Thirteen-year Coachella veteran Chris Martins and trusty photographer Wilson Lee hit the Southern California desert to document Coachella 2015. Day Three begins…
3:23 p.m. Day Three begins like Days One and Two: with two plates of underdone eggs, overdone bacon, and just-right hash browns from Elmer’s Palm Springs diner. The place isn’t good, but good’s not important. You eat at here because it’s right. Grease, protein, carbs, and scalding coffee are your gasoline for the miles ahead. And when they get an item wrong on your order, because they will, you should thank your server — that’s just the Elmer’s signature touch at work.
4:37 p.m. St. Lucia are beaming prismatic synth-pop from the main stage, but I’ve got that earnest feeling and know exactly where I can score a vintage fix: the Gobi tent, where Desaparecidos are pealing out emo-addled post-punk with refreshing looseness. This is exactly the kind of scrappy, charged performance that artists of Conor Oberst’s stature can’t get away with (if they can even access it anymore), yet here he is in front of his old band, bleating “Greater Omaha” while a few hundred fans scream along until they’re red in the face. Everything about it — the Dubya-era political anxiety in the lyrics, the mosh pit on the floor, the chin-length hair on the band members’ heads — screams ’02 in all the right ways. Long live Saddle Creek.
5:34 p.m. Speaking of: Jenny Lewis, whose time in Rilo Kiley (and as Bright Eyes’ labelmate) seems but a distant memory. She so wholly owns her solo career that it’s hard to imagine her wearing anything but that incredible custom rainbow suit from last year’s Voyager album. Here, the psychedelic lines and colors spill out to the backdrop, the guitars, the cloths draped over the instrument stands, and even the bottle of wine by her feet — this is Jenny’s house, and the fact that she trots out beau Jonathan Rice to do “The Next Messiah” and ex-boyfriend/bandmate Blake Sennett for Rilo’s “Portions for Foxes” only drives that home. HAIM stops by too.
6:30 p.m. Why’d we come to the Cribs? Nobody else did. Shit.
6:31 p.m. Across from the brothers Jarman is a transparent three-story building populated by people in hippo masks and business attire, doing office-y things while Coachella patrons stare on, dumbfounded. This art installation has been running all weekend and it’s never not strange. Up top is a helipad and a large logo that says simply “Corporate Headquarters.” Down low, one hippo-drone is rubbing an apple on its face in a sensual fashion. In front is a red telephone, so I pick it up. A call-center menu connects me to the fruit fetishist, who points at me through the Plexiglas and grunts disgustingly into the receiver. I am deeply disturbed.
6:45 p.m. Ryan Adams brought half of his house with him: two real-deal arcade machines (Asteroid and Galaga), a life-sized tiger replica (rubber?), a few huge fake Fender amps (cardboard?), a blown-up photo of a cat (his?), a couple of pianos, and a full-sized American flag with a peace sign where the stars go. “Yay! Sad music in the desert!” he says in lieu of a proper introduction, but we don’t mind the mood. His alt-Americana is perfect for lazing in the grass in front of the Outdoor Theatre, or swaying as the sun sets over the craggy mountains due west.
7:10 p.m. Godammit, Philip Selway’s tent is a ghost town. Like countless others, we pass it on the way to see Brand New (who are in exceedingly fine form and entirely earnest also). Unlike those people, we know he’s the drummer from Radiohead.
7:59 p.m. “Godammit! God fucking damn it!” yells a festival patron loudly enough to disturb the sloshed Beer Barn residents, and me eating a grilled cheese topped with bacon and maple syrup. “I knew I knew that name from somewhere!” He’s talking about Philip Selway, whose set remained deeply under-attended until the end. 🙁
8:13 p.m. St. Vincent looks like a Patrick Nagel drawing — pale skin, sharp features, dramatic eye makeup, short and jagged ’80s hair. It’s the perfect complement to her mannequin moves, and those two (the look and the action) combine to become an analog for her music. It seems every song starts with some skronky robotic notion, then finds its human-relatable groove about the time Annie Clark starts shredding on her guitar. “Digital Witness” has this in spades, the bounding horns giving way to the hooky melody, and the hooky melody dissolving into the angular solo.
8:40 p.m. Tame Impala return for the third day in a row, this time in the form of a Jamie xx edit. The English producer reworks the Aussie band’s oddly Daft Punkish new song “Let It Happen” during his DJ set, which is as no-frills as they come. The time he didn’t spent on dreaming up elaborate stage décor (you really don’t need to see a photo of this) was clearly used on devising a deep-cut-laced dance dream for the heads who really wanna move (but not to David Guetta two tents away).
8:58 p.m. Only the second redheaded woman sporting a bell-bottomed pantsuit of the day, Florence Welch switches it up by going shoeless and, eventually, shirtless. She is sprightly, but also possessing gravitas, as she skips and flounces and bangs a tambourine across the breadth of the main stage. Her voice is a weapon on “What kind of Man,” and the sizable band she’s got backing makes the dance-kissed soul as visceral as the new single’s video. Yet still, it’s all glee from beginning to end.
9:37 p.m. Funny thing about festivalling in the desert. This is my first visit to an onsite urinal in three days. The stench that greets me from the dueling walls of Port-O-Potties, and the fence that the laziest among us favor, instantly makes me regret ever having hydrated with actual liquid. There’s gotta be a better way.
9:46 p.m. Say what you will about Guetta, but there’s something impressive about having such sample mastery (and clearance) that you can make your own hype men out of other people’s clips like some kind of EDM Frankenstein (“Make some fucking noise!” yells some menacing voice that isn’t the DJ’s). More striking though is the Sahara tent’s wild LED staging for 2015: a series of massive concentric circles that would do fine as the reactor core of some space-traveling H. R. Geiger craft.
9:50 p.m. Watching ODESZA, it’s hard to forget that two guys who make house-y electronica featuring up-and-coming guest vocalists played this exact stage in 2013. Disclosure brought out Sam Smith and Jessie Ware back then. Tonight, this Seattle duo gives us Shy Girls and Young Summer. Okay, but Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight have one thing the Lawrence brothers don’t: the USC marching band.
10:15 p.m. Drake is due onstage but nowhere to be heard or seen so far. That’s fine, because while I’m only a few yards from the guest viewing area (press perk), I’m smashed between two oafs and a polite young woman as a couple hundred VIPs push hard against those of us who are waiting patiently in line for access. It takes 25 more minutes to move ten feet, with burly security guards shouting the entire time.
10:45 p.m. The man begins 30 minutes late. He’ll end in just over an hour, and in between he’ll play snippets of his collaborations, a handful of rap heaters, and too many ballads. He’ll insert the word “Coachella” creatively into most songs. He’ll bring out only one guest, and not one with whom he’s recorded (the Weeknd and Rihanna are both here, and Big Sean or iLoveMakonnen no doubt could have made themselves available). That guest will be Madonna — because he named a song after her — and she’ll perform shortened versions of “Human Nature” and “Hold It” before shoving her tongue down Aubrey Graham’s throat, seemingly unexpectedly. People will go on to debate for years to come whether or not the expression on his face was one of surprise or disgust but they will be just about unanimous on this: Drake is an exceptional artist, but his headlining Coachella set was exceptionally so-so.
But returning to the present, as the barely sated (no encore? seriously?) fans trudge toward the exit, the vibe is at least Drake-esque: Let’s just not even discuss it, man.
All photos by Wilson Lee for SPIN.