And so the festival season begins. Biffy and Blur both bring it, Jake Bugg can’t even crack a smile
There’s nothing as annoying as a badly kept secret. So when R Kelly strides onstage with Saturday night’s Coachella headliners Phoenix, it doesn’t matter that he isn’t the 21st century’s greatest ever soul singer. It doesn’t matter that he’s not a Marvin Gaye hologram. It doesn’t even matter that he had the audacity to name his autobiography Soulacoaster. What matters is that not a single person in the crowd knows he’s going to pop up and proceed to lead an immense karaoke session through the mighty ‘Ignition (Remix)’ as Phoenix mash it up with their own ‘1901’. A surprise appearance without spoilers is truly a glorious thing – take note UK summer festivals.
This year, California’s annual desert-based beautiful-people party started – dazzling glitter-punk carnage from Yeah Yeah Yeahs aside – with a UK day on the Friday, the likes of Jake Bugg leading a charge of pasty, guitar-clutching Brits both legendary and new-school onto the picturesque Empire Polo Field. Bugg doesn’t crack a single smile throughout his set, which includes a new number that sounds like an Ritalin-addled Elvis Costello, but Johnny Marr seems to have lots more fun. The Godlike Genius’s dutiful versions of ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, ‘There Is A Light…’ and a shuddering finale of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ might not quite be the same without Morrissey’s tremulous vocals, but they still bring the Mojave Tent to its knees, where it stays for Alt-J. Sounding beefier than ever, the band’s deliciously dense sonics make ‘Fitzpleasure’ the first bona-fide banger of the weekend, a sea of flailing arms heralding its EDM-friendly beats. Reading & Leeds: get ready.
Palma Violets might not yet have cracked the States as effectively as Alt-J, but they do give it a damn good seeing-to. As the tangerine sun settles on the pink mountaintops that surround the site, the band – who’ve been digging deeper into Nicky Wire’s floral wardrobe – gleefully bound into ‘Step Up For The Cool Cats’. “You got me dancing in the sun”, croons Sam Fryer, totally legitimately. “Beautiful,” swoons co-frontman Chilli Jesson, pointing at the sky. “We don’t get that in London.”
Damon Albarn also makes a point of mentioning the eternal winter that recently beset the UK, during Blur’s triumphant set. Mixing indie-pop hits with the more wilfully esoteric side of the band, they balance ‘Parklife’, with Phil Daniels’ cockney bark, and the sports-bar scree of ‘Song 2’ against the proggy fuzz of ‘Caramel’ and some fabulously dirty guitar from Graham Coxon during a chest-swelling ‘Tender’.
Every Brit here seems to have shown up for The Stone Roses’ headline set. It’s just a shame that this still only amounts to a couple of thousand people. Yet while the endless stream of Spring Breakers extras are twerking to Earl Sweatshirt, the Manchester icons prove that even Ian Brown’s less than perfect vocal can’t dent the majesty of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘This Is The One’.
Saturday starts in visceral fashion, as Tyler, The Creator hijacks Trash Talk’s raucous lunchtime set to leap off the stage before swiftly being swallowed by a sweaty circle pit. A topless Action Bronson sets the afternoon’s semi-nude theme, followed by brothers in shirtlessness Biffy Clyro. Despite their gargantuan rock-god status back home, Biffy are still something of a cult concern in the States. Not that you’d be able to tell from their performance. For these guys every show is a stadium show and they play a hard, fast and utterly heroic set full of songs from new album ‘Opposites’.
Sign up for the newsletter
The biggest and wildest crowd of the afternoon are shaking their asses to Major Lazer. After the relentless rhythm of ‘Pon De Floor’ everyone’s so buzzed they turn to complete strangers and tell them they love them when the band suggest it. As the sun sets, Solange lends some sophistication to proceedings, slinking onstage with The xx after The Postal Service bring out guest singer Jenny Lewis to reduce overgrown US college kids into blubbering wrecks by bringing out everyone’s inner tortured, Myspace-addicted teen.
Sporting the unofficial Coachella uniform of denim cutoffs and the skimpiest of underwear, home-state heroes Deap Vally open up the festival’s final day with their trashcan Zeppelin riffs. The healing properties of Smith Westerns’ sad-eyed psychedelia and strung-out ’60s shakedowns are quickly undone by The Gaslight Anthem, whose lovesick neon punk sounds just as epic in the afternoon glare as it does in the seedy bars that Brian Fallon evidently had in mind while penning the anthemic likes of ‘Mulholland Drive’. That there’s no cover of darkness doesn’t stop numerous make-out sessions in the crowd and the band leave the festival the coolest guys in town.
From beneath her Paramore-orange undercut, Grimes does her best to turn Coachella into Burning Man, pirouetting as much as her tusk-helmet-sporting backing dancer before finishing up with her guest spot on an out-and-out pop blinder, Blood Diamonds’ genius ‘Phone Sex’. Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend’s evening sets are dampened by rising winds and an encroaching sandstorm, but Father John Misty battles the elements, saying, “I am here to prove that I am more powerful than the wind, right in front of your fucking faces.” The crowd is so densely packed for Wu-Tang Clan’s triumphant second stage closer that extreme weather isn’t an issue. Drawing one of the biggest crowds of the whole weekend, ‘Shame On A Nigga’ and ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ still sound viciously vital.