Only at Coachella--a diverse California desert festival where Kanye West once opened for Sigur Ros--would Noel Gallagher-infuriating rapper Jay-Z headline the first night; namecheck indie bands Grizzly Bear, Passion Pit, and Yeasayer in his onstage thank-you's; and perform a song that samples Alphaville's '80s prom ballad "Forever Young" with the chorus crooned by none other than his famous diva wife, Beyoncé.
Jay-Z's set, despite starting a half-hour late, was unsurprisingly the best-received gig of Coachella Friday---and that was before his better half sashayed out in her Daisy Dukes.
However, not everyone was so thrilled about Jay-Z's appearance. John Lydon's recently reunited legendary post-punk combo, Public Image Limited, were playing on the neighboring second stage at the exact time Hova was rocking the main stage, and while it may seem hard to imagine that a famously cantankerous punk grump like the artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten could ever be drowned out or upstaged, that was in fact the case, as Jay-Z's set (with full live band) was eardrum-splittingly loud. And Jigga didn't just provide stiff competition in the decibel-level department, but it also seemed like 75 percent of the entire Coachella audience was crammed onto the left side of field to see Jay-Z, with sadly only a modest-sized crowd wandering over to the right to see Public Image Limited.
Happily, this great injustice only seemed to fuel Lydon's filthy fury, and he hit the stage in fine form, snarling, "If you need an aspirin for Jay-Z, better take a PiL!" PiL's set was indeed one of the other major highlights of Friday, with Lydon all bug-eyes and bad attitude and rolled R's, spouting one-liners like "This is the mood we're in tonight: nice and accurate and deadly" between classic cuts like "This Is Not A Love Song," "Warrior," "Flowers Of Romance," and "Religion"...the last of which (in true Lydon fashion) was punctuated with the nasty declaration, "Lock up your children, the priests are coming!"
And then, at the end of it all, just as PiL were tearing into their signature song, "Public Image," Beyoncé joined Jay-Z onstage across the field, and a fireworks display filled the desert sky. And if you were standing at one particular spot on the field between the two competing stages, you were treated to an unexpected and most likely unintentional, pyro-augmented "Public Image"/"Forever Young" mashup that even Coachella DJ Z-Trip couldn't have ever conjured.
Not all rapper's sets were as successful, however: Earlier in the day, the main stage's opening act, Nigerian-American hip-hop newcomer Wale, started playing nearly 40 minutes late, which effectively truncated his set to a 10-minute mini-show. But Wale was in good spirits and made the best use of his brief time in the Coachella sun.
Other afternoon acts who fared better were Portland's Hockey, Brooklyn's Yeasayer, and Boston's Passion Pit, whose anthemic indie-disco had the Gobi, Mojave, and second stages respectively bouncing. Passion Pit's performance (which included a bouncing Yo Gabba Gabba character) was especially packed, with shoulder-to-shoulder passionate Passion Pit fans extended three-fourths down the field--a situation frontman Michael Angelakos declared a "dream come true."
Also frolicking in the second-stage sun were She & Him (aka it-girl actress/Ben Gibbard bride Zooey Deschanel and singer-songwriter M. Ward), whose breezy gig came across like one of Zooey's uber-adorable "Cotton: The Fabric Of Our Lives" commercials as she giddily jumped around in a sky-blue sundress and rattled a Partridge Family-style tambourine. Unfortunately, it was so punishingly hot during She & Him's 3:30pm set, it really did feel like 500 days of summer had been crushed into this single desert afternoon. But Zooey, cute and pristine and perfect as always, never seemed to even break a sweat.
PiL weren't the old veteran act playing Coachella's first day, by the way. One of the surprise standouts of Friday were regrouped '80s ska superstars the Specials, who burst onto the main stage with the energy of a band a third their age and kept up the pace throughout their party-hardy set, despite playing in the heat while wearing full three-piece suits. Old favorites like "Monkey Man," "Rat Race," and "Blank Expression" were all warmly received by the enthusiastically dancing audience, but it was when the Specials played "A Message To You, Rudy" that the show became truly special, as festivalgoers skanked and hackeysacked in earnest to the feelgood classic.
As for vets who played in the evening, over in the Gobi Tent jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron delivered a stunning sunset set of pure downtempo piano cool. And on the second stage, Liverpool mope-rockers Echo & The Bunnymen (a black-trenchcoated band that should never play in harsh daylight anyway) rolled out their many moody new wave hits as well as a couple of Lou Reed and Doors covers, while long-faced singer Ian McCulloch, dressed in head-to-toe black and sunglasses-at-night, chainsmoked throughout.
And over on the main stage, Them Crooked Vultures--a truly super supergroup featuring the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl on hammer-of-Thor-style drums, Queens Of The Stone Age's Josh Homme on lead vocals and guitar, and actual Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones--put on a massive rock spectacle, complete with cranked-to-11 amps and a stadium-worthy lightshow, for what Homme snarkily but probably inaccurately called "a night you'll never remember."
But perhaps the most exhilarating main-stage set of Coachella Friday was by James Murphy's dance-punk collective LCD Soundsystem, very successfully graduating from their previous Coachella appearance in the smaller techno tent. Their show was a veritable lovefest, featuring multiple shoutouts of admiration to Gil Scott-Heron, Them Crooked Vultures, and Jay-Z as well as a giant mirrorball and copious amounts of that always crowd-pleasing instrument, the cowbell. As LCD Soundsystem grooved to everything from their early quasi-spoken-word cult hit "Losing My Edge" to their infectious new party-starter "Drunk Girls," the death-disco New Yorkers seemed surprisingly at home in the California desert, without ever losing their edge.
Additional reporting by Don Andrews Jr.
All photos by Mike Orlosky. For more of Mike's Coachella pics, click HERE.