Coachella 2014: The 7 Best Things From Sunday

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Coachella 2014: The 7 Best Things From Sunday

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More like guestival amirite? Cameos dominated Coachella all weekend, but Sunday was especially saturated with them. Arcade Fire had Debbie Harry. Motorhead had Slash. Jhene Aiko had Drake and Childish Gambino. Disclosure had Mary J. Blige, Sam Smith, and Aluna Francis. Even Justin Bieber was there to jump on stage with Chance The Rapper, as did Vic Mensa. Soon we’ll be seeing special guests with their own special guests, Inception-style. But let’s not forget the musicians that were actually booked to perform! From ragtag reunited indie-rock legends to a meticulously styled maudlin torch song queen, Sunday provided ample opportunity to be awed. Check the gallery above for Sunday’s best.

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The 1975 are currently the UK's foremost exporters of bright and airy precision guitar music -- think Phoenix but less aggressive, oblique, and uptight. They are closer to teen idols than rockers; take away their instruments and you might mistake them for a boy band. And like most other pop artists, their success is determined by how much sensory pleasure they can wring from their sugary confections. On those terms, Sunday afternoon they were totally sweet. Calling their best song "Chocolate" almost belabors the point.
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Near the end of her performance, Lana Del Rey expressed her appreciation that many of the audience members had bought a festival ticket just to see her. After surveying the many flower-headed Lana devotees all weekend, I can affirm the veracity of Del Rey's statement. Her fans are legion, and that legion almost crushed me when they stampeded to the front of the Outdoor Theater stage after Neutral Milk Hotel finished up. Even if you find her lyrics laughable and her persona insufferable, it's easy to see why she compels so many people: Nobody would have bothered to investigate the story behind "Video Games" if it hadn't so completely nailed its aesthetic. Del Rey had expertly updated this old-fashioned character -- a tragic noir glamour queen with a steady diet of cigarettes, cocktails, and cheap sex -- with just enough modern flourishes (video game references, hip-hop slang) to make it its own thing. Since then she's refined her live presence (those high notes really soared last night) and accumulated a handful of powerful songs (the new "West Coast" is wonderfully ridiculous) to the point that last night's show would have been genuinely entertaining even without all the subtext of Lizzy Grant playing the character Lana Del Rey. And with the added booster of all the layers of allure and psychodrama that come with that character, she became some transcendent form of performance art, a living Rorschach blot.
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There was a robotic bird flying overhead for much of the afternoon, apparently launched by the guy in the picture. I guess we've had robotic birds for a while now (they're called drones, maybe you've heard of them) but I've never seen anything like this delightfully unnerving contraption before. The future is now!
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When Disclosure played Coachella last spring, they were on the rise, but this year's set felt like a victory lap for the incredible year they just had. Fittingly, Howard and Guy invited back many of the names that helped make that year so special. Aluna Francis sang "White Noise," Mary J. Blige performed "F For You," and Sam Smith emerged at the end of the set to grin his way through "Latch." Even though they play house music, it was more of a rock concert than a DJ set, with lots of live instrumentation, breaks between songs, and of course the focus on pop songcraft that has always separated Disclosure from the pack. It's no coincidence they were on one of the primary outdoor stages rather than the EDM-centric Sahara Tent.
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Arcade Fire has been the world's leading indie rock band for some time now -- arguably the world's leading rock band period. And with the amount of exposure they get, it's easy to start to think of them as young icons emeritus rather than musicians, to forget why they got so famous in the first place. Why did they, again? Oh, because they've written so many anthems that they don't all fit in a 90-minute festival-closing set. (It doesn't help when they insist on playing "Joan Of Arc," but whatevs.) All the Funeral songs still slay, obviously, but so does "No Cars Go" and "Ready To Start" and "Afterlife" and, hey, why not "Heart Of Glass" with Debbie Harry too? If this band is boring, it's only because at some point we started taking their excellence for granted.
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If you want to understand how Chance The Rapper unifies disparate worlds, understand this: He recorded a song with James Blake and then brought Justin Bieber on stage while performing it at Coachella. The Bieber appearance will be the most talked-about part of Chance's whirlwind performance, but pick just about any moment if you're looking for highlights. Chance chose to put "rapper" in his stage name, but he did everything Sunday -- rapped at blistering pace in his own wildly unusually cadences, sang in that appealingly grizzled rasp his verses often veer into, wiggled with the joyous showmanship of Cab Calloway. He did all this in front of the Social Experiment, a live band that actually made his show more kinetic rather than undercutting the oomph as rappers' live bands often do. The combined effect was a sense that Chance's potential is endless and that he's a new breed of performer for a new generation. This is what the hardest working man in showbiz looks like in 2014.
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Jeff Mangum was very polite when he reiterated the request to put away our cameras and phones: "Let's just be together right now." (Sorry, Jeff.) And with that, one of the fest's great communal performances was underway, Mangum fervently strumming and wailing his way through "Two Headed Boy," his voice leaving no doubt who was hidden beneath that beard and ballcap. As I explained in an essay last fall, Mangum is such an electric presence that he could have brought that entire field to its knees all by himself. I was right about his ability to conjure elemental forces, but man was I wrong that his solo show is just as good as Neutral Milk Hotel. They are a true unit, each of them bringing something special to the mix. It's like I imagined in that essay: "Julian Koster juggling accordion, banjo, and singing saw like it was nothing, Scott Spillane's French horn blasts accenting Mangum's nasal caterwaul, a wave of wanton fuzz-crunch rising up to carry the rousing choruses home." When all that unfolded in the flesh, it verged on mystical. During "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" people were hugging in a big swaying circle and singing along, "Kumbaya" style. Audience members repeatedly exclaimed things like "You make life worth living!" I'll not go so far as to say that they validated my life Sunday, but they certainly affirmed it.

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