Still reeling from the glorious bounty of Saturday and with limbs that were now beginning to feel the strain of two days of intrepid reporting and guileless dancing, we headed into the final day of Coachella with a very different attitude than the first two days. If Friday and Saturday had been filled with highly anticipated sets and extremely pleasant surprises, Sunday afternoon would begin with a voyage of discovery. None of the first five acts we caught on Sunday were bands I had circled when the initial lineup was announced, but by the quirks of scheduling, we had the opportunity to try something new, which is, of course, one of the points of going to a festival in the first place.
To begin with, we braved the early afternoon glare of the sun to see Raider Klan, the rap collective headed by young upstart SpaceGhostPurrp. Musically they produced a set of very of-the-moment half-speed drums, deep rumbling bass, and trap snares delivered with the kind intensity you would expect if you have listened to Mysterious Phonk. I had no issue with this as such, but I fail to understand why a show that is so suited to an underground club or even a sweaty tent was instead shifted to the opening slot on one of the vast outdoor stages where much of the braggadocio simply got lost in the open field and looked a little silly. Their antagonistic attitude did not really suit the desert party vibe either.
A strange start to the day then, but we headed over to the Gobi to see LA garage rocker Hanni El Khatib do his thing. Again, the venue choice seemed strange as Hanni’s full-bodied songs appear to be an obvious choice for the Outdoor Stage but were instead confined to the quieter atmosphere of the tent. His music is a little derivative but was delivered with enough drive to deserve a more recognition and movement from the crowd than he actually got.
Having said that, trying to inject life into a crowd that is still in recovery from the Saturday night is something of a thankless task. Nevertheless, El Khatib does have that intangible star quality, and judging by the number of his songs that are already being bought up for advertising campaigns (not many of the acts at Coachella this year can say they were on a Superbowl ad), I would not expect him to remain an unknown entity for very long.
Smith Westerns are on the verge of releasing a third album, but their melodic indie rock has somehow passed by me over the years. The Chicago group creates subtle earworm hooks in the style of somebody like The Shins, and like that band, they do not seem to have any restrictions as to where to take those tunes. They brought a similar quality as Grizzly Bear with the knowledge that the songs were plenty strong enough to make up for a lack of stage thrills. With three guitarists intertwining, this was also one of the best sounding sets of the day with a real sweet spot found in the balance.
The new songs suggested that Soft Will is going to be worth checking out when it arrives, and I, for one, will be paying attention when it does. Their low-key songs may not be the kind to grab attention at a festival, but they drew a decent enough crowd to the Outdoor Stage in spite of the 99 degree heat.
Mercifully we were back in the tents for the rest of the afternoon. DIIV took to the stage in the Mojave Tent to play tracks from last year’s critically acclaimed Oshin album, and despite looking like a Nirvana tribute act (they even named the band after a Nirvana song), the intricate guitar work and wall of sound noise was closer to the shoegaze bands of the early nineties than any grunge reference point. It would have been nice to lie down and allow their strangely euphoric music to drift over me, but instead I chose to watch and judge Zachary Cole Smith for his choice of shorts.
All was forgiven, though, and I added Oshin to the always-evolving list of albums I really need to get ’round to listening to. Following the band’s minor meltdown at SXSW recently (most likely brought on by an exhaustion-inducing schedule at that festival), it was good to see them relaxed and enjoying themselves on stage again. Maybe their recently announced European tour cancellation was a weight off their shoulders, and their performance was suitably energized as a result.
We had one final band to catch before we hit the list of people we’d already circled to see, and it turned out to be the best of the bunch. Thee Oh Sees delivered a raucous and thrilling show in the Gobi Tent, and looking at their insanely productive back catalogue in recent years, it seems they are in a real purple patch of songwriting form. The San Francisco band balances a punk energy with some psychedelic guitar work and an unsettling element of psychosis. John Dwyer was one of the best frontmen we saw all weekend, with a piercing stare that appeared to be aimed past the audience rather than at it, as if he was caught in some kind of trance.
It would certainly explain his playing, which seemed to consist of attacking the guitar as much as playing it. His use of effects pedals and feedback white noise would have made Thurston Moore proud, but the band’s concise rhythm section deserves credit for providing him with a framework for the mayhem. If I had to pick one band that became a must-listen during the course of Coachella, Thee Oh Sees would be that band.
We stayed in the Gobi Tent knowing that there was inevitably going to be a bit of a rush for the next act. If Grimes had played at this point last year, it’s uncertain whether she would have filled the tent, but her star has soared since then and now she finds herself in the position of being at the forefront of an explosion of Montreal acts. Her stage set-up is simplicity itself, but if you think watching a woman sing while she twiddles a few knobs on some basic looking equipment sounds like a boring show, you need to see Grimes.