Coachella 2010 Friday: Jay-Z fills the desert with fireworks and diamonds, plus a surprise from Beyonce, LCD Soundsystem, Grizzly Bear, and more

Jay-z-Beyonce-CoachellaImage Credit: Jeff Kravitz/ In the end it was just a rumor. The whispers going around Indio, Calif.’s Empire Polo Club Friday held that Dr. Dre would debut the first single from his extremely delayed Detox during Jay-Z’s headlining set on the opening night of Coachella 2010. This sounded plausible enough: We know that this single exists, features Jay-Z, and is called “Under Pressure.” Even so, Dre didn’t show. In retrospect, perhaps we should have known the story was too good to be true.

But who’s complaining? Not me. What Jay-Z did give us was an absolutely stellar evening with an entertainer like no other. Nor did his performance lack surprises. There were fireworks. There was an unannounced cameo from Beyoncé. There were shout-outs to indie bands who had played earlier like “Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, and Yeasayers.” (Yes, Jay-Z randomly pluralized Yeasayer, but let’s not hold that against him.) And of course there was an entire day full of said indie bands before Jay took the stage. Read all about it after the jump.

I had hoped to arrive at Coachella in time to see Yeasayer’s set at 4:20, but sundry delays on the road from L.A. prevented that. (Free Coachella advice: No matter how much extra traffic time you think you’re leaving yourself, it’s probably not enough.) By the time I strode onto the festival field, it was nearly 6:20, and She & Him appeared to have finished their second-stage set. I began to suspect the universe just doesn’t want me to see this band in concert. But wait! “They told us we have more time,” Zooey Deschanel announced to widespread cheers. That turned out to be enough time for only one more number, “a very special song,” as Deschanel informed us. It was a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Deschanel broke out a raw wail with shades of Janis Joplin as M. Ward picked out spare blues riffs. Not bad. The lively toots coming from the nearby main stage as the Specials started playing distracted only somewhat.

I opted to skip the ska and find a good spot to see Gil Scott-Heron in one of three smaller side tents. A few minutes later the great poet arrived on stage, a slim figure with gray hair spilling from beneath a newsboy cap. “For those of you who bet I would not be here,” he said, “you lose.” The crowd, itself skewing a bit grayer than the festival as a whole, laughed. He sat at a keyboard and launched into “Blue Collar.” “Ain’t no place I ain’t been down,” he sang in a voice full of hard-won wisdom. Scott-Heron has been called a father of hip-hop, a connection made explicit a few songs into his set: “For those of you who did not know, I have been sampled. It’s not as painful as it sounds like… For the most part, we have appreciated it.” In particular he cited Common, whose 2007 “The People” used a sample of Scott-Heron’s next song, the searing “We Almost Lost Detroit.” A three-piece jazz band joined him here, adding subtle flourishes — saxophone, harmonica, flute, bongos — beneath his damning words. Later, he repeated the sentence “I believe in peace” like a prophet’s incantation. That sentiment was more complex than it initially appeared: “Peace ain’t gonna be free,” he went on. “Gotta work for peace.”

Grizzly-Bear-CoachellaImage Credit: Jeff Kravitz/ After wolfing down a quick dinner, I made my way to another side tent for Grizzly Bear. Their Veckatimest remains my favorite album of 2009, a year in which I saw them play four times, often enough to notice the little ways their live act has evolved since last summer. A fresh swing to their step was evident from the opening chords of “Southern Point.” They seemed lighter on their feet during the set’s delicate passages, as when Ed Droste’s spectral vocals reached up to heaven on the sublime “Cheerleader,” or on “Ready, Able,” a song whose second half still gives me chills each time I see it performed. And yet they also hit with heavier force when they chose. At first muddy beats leaked in from the dance tent next door, but the climactic rhythm-section smackdown of “Lullabye” muscled those right out of the way. Grizzly Bear thus confirmed its status as a band that I’d go see anywhere, anyplace that’s at all feasible. Now all I need is some new music from these guys.

LCD_SoundsystemImage Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.comOver on the main stage, LCD Soundsystem was just getting started. An enormous disco ball, weighing 350 lbs. according to the notation scrawled on one of its facets, spun high above the stage. The uncommonly tight band ratcheted up the tension on a series of post-punk grooves, including several from the upcoming This Is Happening. Frontman James Murphy, a white-suited master of the revels, spent most of his energy reeling off endearingly sloshed-seeming patter between tunes. “Not only this song but a lot of this band is dedicated to Gil Scott-Heron,” he gushed before “Losing My Edge,” the hilarious rant that started it all for them. “Thank you, Jay-Z, for f—ing ruling,” he offered sincerely at another point. Murphy voiced his gratitude for such a plum festival slot at every turn, most memorably in an extended dinnertime analogy: LCD Soundsystem, he attempted to explain, were once “the mixed nuts in the Coachella meal,” meaning (I think) a band that was relegated to a smaller stage. Now they found themselves — well, “not steak, that’s Jay-Z.” So “fish,” then? Murphy settled on “a vegan side.” Whatever the dish, it was tasty.

If anyone was hoping for a respite from the hands-in-the-air abandon of LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend‘s second-stage set was not the place to find it. Giddy shrieks erupted at nearly every song’s first notes, and the manic riffs of “Cousins” inspired mass pogoing. I’ll confess that the first couple of times I saw VW in concert, back in 2007 and 2008, I left unimpressed. They’ve improved considerably since then. Ezra Koenig has become a much more expressive live singer; he and his bandmates command a wide range of tones from thoughtful to flippant with ease. I didn’t expect to enjoy Vampire Weekend’s set nearly as much as I did. That may be a backhanded compliment, but it’s honest.

In any case, I could now see Jay-Z‘s red Blueprint 3 insignia looming from the main stage’s huge video screens, so I headed that way. Soon a 10-minute countdown replaced the BP3 logos, soundtracked by Jay-Z’s warm-up music: Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” two verses of Drake’s “Forever,” the instrumental James Bond theme, and a snippet of Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die.” Was Jay trying to send a message with those choices? If so, it would have to be that he’s a timeless classic who’s still in touch with contemporary rap trends, a stylish international badass, and, of course, a proud son of Brooklyn. He proved himself all these things and more with the superlative-defying set that followed his entrance on a platform from beneath the stage. For well over an hour, Jay-Z took us on a tour through his catalog of undeniable hits. Roc-A-Fella diamond hand signs filled the air. He threw in a few treats for those who had seen him perform similar set lists in the past — giving sidekick Memphis Bleek a moment to shine on “Is That Your Chick,” reviving his ironic cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” from Glastonbury 2008. How foolish Noel Gallagher now seems to have questioned Jay-Z’s place as headlining act at a traditionally rock-oriented festival. Massive gatherings like Coachella and Glastonbury, tens of thousands of music fans jamming out in a field somewhere, have become as much Jay-Z’s home turf as Bed Stuy.

Beyoncé made her surprise appearance toward the end of Jay’s set, subbing in for Mr. Hudson on “Young Forever.” Let it be known that that song is so much less annoying with Beyoncé on the hook. Actually, B’s voice makes it pretty great. The battalion’s worth of brightly colored explosives bursting across the night sky didn’t hurt, either. Muse is going to have its work cut out trying to top that grand finale at their headlining set Saturday night.

Were any of you at Coachella day one this year? What were your favorite performances?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter @EWMusicMix.)

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Thursday ACM Rehearsal Not-Quite-Live Blog: Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Jack Ingram, and Laura Bell Bundy
Wiz Khalifa’s Kush and Orange Juice mixtape blows up
Why is Sir Ian McKellen muttering about “sexual gladiators” on the new Scissor Sisters single?

Comments (32 total) Add your comment
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  • Matthew M. F. Miller

    So let me get this straight. You are being paid to cover Coachella and couldn’t get your shizz together in order hit the field before 6:20 in the evening?

    I’ve been to Coachella. Yes, the traffic is bad, but I don’t think it’s the universe that doesn’t want you to see She & Him, it’s your innate laziness. Next time you want to catch a Yeasayer set at 4 in the afternoon, put in the extra effort to pack your snacks ahead of time and leave LA before noon.

    • wagonmaker

      hey Miller, what’s with the attack?

      • atavanhalen

        lol he’s right tho…

    • shire

      the traffic was UNBELIEVABLE even by Coachella standards! We went 2 miles in 3 hours…pulled the car over and hiked in–do not hold it against him…

      • Luminari

        I’ve been attending since 2001…THE Worst ingress and egress, population control…ever! Fellow DJ’s, Artists, journalists…etc. had issues getting in. I have to admit if you made an effort to head there at 11am you had a better chance…but even people I know that every day made efforts to be there by 1am and were staying three miles away…missed half the concert almost all three days!
        Get an intelligent Event designer/engineer Goldenvoice…use some software and plan things out a little better…fools. You had the best weather in long memory and a pretty goos line-up and a mess of sound and population ditrsibution and planning.

      • Yoga_Girl

        Its true…traffic was horendous….. the biggest travesty of the weekend…. thankfully we had a plan B for the rest of the weekend. I missed Avett Bros, She and Him, don’t remind me….

  • Will S

    I’m imagining how terrible Young Forever sounded with Beyonce…

    • Fatima

      You can YouTube it and learn that you’re wrong.

  • RandomHo

    Will S, get off your period. Beyoncé sounded amazing on that song, it was an amazing performance. The best of the night.

    • Rinku

      What a pleasure to find someone who iednitfies the issues so clearly

  • GingerMa

    No review or even a mention of Them Crooked Vultures?! You are kidding me! Dave Grohl, Joshua Homme, and THE John Paul Jones aren’t worthy of your time or attention? *sad face*

  • joey molina


    • Tim

      That is EXACTLY what I was thinking.

  • Gata

    It seems to me that this festival had varying venues and it would be impossible to see all acts, so why not go to the ones that “you” want to see…to sound pissed that the author of this blog didn’t get to your favorite band is sorta…

  • Mindy

    I would be surprised if Muse *didn’t* top Jay-Z. Have you seen Muse? They are one of the greatest live acts I have ever seen.

    But really, no Them Crooked Vultures? And I am disappointed not to hear about Yeasayer. I may have to hit YouTube.

    • Nick B

      Muse is a fantastic live act. I really wish I could be there tonight to see them perform.

      • Eileen

        I just saw Muse on Wednesday in Oakland, and wow! That is the best concert I have ever been to.

  • josh

    I was hoping to hear marian golds voice.. a little bummed.
    Simon I think we met driving to the lobby of the hotel? I thought I would let you know I went on mission and got myself in to watch jay z!!

  • Simon Vozick-Levinson

    Hey Josh — that’s awesome, glad you got in to see Jay-Z! Amazing show, right?

  • Jeff c

    Deadmu5 and passion pit absolutely killed it.

  • Caroline

    first day was awesome! Jay-Z was the best but i almost died at La Roux which sucked.

  • Jason

    i LoL’d @ “Muse is going to have its work cut out trying to top that grand finale at their headlining set Saturday night.” Do you know who you are talking about? or anything about Muse? They are the best live band in the world and are going to rock everyone’s faces off who are not dumb enough to miss a chance at seeing something extra special. Muse will be by far the best act all weekend, learn about something before you talk about it.

    • Chase

      well since I went and saw them, they weren’t the best act of the whole weekend, deadmau5 topped them, same with the gorillaz

  • LOL

    Someone actually chose to watch Jay-Z and skipped Them Crooked Vultures? Seriously?

  • serena

    Damn, why are soooo many people jealous of Jayz? Is it cuz their lazy butt ain’t talented or they have no passion in their miserable lives????????

  • tt

    To clarify, is “Under Pressure” a cover of Queen & David Bowie’s song or does it just share the same title?

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