Coachella Day 1: Radiohead’s sound snafu, The xx and more

Radiohead, performing through problems at Coachella 2017.
Photo: Charles Reagan Hackleman

Radiohead Radiohead might still be on the “world’s biggest rock band” short list, but you wouldn’t know it from the English group’s draw Friday night at Coachella. The main-stage field looked notably sparser than in 2004 and 2012, the other two times Radiohead has headlined this SoCal desert festival.

That crowd got smaller still when the normally uber-reliable Coachella sound system failed three separate times during the set, leaving the band playing without amplification, as fans winced their disappointment.

The first signs of trouble arrived, ironically, during third number “Ful Stop,” in the form of blaring bursts of low end. Moments later, sound cut out completely.

Order was restored for the ensuing “Airbag,” but the difficulties returned during the song after that, “14 Steps,” at which point Radiohead left the stage. A few minutes later, the band re-emerged and made it through “The National Anthem” unscathed, only to suffer another dropout during beloved OK Computer ballad “Let Down.” This time, when Thom Yorke, Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Phil Selway and touring percussionist Clive Deamer (of Portishead) disgustedly left the stage, it seemed possible they might not return.

Fortunately, they did, and the sound stayed perfect the rest of the way. Those final 15 songs showcased Radiohead at the height of its powers, culling classic material—some quiet, some thunderous, some both—and presenting it with a calm professionalism that belied the severity of the night’s sonic issues.

“I’d like to tell a joke and lighten the mood,” Yorke announced at one point, “but we’re Radiohead, so f*ck it.”

Hits were plentiful, as one would expect at a large festival—“Creep” closed out the main set, and “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police” came during the encore. Last year’s A Moon Shaped Pool was well-represented (five cuts), and attention was also paid to the larger catalog, in the form of gems like “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” off The Bends and “You and Whose Army?” off Amnesiac.

Despite the regained momentum, however, Radiohead’s 2017 Weekend 1 performance will surely be remembered for what went wrong, even if lots of the Coachella-goers talking about it afterwards weren’t near enough to experience it for themselves. –Spencer Patterson

Other thoughts from Friday …

The xx Taking advantage of a well-deserved main-stage slot ahead of headliner Radiohead, the English electronic/post-punk trio drew equally from its three studio albums and performed a set complementing the transporting desert nighttime environs.

The xx

The xx

Vocalists Romy Madley Croft (also on guitar) and Oliver Sim (on bass) traded lead duties and exchanged arms-open verses in their signature, harmonizing style, while production wizard Jamie xx punched away at synths, computers and beat machines to round out the instruments.

An unexpected moment: The band launching into Jamie’s gorgeous 2015 anthem “Loud Places” (originally sung by Croft), with the instrumentalists eventually leaving the stage and Jamie segueing into a pounding techno segment that could have ended the set and sent onlookers way feeling energized for Radiohead. Being The xx, however, the full band reemerged and played an encore of sorts with the more lovelorn “On Hold” and “Angels,” offering eight more minutes of swaying, emotional escape. –Mike Prevatt

Guided By Voices Scheduling the indie veterans to close out the new, rock-oriented (and air-conditioned) Sonora tent wasn’t a terrible idea, but it left the band relatively isolated in an enclosed space near the festival entrance, with no chance of attracting passers-by. That placement, combined with a trend that has seen steadily dwindling crowds for Coachella’s rock and legacy acts, left GBV playing to a faithful few—maybe a couple hundred at the tent’s fullest.

Undaunted, Robert Pollard led his latest incarnation through 25 songs in just over an hour. Focused on just-released double-album August by Cake, from which 11 songs were drawn (including two, “Goodybe Note” and “Sudden Fiction,” sung by guitarist Doug Gillard and bassist Mark Shue, respectively), the set also mixed in some old favorites, including “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” “I Am a Tree” and “Your Name Is Wild.”

Pollard passed drinks to the crowd and contributed a few high kicks but said relatively little, keeping the tunes rolling to beat the band’s cutoff time. It was a solid introduction for newbies, but diehards would obviously be better off catching the band in its natural habitat (see: headlining a packed club, typically for two-and-a-half hours a night). –SP

Richie Hawtin For his sixth Coachella performance, the electronic music pioneer, who has long looked to elevate the art of the DJ performance while distinguishing it from the physically acrobatic but technically suspect display it has become in the commercial EDM era, debuted his new stage show: Close – Spontaneity & Synchronicity.

With gear at his left and right, a fully visible Hawtin created and remixed his minimal techno with full transparency, onlookers able to view effect-laden screens showing what he was doing and on what piece of hardware at any given moment—his every knob-turn, button-press and level-tweak. One move of his hands and a beat was augmented, or a synth element unleashed, or a keyboard melody introduced.

While the sight thrilled the diehards and geeks, even the newbies waiting for Steve Angello’s set at the Sahara were pounding their fists and cheering along. It’s clear Hawtin remains dedicated to his other goal—giving commercial EDM fans an introduction, if not a transition point to deeper and less trend-based dance music—and making headway thanks to the opportunities a festival like Coachella affords him. –MP

The Avalanches Replicating the collage-y, kaleidoscopic electronic music from the Aussies’ two studio albums—2000’s Since I Left You and last year’s Wildflower—with a full band can be tricky at best, and for a couple of songs, it seemed like the task might be beyond The Avalanches’ live abilities Friday night.

And then? The band gained strength from a cover, of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” the energy in the packed Mojave tent picked up and the group rode that wave through the end of the set.

With rappers Spank Rock and (the baseball-bat wielding) Eliza Wolfgramm running point, the six-member squad delivered a series of densely layered, highly danceable tunes that, if not on the cerebral level of The Avalanches’ tightly controlled studio work, still surely provided a jolt of full-on fun for anyone in the vicinity. –SP

Crystal Castles I stopped by the Sahara tent to see how current vocalist Edith Frances compares onstage to fire-breathing focal point Alice Glass, who exited the Canadian act in 2014. I left totally unsure after two and a half songs—though the green-haired Frances appeared to be screaming into her mic, her lyrics were almost completely inaudible, likely the result of an amplification issue. –SP

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard The Aussie seven-piece thrived under the afternoon sun at the Outdoor Theatre, laying down a driving, psychedelic groove that, during its best moments, reminded simultaneously of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. Las Vegans should take note of their Tuesday, April 18 booking at the Hard Rock Hotel’s pool. –SP

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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