April 16th, 2012, 6:40 pm · · posted by GUEST
So here’s the thing about Coachella 2012 that I’m sure was probably impossible to have happen but really would have made for an even better festival: Sunday should have been Saturday and Saturday should have been Sunday. Or, in other words, put the killer party in the middle, the mellow-out comedown at the end.
As it was, the wildly anticipated Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg show was mostly a spectacular success that could have rivaled Kanye West’s staggeringly powerful appearance last year, if only it had been a bit longer (at least 30 minutes more) and if some of its ballyhooed surprises had truly been larger-than-life – or even a surprise, seeing how Warren G gave the game away days earlier.
No question it was a massive throw-down, the one truly unifying event of the festival. The Doggfather and the Godfather of L.A. hip-hop staged a West Coast celebration with guest stars of every caliber: esteemed (Eminem), highly memorable (50 Cent, Wiz Khalifa), kinda memorable (give it up for unsung Kurupt), not-at-all memorable (Kendrick Lamar’s barking cameo basically gave Snoop a puff ’n’ potty break), terribly tacky (someone forgot to tell Warren G not to wear his self-promoting T-shirt for the gig) …
Oh, and there was one rap giant on hand who wasn’t actually alive. That would be Holographic 2Pac, all CGI-ed out, moving with all the fluidity of a “Grand Theft Auto” thug, seeming to strut across the stage, spit hard rhymes and trade verses with Snoop through computer magic. Nifty trick, if also a tad unsettling one – whose voice provided the Coachella shout-out just after he surfaced, I wondered?
But that wasn’t the real problem with this much-rumored gimmick. The problem was that from any distance at all, FauxPac looked about three feet tall and not unlike a teleported member of Kirk’s crew beaming back to the Enterprise.
I salute the effort to honor such a crucial L.A. figure, but I almost wish they’d done it in the same manner as the tribute to Nate Dogg, a montage of photos cross-fading on the screens while Snoop, Kurupt and Warren G dashed through some of his/their biggest singles. With VirtuPac, instead of people getting buck wild over witnessing such an unthinkable (and ill-advised) match-up of flesh and ghost, the crowd – which since before sundown had been partying enough to make the boasts of “California Love” seem like an understatement – suddenly seemed to stop in their tracks to examine what they were seeing.
Just what was that up there? Did they concoct his hologram out of existing footage or sheer digital wizardry? Did they perhaps acquire his DNA – enough posthumous tracks have floated around that it shouldn’t be too hard to also find a drop of dried blood – then fed that into one of those machines on Bones that re-creates crime-scene victims?
In any case, it was impressive … for about a minute and a half … and then I couldn’t stop thinking that Snoop was going to inadvertently stomp MiniPac back to oblivion with one false move. It all needed to be at least THIS MUCH LARGER. It didn’t fully work.
But wow, the rest of the set sure did. On a stage made to somewhat resemble the Watts Towers, Snoop and Dre hit the ground running, entering hard with “Next Episode” and heading straight into “Gin and Juice,” a wicked “187” and a slide into “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” that made the masses erupt. Seemingly everyone joined in at some point to sing along with Nate Dogg’s filthy bits from “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None),” then 50 Cent stormed onstage with hype man Tony Yayo at his side to tear through “What Up Gangsta,” “P.I.M.P.” and “In Da Club.”
Khalifa turned up for the Snoop collaboration “Young, Wild and Free,” followed by Lamar’s limp guest shot on “The Recipe.” Then came HoloPac and Eminem’s equally fleeting yet also sharp turn, launching with an abbreviated “I Need a Doctor” (notice Dre didn’t join him), peaking with a dubstep remix of “Forgot About Dre,” then extended with “’Till I Collapse.” By the end of that, Em was so hoarse, it sounded as though his voice might do exactly that; I wonder if his hoodie was up not just for looks but to protect against the desert night air.
As for the lead stars: Dre was the typical man of mystery, his presence here signifying more than his talent. Never much of an MC, he simply held his own on parts he needed to reproduce with gusto, then slouched off to the sidelines midway into the performance, reappearing only to introduce a new player (Kendrick’s got raw talent, but this was the wrong time and place for a showcase) or usher in another early-’90s classic. (And not just their own: Out of nowhere, between Fiddy and Em, they went into House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” presumably because they knew it would get a rise out of the tightly packed throngs.)
But best of all – by far – was Snoop. Decked out in iconic fashion like a Rastafarian Bootsy Collins, he was positively on FIRE every time he got on the mic. I’ve seen the lanky rapper bring on the fierce at hardcore hip-hop festivals, when you can hear the sneer across his face in every line of “Murder Was the Case.” But this was decidedly different; here he had style to spare. He was butter-smooth yet on-the-money punchy, never overexerting himself on the lyrics, always staying right in his distinctively mellifluous zone yet driving every phrase home with the exact same flow that won him a lastingly devoted following in the first place. He was as close to perfect as I bet he’ll ever come. A stunning performance.
So answer me this: Why’d it all have to end after barely more than an hour? They’ve got more than enough material to tack on several more. And side note: If you can raise 2Pac from the dead for a Snoop duet, why not have used his vocal parts in some way for “California Love”? At the very least, play an encore! Why peace-out when the largest audience of the festival – which had waited through more than 100 other sets of every stripe – was dying to hear more. Seriously, they couldn’t manage one song?
Or are they saving something more for Weekend 2? I wouldn’t put it past them. Regardless, the quick finale of “What’s My Name?” and “Still Got Love for the Streets” petered out and the what should have been a rap bonanza for the ages ended very abruptly, with tens of thousands of tired, aching and not entirely sober patrons all cramming their way to the exits. Not a very bright move.
Yet, despite such an anticlimax, Day 3 still stood out as the most enjoyable day overall of a remarkably consistent Coachella. The party just kept building and building from about 2 p.m. onward, with Seun Kuti and Santigold’s cross-field world-beat clash heating up the afternoon; Fitz and the Tantrums having a tremendous breakout performance on the main stage, followed by the most fun I had all weekend, watching Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and the Hives arrogantly tear it up with raw punk spirit; plus AraabMUZIK momentarily mesmerizing with on-the-spot and furiously fast electro drum patterns.
By nightfall, following a dud of a set from much-buzzed-about R&B act the Weeknd (dude can barely sing when he goes for high notes), several of the more sought-after highlights finally surface, first in the super-stuffed Mojave tent, with people spilling out of all sides of it to hear Aussie sensation Gotye perform the viral sensation “Somebody That I Used to Know,” complete with Kimbra belting out her chorus. That was preceded by a half-hour of intriguing, distinctly Down Under material that deserves to earn Gotye a wider following (he plays Thursday at Nokia Theatre, largely on the back of his mega-smash).
Yet the intensely loud “Used to Know” singalong was one of the biggest moments of the entire fest, like nothing else I heard all weekend – and as soon as it was over, people peeled off in droves. “Now that we got that out of the way …” Gotye started, but before he could finish his thought, half the room had turned their backs to push on out. Took me three more songs to get out from the pit.
By then the field had become one giant dance party, with Justice attracting nearly as many people as Dre & Snoop on the main stage (for what reason, I couldn’t tell you) and Girl Talk grabbing the spill-over, until more people realized the real fun was over at his set.
I’m neither deaf nor blind: Obviously one of the big stories of Coachella 2012 is the further rise of EDM, electronic dance music, which had its biggest impact by far this time. Sahara acts routinely drew as well as Radiohead or the Black Keys did on the main stage, and it’s also where all the genuine surprises happened: Usher joined David Guetta on Saturday, Rihanna and Katy Perry turned up to duet during Calvin Harris’ performance on Sunday.
But Justice I just don’t get. They pack a potent sound, sure, like heavy Daft Punk, yet beyond staring at their completely static set design – stacks o’ amps with a glowing cross in the middle, and not much else – 60,000 people or so basically stood around and cheered the sound of a their record being played very, very loudly, by the artists in question mostly just standing still and nodding. Pointless.
Girl Talk, on the other hand, was outrageously great. “We’ve got 45 minutes to turn this out!” DJ Greg Gillis announced at the outset. “We’ve got 45 f***in’ minutes to turn this out! Clap with me!”
What followed was a dizzying mash-up mix, some of it cribbed from GT records like “All Day,” others seemingly new to the stew. The groove and organ grind of Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” kicked things off, with Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” OutKast’s “B.O.B.,” Elton’s “Tiny Dancer” and Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” buffeting the beat soon after that.
I posted a lot of other references Gillis snuck in on my Facebook page: Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” over General Public’s “Tenderness” while Jay-Z rapped “Can I Get a …?,” plus Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” Iggy’s “Lust for Life,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” Rick Springfield, Cheap Trick, Biggie Smalls, Beastie Boys, Beck’s “Loser,” the riff from Nirvana’s “Come as You Are,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” undercut by Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing” lead-in fill and, most head-spinning of all, Lil Jon’s “Get Low” over the machine-gun riff-and-drums of Metallica’s “One.” Brilliant. Insane, but brilliant.
I missed Florence + the Machine almost entirely this weekend, but won’t make that mistake twice; Ms. Welch garnered an enormous crowd on the second stage. (Peter Larsen has more on that shortly.) Saw 3-4 songs but left to find out if the rumor that Thom Yorke would turn up in Modeselektor’s set was true (it was not) and if AVICII’s set design was as jaw-dropping as had been hyped (it also was not, just a giant Michael Myers mask with the DJ operating from where the brain ought to be).
I also heard too little of the At the Drive-In to comment with any authority, though as a non-fan I’ll admit that they sounded far stronger than I remembered. Friends I trust agree, but also noted how guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez didn’t seem entirely enthused about the performance. Desert Jeff saw the whole thing and has been raving. I hope to get his thoughts in our mix soon.
But it’s nearly 11 a.m. as I write this, and we need to pack and leave for O.C. before they boot us out. It’s been a grand first weekend of Coachella, with the promise of a completely different (yet in some ways exactly the same) experience just four days away. In the meantime, there will be plenty more to share as the second fest nears, including tons more pics and my annual Kill List, which this time will surely be more of a what-not-to-miss preview for those of us due east later this week.
Click here to see all photos from day 3.
By Ben Wener for The Orange County Register.