Coachella Weekend Two was shadowed by the death of onetime headliner Prince, who has given tributes both musically and visually. Dr. Dre completed the N.W.A reunion hinted at last weekend and Major Lazer hijacked the Do Lab. Here’s some of the best things we saw on our second time around.
Best Reunion: N.W.A
“Is there a doctor in the house?” Ice Cube asked from the main stage on Saturday. Already standing with him were former N.W.A members DJ Yella and MC Ren, but the reunion of “the world’s most dangerous group” was finally complete when Dr. Dre appeared to the roar of the crowd. Before Dre’s arrival, Cube had the N.W.A revival at full throttle with a powerful reading of “Fuck tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton.” He brought out Lil Eazy-E, son of the late N.W.A member Eazy-E, to rap “Boyz-n-the-Hood.” When his turn came, Dre chose to perform songs from his years after N.W.A, Nineties productions “Still D.R.E.” and “California Love.” While his part in the night’s reunion didn’t include him performing any of the group’s songs, having Cube, Ren and Yella join him was a glimpse of what a later N.W.A might have looked like if the group had survived the acrimony that broke them apart.
Best Musical Tribute to Prince: Mavis Staples
The death of Prince shook the entire world of music, and his fellow artists mourned the late superstar throughout the fest’s second weekend. His friend, the legendary soul singer Mavis Staples, paused in her early afternoon set on Friday, calling Prince “my angel.” Staples was on Prince’s Paisley Park label for seven years, and appeared in his 1990 film Graffiti Bridge. She asked for a moment of silence, then sang a bit of “Purple Rain” a cappella. “He was the most beautiful spirit that I have ever met,” she said.
Jack Ü and Ellie Goulding both dropped bits of Prince into their sets. During his cameo at Anderson Paak’s set, Dr. Dre wore a T-shirt with Prince’s symbol; Guns N’ Roses member Duff McKagan had it on his bass; and Silversun Pickups singer-guitarist Brian Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger had it scrawled on their arms. Ice Cube dedicated his set to Prince, then sampled the robotic opening (“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you…”) from “1999” to launch into his own sex anthem “You Can Do It.” During their Friday headline set, LCD Soundsystem performed Prince’s electro-funk song “Controversy,” an early hit whose mingling of electronics and a raw funk beat landed squarely in their comfort zone, with a squealing keyboard melody, a quick blast of horns and singer James Murphy pressing the mic desperately to his face.
Best Non-Musical Tributes to Prince: Coachella Stage and Grounds
Prince was a late-addition as a headliner at Coachella 2008, where he delivered a searing, guitar-heavy set with the help of Sheila E. and members of the Time. His place in the history of the festival was remembered around the festival grounds. The palm trees around the property were lit with a purplish hue, and his explosive performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” from that year was replayed on the giant screens of the Main Stage, with volume to match. It was as if Prince was back on the Coachella stage one last time. When the song ended, his own words about the gig were printed across the screen: “From now on This is Prince’s House.”
Best Repeat Guest: Kendrick Lamar
“Wait a minute,” Ice Cube said late in his main stage set on Saturday, looking to the platform above him, “Is that Kendrick Lamar?” A lot of fans were probably asking that same question this weekend, as the gifted Grammy-winning rapper kept turning up. During Cube’s set, Lamar performed two songs with his fellow Compton rapper, hours after appearing onstage with SZA to recreate his part on the single “Babylon” and Lamar’s “Untitled 04.” Then he was back again on Sunday at the Anderson Paak set for “Backseat Freestyle.”
Best Reason to Show Up to Weekend Two: Exclusive Cameos
Beyond Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar making appearances this weekend, Usher joined Major Lazer for a Prince tribute on the main stage. Run the Jewels brought out Big Grams and the too rarely seen-and-heard Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine; and while A$AP Rocky didn’t top a Kanye appearance from Weekend One, having Tyler the Creator and Miguel certainly isn’t shabby.
Best Distraction: Sia’s Dancers
On Sunday, Sia spent her entire set nearly motionless, belting out lyrics while standing in place like a potted plant. She likes it that way, and has a full cast of dancers and actors to play out the ideas and emotions live onstage and/or in pre-recorded pieces shot for the big screens. First among them remains Maddie Ziegler, the young dancer who stars in several Sia music videos, and who exploded in frantic spasms of emotion. She bent her limbs, twisted her face, fishhooked her mouth, crawled the floor, battled with other dancers, writhed and hopped in the spirit of the open nerves being exposed in the songs “Alive” and “Big Girls Cry.”
Best Audience Interaction: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Singer-ringmaster Alex Ebert wasted no time engaging with fans during the early Sunday evening set of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Right in the middle of the opening song, he climbed the crowd barrier to wade deep among Coachella faithful, then climbed back over to other side to ask: “What do you want to hear?” For “I Don’t Want to Pray,” Ebert sprinted and hopped along the barricade, stopping to ask random fans to sing along. Most knew the lyrics word for word. During “Man On Fire,” Ebert and the nine players behind him began with a solemn organ passage, then soared into a joyous melody, as the singer hopped and danced around, singing “I want the world to come dance with me!” At one point, he tossed a compact video camera into the masses as “an experiment” and asked fans to shoot themselves dancing before throwing it back. He asked, “Hey, y’all, anyone got a story you want to tell?” And soon he was leaning into their faces, hearing their stories of overcoming depression, or driving to Coachella for 36 hours from Canada. The stories continuing as the day turned to night, and the band was ready to hear them all.
Best Vocal Quirk: Grimes
There’s a noise that Grimes makes when she’s about to finish or begin a song onstage. It’s an abrupt sound, deep and guttural, rough and snarling, and couldn’t be further from the high-pitched vocals of her music. It acts as a punctuation mark as the singer-producer talks about the song up ahead or just behind – it’s closest in intensity to her song “Scream,” a collaboration with Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. Grimes did it repeatedly at her Coachella set during weekend two like she was overcome with power and hunger in the business of making noise.
Best Out-of-the-Way Stage: The Do Lab
“If the music makes you high, put your hands in the air!” shouted Walshy Fire of Major Lazer, as the group’s DJs spun a throbbing beat. But the MC wasn’t asking during the group’s Sunday set. This was hours later, during a surprise appearance at one of the festival’s lesser known treasures: the Do Lab. Tucked in the southwest corner of the Coachella grounds is a stage where DJs, acrobats, dancers and other performers fill the day with wild sounds and experiences. To close out the festival on Sunday, Major Lazer brought their thumping beats to the packed Lab, where spontaneous dancing ignited onstage while machines pumped out smoke and bubbles. Soon, Walshy Fire led a chant with the crowd: “You came, you saw, you conquered, you balled!” As Coachella attendees know, the weekend is not always about what’s listed in the schedule.
Best Sidemen: St. Germain
The highly regarded French producer and DJ known as St. Germain stood prominently behind his stack of gear, presiding over a 50-minute set and a full house at the Gobi Tent. But his electronics amounted to only part of the lively jazz and folk-infused set that drew on his new album, the Mali-influenced St. Germain, his first in 15 years. Bringing the music to life was a staggering band of players from Mali and elsewhere. African string instruments mingled with electric guitar, drums, sax and the leader’s sequencers and samples. His eight players were an energetic crew, bouncing along with the crowd, taking solos that were never self-indulgent. The sound was maybe not an of-the-moment dance club variety, but deeply soulful and present.
Best Mix of Modern and Traditional: Parov Stelar
Like St. Germain, DJ Parov Stelar is another electronic artist at Coachella who surrounds himself with a band of distinctive live musicians. Stelar ignited a full set of electro-swing, mingling ancient pop forms with modern dance energy. With a trio of restless brass players, Stelar sampled a bit of ancient jazz. Singer Cleo Panther danced beneath her Flamenco hat, swinging her hips to the beat while leaving room for rich solos from the horns and bass.
Best Jagged Edges: The Kills
The Kills landed at Empire Polo Field on Friday with their faces covered with scarves, facing the wind and sand like a pair of desert travelers. The elements could not contain the duo’s noisy, bluesy, jagged fury. Opening with “No Wow,” singer Alison Mosshart stomped her boots across the stage, her platinum hair whipping violently in the breeze as the late afternoon sun began to slip behind the mountains. She picked up a guitar and faced off with partner Jamie Hince as both slashed heavy chords of noise and melody.
Best Pop-Up Performance: Warren G
On the same day as Ice Cube’s reunion with N.W.A on the main stage, fellow West Coast rapper Warren G performed to a room full of fans at the lower-profile Heineken House. The venue is essentially a nightclub in the middle of the Coachella grounds and a welcome getaway from the desert heat. There, Warren G unfurled smooth G-Funk hits, including “This D.J.” and “Regulate.” “Hey, can I smoke in this joint?” he asked as he lifted a spliff. “I ain’t on the main stage,” he boasted. “I’m right motherfucking in here!”
Best Hip-Hop Soul: SZA
Long before Kendrick Lamar arrived to lend a hand, SZA had her crowd moving to an organic groove, as she stood on a stage decorated with prop flowers, cacti, a campfire and a banner reading “Camp SZA.” She sang with warmth and a loose richness, but also slid into rap on “Sobriety” against a sharp beat. Later in the set, she paused to announce “a moment to get quiet for Prince,” whom she said was played in her house in New Jersey growing up. Though she’s signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, she’s less interested in hard edges than natural grooves, playing with a band of two keyboardists, drums and guitar. Late in the set, SZA and the band gathered around the prop campfire, and she said, “Honestly, my band is my family.” She lifted up a joint, taking the mellow to another level.
Best Chill Out Space: Portals
“Portals” was a large-scale sculpture and resting place on the lawn between the main stages and the performance tents. Created by Phillip K. Smith III for the festival, the pavilion is a circular space with mirrored columns, glowing circular symbols and spaces to look out onto the field. Coachella fans posed with the glowing lights or got comfortable as the sounds of N.W.A, Guns N’ Roses and LCD Soundsystem unfolded toward the horizon.
Best Use of Darkness: Beach House
The sun was already down when Victoria Legrand stepped onstage in a black hooded cloak that could have come from a sales rack on Diagon Alley. Beach House’s core duo of singer-keyboardist Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally has always been comfortable playing their dark, dreamy pop with the lights extra low. The sudden blast of white light that revealed the band at one point only made the rest of the set seem that much darker, adding mystery to songs that were forceful, melodic, haunting, hopeful.
Best Political Messages: Bernie Signs
Not everyone at Coachella was looking to escape the outside world. As the second weekend of Coachella was just getting started, activists organized a “Bernie-Chella” nearby, with live music and DJ sets. During Sunday’s set from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a handmade cloth banner for Bernie Sanders hung over an organ, and a few fans held up signs as well.
Best Vintage Punk: The Damned
“We’re the Damned, back from 1977 to save you from the likes of Simon Cowell,” announced guitarist Captain Sensible. Every year, the festival includes at least one original punk rock or experimental act on the bill as a nod to the history of Goldenvoice Productions, which founded the festival in 1999. Sensible arrived in sparking silver jacket and red beret, and singer Dave Vanian paced the stage in vampire black (long coat, gloves, shades) for an anxious “Street of Dreams” and “Love Song,” as a circle pit opened up.
Best Daytime Abrasion: Autolux
Autolux is a Los Angeles-based trio who brought some real indie-rock danger into the desert heat. The temperature in the Gobi Tent couldn’t have been higher and the crowd could have been a lot bigger, but the band delivered with the subtlety of broken glass, as singer-bassist Eugene Goreshter and guitarist-singer Greg Edwards thrashed and leaned into the groove. There were moments of swirly Sonic Youth-sized noise and fury as Goreshter interrupted his vocal to swing his bass wildly, knocking over his mic and pressing his instrument against his amp for a squeal of feedback. When drummer Carla Azar began singing “The Science of Imaginary Solutions,” it was in a voice high and soft until the band erupted again with a crash of noise.
Best Way to Keep Dancing: Camping Center
The party doesn’t have to end after the final act. At the Camping Center, food and entertainment continued onward well after midnight. In the Camping Center were games, an artist’s studio and a venue for more dance music. On Saturday night, as Guns N’ Roses fired off their farewell fireworks and RL Grime was descending his DJ station, fans were still lining up to get into the campground dome and dance, ready to savor every last moment of the night.