Concert Review

7 Memorable Moments From Coachella 2016 Weekend 1 Sunday

Three days in the desert is a long time, and I currently feel like dried-out husk of my former self. Sore limbs and constant burnout are symptomatic of any festival, but they felt especially bad in the intense heat and dusty flare-ups of Coachella’s unique locale. But I did get to see a ton of great music, which is always the goal. The final day of the fest was probably the least eventful, but it gave me some well-needed time to decompress and sit back and enjoy some of my favorite artists. (Plus I saw Rihanna from afar at the end of the night when she came out during Calvin Harris’ set. A joy!) Check out the list of memorable moments below, and be glad that we can put this festival behind us. Oh wait, it’s all happening again next weekend. Never mind…

Steady Holiday’s Steady Beginnings

CREDIT: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Getting onto a Coachella stage with only a handful of songs to your name is an impressive feat, but it’s easy to understand how Steady Holiday — the beguiling project of Los Angeles musician Dre Babinski — made the quick jump. Her debut album comes out in a few months, but her songs need little context or familiarity to pack a punch. As she was one of the first performers of the day, the crowd was a bit thin (which is also to be expected for a virtual unknown), but that didn’t hold her back. Instead, she used it to her advantage by creating an intimate atmosphere within such a vast festival, focusing her intensity directly at the small gathering of people up front. Recent single “Open Water” was a particular highlight as her full band put all its might behind it, but she was just as enchanting when she went solo for a few songs. Babinski has a natural stage presence, and it’ll be exciting to watch her grow as the rollout for her debut continues.

Girlpool’s Big World

CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Full disclosure: I’m friends with Girlpool, which made it even weirder to see the two of them up there on the same massive stage that was graced by the presence of heavyweights like Kanye West, Sufjan Stevens, and Beach House throughout the weekend. They looked so small up there! (“I just miss how it felt standing next to you/ Wearing matching dresses before the world was big” — sorry…) But watching them transition from sweaty DIY shows to playing outside at fucking Coachella has been a blast, and the two of them know how to scale their sound to fill any stage. The crowd was hyper-invested, voicing admiration for the group every time they took a second to tune. The songs from their debut ring honest and true, and the new one they played suggests that they’re working on a sound that’ll be right at home in increasingly bigger venues.

Kamasi Washington’s Family Affair

CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

A jazz set in the middle of a scorching Coachella day? Sure! It may have been a bit of an awkward fit — Kamasi Washington sets seem like they would lend themselves more to passive admiration than the sort of engagement a festival set demands — but that didn’t take away from the immense talent that was on display during his set on Sunday. “We’re gonna play a little music for y’all, go on a little journey,” he intro-ed. “See you on the other side.” He barely came up for air for the whole hour, steamrolling through his inspiring and celebratory repertoire, mostly lifted from his triple-album debut, The Epic. His band was made up of longtime friends (and his dad, Ricky Washington), and that lent a familial atmosphere to the proceedings. Many chose to sit during the performance as the sun beat heavy from above, opting to let the music wash over them. As the set went on, though, it got more participatory, causing dance circles to break out in isolated pockets. Washington ended with an abridged version of “The Rhythm Changes,” and his whole set demonstrated the vitality of modern jazz’s place in a festival as huge as this one.

Chris Stapleton Is Staid And True

CREDIT: Emma McIntyre

Chris Stapleton will be at the Empire Polo Grounds again in a few weeks for Stagecoach Festival, but the singer has enough crossover appeal — including a Billboard No. 1 album thanks to Justin Timberlake — that he was one of the few country artists lucky enough to land on the main Coachella bill. If the massive crowd that gathered in the Gobi tent proved anything, it’s that this is a demographic the festival organizers could benefit from catering to in the coming years, and not just relegate to a separate festival. Sound bleeding over from Major Lazer across the way put a bit of a damper on his performance, but Stapleton bore the marks of a true professional and crowd pleaser, and his heartfelt and burnished songs were enough to distract from the flashier performances that were going on elsewhere. Toward the end of his set, he charmingly sang his way through all his band introductions (“Let me hear you scream if you want to know his name now!” he teased the audience before shouting out his drummer), and that sort of feel-good earnestness made Stapleton a particular highlight.

The Majestic Beach House

It killed me to have to miss Anderson .Paak, who played opposite the Baltimore duo, but since we just caught up with him at SXSW, I felt like I should drop in on Beach House to see how they’ve been doing since the double-whammy release of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars last year. The only set I’ve seen Beach House play was back during the great Governors Ball rainstorm of 2013 (where they could only manage a handful of tunes with equipment covered in plastic before having to call the whole thing off), so I was eager for another chance to see them in a festival setting. Placing Beach House on the final day was some primo scheduling, as their waves of building emotion reinvigorated what was a visibly exhausted audience to make that final push into the the night. As with Stapleton, this performance opposite Major Lazer’s crazy loud thumps made for a rough start, but once that cut out, Beach House found their groove. They sounded tragically triumphant last night, and by the time they came to “Sparks” to close, it felt like the most worthwhile event on Coachella grounds.

Watching People Lose Their Shit To Death Grips

CREDIT: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Death Grips lost me around the time No Love Deep Web came out, but I’ve appreciated them from afar in the years since. My feet refused to stand for their set, so I perched in the corner and watched the audience just as much as I did MC Ride and crew do their thing. Their fans were mostly nerdy white dudes who look like they spend too much time on the computer and Death Grips certainly know how to work them over for maximum impact, which resulted in a lot of very aggressive, very cathartic-looking dancing. Their hardest-hitting songs in this set came from earlier in their catalog — the one-two punch of “Get Got” into “I’ve Seen Footage” being particularly rousing — but the newer stuff tapped into the group’s more chaotic, experimental side, which was a welcome change from many of the safer bands that Coachella tends to book.

Deafheaven’s Glorious Weekend Finale

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What a way to end Coachella. As one of the only metal-adjacent bands on the lineup, Deafheaven knew that they would be filling a niche for a very specific group of festival goers — all of whom were present — and they brought their A-game. Anyone who has been to one of their shows knows exactly the kind of power Deafheaven can yield when they take the stage, and George Clarke seemed extra eager to please the crowd. I cried at one point during their set, mostly because the band is so overwhelmingly amazing live, but also a little bit because I was so excited to have finally reached the end of a long weekend. It was freeing to be surrounded by that noise and the deep red backdrop of the Gobi tent and just get lost in your head and the music for an hour.

Check out all of Stereogum’s coverage from this year’s Coachella here.