It’s been three years since there’s been live music at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, so to get things started early on Friday afternoon, we ran to catch Meute, a German marching band that plays covers live from techno hits.
No, seriously, it was perfect: a little quirky, a lot of fun, and the kind of unexpected joy that comes with discovering something deliciously new at Coachella.
Harry Styles and Phoebe Bridgers and a surprise performance by Arcade Fire were still hours off in the future. But Coachella is back, baby, and fans and bands alike were thrilled to be there.
Meute is an 11-piece band from Hamburg, Germany, and the early risers of Mojave loved them from the start of their first set.
Dressed in matching marching band jackets decorated with shoulder braids and a wild variety of patches – Wu Tung Clan, Ghostbusters and Elvis Presley among them – they played great renditions of techno hits in their admittedly offbeat instrumentation.
Three drummers set the pace. A sousaphone and bass and baritone saxophones filled the lower end. And two trumpets, a tenor sax, a trombone and marimbas took turns on the melody lines.
Next door in Sonora, Giselle Woo and the Night Owls entertained a small crowd with a set of blues-tinged psychedelic rock. The band hails from the Coachella Valley and was scheduled to play here in 2020. On songs like “Everything” and the “Coachella Gold” theme, they showed why they earned their spot on the bill.
Two weeks ago, Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab won a Grammy for Best World Music Performance at a party where she was also nominated for Best New Artist. In Gobi, she and her band, which included violin and harp, played a set that mixed traditional Pakistani sounds with jazz and other genres. The result was a soulful, meditative brew that had listeners catching their breath and maybe giving thanks to be back here.
This eclectic world music genre was reflected in the Hu on the Outdoor Stage.
The 8-piece Mongolian folk metal band – only a minute for it to settle – blended classic heavy metal postures with traditional instruments such as the Morin khuur, a bowed string instrument also known as the horse head fiddle. The vocals are a mix of Mongolian throat chants and death metal growls, which in every language had fans vomiting those heavy metal hand signs in the afternoon heat.
Back in Gobi, Los Angeles-based rock band the Regrettes had a lively crowd dancing and singing along with vocalist Lydia Night.
A friend said the Regrettes were “Taylor Swift punk rock”, a compliment to both the band and Swift.
As the afternoon headed into evening, bigger names began to hit the stage.
Singer-songwriter Omar Apollo arrived on the Outdoor stage just after 5 p.m., resplendent in an oversized fuchsia suit.
Raised in Ohio to parents from Mexico, Apollo, who is gay, greeted visitors via a billboard on the Coachella Freeway that billed him as “the cure for heterosexuality.”
His soulful voice, his undeniable charisma and his intercultural ties place him clearly on the front of the stage.
Carly Rae Jepsen, meanwhile; remains one of the truly great dance-pop artists. The packed set in Mojave had fans singing songs such as “Runaway With Me” and “Julian” as Jepsen beamed happily as she bounced around the stage.
When his band released the music to “Call Me Maybe,” his breakthrough and signature song, the singing fans were almost loud enough to match his amplified voice and unbridled joy.