The 10th annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival got off to a fab start Friday (April 17), thanks to Sir Paul McCartney, who headlined the event with a marathon performance worthy of his long and lauded musical legacy. Proving himself the ultimate showman, Macca played a thrilling 2 hour 45 minute set that included a healthy collection of Beatles, Wings and solo material that kept the crowd of young and old singing along well past Coachella’s midnight curfew.
Kicking off with the Wings classic “Jet,” the 66-year old McCartney made the most of Coachella’s new main-stage soundsystem (its first in six years), and delivered hit after hit to the audience packed onto the Empire Polo Field in Indio, California. Contrary to rumors circulating throughout the day, McCartney’s set featured no appearances by Ringo Starr nor George Harrison’s son Dhani, but Macca, dressed in a crisp white shirt and black suspenders, didn’t disappoint Beatles die-hards, as he included anthems like “Drive My Car,” “Blackbird,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Let It Be,” “I Got a Feeling” and “Hey Jude” into his 34-song, three-encore set.
Amidst the musical celebration, McCartney took time to poignantly tip his hat to his late collaborators. Macca plucked a ukulele and dedicated a moving rendition of “Something” to Harrison, while John Lennon was honored with a stirring medley of “A Day in the Life” and “Give Peace a Chance.” Still, the most touching moment came when McCartney remarked that he was performing on the 11th anniversary of the death of his first wife, Linda. “She loved the desert, she loved music, she loved rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “She loved it all.”
Paul McCartney wasn’t the only elder statesman who took the Coachella crowd on a trip down memory lane. 74-year-old Leonard Cohen continued his comeback tour and dazzled the audience on the side stage with an elegant and haunting sunset performance. His set, which climaxed with a stirring rendition of “Hallelujah,” hung ominously in the desert air until 50-year-old Morrissey interrupted the calm on the main stage with a thunderous, career-spanning collection of tunes that included Smiths classics like “This Charming Man,” “Girlfriend in a Coma” and a surprising rendition of “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others.”
While the seasoned performers got top billing Friday, there were still plenty of exciting new sounds for sun-scorched ears to soak up throughout the day. Los Angeles quartet Silversun Pickups closed out Coachella’s side stage with a raucous set of grungy rock ‘n’ roll that thrilled their antsy, energetic crowd. Canadian noise terrorists Crystal Castles devastated their audience with a raw, fist-pumping set of vicious tencho punk in the Sahara dance tent. And breakbeat duo the Crystal Method made a triumphant return to the Coachella with a powerful closing performance in the dance tent that erupted into a full-on rave. Standout appearances by favored indie-rock and dance artists M. Ward, White Lies, Ting Tings, Airborne Toxic Event, Beirut, Girl Talk, Franz Ferdinand and Conor Oberst also gave the massive crowd reason to celebrate under the desert skies.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival is expected to draw close to 150,000 people during the weekend. The event continues on Saturday and Sunday with performances by The Cure, The Killers, My Bloody Valentine, M.I.A., TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Public Enemy, Throbbing Gristle and 80 others artists scheduled over the remaining two days.