Coachella 2015 Weekend 1 Highlights From DJ Travis Holcombe

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Azelia Banks by Ethan Shvartzman

Azealia Banks by Ethan Shvartzman

For all the talk of Coachella being an over-hyped, overly saturated haven for bros, douchebags, and basic bitches, it’s still undoubtedly one of the best music festivals in the world and a great way to see an incredible line-up of artists (usually bringing their A-games) in a short amount of time.

Doing a radio show from 10 to midnight Monday through Friday has its perks, but I end up missing out on seeing a ton great shows during the week, so it’s doubly great for me to be able to catch up.

Here’s some of my highlights from the first week of Coachella.

FRIDAY

I’ve been driving the Vic Mensa bandwagon ever since his Innanetape mixtape came out a couple of years ago. With new material with Kanye West in the pipeline, it won’t be long before that bandwagon gets a lot more crowded.

Mensa had the first show of the day on the main stage and came through with an energetic set that included a bunch of new, bass-heavy material and a cool cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”.

Even though the sun was beating down hard at 1:30 in the afternoon, it was a great way to kick off my Coachella 2015.

After catching bits of Allah-Las, Action Bronson, and Lil B, I made my way over to the Mojave tent to check out Sylvan Esso for what turned out to be my favorite show of the day.

The duo from Durham, North Carolina seemed to be in awe at times at the size of the crowd they were performing in front of. There were a couple of moments that were caught on the video screen where producer, Nick Sanborn would look at the audience between songs just shake his head as if to say I can’t believe this is really happening right now. It was really endearing, and both times the audience clapped their support and appreciation for the group.

The nerves seemed to be confined to the breaks; once the music kicked in, Sanborn and singer Amelia Meath were locked in and had their phazers set to stun.

I left their show feeling that I definitely needed to revisit their album.

After Sylvan Esso, I was riding a high.

Next up, I checked out Azealia Banks. I wasn’t really sure how good she’d be live, but I came away really impressed.

She had great energy, incredible presence, and sounded great — every word could be heard — her mic technique is impeccable. Banks was backed by a full live band and a couple of back up dancers — both of which were nice touches.

I watched a little of the video of the live stream as I was preparing to write this blog post and it doesn’t do her performance justice. Banks was completely in her element and owned it on the big stage this year.

Kieza by Ethan Shvarzman
Kieza by Ethan Shvarzman

I left Azealia Banks after about half an hour because I wanted to quit while I was ahead with her and it was getting kinda hot out in the middle of the field, so I made my way over to check out Kiesza just in time to hear her play the two songs of hers that I know — “Take U There” (from her collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo) and “Hideaway”.

Kiesza shined on both tracks and the onstage choreography ratcheted up the crowd’s excitement; I wish I could’ve somehow seen more of her set, but sometimes you gotta make choices.

I didn’t necessarily intend to catch so much hip hop on day 1, but if Raekwon and Ghostface Killah are performing together, it’s very necessary to check them out.

The duo ran through most of Rae’s classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album (now 20 years old!). It was solid, if not thrilling. I’d be curious to see if they run through the same setlist next week as well or maybe give Ghostface’s Ironman album the live treatment the next time around.

Following Ghost and Rae, I saw the second half of Ryan Hemsworth’s set then made my way back to the Outdoor Theatre for Alabama Shakes and a bit of Steely Dan.

Then it was time for Caribou, who was predictably awesome. Dan Snaith’s live unit is really tight; they reminded me a lot of LCD Soundsystem sans the James Murphy vocal element.

9:15pm rolled around and it was time for the first really tough decision of the festival: Tame Impala or Todd Terje & The Olsens?

I opted for Terje because (a) this was the first time his live band had ever played together in America, (b) seeing Todd Terje with his band was one of the main reasons I was stoked for Coachella 2015, and (c) I’ve seen Tame Impala no fewer than four times at smaller venues.

I made a the right choice because Terje & The Olsens killed it with the electric lounge funk vibes.

Bryan Ferry came out midway through the set to perform “Johnny and Mary” and, from there on, the energy kept on escalating until the big “Inspector Norse” finale, featuring none other than KCRW’s own Evan George dancing with a group on the stage.

(Editor’s Note: I will be joining Terje on stage during weekend two! Look for a dancer in shiny purple pants)

I had super high expectations and it was everything I could have hoped for (especially the second half).

Squarepusher by Ethan Shvartzman
Squarepusher by Ethan Shvartzman

I closed out Friday night with Squarepusher bookended with AC/DC.

Squarepusher delivered an unrelenting digital beatdown.

I kept on hoping he’d ease off at some point and play some of his more melodic material, but alas, that relief never came.

AC/DC by Ethan Shvartzman
AC/DC by Ethan Shvartzman

If I have any regrets about the first night, it’s that I wish that I had hung with AC/DC a bit more.

I can’t really say that I was ever a huge AC/DC fan, but they brought the motherfucking thunder on Friday night.

The fact that Angus Young, Brian Johnson, and company can still deliver the fastball at their advanced age proves that they are true freaks of nature. I might have to cop tickets to their show at Dodger Stadium later this year.

SATURDAY

I got off to a bit of a late start on Saturday and wound up missing Alison Wonderland, but made it just in time to check out Toro y Moi. I followed that up with Cashmere Cat.

Jungle played at the Mojave stage at 5:35 and were the highlight of day #2 for me. I was really looking forward to this show since I loved their debut album and kept missing their shows in LA last year.

The way they sync their vocals is really an impressive feat to see live. Sometimes there’s 4 people singing at once, but it sounds like it’s once person put through a digital effect. I know that’s a small thing that doesn’t sound all that amazing, but I’m telling you, it’s really cool to see live.

It’s crazy to think that just a year ago they were barely known and making their debut at SXSW. They’ve come a long way and you can tell they’ve worked really hard to perfect their live show.

For a big chunk of Saturday evening, nothing was really hitting the spot. A lot of acts I had high hopes for kinda fell a little flat. Maybe the incredible Friday set the bar too high or maybe
I was just not in the right mood.

Things started to get back on track with a DJ set in the Yuma tent by ol’ reliable, DJ Harvey. I can’t totally put my finger on what it is he does that makes him so incredible — maybe it’s the track selection, maybe it’s his mixing or his set pacing or a supreme combination of all of the above — I don’t quite know, but the man is a freaking DJ wizard and has an uncanny knack for being able to whip people into a dancing frenzy.

Jack White by Ethan Shvartzman
Jack White by Ethan Shvartzman

As the night drew to a close, I was sweaty from bearing witness to DJ Harvey and went off to catch the second half of Jack White.

Like AC/DC the night before, Jack White brought the rock & roll thunder. Even if you’re not too keen on his solo stuff, you should still go — he plays a lot of White Stripes material throughout his set.

SUNDAY

My Sunday started with checking out the bossman, Jason Bentley rocking the Yuma tent. It was a fantastic way to start day #3.

From there, it was off to Madeon. I didn’t really know much about Madeon until last week. His debut album, “Adventure“, is one of the best dance albums I’ve heard this year. It does a nice job of incorporating the crowd pleasing heavy EDM sounds and the more chilled out and melodious elements of Odesza.

I think there’s a possibility that Madeon could be this year’s Disclosure.

Madeon by Ethan Shvartzman
Madeon by Ethan Shvartzman

I saw the last half hour of Philip Selway, then made my way to check out Stromae at 8PM.

WOW. Stromae was incredible. If you see one show at Coachella this year, make it Stromae. He is a star and if/when he ever comes out with an English language album, look out.

The dude is an incredible performer. Singing, dancing — there’s really nothing out there like him right now.

His live show was incredibly well staged and Stromae works the crowd like a seasoned pro.

When he started his set the tent was halfway full; by the end, he had the place packed and eating out of his hands. The lights went out and it seemed like the show was over but the crowd stuck around for a couple minutes in complete darkness and was treated to an encore.

It seemed like it may have been planned if things went over well for the first 45 minutes, but the fact that the crowd refused to leave is a testament to the power of his performance.

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like that happen in one of the tents.

Again, if you’re heading out for week 2, DON’T MISS STROMAE! Believe me on this.

After Stromae, it was off to Jamie xx.

I love his new stuff, especially the track “Gosh“, but I was a little confused when I walked in to the Gobi tent and found him DJing a Harvey-esque set of funky disco. It wasn’t bad, just not what I’d expect from Jamie xx.

At the end of his set he threw on one of his new tracks (not “Gosh“, though) and that was the end.

I’m not sure what happened in the first half hour of his set but the part I witnessed was bizarre. I overhead some people walking out after his set saying, “It’s Coachella dude, try a little bit harder.”

I capped off my 2015 Coachella with Fitz & The Tantrums, Odesza, and Drake.

I heard advanced word on Saturday that Madonna would be making an appearance during Drake’s set so I stuck around for the sake of witnessing the spectacle. I was hoping he’d bring out a bunch of guests like Lil Wayne and ILOVEMAKONNEN but that didn’t happen (seriously though — how are you gonna do “Club Goin’ Up On A Tuesday” and NOT bring up Makonnen for Coachella?).

Drake was solid, but didn’t quite have the presence to carry the stage by himself despite everyone in the crowd’s high hopes.

All in all, it was a pretty good Coachella.

The art installations were really cool (I especially liked the Corporate Headquarters one).

Logistically, everything was on point. Saturday evening felt like it was a little too crowded, but for the most part Friday and Sunday were pretty chill. Everything from the parking situation to the bathrooms were easy and pain-free experiences and pretty much everyone I encountered – whether it was staff or fellow patrons — were super friendly.

I’m already looking forward to Coachella 2016.