembles Joan Jett, was constantly smiling. Other set standouts included “On a Turntable,” a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Sound System” (Tim Armstrong regularly works with the group), “She Got Arrested” and a supercharged “Kerosene.”
Weezer bore the distinction of having the longest history with Coachella of anyone on the festival bill (the band appeared in 2001, which this writer attended). The LA alt-rock band was also the biggest, most recognizable name to fly the “rock” banner here in ‘19. It just put out two albums and already scored big hits off each one (their runaway success cover of Toto’s “Africa” and “Can’t Knock the Hustle”).
With a prime evening slot on the main stage Saturday night right before de facto headliner Tame Impala, Rivers Cuomo and company delivered a solid hour-long set with selections dating back to their 1994 debut album.
Talk about fun: Huddled together at one microphone stand near the side of the stage, Weezer opened with an a capella version of their first big hit “Buddy Holly” dressed as a barbershop quartet. That was followed by a homage to the song’s “Happy Days” series-themed music video with Bill Haley & the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” and actor Al Molinaro’s introduction. After a brief mistake, the actual song’s performance sounded strong. “My Name is Jonas” and “Hash Pipe,” accompanied by fire plumes, were brawny as ever. Cuomo even stuck out his tongue, KISS style, on the latter. The guys joked around amid the popular “Pork and Beans.”
Surprisingly, a cover of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” (heard on the new Teal Album) led into a quick snippet of Green Day’s “Longview” and back again. The crowd really went crazy for “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” paired with archival video footage of the city. Brian Bell even did some tasty guitar box action. Another cover, this time A-ha’s “Take on Me,” was pure jubilation. Even with the hot and windy weather, Cuomo still managed to nail that seemingly impossible high vocal note at the end. Finally, Weezer concluded with the ’90s classic “Say it Ain’t So,” as fans fist-pumped in unison.
Also noteworthy on Saturday: Bob Moses and Arizona.
Thousands of Coachella attendees flocked to Kanye West’s special Easter Sunday service, but only a few hundred were interested in sticking around when the gates opened to see the day’s early performances. Both Mansionair and Boy Pablo turned in winsome sets.
Alice Merton rocked the Gobi tent with authority, coming across as a mix of Garbage’s Shirley Manson and Gwen Stefani at times. Her tight backing band definitely elevated songs like opener “Learn to Live,” the intense drama of “Speak Your Mind,” the funky “Trouble in Paradise” and “Funny Business” — all from the new album Mint. Childhood tale “Homesick,” a Stonesy “Lash Out” (where Merton owned the stage) and the tribal hit closer “No Roots” were all highlights.
Later Sunday, indie rocker Soccer Mommy (the nom de guerre of leader Sophie Allison) held court in the Sonora tent. Her low-key set included tracks from last year’s critically-acclaimed album Clean, such as “Last Girl,” “Cool” and the laconic “Wildflowers.”
Possessing an onstage vibe akin to a laid-back Liz Phair, her fans were very attentive; some even swayed along while Allison and the other two electric guitarists locked into a sleepy groove.
Also noteworthy on Sunday: Chvrches