INDIO, Calif. – Kanye West’s Easter morning “Sunday Service” spectacle got the most attention during Weekend 2 of the Coachella Music Festival, but the more definitive holiday was actually 4/20.
Held again in the desert near Palm Springs under a windswept, advisory-inducing dust cloud, this year’s Coachella also fell under a pervading musical haze. It says a lot that Minneapolis-buoyed hip-hop/R&B star Lizzo gave one of the hardest-rocking, most viscerally energized performances of the weekend. Of course, that says a lot about Lizzo, too.
Other than the “Good as Hell” singer’s fast, feisty and fleshy afternoon set and a few other dynamic appearances by lesser-known acts, the last two days at the sweaty festival were surprisingly chilled-out.
Gone were the hallucinogenic psychedelica or rowdy party-drug vibe of festivals past. In their place grooved a mellower, zoned-out, detached aesthetic, which one might associate with Saturday’s national pro-marijuana day. It was weird how weedy and sometimes wallowing things got.
This year’s Coachella roster conspicuously favored electronic-generated pop, hip-hop and dance music over guitar-rock. The acts were also in large part more internet-based, including many who only just got picked up by radio stations and record labels but are already big draws in concert.
Saturday’s old-schoolers Weezer and quirky, lo-fi Canadian tunesmith Mac DeMarco were the only straight-ahead, non-digified rock bands on the big stages the last two days. Neither made much of a case that the 75,000 fans were missing out. DeMarco’s set fit the chillaxed mold, too.
Never mind the scarcity of guitars, though. What Coachella really lacked was adrenaline.
Confessional teen gloom-pop star Billie Eilish, 21-year-old Texas electro-R&B softie Khalid, electronic-dance musicmakers such as Four Tet and Gesaffelstein, and viral rappers Juice Wrld and Sheck Wes — all very much acts generated online outside the old norms of the recording industry — proved to be surprisingly subdued, sometimes even sleepy on stage.
In the case of the Los Angeles-raised Eilish — a budding megastar fielding “next Lorde” praise at only 17 — her performance was at times even strangely quiet, as if she was still making music in her bedroom after her parents went to sleep.
However, both Eilish and 21-year-old Khalid showed they’re ready to face big crowds on their ambitious upcoming summer tours (each coming to the Twin Cities). Each wheeled out cool visual production and strong pop hooks to help liven up their sometimes timid and tame sounds.
Even Kanye’s Sunday thingamajig was rather downbeat despite its grandiose staging, which started with an army of singers in matching brown robes slowly marching toward a “mountaintop” that looked more like a 9th-hole tee at any of the many nearby golf courses.
West’s long and slogging extravaganza eventually picked up musically, but it never quite got over the mountain. The same went for some of the most hyped hip-hop appearances, such as Kid Cudi’s set Saturday night (which West joined) and a rare Gucci Gang performance Sunday (with Gucci Mane and Lil Pump).
Women rappers actually livened things up the most among the Coachella hip-hop artists. Baltimore baddie Rico Nasty threw down in sly, tongue-twisting fashion and sparked a giant dance party when she brought out Doja Cat for their ridiculously infectious single “Tia Tamera.”
As for Lizzo, her set wasn’t just the usual hyper mix of physical twerking and personal preaching. It was emotional, too, as she basked in the success of her new album released Friday, “Cuz I Love You,” which shot to the top of the iTunes charts over the weekend.
“This is my first time coming out on stage since releasing my No. 1 album,” she said after taking the stage in a sequined red bodysuit that seemed to reflect her celebratory (and playful) mood. “Did I say No. 1 album? I meant No. 1 album.”
No surprise much of the crowd already knew how to sing along to the NSFW single “Tempo” and even the positive, new self-loving anthem “Soulmate,” which she introduced by saying she had just gotten married.
“To myself; the bride was beautiful,” deadpanned Lizzo, who’ll be in the Twin Cities May 5 for a concert at the Palace Theatre and also announced Monday she’s adding a return date Oct. 9 at the Armory.
Not so beautiful: Lizzo suffered technical problems just like on Weekend 1. This time, her track music cut off just as she was wrapping up the finale, “Juice.”
Undaunted, the newfound pro finished off the song a cappella, asked for her flute, blew a few fluttering bars into the instrument and then blew off some expletive-laced steam toward the sound crew, with audience members roaring in approval. She had them at hello and goodbye.
Billie Eilish: The Los Angeles teen seemed a tad tentative on stage and could afford more up-tempo fare, but many of the songs from her month-old full-length debut album are already big, catchy and captivating enough that the sprawling audience filled in the words when she was barely audible.
Ariana Grande: She was slagged in the press for reportedly getting paid more than Beyoncé did for last year’s now-legendary (and newly documented) Coachella set. But Grande still proved highly entertaining, if not Bey-level high (a comparison unfair to any human being), with her own army of cleverly choregraphed dancers and other visual pizzazz to go with her plainly impressive voice.
Aphex Twin: Amid the many drab and drone-y EDM acts Saturday, the pioneering London DJ/producer sounded — in a word — musical, with crescendoing grooves and actual melodies. He matched those twists and turns with a dazzling, refreshingly non-WWE-like light and video show, too.
Shame: If you were going to be the one rock band to crank it up and let loose with flying kicks and shirtless mayhem, you’d better be mighty good. The pimply-young London post-punk quintet was downright thrilling.
Khalid: Like a jockier and more jovial Frank Ocean, the tall, young Texan debuted a dazzling stage/video production and stylishly grooving live band ahead of his first arena tour. He also provided one of the warmest, smiliest moments in the fest as a desert floor carpeted with other teens sang out, “Let’s do all the dumb [stuff] young kids do.”
Alice Merton: The German/Canadian electro-pop singer, whose stomper “No Roots” is all over the radio locally, came off like an overly serious, more atonal Gwen Stefani.
Juice Wrld: What’s with all these newcomer rappers who lazily rap along to their pre-recorded vocals, almost acting like their own hype man? The Chicago native was the worst offender, and clung to his nonsensical “Death Race to Love” concept to the point of tedium.
Tame Impala: The electro-whirring Australian band fell short of its Saturday main-stage status with too many laid-back grooves and falsetto posturing, and too little new material.
Maggie Rogers: Though strong in voice with catchy hooks, the vaguely twangy folk-pop singer sounded a bit too precious for this fest. How dare she sound that sunny at Coachella!