Coachella 2017: The xx, the oh-ohs and the why-whys

The xx (Photo by Charles Reagan Hackleman)
The xx (Photo by Charles Reagan Hackleman)

Veeder’s Day 1: The xx, Phantogram, the Avalanches, BROODS, Stormzy, Tennis, Jooseph, Tall Juan, Rhonda INTL DJs

With the attendance expected to rise nearly 25,000 over the next five years, Coachella’s blueprint expanded this year, pushing the Mohave and Gobi tents back east off of the Sahara tent, while adding the new enclosed Sonora Stage to the south. With musical offerings throughout the day both eclectic and international, patrons had a plethora of options of which to choose from, ranging from festival debuts of acts both new and old, to returning champions such as Radiohead and The xx.

The xx took to the main stage after the sun went down, enhancing the moodiness as they played a baker’s dozen songs consisting of a mix largely from their dancey new record “I See You” and the bedroom pop of the self-titled debut. Production mastermind Jamie xx continues to be the most intriguing member of the trio, shifting his percussion and sampling techniques from song to song, and infusing more vibrant rhythms as the band and his DJ career have evolved. The vocal trade-off between guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sims is always great, as is their ability, but the set had a muted quality that didn’t deliver as much energy as it should have to a field of thousands. However, new tracks “On Hold” and “I Dare You” stood out, as did their cover of Jamie xx’s “Loud Places,” and Romy’s solo performance of “Performance.”

There was also an abundance of notable U.K. and down under acts playing day one, ranging from show-stopping to underwhelming. Here’s how Friday unfolded:

12:19 p.m. — There are maybe only a few dozen people in the Yuma tent for Rhonda INTL DJs, and there may only be a few people dancing to their loungey house set, but they’re going hard early. By the time the DJ collective drops Tulio de Piscopo’s Italian pop classic “Stop Bajon” 15 minutes later, those few dozen other people have found themselves dancing too and more start spilling in.

12:42 p.m. — The craft beer garden is stacked like a Mecca of microbrews. The Kern River Brewery’s “Just Outstanding” IPA is not just a clever name.

12:45 p.m. — There’s a plane circling from a vantage above pulling a banner for Trojan Bareskin condoms. Cue the pew-pew-pew-pew-pewwwww alarm.

12:51 p.m. — Over at the shaded refuge of the Do Lab, Oscure dropped a track that sounds like xylophone trap. The mister perimeters are a treat. It may only be early afternoon, but the Do Lab, where Louis the Child would be the late-night secret guest later, is lit.

12:57 p.m. — The bandana around that dude’s neck covered more skin than his thong does.

1:03 p.m. — A new addition to the festival this year, the Sonora tent is located on the south side of the ever-expanding grounds below the Ferris wheel. The air-conditioned, plywood-floored tent is lined with art that looked like Toon Town before the war on drugs, with a cactus gang posted up down stage like it got mobbed on and a buck-toothed female sun hanging in the center. Just below, Tall Juan banged away on his acoustic guitar knocking out short punk songs one after another. He invited a man onstage to play drums, and alternated at the mic between running in place or thrusting.

Tall Juan is also not just a clever name, but could have also opted with Elastic Juan, as he got more bendy and limber as the set progressed, including bending backward and impressively hocking a loogie above and behind him and plowed ahead his next verse. At one point he remarked that he was from Argentina but that he had his papers so he made it. “Why can’t we be friends?” he asked. “I don’t want to sound preachy, but that’s how it should be, right?” The audience concurred with cheers.

1:56 p.m. — En route for tacos, I passed the Mohave tent and heard a harmony of female voices that stopped me in my tracks to check the schedule for that act’s name. Turns out they go by Joseph. Is Joseph my new favorite band?

2:05 p.m. — While pulling a walk-n-taco munch back across the polo field, one teenage boy played his teenage friend “DNA” off of Kendrick Lamar’s new album “DAMN.” via speakerphone. He looked as excited about it as I am.

2:09 p.m. — Joseph is my new favorite band. The sister trio from Portland, including twins, played a number of songs from their 2016 album “I’m Alone, No You’re Not” in the Mohave tent, including “I Don’t Mind” and “White Flag.” The combination of the Closner siblings’ voices — Meegan’s folky and soaring, Allison’s sultry and mid-range, and Natalie’s deep but crisp and poppy — stands out as complex and distinct as they harmonize on nearly track. Walking a lap around the tent, their mix sounded even better toward the back.

3:06 p.m. — After a few minutes of audible tweaks to refine their sound in the Mohave, Tennis’ lead singer Alaina Moore announced to the crowd, “Welcome to the soundcheck, everyone.” The tech counterpart backstage was named Tony, and each subsequent time she said his name, like, “Can I get some more guitar in my monitor, Tony?” the crowd would chant, “To-ny! To-ny! To-ny!” with a few kids even yelling, “I love you, Tony!” Each time Tennis comes back through Southern California, they are tighter and stronger than they were the last, with a deeper catalog of music to pull from and more of an effortless disposition. Tracks like “Never Work For Free” plowed ahead at a breakneck pace, while others like “Fields of Blue” and “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” coasted along the dreamy pop haze the band is known for.

3:34 p.m. — Over at the Outdoor Theatre, the lawn is surging as British grime rapper Stormzy performs “Know Me Well” with hands shooting in the air. Before he closes with “Shut Up,” he tells the crowd that he didn’t know how this set would go down but that this will go down as one of the greatest shows of his career.

3:44 p.m. — Running back to the Mohave, Tennis closed their set with “Origins” from their sophomore album “Young and Old.” And it wailed.

3:52 p.m. — Two more planes fly by, respectively pulling banners with “You look bee-autiful, Bumble” and “’Everyone must get laid.’ -DNCE.” Sex even sells at cruising altitude.

4:20 p.m. — Following a warm-up show at the El Rey on Tuesday night, Sampha took to the Mohave for an equally impressive but far too short eight-song set culled mostly from his excellent new album “Process.” His majestic voice boomed through the packed tent, captivating you on opener “Plastic 100°C,” hooking you on “Timmy’s Prayer,” and stunning you during the solo “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.”

5:30 p.m. — New Zealand sibling duo BROODS brought the big gay dance party to the Mohave as the afternoon sun wained, in terms of the upbeat happy atmosphere, as well as large contingent of short beards, shorn chests, and sunglass-clad men in short shorts at the tent’s rear. The Kiwis breezy synth-pop played well with the crowd, but the set kind of blended together into one song.

6:55 p.m. — After a 10-minute delay, the Australian DJ outfit The Avalanches took the Mohave Tent stage backed by a full band for their first North American performance since their debut album “Since I Left You” came out in 2000. The live instrumentation really bolstered the sample-heavy tracks’ sound, including the 1-2 punch of “Because I’m Me” and “Frankie Sinatra” from last year’s sophomore surprise “Wildflower” as rapper Spank Rock guested on vocals throughout the set. By the time they came to cult favorites “Frontier Psychiatrist” and “Since I Left You,” the crowd had thinned out a bit but those who remained had their dancing hands in the air. When you wait 17 years to dance to a song, you play for keeps.

7:41 p.m. — It’s sounds like there’s a terribly whining in the distance … oh wait, that’s Father John Misty.

8:12 p.m. — Phantogram have graduated to a prime spot on the Outdoor Theatre, and it looked like the crowd size could backup that placement. Sarah Barthel came out dressed like Lydia Deetz from “Beetlejuice,” complete with an oversized black hat that shrouded her face, and it might have been my favorite part of the set. I didn’t respond to their 2016 album “Third” nearly as much as the masses did, which would explain why I didn’t respond to their set containing much of it. Sarah’s got a great voice, but the synth bombast of the new material doesn’t match its quality.

12:04 a.m. —It’s never felt so good to sing along, “But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don’t belong here,” in my life. Bless you, Radiohead.