Live Review, Coachella 2017

One of the laziest journalistic tropes ever is: “This (supersuccessfulthing) isn’t nearly as cool as it was back when it was (underground, lesser-known, hardly a blip back in the day, etc.).”

This is what LCD Soundsystem sent up so effectively with “Losing My Edge” and has been a theme we’ve heard associated with “Chella” over and over again in recent years. It’s a giant financial ecosystem of which music is only a part (in 2016, Coachella sold nearly 200,000 tickets and grossed about $100 million, not to mention all of the tangential revenue generated by sponsors, merchandise sales, concessions, etc.), there’s too much corporate largesse creeping into the picture, the bookings aren’t nearly as edgy as they were, it’s more fashion show and social media mirror than cultural statement, I saw your dad there last year, yadda yadda.

One way to think about Coachella: it’s a festival whose humble beginnings date back to when Pearl Jam was warring with Ticketmaster and booked itself into the Empire Polo Club in 1993, as lighting-oneself-afire an act of anti-careerist stubbornness as has existed in the music industry’s recent history. Another, perhaps more practical way to think about it, is that the festival has become a way for largely niche acts in indie rock, hip hop and various flavors of EDM to reach a broader audience that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to them given present course and speed of their organic development. When you think about artists such as Long Island’s Lemon Twigs, Seattle’s Tacocat or even the legendary Belleville Three (Detroit techno OGs Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson), the kind of affinity they can create with two weekends’ worth of energetic performances might eclipse everything else they’re capable of generating in a typical album/touring cycle. So: Coachella serves a useful purpose (as do other festivals of its type: Pitchfork, SXSW, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, etc.) no matter what the self-proclaimed cool kids may think or how snarky their Tumblr posts may be.

It was with this framing in mind that we packed our rucksacks and caught the party plane down to Palm Springs for this year’s opening weekend. Gloriously bathed in 90-plus degree sunlight, the Empire Polo Club hosts what is no doubt the most thoughtful and, if possible, comfortable long weekend of live music in the U.S.: There is ample space for the crusty campers, backdrops for the Instagrammers, food and drink for all, and if it’s possible to call 330 acres of desert oasis “lush,” these guys have figured out a sensible way to make it so. Therefore, two generations of duBrowa festival attendees took in the three day weekend of with a tacit agreement in place: We would humor each other by attending the other guy’s sets-of-choice to the extent it was logistically possible—your Louis The Child showcase vs. my GBV fix. It’s unclear who got the better of this particular deal, but it made for a fantastic weekend at the musical deli tray under near-perfect conditions, all the same.

Friday split the difference between a typically Angeleno party night and a visit from the touring artists of the Empire. Having opened with the Raspberries-meets-Walker Brothers stylings of Long Island’s Lemon Twigs (a plaid-suited Brian D’Addario jogging crazily around stage like a Faces-era Rod the Mod), we then transitioned to the first of several British acts who killed it with their particular brand of music: London-based grime superstar Stormzy, whose “big man wif a beard,” high-energy 140-BPM rap set the table for everything else that followed. L.A.-based party collective Brownies and Lemonade hosted a showcase EDM set at the LCD-festooned DoLab Stage, with producer Alexander Lewis adding some festive trombone to a series of trap tracks while the duo Louis The Child slayed a packed tent full of Stevie Nicks hippie-chick lookalikes with a sparkling set of future soul. Every festival produces its share of surprises and disappointments—British soul-man Sampha definitively qualified as an unexpected delight, packing in a sweaty tent and filling the VIP area up front (we saw Gwyneth Paltrow, Stormzy, Kevin Abstract and half of his Brockhampton rap collective boogying away) with a crew who came for his Drake hit “4422” but left singing the praises of his virtuoso solo keyboard performance “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano.” Expect huge things from this London-based R&B artist down the line.

As for Australia’s Avalanches—making their first U.S. appearance in 15 years on the back of their 2016 global comeback smasheroo Wildflower—the show proved that their real strength is as a studio creation vs. live act, with a catastrophic rig failure in the middle of “Subways” making for an interesting moment of improv for a band that isn’t really built for that sort of thing. Guided By Voices proved that Bob Pollard and Co. can still come correct with the old-school, serrated-guitar indie rock, their set ranging from brand-new material to songs unearthed from the Bee Thousand era. While Richie Hawtin and DJ Shadow demonstrated that ’90s-era techno and sampledelic hip hop can still summon a passionate audience in 2017.

Without doubt the spotlight act of the day was Radiohead—the band played before a sea of humanity and opened with slower, more contemplative material from A Moon Shaped Pool before suffering through three different sound stoppages, leaving the main stage twice before returning in a much feistier mood, with Thom Yorke changing the band’s setlist seemingly on the spot to troll festival organizers with the much-maligned “Creep,” blaming the various failures on “aliens.” L.A.-based EDM superstar Dillon Francis closed out the evening with a set heavy on moombahton jams, reprising his signature style from about 2013-ish for what appeared to be the largest single audience we’ve ever witnessed at a festival, filling an entire airplane hangar with sweaty, jiving fans who spilled out into the surrounding area with dayglo sticks, humorous hand-cobbled signs and a ridiculous number of “Christmas lights as costumes,” creating an undulating pool of people that washed rippling into the desert night.

If Friday was about new discoveries, then Saturday was devoted to surprise features—meaning, the time-honored tradition of bringing special guests onstage for a social media-amplified star turn. After taking in Mitski’s offbeat, Helium-like charms, the day turned to the half-Interpol/half-Wu emo tangle of Banks + Steelz and the hard, dark beats of French producer Brodinski, whose 90s-inspired techno would have been perfect in the midnight time slot (as it was, he packed the hangar-like Sahara venue full of writhing sparkle-face-paint kids). Portland’s Car Seat Headrest held to the indie-standard party line—guitars, attitude, skinny suit in a pastel color, more guitars—and then the parade of features began, with Angeleno six-string bass jazzbo Thundercat weaving his magic for an overflowing crowd before bringing out yacht-rock hero Michael McDonald (yes, that one, the silver-topped, golden-throated Doobie Brother) for a trio of beautifully ’70s-touched Fender Rhodes numbers that brought the house down when the familiar strains of “What A Fool Believes” wafted into the air.

British producer Mura Masa then proceeded to make a virtue out of his rotating backstage holding pen, with Desiigner, Charli XCX and finally A$AP Rocky all hitting the stage for their respective radio hits, which sent bodies overhead (Desiigner crowd-surfing his way into the front rows, and various kids in their desert finery passed back over the barrier in return) and produced probably the single best set of the day—dude is not only the owner of a golden set of ears, he can multitask with the best of ’em (keyboards, guitar, drums). Atlanta’s Future played to an ocean of fans before bringing out Ty Dolla Sign and then Drake out to close his evening set; while not to be outdone, fellow ATL resident Gucci Mane coaxed an appearance from hot-rap-kid-of-the-moment Lil Yachty and performed “Black Beatles” with guests Rae Sremmurd to wrap up his Coachella timeslot. Canadian rapper/producer Nav marked an otherwise low-key performance by inviting prior-night-headliner Travis Scott and the Weeknd to the stage, while French producer DJ Snake brought Migos to the stage for their ubiquitous radio anthem “Bad And Boujee,” then dropped the jaws of about half of the night’s attendees by conjuring the notoriously fickle Ms. Lauren Hill for a series of Fugees tracks (“Ready Or Not,” “Killing Me Softly”) before wrapping her cameo turn with a spin on her solo classic, “Lost Ones.” The night wrapped with Lady Gaga’s insanely produced and highly calibrated replacement slot for Beyonce (who bowed out months ago after announcing that she was expecting twins; Gaga returned the favor by dropping a surprise single, “The Cure,” just as she left the stage), and a fantastic, sunny-day-disco nightcap from L.A. production duo Classixx, whose admixture of electro, indie pop and straight-up ’70s dance music leaned heavily toward Disclosure territory and would have made the perfect soundtrack for Brodinski’s mid-day slot. All told—a day full of other people’s talents attached to a series of sets that were perfect for the 95-degree heat that baked the valley.

Our flight back to Seattle left early evening Sunday, so in an abbreviated day, we managed to catch the perfect Sunday comedown set from EDM producer/DJ Chet Porter, an experimental guitarfest from ragged-but-right Aussie indie-rockers Pond, a high-energy show from London grime artist Skepta that brought the house down, backed by a ridiculously bouncing set of pure party hip-hop from Lil Uzi Vert before wrapping up our weekend with a rare side-by-side-by-side performance from the aforementioned Belleville Three (unfortunately missing evening sets from OC OG punks TSOL, New Jersey indie-pop craftsmen Real Estate, a reimagined New Order, and rapper-of-a-generation Kendrick Lamar, whose amazing new full-length Damn will no doubt appear on many year-end lists) before heading back to civilization. We literally saw a little bit of everything over the course of three days: ferris wheels and freestyling, fairground food and fiery funk, famous features and FOMO-inducing moments of pure “you had to be there” magic. We see you, Coachella. And we promise we’ll be back to do it all again next year.

—Corey duBrowa and Tanner duBrowa

More photos after the jump.

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Ibibio Sound Machine: The Sound Of African Sunshine

Ibibio Sound Machine makes West African music with a London bent

When singer Eno Williams began collaborating with sax player Max Grunhard, they weren’t thinking about putting a band together. “Max was interested in using the Ibibio language in a musical project, so we started writing stuff in my bedroom,” says Williams. “He knew the other band members from playing around London. We all started exchanging ideas and didn’t even think about performing until we’d made our first album. One of our first gigs was at the Trans Musicales festival in Rennes, which was equally scary and exciting.”

Williams was born in London but grew up in Nigeria, steeped in the culture of the Ibibio people. She didn’t return to England until she was 19. “In Nigeria, I had a musical group with my six sisters,” says Williams. “We used to play in church, but that faded away. It wasn’t until I came back to London and met Max that I started taking music seriously.”

On its eponymous debut, Ibibio Sound Machine pioneered a blend of electronic beats and West African rhythms. “Our first album was a more retro-influenced, West African-sounding record, with a few electro experiments,” she says. “For the second record, we went further in that direction, while still keeping loads of live elements.”

Uyai (Merge), the band’s new album, is a polyrhythmic barrage that combines drum loops, the live percussion of Anselmo Netto and drummer Jose Joyette and the soul-stirring vocals Williams delivers in Ibibio. The music is a perfect marriage of modern urban grit and traditional African sunshine.

“There aren’t many cities in the world where people from such disparate backgrounds could come together,” she says. “We have members from Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Australia, Brazil and England. The city lends its character to the music as well. The dark, imposing vibe of London couldn’t be more different from somewhere like Lagos, the Nigerian city I grew up in.”

—j. poet

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From The Desk Of Jesca Hoop: Nori

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements. Hoop will be guest editing all week. Read our feature.

Hoop: Nori is a food that I keep as a staple and to more dishes than I can count, especially salads. Toast the nori (or not), tear it to pieces and add it to literally any salad for heightened deliciousness and texture. It’s crispy in some cases and chewy in others. Nori is a great way to get added minerals into your diet, and it’s just yummy.

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Essential New Music: Grails’ “Chalice Hymnal”

Grails may be chief executive bigwigs on the psych-rock scene, but they’re also the reverse supergroup that’s provided members to wildly disparate outfits as experimental dance duo Lilacs & Champagne, metal’s kaleidoscopic journeymen OM, krautrock/Slint worshippers Watter, among others. All the extracurricular activity since their last album, 2011’s Deep Politics, has apparently seeped into Chalice Hymnal as evidenced by its numerous slow-motion hairpin turns. “New Prague” sounds like a classic Praxis outtake, the title track veers into soundtrack/synth-wave territory, “Deep Snow II” reeks of spaghetti and Westerns, “Rebecca” is Marconi Union-esque new age, and “Empty Chamber” sounds like the background ambience to a Kendrick or Kanye track. Grails’ tackling of a wide variety of genres is executed with confidence and competence, which means that the listener’s enjoyment/acceptance of their sixth album is likely to be based on the expansiveness of their personal palate for sonic enjoyment.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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In The News: Lindsey Buckingham And Christine McVie, Melvins, Loretta Lynn, New York Dolls, Little Steven, Joseph Arthur And More

Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie have teamed up for their first-ever album as a duo, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, which will be available from Atlantic on June 9 … Fantasy has announced the June 9 release of Gov’t Mule’s new record, Revolution Come…Revolution Go. The band will tour the U.S. this summer in support … A Walk With Love And Death is the first-ever double album from the Melvins, due out July 7 via Ipecac … On August 8, the new Loretta Lynn studio album, Wouldn’t It Be Great, will be available from Legacy … Two classic ’70s LPs by the New York DollsNew York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon—will be reissued on limited-edition colored vinyl by UMe on May 5 … John Prine will release a songbook featuring a selection of his favorite songs, photographs and stories. John Prine Beyond Words is out on April 18 from Oh Boy … Parlophone will honor the 40th anniversary of Jethro Tull’s Songs From The Wood with a three-CD/two-DVD boxed set (featuring live rare recordings and footage) on May 19 … Soulfire is the first solo album by Little Steven in nearly 20 years, due out May 19 from UMe … May 26 will see the release of the soundtrack to Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip on Rhino. The Amir Bar-Lev-directed doc will be released in theaters the same day … The first solo album by the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett, How The West Was Won, will be available from Domino on June 30 … Flat Duo Jets’ self-titled debut will be reissued as a three-disc vinyl boxed set, Wild Wild Love, complete with outtakes and the (In Stereo) EP, on April 22 by Daniel 13 … Real World will reissue Joseph Arthur’s Redemption’s Son in honor of the album’s 15th birthday on June 23. Arthur will perform the LP start to finish on a limited solo tour this summer … Twitching In Time, the new Elf Power record, is set for a May 12 release via the band’s own Orange Twin label … On June 9, an album featuring Kronos QuartetSam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens and Natalie Merchant on songs originally performed at Nonesuch Record’s 50th anniversary celebration, Folk Songs, will be released … The three June 2016 performances by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in Birmingham will be available on Live In Birmingham 2016 via Eagle Rock on June 9.

—Emily Costantino

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From The Desk Of Jesca Hoop: Airport Massage Chairs

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements. Hoop will be guest editing all week. Read our feature.

Hoop: First stop at any airport if I’ve got any time if inevitably the massage chair. I use up all my coins. I am always a little bummed if the chair is over-padded because, well, I like a deep massage, not that you can expect anything great from a random airport massage chair but you may surprise how refreshing a 10-minute session can be. The one drawback is that everyone looks at you while you are sitting there jiggling in the chair.

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Essential New Music: High Plains’ “Cinderland”

At its most potent, classical music should stir, move or inspire something in audiences. Emotions ought to be skewed, turned upside down or inside out. Done right, what’s on display is the potential of a genre centuries old. If High Plains—the duo of Wisconsin cellist Mark Bridges and British Columbia-based multi-instrumentalist Scott Morgan—doesn’t transcend the sainted greats quite yet, debut LP Cinderland certainly aspires to the same orchestral heights. “Song For A Last Night” capitalizes on the unease of natural sound samples, using instrumental elements as complementary framing devices: a solemn keyboard tone repeating to one side, distant strings singing to themselves at the other. “Hypoxia” groans and quivers; “The Dusk Pines” evinces a thick, regal sorrow. The standout title composition contrasts pensive piano lines and industrious, sawing cellos. On “A White Truck,” Bridges and Morgan cast grace aside, plunging into the trammeling drones reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

—Raymond Cummings

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Normal History Vol. 421: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

It used to be that print media interviews were conducted in person or over the phone. Then email interviews took over. This is where a well-meaning journalist sends some questions for you to answer, and while that sounds reasonable, it can often go wrong—often because each question is jammed with a dozen or so sub-questions, and you end up feeling like you’re setting aside way too many hours to answer questions that took the journalist a few minutes to ask. All of which is fine, until you see the final version and they’ve only used a few quotes from the answers you gave.

Late last year I had the luxury of doing a phone interview about my painting with a journalist in Chicago who usually writes about art, but she’s a Mecca Normal fan, so the fact that I’ve been painting for the past year was interesting to her.

Because I’m not going to a job, I don’t talk to people much, so I went long on everything, trying to keep in mind that she was going to have to transcribe it, but I had a lot to say. I wasn’t sure what form her transcription would take. Maybe she’d just write out the sections she wanted to use for the piece. A month later, before the piece appeared, I decided to ask if I could get a copy of whatever she wrote out, and it turned out to be the entire conversation. Totally one-sided, but a document of where things were at the end of 2016.

“12 Murders” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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From The Desk Of Jesca Hoop: Wheat Berry Bags

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements. Hoop will be guest editing all week. Read our feature.

Hoop: I am quite proactive when it comes to pain relief. One of my go-to items for pain relief are these bags that are filled with whole wheat berries and lavender. You stick ’em in the microwave for three to four minutes and they get piping hot. I use them generally for shoulder pain, menstrual cramps, warming my feet and also heating the bed. The wheat and lavender have a soothing aroma.

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MP3 At 3PM: Whetherman

Whetherman will release This Land Album on June 16. The harmonica-adorned “What Am I Supposed To Think” is below, a simple and direct folk tune that saunters along charmingly. Check it out.

“What Am I Supposed To Think” (download):

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