Rock Reigned Supreme at Coachella

Celebs, ”Bro-Chella”, and guitar shredders. Here are the highlights from Weekend One

The sun has set on the first weekend of Coachella and the dust has settled, perhaps in your lungs, but it was worth it. It wasn’t final headliner Drake who stole the show—even with Madonna and their awkward kiss heard around the world—but Tame Impala, Florence + The Machine, St. Vincent, and AC/DC who left us in awe.

In a predominantly male lineup, Coachella’s female-fronted acts were some of the strongest of the weekend. Alabama Shakes were so confident on stage they didn’t even bust out their biggest track, “Hold On,” but their set didn’t suffer for it. To offset what she called “Bro-chella,” Jenny Lewis brought out her pals and fellow San Fernando Valley natives Haim to perform her newest song, “Girl on Girl.” Lewis puts on a charismatic show of her own, thrilling her crowd by bringing out Blake Sennett for a mini Rilo Kiley reunion.

St. Vincent opted for a demure appearance and addressed the audience—her “analogue witnesses”—less than in her usual set, but she let her captivating stage presence and stellar fretwork do all the talking. Her extended guitar solo during “Surgeon” was easily one of the weekend’s best moments.

Kimbra successfully jettisoned from the shadow of Gotye’s monster 2011 hit “Somebody I Used to Know” with her performance under the chandeliers of the Gobi tent. Backed by an impressive band, Kimbra performed a set featuring tracks from her most recent solo record The Golden Echo. Florence + The Machine, though, owned the weekend. No stranger to the desert fest, Flo represents all that is Coachella, and the communal spirit was no more alive than during her shimmering rendition of “Dog Days are Over,” in which she told the crowd to embrace, take off an item of clothing, and jump along with her for the final crescendo.

The boys of Coachella weren’t half bad themselves. Steely Dan brought elite musicianship to the Outdoor stage. Guitarist Walter Becker, introducing himself to “the kids” as “Uncle Wally,” confidently proclaimed to the desert crowd “We’re still here. We’ve still got it. And if you want it, you’ll have to come and get it.” Only limited by the festival curfew, they tore through an hour of music that featured horns, backup singers and the kind of master musicianship that had Paul McCartney grooving. Other celebs in attendance included Ringo Starr, Sean Lennon, supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, David Hasslehoff, various Jenners, Orange is the new Black’s Taryn Manning, Justin Bieber, Clint Eastwood and Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland.

Tame Impala proved they deserved their main stage slot with their elegant blend of Beatlesesque psychedelia and mind-bending visuals. Two new tracks complemented familiar fare and Kevin Parker and Co. never sounded better than they did Friday night. And if there were any doubts about Friday’s headliners, AC/DC put all those to rest with aplomb. Tearing through every jukebox hit of their career including “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” in front of a massive wall of Marshall amplifiers, the Australian hall of famers proved rock is very much alive while testing the limits of those Dubs earplugs the festival provided.

Royal Blood kicked off their massive tour with a masterful debut performance on Saturday while punk was represented on the main stage with Bad Religion. Other standouts were soulful rockers St. Paul & The Broken Bones, FKA Twigs and Father John Misty, who brought a fan onstage for an odd serenade, complete with cloaked women and a Leonard Cohen cover. Tyler the Creator brought a riotous set to the outdoor stage, overcoming the sound bleed from Jack White’s electrifying main stage performance. Dedicating a song to the transgendered community and repeatedly shouting “Music is sacred!” the White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather impresario didn’t disappoint with performances of “Icky Thump,” “Steady as She Goes,” and “Seven Nation Army.”

Although the mercury rose to its highest of the weekend, it did little to bring down the final day of the festival. Mac Demarco brought his jangly stoner rock to the Outdoor Theatre, and proved yet again that he’s one to watch. Ryan Adams brought his particular brand of brilliant weirdness to a stage adorned with vintage arcade games, a stuffed tiger, and the biggest Fender amps you’ve ever seen.

Sense of humor in tow, Adams said: “I have to cut a song and I don’t know which one to cut. ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ won’t be played tonight, guys. I had a 17-minute guitar solo prepared; it was amazing. [My bandmate] was gonna punch me in the nuts and I was gonna breathe fire. Well, not this year.”

Elsewhere, David Guetta lit the Sahara tent ablaze with his infectious dance hits. Drake may have been the most talked about performer among festival goers Sunday, but neither his oversized bravado or awkward Madonna cameo could save an otherwise bland Coachella debut. But despite all that, Coachella 2015 can be remembered as the year rock reigned supreme, and for that, we salute.