INDIO - Anyone taking even a casual glance from afar at the lineup for the 2015 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival might do a double- or triple-take, for perfectly understandable reasons.
More than 200 acts will have performed by the time this year's edition concludes late tonight, representing dozens of genres, sub-genres and stylistic mash-ups. Hearing more than a fraction each day, without frantically dashing from stage to stage, is an effort in futility. But here are some of the artists we heard who help illustrate how Coachella's category-blurring musical menu can entertain and, at times, educate listeners in ways both direct and subtle.
The performes this weekend have ranged from 66-tear-old soul vocal dynamo Charles Bradley, who performed at the festival Friday and released his first record in 1965, to Encinitas singer-songwriter Ryn Weaver, who is 21 and whose debut album is pending release. The classic Southern soul and R&B styles that are Bradley's stock in trade have also inspired Alabama Shakes and St. Paul & The Broken Bones. The two young bands performed Friday and Saturday, respectively, although Broken Bones is devoted to paying reverent (and) rousing homage to its influences, while Alabama Shakes is pushing hard to both salute and extend the traditions that came before them.
In Brittany Howard, 26 and Paul Janeway, 31, Alabama Shakes and St. Paul boast potent lead singers who, like Bradley, take some of their vocal cues from such greats as Etta James and Otis Redding. The audience cheered loudly each time Janeway used his pinpoint dynamic control let sustain a falsetto shriek. Howard's throaty roar and nuanced filigrees were even more rewarding, especially on such gems as "Don't Wanna Fight."
The same rich musical vein was mined Saturday by guitarist and singer Benjamin Booker, 25, who on Saturday afternoon energetically fused raw blues, punk fervor and early '70s glam-rock. He also included a spirited cover of Redding's fiery "Shout Bamalama," which served as both a zesty tribute and a timely historical reference point. One could also trace a line, perhaps a bit less directly, from Bradley's grinding, James Brown-inspired funk, to the take-no-prisoners hip-hop attack of Run The Jewels, which delivered a fierce set Saturday night.
Jewels, which features the high-octane, dual rap attack of Killer Mike and E-LP, sounded relentless as they performed to an overflow crowd in the Mojave Tent. They were joined by Rage Against The Machine's Zach de la Rocha on "Close Your Eyes" and by blink-182 drum dynamo Travis Barker on "All Due Respect," whose accelerated beats Barker executed with seemingly effortless ease.
In a touching moment, after he had finished his rousing Run The Jewels cameo, Barker walked to the side of the stage to hug his three young children. Then he prepared to sit in later in the evening with electro DJ Deorro -- real name: Erick Orrosquiesta -- in the festival's EDM-fueled Sahara Tent, which is a sensory-overload fete unto itself. Dirty South, the Serbian-Australian neo-house music DJ who performed Saturday night, deftly raised the temperature in the enormous tent, which often makes you feel like you really are in the Sahara.
On Friday, appearing just before AC/DC, the fresh-faced Australian band Tame Impala made psychedelic rock almost sound new again. The group hit its peak with "Elephant," a potent, shape-shifting song every bit as powerful as its mighty namesake. Much less inspiring was The War On Drugs. The Philadelphia band's songs are well-crafted, but utterly unoriginal. They are so derivative that - in the wake of the recent music plagiarism court ruling in favor of Marvin Gaye's estate and against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams - the attorneys for Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty may want to consider a joint suit.