Jay-Z brought his arena-sized stage show — complete with a guest spot by Beyonce — to the California desert Friday night (April 16), capping off the triumphant first day of the 11th annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival with a rapid succession of more than a decade’s worth of hip hop hits delivered with his trademark braggadocio. The rapper’s show, a celebration of ambition and triumph against long odds, was the perfect coda for an event that has has become one of the most respected – and successful – music festivals in the world.
But from the cosmic hipster disco of LCD Soundsystem and the timeless ska-punk of The Specials to deadmau5‘s triptastic dance spectacular to Calle 13‘s salsa-hop, it was a day for dancing at the Empire Polo Fields, and even the unfortunate news that some European bands, like Friday’s The Cribs, would miss their spots due to travel disruptions from the Icelandic volcano eruption could ruin the good mood of the capacity crowd of 75,000.
As Jay-Z breezed and thumped his way through a set that touched on the breadth of his career, anticipation for a surprise guest, one of the festival’s hallmarks, settled over the crowd. The rumoured collaboration by Dr. Dre turned out to be a false starter, but Jay-Z brought his wife Beyonce to the stage and together, the royal hip hop pair sharing a moment of public sweetness with the duet “Forever Young.”
The visual component of Jay-Z’s performance made frequent obvious references to current issues, including a scrolling stock ticker and a short video clip of President Obama brushing off his shoulders, a now infamous public reference to the fact that his music has broken yet another barrier: it is listened to in the White House.
New York, if not Brooklyn, was a recurring theme among the main stage headliners. Both Jay-Z and LCD Soundsystem, who each claim neighboring parts of Brooklyn as their home, led rousing singalongs of their odes to their hometowns. Before Jay-Z led an oceanic “Empire State of Mind,” James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem insisted that he close his band’s monstrous set with “New York, I Love You (But You’re Bringing Me Down),” a moment that felt provocative as one of the day’s only unavoidably meloncholic songs. Jay-Z also took time from his set to acknowledged other Brooklyn-based bands performing during the festival’s first day, including Grizzly Bear and Yeasayer.
Day One showcased an assortment of bands that, taken together, signal no shortage in Goldenvoice’s grand ambitions for Coachella as the premier outdoor music and arts festival in the United States, if not the world. Fans could dabble from the folk-pop hootenanny of the Avett Brothers to theatrical goth pop of Fever Ray. Earlier in the day, fans overwhelmed the tent for Sleigh Bells, whose animated and charismatic lead singer Alexis Krauss gave an incendiary performance that had many standing on the balls of their feet.
(Additional reporting by David J. Prince)