Coachella 2013 Saturday: The Postal Service, Phoenix, The Make-Up, & More
Before we get into Saturday, let’s not bury the day’s big lede: R. Kelly joined Phoenix on stage to perform his biggest crossover that isn’t from the Space Jam soundtrack, “Ignition (Remix).” Not quite the Daft Punk cameo folks rumored, definitely worthy of its own post. Which is here.
Earlier in Day 1, in the space I will affectionately call EDM Town — where the electronic music tent is located — it was hard not to feel like we had been transported to another festival. Everything was a little more neon, everyone bounced a little bit more. The majority of the electronic artists I am or was interested in seeing this weekend are too big for a daylight set (TNGHT, Disclosure), but not marquee enough to headline the dance-leaning Sahara tent. 3Ball MTY were the exception.
The last thirty minutes of their 12:30PM set was what I imagine to be the most communal, genuine (i.e., mostly sober) dance party of the entire weekend. The group is a trio of young producers from Monterrey, MX, spearheading the tribal guarachero movement. Their upcoming single with Dr. Luke-endorsed singer Becky G lit-up the crowd, which danced, waved Mexican flags, and initiated a dance-line that shook-and-snaked through the audience. Among the wacky costumes and unbridled good-time behavior, this bit of unabashed enthusiasm ensued: A crowd-member on crutches dropped one and utilized another for limbo. I don’t know how many people played or how often people fell on their asses. I just know this would be tough to top.
It was still relatively early in the day, however, and something to match the hottest day’s haze was in order, like Wild Nothing’s gauzy indie. The only other time I’d seen them was in a tiny rock club in Oslo. A band’s energy in a small space can differ vastly from that during a festival, but their performance was equally as glossy. The only difference between those two sets, aside from proximity to the band, was the kind of sweat people were covered in. In Oslo, it was dingy basement bar during Norway’s rainy season; here, it was sun-induced. You can decide for yourself which is better (neither).
Someone at Coachella really feeling the heat was a shirtless Action Bronson, whose inked-up foodie-belly was center stage at the Outdoor Theater, and who brought out OFWGKTA’s Mike G. (my personal favorite Golf Wang member), Hodgy Beats, and Domo Genesis to freestyle over A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train” beat and a cappella. Afterward, James Franco-troll Riff Raff joined Bronson to do their track “Bird On A Wire.” Whether you think Riffy is a trash-product of the Rap Interent or a self-aware savant in on the whole thing, the man can perform. The whole thing closed out with his Chief Keef-collab “Cuz My Gear.”
After Bronson, the Evens were beginning in the Gobi tent. Ian McKaye and Amy Farina played side-by-side in between two lamps, as if they were doing a set in their living room. A gregarious McKaye is nothing but classic, but his inter-song chatter was more like a conversation at home than punk rock preaching. I was sad to leave it, but it was a touch too docile after the posse energy of Action’s set.
This would easily be combatted by Danny Brown’s antics. Odd Future are certainly the bearers of punk ethos in the crop of rappers that popped up in the last few years; Waka Flocka Flame calls himself the inventor of “punk rap” when he is mostly just a crunk-revivalist. Danny is another rapper who brings that kind of not-giving-a-fuck vibrancy, the way he commands the crowd’s attention prancing across the stage like Iggy Pop. Whether it’s “Jealousy,” “The Black Brad Pitt,” or “Blueberry” (one that brings out his best), he is full of confidence and control and is one of the only rappers without a hypeman that doesn’t need it. He performed his verse from Ab-Soul’s “Terrorist Threats,” even gutturally filling in for Jhené Aiko’s breathy “Jigga What, Jigga Who”-interpolating, as well as his contribution to Juicy J’s “Piss Test,” concluding with, “You know my old ass is tired.” But being old is part of Danny’s magic. One of his best tracks is an oded to rap’s biggest hetero-sex taboo, “I Will.” It’s inclusionary and unapologetically graphic, but he had bros rapping every pro-female word to each other (and while probably looking around to see if any ladies in the crowd saw) — you do what the old guy says.
Danny may be “old,” but he’s not the old guard. Performing in the Gobi tent was El-P, whose influential group Company Flow played their last shows at Coachella last year, is definitely a vanguard. But he’s also part of the New New York, preserving his Def Jux origins and essentially providing a second blueprint with his most recent album Cancer 4 Cure. Along with a live band and his hypeman Shannon Moore — who is also in the hardcore band activator — ran through a number of that album’s tracks, including “Drones Over Brooklyn” and “The Full Retard.” It was his on-stage guests that brought together the synergy of old and new. For “Tougher, Colder Killer,” Def Jux-afiliate Despot joined El on stage to perform his verse. While Despot has never actually put out any full-length albums, he’s still a cult favorite, with arguably increased visibility due to his association with Das Racist. Danny is part of this clique, too — check Mr. MFN eXquire’s breakout track “The Last Huzzah” featuring all of the aforementioned rappers — and joined the two of them on stage for “Oh, Hail No!” (this track actually features eXquire, with one of my favorite verses of 2012, but Despot filled in for him with his own lyrics).
The crowd for Major Lazer could not be contained to the tent, audience bleeding from each pole. Diplo ran across the crowd inside a giant blow-up bubble and a legion of people did the Harlem Shake when he dropped the Baauer track, which sounds about right at Coachella 2013. Meanwhile, the next at the Gobi were the Make-Up. While nobody was a better frontman this weekend than Nick Cave, legend-in-his-own-right Ian Svenonious came very close. In their heyday, the Make-Up were already like a band crystallized in time. They dubbed their post-punk soul music “Gospel Yeh-Yeh” before niche-genre creation was an all-consuming activity and you actually feel like Svenonious is taking you to some kind of post-modern church as they band plays. What they do is deeply indebted to rock groups of an older era. The structure of their lyrics are apropos for the sock-hop, but because they’re littered with references to politics, they belong in the Dischord oeuvre for their creative cultural commentary. Svenonious spent the majority of the time waxing about performance — “You guys have suffered through so much indignity to be here. You’ve pissed in plastic, waited in lines, ate pizza all to see the Make-Up, so we will suffer for you.” And while the band plays with a sense of stoicism behind him, Svenonious spends most of his time being held up by the crowd or dishing out dance moves that feel like a demented version of the Twist scene in Pulp Fiction. If I had one arbitrary wish in this life, it would probably be to dance with him.
But wish-fulfillment was already a major theme of the night, as after the Make-Up, the Postal Service was taking to the main stage. I learned a lot about what Ben Gibbard’s output means to people after ranking Death Cab For Cutie’s albums. There has always been an undercurrent of nostalgia embedded in my appreciation of that band, and it’s clearly shared by most of their listeners. The same has to go for the Postal Service because they’re a group that put out one album over ten years ago and the audience displayed a hunger for their live show unparalleled all weekend. The music translates so beautifully in festival setting and seeing Gibbard get out from behind a guitar to dance on stage is both bizarre and liberating. This was a collective walk down a lane of scattered and respective memories, and a collective teenage dream come-to-life, watching Jenny Lewis and Ben Gibbard — two arbiters of deeply emotional music from the early-to-mid-aughts — perform together on such an enormous stage. When they finally got to “Such Great Heights,” the ecstasy — erm, no pun intended — in the crowd bubbled so vigorously that people did not even know what to do with themselves. Shrieks and screams abound, it was Bieber Fever for the indie rock set. As they closed out with “Brand New Colony,” it had again felt like a different festival. That high note was dismantled by Pusha T’s lethargic crowd, so I left the grounds still beaming from the Postal Service’s ability to give it everything ten years later.
Watch the Postal Service’s full set below, and check out photos from Saturday by Andrew Youssef above.