Daft Punk's album teaser, How to Destroy Angels, Tegan & Sara, Alt-J, Johnny Marr and more action onstage and backstage at California's massive music festival
Additional reporting by Nicole Pajer
Once again, tens of thousands of rowdy indie-rockers, skimpily-clad socialites, molly-munching ravers, gorgeous celebrities and more music fans of all stripes have descended upon the desert paradise of Indio, California – meaning that another Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival in full swing. Once again, festival organizers Goldenvoice have transformed the Empire Polo Fields into a thriving carnival of sights and sounds that showcases the brightest new rock, hip-hop and EDM outfits alongside a crop of head-turning headliners on the event’s six stages.
It’s impossible to catch all of the bands and DJs that provided the soundtrack for Coachella’s 75,000 fans on Friday (April 12), but that didn’t stop us from trying. Here are some highlights from what we heard and saw on Coachella 2013’s long, loud opening day.
-- ‘Who the hell are the Stone Roses?’ That was the question that surfaced on several blogs and twitter feeds back in January when the recently resurrected Manchester quartet was announced as the Friday headliner of the 2013 edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. When the Roses took the main stage to close out day one of the mammoth desert festival, it appeared the inquiry still had not been answered for many of the attendees shuffling across the California polo fields. The crowd gathered around the stage was noticeably thinner than the one commanded by more contemporary acts like Passion Pit and Yeah Yeah Yeahs earlier in the day. And if the number of listeners fleeing the Britpop revival to catch the simultaneous sets by Tegan & Sara and How to Destroy Angels was any indication, it’s a safe assumption that the Roses didn’t win over that many new fans during their debut appearance in the desert.
But initiated ex-pats and Anglophiles in the audience were set on making sure that the Stone Roses had a warm welcome for their rare U.S appearance. Led by sometimes pitchy frontman Ian Brown, who lurched more than danced across the stage during the hour-long set, the quartet injected a funky, Madchester groove into Coachella’s Friday night festivities, tackling their best-known songs like “I Wanna Be Adored,” “Fools Gold” and the rousing “I Am the Resurrection” with a laidback ease that delighted those who stuck it out til the end.
-- The Roses’ set was the second of the one-two Britpop punch that began with the also reunited and better-known Blur, who played their first U.S. show in 2003 and made their first Coachella appearance on the main stage immediately before Brown and co. took their turn. Frontman Damon Albarn and his crew had no trouble communicating their distinctive brand of jangly British pop to the California crowd. With an elaborate backing band that included a choir of backup singers and a thundering horn section, the band tour through the biggest crossover anthems from their catalog, like “Boys & Girls,” “Tender,” “Parklife” and the earth-shaking “Song 2.” Even if Albarn himself seemed unenthused at times – his idea of stage presence often consisted of peering into the crowd with expressions of ennui -- the audience ate up the band’s fantastic form, which made the set one of the night’s highlights.
-- Although Daft Punk (sadly) isn't part of the 2013 Coachella lineup, the French electronic duo dropped a new trailer for their forthcoming album, "Random Access Memories," on unsuspecting festival-goers on Friday by broadcasting the clip on large video screens. The trailer revealed that Panda Bear, Pharrell Williams, the Strokes' Julian Casablancas and more will be featured on the album, and also featured footage of Williams performing a new song with Daft Punk. "Random Access Memories" is due out May 21 on Columbia Records; could the famed robots drop by Coachella as surprise guests before that?
-- At midnight, a dedicated crowd of Trent Reznor followers made their way to the Mojave Tent to check out the set by his latest endeavor, How to Destroy Angels. The band appeared around 12:05, behind a series of screens that lit up and accented them. An eager crowd erupted into cheer when Reznor belted out his first notes, although he delegated the majority of the evening’s singing to wife Maandig. Throughout the set, the lighting changed, shining a variety of colored beams that cascaded over Reznor and his bandmates. The highlight of the set was when Reznor lent his gritty NIN style vocals to fan favorite “And The Sky Began To Scream.” The Coachella show followed How To Destroy Angels’ April 11 debut at Pomona’s Fox Theater, however, watching them live had many thinking they’ve been together for years.
-- Making their third appearance on Coachella’s main stage, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took position after sundown and once again delivered and show that was marked by snarling rock riffs, subtle pop intensity and the kinetic energy of effervescent frontwoman Karen O. Emerging onto the stage in a bedazzled, lavender suit that was oddly reminiscent of a Funkadelic Elvis, Miss O. jumped jived and wailed throughout the band’s hour-long set of new cuts from their recently released “Mosquito” album and hits that traversed their art-rock catalog. Kicking off with a revival-worthy rendition of their new single “Sacrilege” – which featured backing by the Hollywood Gospel Choir – the Yeahs showed diversity through the set, flexing both their hard and soft sides by balancing adrenalized crowd-pleasers like “Rich” and “Heads Will Roll” with the atmospheric ambiance of ballads like the slow-burning “Subway” and the set-closing “Maps,” which inspired a sing-along among the swaying masses.
-- Dillon Francis and Skrillex have apparently been in the market to collaborate for a while but just haven’t found the time. After bumping into each other backstage this weekend, it looks like it might finally happen. “We talked about it a long time ago and it never happened,” Francis told Billboard. “It was funny because after the set, [Skrillex] was like, ‘Hey man. If I book a studio time will you get in the studio?’ and I was like ‘No. Of course I will!’ It’s going down this week – probably Wednesday. We’re just going to go in there and riff.” Francis also told Billboard that he’s in the midst of finishing his new single with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and is working on his new album, which Diplo is producing. Francis performed on the Sahara tent earlier in the afternoon where he brought out a cardboard cutout of 2Pac and played “California Love,” in honor of the rapper’s hologram resurrection at last year’s event.
-- Hip-hop was relatively scarce on Day 1 of Coachella, with Aesop Rock and the reunited Jurassic 5 romping across the Outdoor Theatre stage on Friday afternoon and evening, respectively. But Earl Sweatshirt was the big rap winner on Friday: as Flying Lotus served as his DJ and Tyler, The Creator his buoyant co-star, the Odd Future rapper offered a quick-witted alternative to the Stone Roses on the Gobi, one year after his Golf Wang cohort Frank Ocean was propped up against Pulp on the same stage.
-- Not all of the British royalty received main-stage booking. Ex-Smiths axeman Johnny Marr hit the Mojave stage mid-afternoon to perform his entire new album, “The Messenger,” except for one song that he didn’t have time to practice. Marr won the crowd over with his new material, but gave long-time fans a special treat by closing the gig with a cover of the Smiths classic “How Soon is Now.” Marr’s vocal delivery couldn’t match the divine, self-deprecating tone of old partner-in-crime Morrissey, but his masterful guitar work on the song was enough to send longtime fans into fits of giddy nostalgia. Backstage, Marr seemed pleased with his Coachella solo debut. “The set was fun and ultimately that’s the reason I’m here – to try and make the audience feel good for an hour.” Marr added that he was planning on going to see some other bands like Modest Mouse and Blur later in the day. “I saw Jake Bugg earlier. It’s always nice to see musicians. It’s a little bit like people bringing their traveling shows together for a traveling convention in some ways, it’s a little like everyone with their sideshows. I like it. It’s like a circus or something,” he added.
-- Backstage, Coachella buzz band IO Echo joked about the moment they realized that they had “made it” as a band. “We’re obsessed with freeze dried space ice cream and we have it on our rider kind of just LOL – we’re not diva-ish or anything but we said whiskey and beer. The venues are all very kind and they bring whiskey and beer and finally in Chicago, they were so awesome and they went out and got space ice cream and that was a real turning point,” joked vocalist Ioanna Gika. IO Echo performed Friday afternoon on the Gobi tent, performing tracks off their freshly released album “Ministry of Love.” The band just got off the road with Garbage and is gearing up for Lollapalooza and to join The Joy Formidable on tour.
-- While they haven’t started on the follow up to “An Awesome Wave,” Alt-J has been keeping busy both on the road and with side projects. Keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton filled us in on their latest endeavor: “We’ve been doing a movie soundtrack. The director is Bruce Goodison and he’s making a film about asylum seekers and it’s almost finished now. It’s called ‘Leave to Remain.’ That’s been really positive and really fun. The film is set to release at this year’s Cannes.” They guys were thrilled to be playing their very first Coachella, noting how astonished they were by the festival’s hospitality. “We’re pretty impressed so far! We haven’t been to a festival where we’ve had a dressing room for the whole day before. Today we’ve got a dressing room all day and some pretty good catering,” said guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury.
-- Tegan and Sara told Billboard backstage how relieved they were that fans have been so receptive to their latest album, “Heartthrob.” “There were definitely a few nights … when I was like, I wonder what’s going to happen when the record comes out and then it was really overwhelming how positive [the reception] is.” Sara revealed that she thinks the next single off the record will be “I Was a Fool.” “We’re still hoping to get some life out of ‘Closer,’ but eventually we’ll get to hopefully a second and maybe third single,” she added. For a third single, they’d be happy with “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me.”
-- Not all of the famous faces at Coachella 2013 appeared on the jumbotrons. Once again, the VIP area of the festival was a who’s-who of actors, models, and vacationing pop stars who took in the sounds and sunshine behind the fences. Spotted at Friday’s festivities were skateboarding icon Tony Hawk, Motely Crue drummer Tommy Lee, Victoria’s Secret beauty Allesandra Ambrosio, pop pinup Joe Jonas and chart-topping Coachella regular Katy Perry.