While the first weekend of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2017 pulled out all the stops with surprise, high-powered guests on nearly every set, weekend two steamrolled ahead with a distinctively different momentum — one that true music lovers could appreciate.
Shy of the glitz and glam of Lauryn Hill gracing the stage with DJ Snake and Drake, Migos and Ty Dolla $ign crash-landing on Future's set, festivalgoers were challenged to do one simple thing: Stop pining for the element of surprise to cement their experience and actually consume music for once. Subsequently, artists, too, were charged with putting on a performance that spoke for itself without leaning on peers or some type of surprise to deem their set among the best of the best. While some failed miserably, others rose to the occasion and left the stage with not only their loyal fans having more appreciation for their artistry but also a new crop of supporters.
Adding insult to injury for his rap peers –– after his DAMN. album secured the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart and the biggest opening week of 2017 –– Kendrick Lamar continued his heavy-handed hip-hop rule at Coachella’s second weekend. Bringing the legend of his “Kung Fu Kenny” moniker to life through an elaborately animated mini-film, the rapper offered his most audacious aesthetic to date, adding fuel to his latest opus, and breathing new life into his previous hits and fan favorites.
Clad in black and white kung fu uniforms and thwarting off swords and martial artists for further dramatic effect, K. Dot’s set was opened with DAMN. standout “DNA.,” a worthy ignition to his live performance’s fresh energy. While weaving his latest material in with the likes of “m.A.A.d city” and “Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick manipulated the senses, adding a second cagelike stage decorated with flickering lights, and belting out “PRIDE.” while suspended horizontally in the air. Seamlessly steering in and out of hype tracks that lend themselves to crowd participation and moodier instances that call for more thought provocation, his presentation served as a visual metaphor for his sonic mission. As emotions pounced from one extreme to the next, Kendrick played puppet master, skillfully handling thousands of eyes, ears and hearts.
Comical comparisons to Beyoncé have loomed over Kendrick Lamar’s artistry in recent weeks, but it may be time to seriously consider that he’s been taking notes from Mrs. Carter. He even switched outfits, mid-set, for (rap) God’s sake. — Iyana Robertson
Go-to adjectives for anyone attempting to describe Lorde might be “dark,” “weird,” or “moody,” which don’t seem too flattering at the onset. But something spectacular happens when those descriptions are then combined with the words “talented” and “confident.” This is the culmination of Lorde’s 2017 return to Coachella; with a firm grasp on the markers that make the singer who she is, Lorde flaunted and flexed. Relying on nothing but her just-like-the-record voice and her own version of relatable charisma, the 20-year-old pop star was the picture of blooming young womanhood, performing a mix of her past, her debut LP Pure Heroine, and her present, her upcoming project, Melodrama.
She stopped between hits such as “Team” and “Royals” to create intimacy with a crowd of tens of thousands, and her candor served as the perfect accent to the elaborate interpretive dance taking place in the large transparent box above her stage. A shining example of her teetering juxtaposition, her audience is led into perplexity one second and a story about the vulnerability behind her new single “Liability” the next. Lorde is a different kind of human, but human nonetheless.
While a haircut and a glittery strapless jumpsuit might be visual indicators of maturity, a spiritual element ultimately made Lorde’s ascension apparent. More comfortable in her own skin than ever, Lorde showed that her Coachella set was more than entertainment; it was a poignant lesson in self-love. — Iyana Robertson
Prior to his first-ever set of live shows in October 2016, Sampha was widely known as a recluse. Sure, the London-bred singer-songwriter had toured extensively with SBTRKT while steadily releasing solo EPs, but his deeply emotive, teetering on the edge of haunting vocals sought out by the likes of Drake, Kanye West, and Solange were the only presence available for the masses to dissect. Ironically, this reluctance only inspired a cult of devoted fans who wanted more. Finally in February, after six years of wading in and out of the spotlight at his leisure, Sampha finally released his proper debut album, Process, which of course came with late night show appearances, music videos, and a world tour. There was no more retreating.
So by the time the crooner took the stage of Coachella's Mojave tent for the second time, it was like witnessing the unveiling of a superstar. With years of using his voice to bolster and boost the chart-topping hits of other artists, Sampha was finally relishing in his own handiwork and reaping the benefits in the form of the audiences' exhilarating reaction. As soft-spoken and introverted as he comes off on wax, Sampha's live set was nothing short of an intense, high-spirited jam session. Songs like "Blood on Me," "Reverse Faults, and "Kora Sings" were pleasantly drowned out by crowd participation, as they sang every word. Whatever standing room was available was quickly inundated with people grooving to his experimental electronic R&B sounds. Sampha, who simultaneously threw himself from the left and right side of the stage and banged away at a keyboard, was accompanied with a full band who complemented his sound, morphing into the perfect vibe for a crowd of festivalgoers. Even heavy ballads like "Plastic 100°C" and the heaviest of all "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano" moved the crowd with bobbing heads and swaying hips.
There's truly something to say about an artist who can perform a body of work about love, loss and coping, and send everyone back into the world in better spirits than they arrived. That’s what you’d call the mystifying magic of Sampha that’s here to stay. — Ashley Monaé
There's not many producers, or DJs for that matter, who can do what Kaytranada does: Release remixes of songs that are actually a lot better than the originals and put out a dope a** debut album reminiscent of The Neptunes Present...Clones complication without it feeling forced.
And if one word could sum up the Montreal-based producer's Coachella set, it would undeniably be effortless. Filling the Gobi tent with his intoxicating reverb, he seamlessly transitioned from house to hip hop to soul and beyond. For those who were introduced to Kaytranada via Soundcloud, he offered up his notorious batch of remixed ear candy. There was Teedra Moses' "Be Your Girl," Azealia Banks' "ATM Jam," in which he notably axed Banks' vocals for Pharrell's smooth feature, Janet Jackson's "If," and Missy Elliott's "Sock It to Me." Notably, his cover of Roy Ayers' "Chicago" rocked the crowd. Continuing his performance with a few unheard cuts, he also sprinkled in jams off debut LP 99.9%. Rising DMV rapper Goldlink made an impromptu appearance, tactfully climbing on top of Kaytranada’s set up and hitting a smooth milly rock to the sounds of the bouncy track “Meditation” they recently collaborated on. Leave it to electro wunderkind Kaytranada to have us two-stepping and body-rolling from sunup to sundown. — Ashley Monaé
Sometimes the stars just align. For Kehlani, a constellation of sorts was strategically placed on weekend two of Coachella: It would fall on the final days of her 21st year, ending with a performance on her actual birthday. Some 22-year-olds will hit the club; others might take a trip with their friends. But Kehlani was right where the universe intended, onstage. Continuing her run of the SweetSexySavage tour, the Oakland-bred songstress unveiled the last of a string of looks for the festival, ironically rocking gray tresses for a celebration of her youth.
Resurrecting the nuances of R&B’s ‘90s golden era, Kehlani summoned the likes of Aaliyah and TLC for her onstage rendition of her latest album, complete with swaggy dance moves and baggy fashion. With singalong-worthy run-throughs of “Distraction” and “CRZY,” the singer also showcased her vocal ability with a slowed-down introduction to “Do U Dirty” and the dexterity to stay on key while feverishly swaying her hips to “I Wanna Be.”
Kehlani’s special night also included the crowd’s sugary delivery of the “Happy Birthday” song to the young star, almost as a gift in return for her sharing her talents. A happy birthday, indeed; the stars really did their thing. — Iyana Robertson