Grimes battles Guns and Roses for Coachella crowd, takes fans into the Belly of the Beat

Ex Hex Coachella 2016 photos

Ex Hex

Pushing through the body aches, inevitable soreness, and ritualistic hangovers of the previous night, festival-goers made their enthused return to the Empire Polo Fields for Coachella’s second day. The atmosphere was a veritable powder keg, with the catalyst being the rock-’n’-roll  dominated day to ensue and eventually explode spectacularly with Guns and Roses headlining slot. Lighting the fuse early in the afternoon with their sultry brash garage rock was Washington D.C.’s Ex Hex,  who were visions of steamy charisma during their set as they pumped voltage after voltage of their emotive garage rock from the Outdoor Stage. Highly animated, their luminous smiles as dazzling as their chops, Mary Timony and Betsy Wright’s onstage antics and feverish guitar solos (hammered into place by Laura Harris drums) simultaneously had fans raving and swooning over their impressive licks. Wright is a kicker, and as her fingers danced across her guitar strings, she managed to emphasize each pluck with a high kick in the air. Like surgeons operating with diamond tipped scalpels, the guitar duo cut into the hazy rumblings of their 80-90’s inspired grooves like “Hot and Cold” and sublime riffs in “How You Got That Girl,” while also finding time to flaunt their rabid chops. Wright is a kicker, and as her fingers danced across her guitar strings, she managed to emphasize each pluck with a high kick in the air.

Led by Franklin James Fisher, experimentalists Algiers brought their noisy rock to the Mojave stage. Pulling on an insanely eclectic assortment of genre influences, Fisher alongside his ragtag ensemble conjured up a haunting concoction of moody atmospherics, punctuated by the singer’s bottomless howls. After only two songs, it no longer felt as if you were at Coachella, but rather under a tent in the sweltering Southern heat indulging in some bluesy gothic-gospel.

Bats for Lashes at Coachella 2016 photos

Bats for Lashes

Bat For Lashes aka Natasha Khan kept the eeriness going with her somber ballads, but at first had trouble pulling the crowd out of their midday heat exhaustion. Khan, who was dressed more appropriately for a funeral (complete with blue veil flowing behind her)  than summer music festival, would’ve been better suited with an evening slot. But after a brief slump, fans began to visibly react to Khan’s engrossment in her music–dancing and swaying in her ghostly attire, the young singer/songwriter belted out the bleak romanticisms of crowd favorite “Laura.” Joined only by a drummer and keyboardist onstage, Bat For Lashes tunes minimalist beats garnered a surprising number of entranced dancers to the Gobi Stage as they earnesty found themselves lost in Khan’s sensual vibes. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra had the momentous task of following up a legendary performance by The Arcs at the Mojave Stage, but the New Zealand natives appeared to have little trouble surmounting the task. At times pulsing with a lightheaded psychedelia and at others burning through a bluesy array of bass fumbling, Ruban Nielson and company carried the weight of their grooves to the heart of the crowd. But don’t let the band’s lo-fi sentiments fool you like they did me, the longer I listened, the more I find myself lost within the R&B meanderings that bled from their funky-punk tunes. Then there was the guitar playing–Nielson, a unassumingly talented guitarist, sent the crowd into a frenzy every time he graced us with another giddy solo. His fingers flittering across the strings with ungodly precision, while the auditory result left your body shuddering as his guitar mingled with buoyant percussion jumps. Glowing against the bright neon purples and reds that burst behind them, Unknown Mortal Orchestra completed their set with the galloping percussiveness and psychedelic intonations of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” edging fans to an engrossing frenzy of tangled bodies and flailing arms.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Coachella 2016 photos

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

As Guns and Roses drew a crowd the size of a small town, the enigma that is Grimes took to the Mojave stage and proceeded to wrap fans in the bewildering wonderland of her artpop. Opening with the bass rumblings of “Genesis” Grimes, who was joined onstage by her friend HANA and two wild backing dancers, spiraled into the ethereal layering of vocalizations that make up the track. Breathless for most of her set, as she spent much of it stomping, jumping, crawling, screaming maniacally into her mic and somehow finding time to also play her music, Grimes burned incandescently against the mountainous bass drops of her schizophrenic tracks. Dragging out two guests, first the frenetic spit-fire of Janelle Monae in “Venus Fly,” and then Japanese rapper Aristophanes for “Scream” (the duo’s cacophonous wails of horror at first unnerved the unsure crowd, but was eventually won over by the track’s deep bass cuts and ferocious cascades of ear-splitting synths.

Grimes Coachella 2016 photos

Grimes

As fans now crowded into the packed Mojave, Grimes shouldered her red electric guitar and began the opening lines of “Flesh Without Blood,” which was met with immediate screams and convulsed dancing. It was at this point a stranger handed me a pair of paper glasses that transformed Grimes’ already trippy visuals into a kaleidoscopic fantasia of colors and sounds. Every gorgeously layered high-pitched and distorted croon reverberated off the Mojave’s walls and bounced back in warbled echoes, while onstage Grimes continued her aggressive synchronized movements with her dancers. After the inky-black, moody rumblings of “Oblivion,” for which Grimes threw up on the stage screens a picture of Bernie Sanders (which elicited yells of approval from the crowd), it was announced that her set was being cut short. Nothing short of heartbroken, Grimes caressed that sadness with a dizzying performance of her favorite song “Kill V. Maim,” and for the final minutes of her set she was a tiny blur from which emanated her baby-voice vocals and colossal propulsions of synth-powered detonations.

Words: Steven Ward

Concert Photography: Coachella / Goldenvoice

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