Guns N Roses pole-vault over expectations with Coachella headlining set Saturday, bring out AC/DC’s Angus Young

Guns N' Roses at Coachella phhotos

Guns N’ Roses

The second day of Coachella saw nearly perfect weather, particularly once the sun went down, which made it that much more enjoyable to witness a series of awe-inspiring performances throughout the day.

I found shade in the Gobi tent and caught jazz-tronica trio GoGo Penguin from Manchester. Nick Blacka on the double bass was a damn machine. He ripped things up and had the small crowd that gathered really feeling it. Pianist Chris Illingsworth slowed things down a bit with the beautiful intro on “Hopopono” before the rest of the band picked up the pace as the song progressed. Their set was one of those that as time progressed, the tent got more and more filled and people started vibing to the music more.

Up next in the Gobi tent, Aussie rockers DMA’s brought their full Britpop sound to an excitable crowd. A trio in recording, the band packs a punch as a six-pack on stage for their live shows. “Dude, who the fuck are these guys?” a Brit asked me a couple songs into their stage. “They sound like Ride meets Oasis, I love it,” he continued. At times, it was hard to hear singer Tommy O’Dell over the wailing guitars of Johnny Took and Matt Mason, but it wasn’t hard to make out how very Liam Gallagher-like they are. The slower-tempo track “Delete” was the closest to a singalong that the band got, with a handful of superfans near the front singing every word.

DMA's Coachella 2016 photos

DMA’s

Los Angeles-based R&B duo Rhye had trouble early in their Outdoor Theatre set avoiding being drowned out by Run the Jewels over on the main stage. Singer Milosh even noted, “That band sounds pretty good over there” after a particularly charged RTJ track seemed louder than the rest. Once the spotlight was solely on Rhye, they shined with their sexy tunes. Milosh has one of the most beautiful and sultry voices you’ll ever hear, and it wasn’t at all affected by the coarse desert temperature despite a mid-afternoon set time. In an almost too-perfect moment, an airplane banner ad for Trojan condoms flew right above their set.

One of the best guest appearances of the night came during the Mojave set from Dan Auerbach’s side project The Arcs. More bluesy-psychrock than The Black Keys, their set got a boost in the form of the Eagles’ Joe Walsh and the James Gang’s Glenn Schwartz towards the latter part of their set. That moment saved a set that until that point wasn’t really on point, which was quite surprising. The tent was unexpectedly not too packed considering The Black Keys are a major band and Auerbach is the primary member, but maybe people just aren’t yet that aware of them. That said, the three-song bluesy jam between Auerback, Walsh and Schwartz was quite memorable and helped lift an underperforming set to the level of satisfactory.

The Damned at Coachella 2016

The Damned

For 40 years, London punk rockers The Damned have shuffled lineups but helped cultivate the scene that they’ve been a part of. Somehow, that long legacy didn’t really find their set that well attended Saturday night, with the tent not nearly as packed as it should’ve been. “We have been put on this stage to make your festival even more weird,” lead man Dave Vanian said, while rocking a nice slick black suit jacket. Though a large percentage of those that stumbled into the set might not be ultra familiar with the group, their favorite bands have drawn inspiration from them no doubt. For being in their late 50s, they still bring a ton of energy to their live show. The high point was their cover of “Alone Again Or.” Guitarist Captain Sensible was sensational throughout.

“Can I keep it gangsta tonight?” Ice Cube asked in the opening moments of his main stage set Saturday night. His set was one of the true wild cards of the weekend. Known more for his comedic movie roles in the last decade, could he still bring the fire to the mic? He did drop a promo for his upcoming movie Barbershop: The Next Cut, but other than that it was pretty smooth sailing and also a set jam-packed with special guests. It was one of the most-attended sets of the weekend, with it being nearly impossible to get within sightline distance of Ice Cube before he even took the stage. There were hopes of a full NWA reunion ever since the lineup dropped, with people guessing that someone well-known would take Eazy-E’s place for some of their classic tunes. Instead, they got original members MC Ren and DJ Yella on the three-song time traveling, with Ice Cube’s son joining them on stage for one of the tracks. No Dr. Dre as people hoped.

Ice Cube Coachella 2016

Ice Cube

Ice Cube said that there was a song that they didn’t want him to play but he said fuck that and launched into “Fuck tha Police,” asking the crowd to stick their middle fingers up in the air at the police that were probably backstage somewhere. Fellow rapper-turned-actor Common joined him on stage for “Real People” and lastly, Ice Cube was joined by Snoop Dogg for the two-song run of “Go To Church” and “The Next Episode,” though again Dr. Dre didn’t make an appearance. Ice Cube closed with the hip-hop classic “It Was a Good Day.” The crowd was very positive and a complete contrast to last year’s Drake crowd, which had a terrible vibe throughout. People old and young just wanted to hear one of the vintage rap acts of the last few decades run through the hits, and that he did.

“You’re in the jungle, Coachella, and you’re gonna DIEEEEEEEE!”

When Axl Rose let out that bellow four songs into Guns ‘N’ Roses’ headlining set at Coachella on Saturday, it was officially on like Donkey Kong. Sitting atop an iron throne lent to him by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Rose didn’t let a broken foot keep him from delivering a banner performance.

Expectations were low when news emerged that Rose was injured. For months after the official lineup dropped, naysayers were expecting the big-money reunion to resemble a bad car wreck. Instead, Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan and the rest of the band put on a show that had old fans reminiscing about the glory days.

Guns N' Roses at Coachella phhotos

Guns N’ Roses

All day Saturday there was a sea of G’n’R shirts everywhere. People were hesitant to get their hopes up after years of watching YouTube clips of Rose’s voice not sounding up to snuff. But on this night (and hopefully many others along their upcoming mega tour) Rose’s voice sounded pretty damn close to the way it did when they were the hottest band in the world 20 years ago.

Slash brought epic solo after epic solo, his signature hat perched atop his head. There was little eye contact made between Slash and Rose during the show, but maybe that’s just part of the recipe of avoiding disaster.

Not only was Rose hitting all the high notes — but he was holding them for a very long time when he needed to. I can’t begin to count the number of times around me that someone in the crowd turned to whomever they’re with and had a hard time coming up with words for how blown away they were by the show.

The band didn’t put too much emphasis on stage production, instead letting the music to do the talking. The video screen had weird stuff going on at all times and there were a couple of dancers that looked like they could have been picked up at a Crazy Horse, but other than that it was pretty tame.

“Live and Let Die” — originally a Wings song — kicked the show into its second gear. While Axl took a break, the theme from The Godfather made an appearance via Slash.

“Sweet Child of Mine” came midway through, and that was one of the top singalong moments of the night. Guns ‘N’ Roses pulled out all the stops at this show, bringing out AC/DC guitarist Angus Young for “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Riff Raff” — giving fans a sneak preview of what the upcoming AC/DC tour with Axl fronting the band will sound like. Angus Young returned to the Coachella main stage for the second-straight year after his band headlined last year — proving that rockers from years past have just as much gusto as the ones topping the charts today.

Rose’s signature deep-voiced vocals on “November Rain” and then “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” were mesmerizing. He got the crowd to participate on the final chorus of the latter song in a big way.

The band closed with a three-song encore. Axl nailed the whistling intro of “Patience” and kept the momentum going through to a cover of The Who’s “The Seeker” and then of course “Paradise City,” which had a bunch of people in the crowd saying, “FINALLY!” Their set seemed to last hours and hours but it was definitely one that will go down as one of the better headlining sets in recent Coachella memory.

Words: Mark E. Ortega

Photos: Coachella / Goldenvoice

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