The Best and Worst of Coachella 2017
Kendrick was on fire, as usual
Music-wise, it was hard to find fault with Coachella 2017, which had one of the most densely packed schedules in the festival's entire run. Killer headlining sets from Kendrick, Gaga and Radiohead (minus the latter's technical difficulties), Hans Zimmer's first festival set, the first U.S. performance by The Avalanches, surprise appearances by everyone from Lauryn Hill to Drake — what wasn't to love? And indeed, we loved nearly all of it (especially since we managed to avoid Marshmello).
In other ways, however, the 2017 edition of Coachella was problematic. Too big, too crowded, too trash-strewn. Too many selfie sticks and not enough protest signs. We love Coachella for the way it creates a fantasyland of music and art and beautiful people, but this year of all years, we wished it had felt less disconnected from the real world's very real problems (although to be fair, they have come up with some creative ways to inspire attendees to help reduce the festival's massive environmental impact).
With all that in mind, here were our highlights and lowlights from the 2017 edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
Best: Daphni, Four Tet, and Floating Points' three-hour Yuma Tent tag-team set
You know what’s better than three hour-long sets from three of the best selectors in the game? One three-hour-plus set from the same guys. On Saturday evening, Four Tet, Daphni and Floating Points (all friend IRL) hosted a three-and-a-half-hour dance party in the Yuma Tent, taking turns playing tracks spanning disco, funk, soul, gospel house and techno. Four Tet even dropped Brandy and Monica’s enduring 1998 R&B jam “The Boy Is Mine,” much to the delight of all of us old enough to remember that song. The mood inside the Yuma was happily communal by the end of the show, and seeing these legends work together was an event even greater than the sum of its parts — Katie Bain
Tacocat, one of the many great bands who broke in this year's new Sonora Stage
Best: The Sonora Stage
In many ways, the new Sonora stage is not very punk. It’s essentially the DIY scene of Coachella, but it’s still Coachella, so it’s a commodified version of it. That said, the tent was the closest thing to a home the festival has ever provided for fans of gritty, surfy, psychy underground rock. (It also had bean bag chairs, couches, and was air conditioned, so it definitely scores extra points for that.) If downtown venue the Smell — run by Jim Smith, who kicked off Friday and Sunday with DJ sets — is your scene, Sonora was the place to be. Curated by Rene Contreras, the mastermind behind SoCal festival Viva! Pomona, the stage featured an impressive array of acts from independent music scenes around the world (Tall Juan, Diamante Electrico, Hinds) with a lot of love for L.A. bands (Allah-Las, The Paranoyds, Slow Hollows, Surf Curse, Thee Commons and many more), and even a set from indie rock pioneers Guided by Voices, who mesmerized the crowd Friday night with songs that helped inspire the music Sonora celebrated. — Artemis Thomas-Hansard
Best: Hans Zimmer
The iconic German film score composer proved his debut Coachella booking was more than a novelty act, blowing the Sunday night audience away with a full orchestra performing selections from his many, many hit movies. Shirtless bros did molly hugs during the climax of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, full grown adults cried during the opening vocals to the “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, and air violin became a thing during selections from Gladiator. Zimmer brought out Pharrell to sing “Freedom” from Hidden Figures and flexed hard by calling the pop superstar the “best friend and brother he could ever dream of having.” Hosting an orchestra on the field was an inventive and classy move, but this show had a spirit more aligned with rock & roll than some stuffy concert hall. More of this sort of thing next year, please. – K.B.
Lorde: Kate Bush fan, shit stirrer
Best: Lorde playing Kate Bush as her intro music
The internet went into full outrage mode over a quote in a New Yorker profile of Goldenvoice founder Paul Tollett that appeared to suggest the Coachella boss once turned down a chance to book Kate Bush because attendees "wouldn't understand" the iconic British singer. (Tollett later denied it.) So when Bush's "Running Up That Hill" played through the Coachella Stage's massive sound system just before Lorde's set, it served as both an homage to one of pop music's most elusive artists (her only live appearance since 1979 was a run of 22 shows in London in 2014) and a sly, smart nod to the controversy over the New Yorker piece. — Andy Hermann
Worst: The posers
People putting in ridiculous amounts of effort to get the perfect selfie at Coachella is certainly nothing new. But this year, some attendees' determination to document the experience made the festival straight-up feel like an episode of Black Mirror. Stances were intricately posed; boyfriends directed their girlfriends to move two inches to the right as they turned their backs, stared off towards the ferris wheel and threw their hands in the air, over and over and over again. Smizes were cemented in place for entire songs — you can never be too sure when your friend will start Snapchatting you dancing. It was as if people carried entire photo studios around with them, whipping out illuminated phone cases to give them the perfect beauty lighting as they danced in the dark. Sure, it ruined the viewing experience for everyone around them, but apparently anything is acceptable if done in the name of the almighty 'Gram. — A.T.
Best: The chicken tikka poutine at Badmaash
Generally speaking, the VIP section near the Coachella Stage is overrated. The sound and sightlines aren't great, the drinks are weak, and standing in line for 30 minutes for a Kogi taco does not feel very VIP. But one dish almost single-handedly makes the extra cost worthwhile: Badmaash's chicken tikka poutine, an ooey-gooey mass of Indian spices, melted cheese, pickled red onions, chicken, French fries and gravy that doesn't invite Instagramming so much as full-on face planting. — A.H.
Justice totally brought it Sunday night
I first saw the French electro-house duo in 2008 shortly after the release of their now-classic debut, Cross. That show was sweaty, thrilling, punk, perfect. Their Sunday night set at Coachella was better. Touring behind their most recent album, Woman, the pair have managed to expand on their sound and stage setup in a way that satiates a massive audience but still stays true to the essential nature of their signature sound and visual aesthetic. The guys came out dressed in satin jackets (Gaspard Augé’s said “Foghat,” while Xavier de Rosnay’s was embroidered with “Raiders”) and dove headfirst into a relentless set that included such hits as “D.A.N.C.E.” and “We Are Your Friends,” while also crossing into segments of disco and drum ‘n' bass with transitions as sleek as a chrome fender on a hot car. (They also both smoked throughout, because they’re so damn French.) There has been much lamentation about the decline of rock & roll and the gross commercialization of electronic music. Last night, Justice embodied the rockstar archetype while proving that large-scale dance music can still feel underground, dangerous and fundamentally cool. — K.B.
Best: Kendrick's disco cage
K-Dot's entire Sunday night set was pretty great, especially his second-to-last song "Humble," whose stomping Mike Will Made-It beat got a visibly exhausted crowd jumping one last time. But the visual and emotional highlight came about halfway through, when the rapper suddenly surfaced out in the crowd in what appeared to be a cage made of strands of LED lights. Rapping another track, "Lust," from his tough-minded new album Damn, Kendrick punctuated his performance with anguished cries of "Is anybody out there?", which got the 80,000-plus people "out there" to respond with roars of support. Then he rose on a platform to the cage's roof, from which he performed a fiery version of "Money Trees." As a visual metaphor of Kendrick's two sides — the self-doubting introvert and the take-no-prisoners rap god — it was a brilliant moment of stagecraft. — A.H.
Worst: The Trash
A gentle reminder: Going to Coachella is a privilege, and when we leave the field looking like a gutter at the end of the night we come off like a bunch of unsophisticated slobs who haven’t earned the right to party in the glorious manner the festival allows for. Every year the field inevitably ends up covered in empty water bottles, broken sunglasses, lighters and discarded drug bags. It’s gross, it’s disappointing, and it’s something that doesn’t happen in other countries. If all 125,000 of us picked up one or two pieces of garbage off the ground (or, ahem, didn’t throw them there to begin with), the field would be in much better shape for the crew of people who presumably don’t get paid very much money to pick up after us until dawn. It would be so easy to do better. Let’s do that. Next weekend, please? — K.B.
Migos making one of their 683 (yes, 683) Coachella guest appearances — in this case, with DJ Khaled
Best: Everyone bringing their special guest A-game
Future brought out Drake. Schoolboy Q brought out ASAP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator. Kaytranada brought out GoldLink, Thundercat brought out Michael McDonald, Nav brought out The Weeknd, Kendrick brought out Travis Scott, Schoolboy and Future, and everyone brought out Migos. ("Bad and Boujee" got played more times at Coachella this weekend than at every strip club in Atlanta over the same period.) Even rock bands got in on the action, with Local Natives enlisting Phantogram's Sarah Barthel and The Lemon Twigs delighting their fans with a surprise guest turn from '70s pop-rock legend Todd Rundgren. As guest appearances have become de rigueur at Coachella, especially for hip-hop acts, it's created a kind of special-guest arms race, which has definitely added an extra layer of excitement for fans (and made it even harder to get a signal so you can Snapchat during DJ Khaled's set). This year's winner: DJ Snake, who topped everyone by bringing out the mercurial Ms. Lauryn Hill to sing a medley of her Fugees and solo hits, including an abbreviated version of "Killing Me Softly" that was probably the weekend's biggest sing-along. — A.H.
Worst: The distance between stages
To accommodate its increased attendance (125,000, up from last year's 99,000), Coachella dramatically increased its footprint this year, pushing the Outdoor Theatre, Mojave and Gobi Tents further back and adding some new real estate on the "Terrace" section by the ferris wheel, where the Sonora Stage, the festival's seventh, made its debut. As previously mentioned, the Sonora was great — but by Sunday, I had pretty much given up on seeing anything there, because it took roughly 20 minutes to get there from most of the other stages, killing any chance of seeing, say, the Allah-Las and then getting back to the Outdoor Theatre in time for Future Islands. In theory, more stages is a good thing, because it gives attendees more choices — but in practice, taking advantage of the increased offerings was a challenge, especially by Sunday, when my first two days' worth of treks between stages had added up to over 15 miles. — A.H.
The Chiaozza Garden was a massive hit, especially for anyone with a smartphone and an Instagram account (in other words, everyone).
Best: The Instagrammable art
After a somewhat lackluster showing in 2016, Coachella got fully back on its art game this year. All four of the major installations (which you can read more about here), especially the whimsical Chiaozza Garden and the blocky, towering animals most attendees referred to as either the rhinos or the unicorns (official title: is this what brings things into focus?), were both visually stunning and provided great backdrops for what must have been a record high number of Coachella selfies and group shots. — A.H.
Worst: The smokers
Look, what with Trump and North Korea and rising ocean levels and whatnot, I know we're probably all doomed. But wouldn't you rather stick around for the apocalypse than slowly inflict lung cancer on yourself and everyone around you by sucking on your noxious little death sticks? I can't remember ever seeing or smelling as many human chimneys at Coachella as I did this year. Even inside the enclosed Sonora and Yuma tents, people were blithely puffing away, and security seemed determined to look the other way — at least until Sunday, when they belatedly stationed someone outside the Yuma to warn attendees not to smoke inside or risk losing their wristbands. (Although come to think of it, who cares if you lose your GA wristband on Sunday? A better threat would've been to confiscate their goddamned cigarettes.) — A.H.
Worst: The lack of activism
America has been on a tumultuous political roller coaster since the last Coachella, but you wouldn't know it at this year's festival. Artists otherwise known for being vocal about social issues — Lady Gaga, Father John Misty, Kendrick Lamar — were unexpectedly hushed when it came to using their gigantic platform to call out any sort of injustice or fear-mongering, or even calling out AEG Live (the corporation behind Coachella and Goldenvoice) owner Philip Anschutz and his contributions to anti-LGBTQ groups. In the crowd, there were virtually no signs of anyone discussing anything happening in the real world — no pamphlets for Planned Parenthood, no signs of #BlackLivesMatter, not even any satirical Donald Trump totems, which going in seemed like a given. Perhaps having a Cheeto elected as president really did launch us into the Twilight Zone, because the festival, overall, seemed eerily un-woke. — A.T.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.