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From Wallows to Spiritualized, Phoebe Bridgers and Beyond: The Best Rock/Indie Sets of Coachella 2022 Weekend 2 (Recap/Photos)
Harry Styles had just started his headlining set at the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last Friday in Indio, Calif., when he encouraged the massive audience to “feel free to be whoever it is you wanna be.”
The British singer, a staunch ally of the LGBTQ+ community who routinely wraps himself in Pride flags tossed onstage, was likely giving those particular fans watching a nod of approval. But he also could have been referring to anyone else.
Coachella is an event where festivalgoers let their freak flags fly. A quick walk around the Empire Polo Club this past weekend often resulted in the sight of people clad in attire that was silly, outrageous, or nonexistent. Celebrities and social media influencers tend to flock to Weekend 1, so the encore weekend is more about the music than being seen. Indeed, several artists remarked during their sets about how the atmosphere seemed better the second time around.
That includes the notoriously hot desert climate. The Friday afternoon temperature was more comfortable than it had been in several years, making the navigation between multiple stages easier — at least until all of the estimated 125,000 ticketholders finally arrived.
Nearly 75 percent of the Coachella bill carried over from the originally scheduled 2020 edition, which was postponed a few times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pop, K-Pop, EDM, rap, hip-hop and R&B dominated the lineup.
All-genre LGBTQ+ performers were well-represented by MIKA, Phoebe Bridgers, Japanese Breakfast, Orville Peck, The Regrettes, girl in red, Arlo Parks, Pabllo Vittar (the first drag queen at Coachella), Rina Sawayama, Omar Apollo (a tongue-in-cheek billboard advertising his appearance on the 10 Freeway leading to the festival read “Heterosexuality Can Be Cured!”) among others.
Rock music and related subgenres were less prominent at the festival, but could still be found among the 150+ acts. Below are some highlights.
Former One Direction front man Harry Styles is an international pop superstar, but there are plenty of classic rock elements peppered amid his self-titled debut album and 2019’s Fine Line. During a thoroughly enjoyable set, Styles did a large chunk of the latter, plus three promising new tunes from the upcoming Harry’s House release due in May).
Styles kicked things off by racing down a circular row of stairs for “As it Was,” his latest single and current record-breaking No. 1 single on Billboard’s Hot 100. “Adore You” had a revamped arrangement and prominent guitar solo. Then the singer strapped on an electric himself for the insanely catchy “Golden.” Slinky come-hither song “Woman” was an early standout. The usually folky “Canyon Moon” boasted a beefier arrangement. Lizzo made a guest appearance, and the pair giddily sang a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and the One Direction hit “What Makes You Beautiful” together. Both were decked out in feathered red and pink Gucci coats.
Phoebe Bridgers drew a large crowd to the Outdoor Theatre for an enchanting evening performance. Ironically arriving onstage to the heavy sound of Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness,” the Southern California native and her band opened with the soothing Aimee Mann-styled “Motion Sickness,” off 2017’s Stranger in the Alps. Watching Bridgers do her best-known track, “Kyoto,” which was written about her father and colored by soaring trumpet work, was like breathing fresh mountain air. The breathy, acoustic-based “Scott Street,” described as “a love song about L.A.,” was enrapturing.
An odd moment happened amid the quietly wrenching “Moon Song,” when Bridgers got to the lyric about Eric Clapton: “We hate ‘Tears in Heaven’/But it’s sad that his baby died,” some concertgoers around me cheered (the reaction was possibly related to Clapton’s anti-COVID vaccination mandates and lockdown songs in 2020-21 with and without Van Morrison). Adding to the cozy atmosphere were beautiful images of children’s pop-up books and other ephemera on the backdrop. Later, fellow Coachella artist Arlo Parks reprised her guest appearance from Weekend 1, adding backup vocals to “Graceland Too” and explosive closer “I Know the End.” It was a rare, if welcome, repeat surprise appearance.
Bridgers later returned the favor during Parks’ own performance.
Formed in 1990 by former members of shoegaze progenitor Spacemen 3, Spiritualized was among just a few veteran alternative rock acts on this year’s Coachella bill. Enigmatic leader Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) sang and played electric guitar while seated and he used a sheet music stand. Strobe lights and a mighty wash of sound signaled “Come Together” (off 1997’s much-loved Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space) to start Friday’s hypnotic Sonora tent set. Pierce’s snarling vocal delivery, swirling guitars, horns, handclaps, and robust backing vocals made for a beautiful noise.
The hazy “Shine a Light” (from 1992 debut Lazer Guided Melodies) slowly unfolded over the course of seven minutes with saxophone bleats before ending in a dirty maelstrom of guitar feedback. Selections from the new album Everything Was Beautiful — such as the upbeat, horn-driven “Best Thing You Never Had” and tender “Let it Bleed” (inspired by Iggy Pop) — were equally strong.
Earlier this month, The Regrettes put out their solid third album, Further Joy. The L.A. band’s Gobi tent performance had plenty of candy-coated moments, albeit mixed with lyrical doses of reality. Their blend of punk and new wave sounds, plus 1960s girl group sensibilities often brought The Go-Go’s to mind. Singer/guitarist Lydia Night asked fans to start a mosh pit; some of them gamely responded. Standouts included majestic Chvrches-leaning set opener “Anxieties (Out of Time),” the frantic older tune “California Friends,” which name checks Madonna and features gang vocals, as well as the acoustic guitar-based “Monday,” where Night sings about getting out of L.A.
Before the Coachella gates opened on Saturday, three young women could be heard strategizing about how to get the best viewing spot for Billie Eilish’s headline appearance. They were apparently planning on staying in one place for 11 hours. Talk about devoted fans.
Initially skeptical, this writer was won over after witnessing the Grammy and Oscar-winning alternative rock/pop vocalist’s powerful main stage set. At various points, she prowled the stage like a woman possessed, jumped around, dramatically sang while kneeling on the catwalk, paid attention to a fan that needed medical attention and implored her followers in attendance, “Do not judge anyone.”
Standouts included a batch of songs where Eilish got to show off the more mature, lush side to her voice, such as gorgeous piano-based “idontwannabeyouanymore,” “Billie Bossa Nova” and “Lovely,” which definitely lived up to its title (the duet with Khalid, a surprise guest on Weekend 1, now has 1.7 billion Spotify streams). Then there were the acoustic versions of “I Love You” and “Your Power.” Hayley Williams of Paramore turned up to do a stripped-down version of her band’s “Misery Business,” and later rejoined the show for Eilish’s closer, “Happier Than Ever.”
Wallows graduated from a Coachella 2019 tent stage to the large Outdoor Theatre, and the bump in status served the band well last Saturday. The surrounding area was totally packed with concertgoers and the L.A. alt-pop trio (expanded to a six-piece in concert) pulled off a performance so self-assured that it wouldn’t be surprising to see them on the main stage in a few years.
Selections from the new album Tell Me That It’s Over, such as the effervescent, harmonica-laced title track and summery “Marvelous” (imagine an edgier version of ‘80s band Haircut 100) were elevated by lead singer Dylan Minnette’s spirited delivery. The same held true for selections off 2019’s Nothing Happens: the wonderous “Treacherous Doctor,” a Weezer-leaning “Scrawny” and billowy hit duet with Clairo, “Are You Bored Yet?” Minnette and co-singer/guitarist Braeden Lemasters each said how honored they were to be playing the event again after attending as fans for a decade. During “OK,” Minnette even connected with fans near the front of the stage.
Danny Elfman said he was pleased to be “back from hibernation after 27 years,” at the conclusion of a riveting hourlong, career-spanning set on the Outdoor Theatre during which Elfman put on quite the sonic extravaganza. He was backed by 50 (!) musicians, including a band comprising guitarist Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit, Sting/Vandals drummer Josh Freese, conductor/guitarist/former Oingo Boingo bandmate Steve Bartek, a choir and orchestra.
There were some dark tunes from 2021’s Big Mess (a menacing “Sorry,” “Happy,” “Love in the Time of COVID”), with weird-bordering-on-disturbing graphics on the screens. Concertgoers cheered loudly whenever excerpts from Elfman’s film and TV scores (Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, The Simpsons, Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas) were performed and corresponding clips or animation bits were projected.
Old-schoolers in attendance totally reveled in hearing seven classics by Elfman’s old alt-rock band Oingo Boingo. He was still able to sing “Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself),” “Just Another Day,” “Only a Lad” and “Dead Man’s Party” (Bartek moved to the stage front), with demented authority.
Cathedral City’s Giselle Woo & the Night Owls, among only a handful of local acts on the festival bill, drew a good crowd (including some family members) to the Sonora. Fiery blues rocker “What I Want” from impressive new album Everything and the older harmonica-laced stomper “Coachella Gold” (where Woo sings about driving down the 10 Freeway) were standouts. Christian Collin deftly ripped through several sizzling guitar solos on various songs sung in English and Spanish.
Also notable on the weekend on the rock/pop genre were Lawrence, MIKA, The Marias, DJ Madeon, Yard Act, Surf Curse, Nilufer Yanya, Holly Humberstone and Beach Bunny.
July 1, 2022
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