More than the dry wit of Pulp, Swedish punk of Refused or the trippy pyrotechnics of Swedish House Mafia, the opening day of the opening weekend of Coachella 2012 belonged to Mother Nature. With drops of rain plunking down upon the Indio, Calif. Polo grounds and gusts of wind rattling the surrounding palm trees, Friday afternoon (Apr. 13) was impossibly overcast, and many festival goers were soon clad in jackets and hoodies they never expected to need this weekend.
Fortunately, the performances on the first day were just as stellar as the weather was not: the long-awaited reunions of bands like Pulp, Mazzy Star and Refused were dynamic payoffs, while newcomers like Gary Clark Jr., Ximena Sarinana and Kendrick Lamar made the most of their festival slots. So who had the most memorable performances, and what was the vibe like in the Coachella crowd? Check out these 12 things we saw and heard on Friday at the festival:
Day 1: Coachella 2012
Gary Clark, Jr.
Frank Ocean & Tyler, the C reator
Swedish House Mafia
1. Like Arcade Fire last year, the Black Keys were given headlining honors after years of critical acclaim and multiple albums full of unostentatious yet sonically rich rock tunes. Unlike Arcade Fire, the Keys only have two members — Arcade Fire have two touring violinists at their disposal — and has to work harder to create epic “headliner” music. Still, in a year where dance will be king, the Black Keys’ straightforward rockers like “Tighten Up,” “I’ll Be Your Man” and “Lonely Boy” got everybody grooving in place, teenage girls hugged each other and started hopping up and down in rhythm when “Howlin’ For You” got going. Who says rock and roll is dead when a meaty riff can inspire that kind of reaction?
2. “I heard a rumor going around that the reason it was all cloudy today was because there are two bands from Sheffield playing,” said Pulp‘s dapper and eternally witty frontman Jarvis Cocker. “You all should consider yourselves lucky.” Following a set by fellow across-the-pond natives Arctic Monekys, Pulp took the main stage under a drizzly night sky and delivered a hit-soaked set of Britpop anthems the Coachella masses had been waiting more than a decade to hear. Making their debut appearance at the festival — and only their third U.S. date since disbanding in 1998 — the six-piece band seduced the polo fields with a sexy assortment of tracks from their ’90s catalog, including standouts like “Disco 2000,” “Mis-shapes” and the career-defining “Common People.” Cocker proved as kinetic a frontman as ever as he strolled, strutted and leapt across the stage with boundless energy, stopping to feed the crowd grapes and chocolates from his pocket between tunes.
4. West Coast hip-hop — specifically, that of Kendrick Lamar — will bookend this year’s festivals: after unfurling “Section.80” gems like “A.D.H.D.” and “Rigamortus” and leaving the stage, the rapper’s DJ confirmed to the crowd that Lamar will indeed be joining Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at their headlining set on Sunday night to perform “The Recipe,” his new single with Dre. Lamar was previously a rumored guest for the set; rappers like Eminem and Wiz Khalifa are expected to join the West Coast legends on Sunday night.
5. Sun-worshipping revelers watched the weather forecast with trepidation all week, as rain, high winds and unseasonable cool temperatures threatened to dampen the spirits of those gathered on the polo field. But Mother Nature was not altogether unkind. Although the mercury dropped into the 50s after dark, the wind gusts and drizzle soon faded away, allowing the sky to reveal a few twinkling stars by the time bold-faced names like the Black Keys, Mazzy Star and Explosions in the Sky took their turns on the outdoor stages. Between bands, DJs made the best of the soggy situation – rainy-day anthems like Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Happy When It Rains,” and yes, even Milli Vanilli’s “Blame It on the Rain” were in heavy rotation all day.
6. M83 could have used a bigger tent. The success of their 2011 album ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming” made the French quintet one of the night’s biggest draws, and forced many fans to huddle outside the overcrowded Mojave tent and groove to the group’s epic new-wave tunes from afar. Those pushy enough to make their way to the stage were treated to one of the night’s most blissful and buzzed-about sets. No one seemed to have more fun than the band themselves, who’d waiting seven years to make their return to the desert.
7. In between angry punk blasts, guttural screams and lessons on the evils of capitalism, Refused singer Dennis Lyxzen told the crowd that he was “humbled,” with tears forming in his eyes, to have helped reunite his band for the festival after 14 years of silence. According to Lyxzen, the Swedish hardcore group’s last U.S. show was in a basement in Virginia for a crowd of 40 people; on Friday night, they delivered one of the surefire highlights of the festival to a crowd of thousands, including a dozen or so backpacked kids moshing in the middle.
8. Songs that Swedish House Mafia remixed during their headlining-but-not-being-called-headlining set: Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Florence & The Machine’s “You’ve Got The Love,” Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home.” Visual treats SHM bestowed upon its audience: fireworks, streamers, laser lights (of course), bursts of fire, strobes, and about 18 other things. Number of guys in full “Where’s Waldo?” get-up fist-pumping during the EDM giants’ original single “Save The World”: one. Number of bass drops: too many to count. Number of satisfied customers: again, too many to count.
9. Austin guitar-god Gary Clark, Jr. got things cooking early in the day with a sizzling afternoon set. Sporting dark shades under his stylish pork-pie hat, Clark unleashed his vintage mix of rock, soul and blues jams on the crowd rammed into the Gobi tent, and made his axe howl in ways that recalled Hendrix in his prime. In fact, no one would have thought twice if he had set his guitar on fire at the end of his set; it was that blazing.
10. Whereas Clark’s performance was loud and incendiary, the Hope Sandoval-led dream pop pioneers Mazzy Star went a different route, dropping melancholy atmospherics that paired well with the cloudy weather. A special moment came, as you’d expect, with the performance of their hit “Fade Into You.” Another blast-from-the-nineties moment came with James ‘ joyous set, which included their hit “Laid.”
11. Random celebrities were easy to spot, with Katy Perry , David Hasselhoff, “Community” star Donald Glover , “That ’70s Show” alum Danny Masterson and the aforementioned Gary Clark, Jr. all moseying by on Friday. However, no star was as giddy to be back in Indo as “Breaking Bad” Emmy winner Aaron Paul, who was walking around the main grounds before the Arctic Monkeys’ 6:30 set, high-fiving fans he passed and excitedly cheering. “Hello Coachella. I have missed you,” Paul wrote on Twitter. See? When he’s not pretending to sell meth on one of TV’s best dramas, Paul is just a Coachella nut like the rest of us.
12. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg won’t hit the main stage for another two days, but fans are already buzzing with anticipation for the duo’s closing set on Sunday, and speculating about the special guests rumored to make appearance. Eminem and Wiz Khalifa are all-but expected, but even the late 2Pac and Nate Dogg and rumored to make beyond-the-grave cameos via stage holograms. We’ll just have to wait and see.