Headliners don't disappoint during Coachella's final day
Wu-Tang, Chili Peppers and Nick Cave close out the festival without surprises
By Robert Spuhler
Special to MSN Music
INDIO, Calif. -- In 2011, it was Arcade Fire's ascension from being the “next big thing” to being the big thing, featuring LED-illuminated beach balls. In 2012, it was the Tupac projection during Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's set. But the defining memory of the 2013 edition of Coachella, at least for the first weekend, did not happen onstage; instead, it was a sandstorm that whipped the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio on Sunday night, stinging eyes and driving the faces of festivalgoers behind bandanas and even surgical masks.
It was the one spontaneous event of an evening that delivered very few surprises, with headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers in fine form, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds converting some new fans and the Wu-Tang Clan stealing the show at the Outdoor stage.
Kicking off their show-closing set with “Monarchy of Roses” and “Dani California,” the Chili Peppers attacked the stage with trademark intensity. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis leapt around like it was still 1993 rather than 20 years later, while Flea slapped the bass into submission. Songs like “Under the Bridge” and “Higher Ground” sounded as fresh in a field in California as they did on MTV two decades ago.
Missing from the performance, though, was that idea of the big moment, the “only at Coachella” occurrence that everyone would talk about for years to come. Sometimes, it's sublime, like Prince's cover of Radiohead's “Creep” in 2008. Other times it's ridiculous, like last year's Tupac tribute. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers set delivered neither, settling instead for a performance that one would expect from any arena or stadium stand-alone show.
There may be no tougher time slot at Coachella than opening for the Sunday night headliner, as Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds discovered. By that point in the evening, many fans are at the main stage solely to hold spots for the finale act, and after nearly three days of the festival the crowd can be tired and apathetic, especially when seeing an unfamiliar band.
Cave and company did not let those obstacles deter them, though. Starting with “Jubilee Street” (and ably assisted on the track by a children's choir and a string section), the band set out to prove themselves, rather than rest on 30 years' worth of laurels. Cave worked the stage like a man possessed by the spirit of Mick Jagger and the desperation of a disgraced preacher. By the time the band performed “Red Right Hand,” a song as apocalyptic as the dusty, starless sky, the younger Chili Peppers fans had gone from dismissive to intrigued.
While the Bad Seeds were finishing up their set on the main stage, another group started into an anniversary celebration of their own. But while the Aussies faced an ambivalent audience, the Wu-Tang Clan walked out to the largest crowd of the weekend on the Outdoor Stage, many with the Wu's signature “W” hand gesture already in the air.
It's been 20 years since the release of “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” the group's still-revered debut album, but many in the crowd still knew every word to songs like “Protect Ya Neck” and “C.R.E.A.M.” The crew ripped through most of that debut before heading to solo tracks by Method Man, Raekwon and even a crowd singalong to the deceased Ol' Dirty Bastard's “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” As the set progressed and Wu-Tang moved on to more recent songs, a portion either moved over to the main stage to get a good spot for the Chili Peppers or sought shelter to avoid the winds (“Hurricane Wu,” as the group called it). Those who did that missed a guest appearance by Redman to perform “Da Rockwilder” with Method Man.
Earlier in the afternoon, Vampire Weekend bounced through a confident, polished set split almost evenly between its first two albums and “Modern Vampires of the City,” the band's newest effort. Lead singer Ezra Koenig's performance seemed almost effortless, and the sunny, Afro-pop inspired tunes gave concertgoers a perfect soundtrack to which to twirl in the field facing the main stage.
The most inspiring story of the day happened in the Gobi tent, where Rodriguez, a Detroit native whose massive success in South Africa went unnoticed, even by himself, in his home country, played one of his biggest American gigs to date. At 70 years of age, he was supported by two people as he walked up to the microphone, but once a stagehand gave Rodriguez a guitar, the man seemed to shed decades of wear and tear. Unfortunately, the sound quality matched neither the spirit of the event nor his virtuoso guitar skills, but when he played “Sugar Man,” the song which inspired the title of the 2012 documentary about his life, distortion and muddled notes hardly mattered.
The Lumineers have their own hit song that fans clamored to hear at Coachella: “Ho Hey,” which stands out from the beat machines currently ruling top 40 radio. The folk-pop group bravely played their best-known single fourth in their 11-song set, but the crowd stuck around afterward to hear the rest of the show, thanks in large measure to the band's enthusiasm and technical prowess. While Wesley Schultz and company seemed to be engulfed by the large stage itself, the songs are big and well-loved enough to fill arenas and festivals.
Other highlights: Red Hot Chili Peppers shot streamers from a cannon, while Wu-Tang Clan released massive beach balls with the Wu logo into the crowd. The wind ruined any possible visual effect immediately, grounding the paper and carrying the balls over the nearest fence. … Coachella welcomed a new location for EDM this year, partnering with Los Angeles hotspot Sound to create the Yuma tent, featuring hardwood flooring, couches and, most vitally, air conditioning. It did not take long for word to spread: By the time Maya Jane Coles took to the DJ booth on Sunday afternoon, the tent was filled to capacity and an entry line stretched into the food area.
Photos: (Top) Wu-Tang Clan (left) Red Hot Chili Peppers (right) The Lumineers. Photos by Alexandra Wyman/AP
Other than the Chili Peppers, I've never heard of the other "bands" and DJ music suck! So, that said, nothing beats good ol' rock n roll.
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