Coachella 2017: Radiohead rallies after being rocked by audio woes

Radiohead at Coachella (Photo by Charles Reagan Hackleman)
Radiohead at Coachella (Photo by Charles Reagan Hackleman)

Bronson’s Day 1: Radiohead, Little Dragon, Guided By Voices, Father John Misty, Big Gigantic, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Tacocat, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Lemon Twigs, Klangstof, Zipper Club, Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis

Coachella is no country for old rockers. Or any, these days.

On a day the bombast of electronic music and rap ruled the newly expanded festival grounds, headliner Radiohead suffered through sound outages and several instances of what sounded like electro-shock feedback before eventually rallying and finishing their main-stage set strong. Dead air space, indeed.

A chunk of the crowd had headed for the exit by the time the U.K. greats mounted their night-saving denouement, ending their main set with the seldom-performed “Creep,” then following with a five-song encore: “You and Whose Army?,” “No Surprises,” “Paranoid Android,” “Bodysnatchers” and “Karma Police.”

The audio problems surfaced three songs into the set — a squawk and then silence during “Ful Stop,” from their latest album “A Moon Shaped Pool.” The band played on, visible in the big-screen montages, while the crowd endured its first WTF moment. “Fucking aliens did it,” Thom Yorke joked upon returning.

Then, at 11:12 p.m. during “15 Step,” the giant P.A. went silent again, this time for a full six minutes. The band departed the stage, returned and dove into “National Anthem,” only to have the sound go south again during “Let Down.” They left the stage again, and when they came back Yorke said, “I’d love to tell you a joke, lighten the mood, something like that. But this is Radiohead, so fuck it.”

Radiohead’s agitated anthems of existential dread on a chilly, breezy desert night seemed the perfect antidote to a day among the Next-Gen Hedonists. The band’s set started an hour after Travis Scott commanded a huge crowd at the Outdoor Theatre with his digitally enhanced claptrap, and Yorke seemed well aware of his surroundings. “We guarantee that no autotune will be used during the show,” he said wryly. “All our mistakes are our own work.”

Leading up to Radiohead, there were work to be done.

12:08 p.m. — With gates opening late (for the second straight year), earlybirds rushed the field. In the Mojave Tent, Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis — handpicked to open some tour dates for Radiohead — were bringing the world to Indio. The cross-cultural Jewish-Arabic octet fuses Iraqi music and rock, with singer Nissren Kadre and frontman Tassa sharing the celebratory mood. Well worth the early arrival.

1:15 p.m. — L.A.-based Zipper Club, who did the residency at the Satellite back in August, plays a set of catchy, fuzzed-out New Wave in the Mojave Tent, with main man Mason James looking just like he did when he fronted Cerebral Ballzy and main woman Lissy Trullie looking … well, very red. “I picked a bad day to wear vinyl pants,” she allowed. A nice finish, too: Curt Smith of Tears for Fears joined the band to perform “Mad World.”

1:32 p.m. — Amsterdam-based quartet Klangstof live up their notices as one of the best “fine-print” bands at Coachella. “Hey, this is Radiohead-y,” somebody said, but only briefly. Synth-rock, post-rock and shoegaze, all very cinematic, and in the Gobi Tent with no visuals.

2:05 p.m. — An airplane flies overhead pulling a banner that proclaims “Everyone Must Get Laid.” It comes courtesy of DNCE, a band that is a “u” short of the truth.

2:30 p.m. — Long Island teenage brothers Brian D’Addario and Michael D’Addario are the force behind the Lemon Twigs and their 2016 album “Do Hollywood” sounds like it somehow emerged from an early-1970s time warp. They dress for their glam/power-pop revival too — one brother in a plaid suit and the other in a clingy black-mesh shirt. They trade off drumming and singing and guitar-slinging halfway through set, both giving very physical performances full of gallops, kicks, scissor-kicks and impressive jumping. Then, at the end, they bring out their hero, 68-year-old Todd Rundgren, who teams up for a rendition of “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” from Rundgren’s 1972 classic “Something/Anything.” The kids are down with it. The kids who were kids in 1972 shed some tears of ecstasy.

3:15 p.m. — Tennis are very pleasant.

3:33 p.m. — With the Coachella grounds expanded by 20 acres this year, festival legs are kicking in early, especially on the now-longer trek between the Mojave/Gobi Tents and the main stage. (And between all that and the new Sonora Stage, located so far south you can also see the border wall from its entrance. But more on that later.) The Preservation Hall Jazz Band make the brisk walk worth it; this is virtuoso stuff, being played to a crowd mostly anticipatory of Bonobo. There was some dancing; distressingly, some of it seemed ironic.

4:15 p.m. — Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard gamely try to get a modest crowd at the Outdoor Theatre interested in their technically masterful psychedelic rock. Shredding seems as out of vogue this year as headdresses (not a single offensive costume spotted all day).

4:44 p.m. — Big Gigantic, the horn- and drums-infused electronic behemoth, put on a monster show. Everybody knows that. Everybody at the bursting-at-the-seams Sahara Tent also know every word, and every drop, on their latest album “Brighter Future.” With the visual pyrotechnics, heat and cramped quarters, there were some young bodies that end up being carried out. One of those sets that’s a full-on collaboration with the EMTs.

5:05 p.m. — To find the Sonora Stage, head for the Ferris wheel and make a left. Like the Yuma, which was added a couple of years ago to service vibey electronica, it’s enclosed, and mercifully air-conditioned. There are even couches at the back. Seattle punk-rockers Tacocat are in fine form; it’s like a great night at the Echo.

6:00 p.m. — As dinner is consumed and shade is enjoyed, there’s high-register music coming from the Gobi Tent, the kind of music that inspires a curmudgeon to think: “Stop whining like baby, putting effects on the vocals and calling it soul.”

6:45 p.m. — London-based synth-pop duo Oh Wonder inspire much hand-holding as fans at the Outdoor Theatre enjoy another spectacular desert sunset.

7:17 p.m. — Father John Misty’s new album is titled “Pure Comedy,” but unlike his 2013 and 2015 turns here, there was not much of his wry proselytizing. It’s almost as if Josh Tillman has answered the lyric from the new song “A Bigger Paper Bag”: “I’ve got the world by the balls / Am I supposed to behave?” Either that or “Pure Comedy” is just too much the downer. The crowd is respectful; overall the main-stage lineup seems awfully polite on this day.

8:30 p.m. — While Phantogram engages is photo-worthy bombast at the Outdoor Theatre, Coachella vet Richie Hawtin wows with his live-mixed set in the Mojave Tent and Jagwar Ma plays to a thin crowd in the Gobi Tent, a few weary rockists trudged to the Sonora Stage, where the day’s most outlandish outlier, Guided By Voices, would cap the night. GBV’s new album “August By Cake” is the band’s first double-LP (32 songs), and the 100th record released by 59-year-old frontman Robert Pollard, now centered between two young guys (Mark Shue and Bobby Bare) and two veterans (Doug Gillard and Kevin March). The crowd would not have filled the Satellite, but what fun. An hour-plus of old songs, new songs, fast songs, slow songs, funny songs, serious songs. And shredding. Pollard remains the mic-swinging, beer-gulping prince of awkward poses, and he was in fine form here. Reflecting on his 14-year stint as a public schoolteacher, he introduced “Substitute 11” by saying: “I have a recurring nightmare that I am passed out in the classroom drunk, and I wake up and all the kids are gone.” Pollard kept the set moving briskly as an attendant kept replenishing his stash of beers in red solo cups. Then, during “I Am a Tree” (1997), Pollard started handing out a few to fans in the front row. Coachella no longer draws much in the way of “old indie-rock fans,” but there will probably be some when GBV plays the Roxy on April 22.

9:55 p.m. — Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano is completely mesmerizing, and the Swedish outfit’s percussive, experimental pop, like syrup that hasn’t been invented yet, is the perfect for the palate leading into Radiohead.

10:50 p.m. — Hey, Thom.