Now in its second decade, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival seems to skew younger and younger every year. But as the fest kicked off Friday at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., two legacy acts — last-minute addition Blink-182, playing their first show with original member Tom DeLonge since 2014, and Blondie, whose 77-year-old frontwoman Debbie Harry set a record as the second-oldest performer to ever play Coachella — dominated the day. Meanwhile, Puerto Rican trap/reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny made history as the first artist from Latin America, as well the first Spanish-language artist, to headline the festival since it launched in 1999.
DeLonge originally left Blink-182 in 2015; the pop/punk trio’s Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker replaced him with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba and released two albums, but fans never stopped hoping for a reinstatement of the classic lineup. That reunion, prompted when DeLonge and Hoppus reconnected after Hoppus’s 2021 cancer diagnosis, was officially announced in October 2022. But fans didn’t expect to see DeLonge, Hoppus, and Barker onstage together this soon: The band’s Coachella appearance in the Sahara Tent actually wasn’t announced until Wednesday evening, when the festival’s set times were posted online. (Blink recently postponed the March 11 start of their reunion tour, due to a Barker finger injury that required surgery.)
Fans of all ages — millennials, xennials, and Gen-X’ers seeking a nostalgia fix, plus all the Gen Z kids who consider Blink-182 to be classic rock — crammed the tent well before Blink’s 6:45 p.m. set time, forcing a massive spillover onto the adjacent field (and making it difficult for the diehards up in front to properly mosh, though they did their best). Prior to Blink’s rock show, behind-the-scenes, documentary-style footage of the pumped-up Blinkmates having a band meeting and hugging it out in the stage wings ran on the Sahara video screens. So, by the time the trio made their grand entrance to Richard Strauss’s 2001: A Space Odyssey theme — fitting comeback music for UFO enthusiast DeLonge, who’d left Blink to focus on his aerospace company To the Stars — the sense of anticipating was running high.
Blink-182 might have sung, “I guess this is growing up” — lyrics that held new weight after the now-cancer-free, 51-year-old Hoppus and 47-year-old Barker’s multiple health scares and their seemingly sweet reconciliation with DeLonge. But they clearly hadn’t grown up that much in the past nine years: This was abundantly clear when they opened with another fitting song choice, “Family Reunion,” a 36-second blast of George Carlin’s famous seven dirty words (plus three other unfit-to-print bonus expletives). And Hoppus and DeLonge’s puerile buddy comedy act was still going strong, with their between-song stage banter still packed with jokes about vulvas, butts, balls, herpes, UTIs, and, just to be topical, the Coachella festival’s rumored “gnarly” Dalai Lama kissing booth. (That was DeLonge’s recurring gag, while Hoppus’s best zinger in the desert heat was: “I’m probably hydrated because your mom is so wet.”) “There’s a lot of shit we should have been canceled for,” DeLonge admitted. “We say: F*** you, cancellation!”
Blink showed no signs being canceled at Coachella, playing well past their allotted 50-minute time to squeeze in three additional, especially crowd-pleasing classics: “I Miss You,” “All the Small Things” (which Hoppus proudly introduced as being “from the Alvin & the Chipmunks movie”), and a mashup of “Dammit” with TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Other highlights included the live debut of their reunion single “Edging” (a preview of their forthcoming comeback album), the first time the band had played “Aliens Exist” with DeLonge since 2001, and another medley, “First Date” with the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” At one point, DeLonge graded his performance a C (or maybe a C+), but it seemed the crowd begged to differ. The fans wanted these Chipmunk punks when they were 23, and they were delighted to have the not-too-grown-up Blink boys back now.
Blink may have represented the old guard, but Bad Bunny represented the festival’s future. He’d previous played Coachella in 2019, on a Sunday afternoon leading up to Ariana Grande’s main-stage set, but as he returned this year as a Grammy-winning global superstar and Spotify’s overall most-streamed artist, he’d clearly graduated to headliner status. Shortly after hitting the main stage at 11:35 p.m. Friday, he asked the massive crowd, “I want to know something before I keep going with my show. What do you prefer: me talking in English, or hablando español? You decide.” The unanimously shouted response was “ESPAÑOL,” of course. The charismatic showman then proceeded to play an epic, two-hour, 25-song revue that featured a scale replica of a Puerto Rican gas station, screensaver-style flying dolphins and neon Miami Vice palm trees, an onstage joyride on an actual jet-ski, fascinating and educational crash-course video vignettes about the history of reggaeton and Caribbean music, fleets of spandex-sheathed dancers, and surprise special guests such as Jhayco, Jowell & Randy, Ñengo Flow, and Post Malone. The latter star’s cameo, on a satellite mini-stage in the middle of the field, was unfortunately thwarted by audio issues, when his guitar shorted out during “La Canción” and “Yonaguni.” But, being consummate professionals, the unfazed Post shrugged it off. Bunny tried holding a microphone to Post’s guitar, and when that didn’t work, he just sang a cappella. The nonstop reggaeton party then continued apace until the evening’s fireworks finale of “Después de la Playa” back on the big stage.
Before his #Badchella set, Bad Bunny had proclaimed in a Spanish-language, pre-recorded intro video: “The sun and the moon have witnessed epic moments, magical nights. Artists have found their purpose, their inspiration, the answer to all their questions, that perhaps weren’t questions in the first place. Here, history has been made thousands of times. My head is spinning. It’s incredible to see the list of all the other artists that have performed on this stage — so many of them, but no one like me. It’s the first time a Benito closes the festival. It may be the first time… but perhaps not the last time.”
Back on the nostalgia tip, Friday’s other standout legacy act, besides pop-punkers Blink-182, was the above-mentioned elder stateswoman of both pop and punk, Debbie Harry, who with Blondie absolutely owned the Mojave Tent (which was hearteningly packed with ecstatic fans of all ages). Still a striking ice-queen beauty, looking like a Warhol painting come to life, Harry led her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted new/no wave band through a greatest-hits revue that included “One Way or Another,” their iconic covers of the Paragons’ “The Tide Is High” and the Nerves’ “Hanging on the Telephone,” the Giorgio Moroder-produced American Gigolo smash “Call Me,” “Atomic,” “Dreaming,” a snippet of “God Save the Queen” (an obvious nod to original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who plays in Blondie’s current touring lineup), and “Heart of Glass” mashed up with Moroder’s Donna Summer proto-electro hit “I Feel Love.” Harry performed the latter number draped in a Studio 54-ready mirrorball shroud that looked like it was borrowed from her ‘70s peer Grace Jones’s closet.
However, the true disco-crossover moment of Blondie’s set was when Harry’s old friend Nile Rodgers — who she said “opened many musical worlds for me” — strutted out to play waka-waka guitar on the groovy, vibey, Chic-influenced “Rapture” (during which Harry totally ate that cars/guitars-eating rap) and the never-before-played “Backfired,” from Harry’s Rodgers-produced 1981 solo album KooKoo (which is about to get the deluxe reissue treatment). “I love [Harry]. You have no idea what our life’s been like,” declared Rodgers, saying this happy surprise was what happened when “two friends just want to jam together.”
Another heritage-act highlight from Friday was the main stage show by Gorillaz, whose Damon Albarn received a decidedly warmer welcome than he did last year, when he guested on “Feel Good Inc.” during Billie Eilish’s set and many of the young audience members seemed to have no idea who he was. While Bad Bunny surprisingly did not join the high-concept cartoon band for their recent Cracked Island collab “Tormenta,” De La Soul came out for “Feel Good Inc.” (bittersweetly dedicating the performance to recently departed De La Soul member Trugoy the Dove), and other special guests included Thundercat, Del the Funky Homosapien, Bootie Brown, and Slowthai. Meanwhile, over on the Outdoor Stage, electronica pioneers the Chemical Brothers — who played the very first Coachella back in ’99 — had festival revelers partying like it was 1999 during a trippy, strobelit, superclub set that kicked off with “Block Rockin’ Beats,” included a cover of New Order’s “Temptation,” and kept the late-night energy going strong, straight through to their aptly titled “Galvanize” finale.
But perhaps the most surprising and delightful comeback of Coachella Friday was that of Jacob Lusk. A flamboyant, elastic-vocal-corded powerhouse who got his start singing in Compton choirs and was once mentored by late G-Funk rapper Nate Dogg, Lusk came to national fame on American Idol Season 10. He made it to a very respectable fifth place on that show, but got a raw deal and never really got to showcase his true talents. On Idol, he was often criticized for being too over-the-top, but as the frontman for critics’-darling gospel/soul/disco band Gabriels (which also features producers Ari Balouzian and Ryan Hope), he was absolutely in his element at Coachella — braving the desert afternoon heat in a full night-at-the-opera tuxedo and brocade cape, and sounding like the lovechild of Nina Simone and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Gabriels’ cover of Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were” was so stunning and stately, it probably could have helped Lusk win Idol 12 years ago — but considering that Gabriels have played the U.K.’s Glastonbury Festival and Later…with Jools Holland, opened on tour for Harry Styles, been named tastemaking radio station KCRW’s 2021 Breakthrough Artist, and even had Elton John declare their EP Love and Hate in a Different Time “one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years,” Lusk is probably better off. He’s won now.
Among the other standout Coachella artists representing the new guard Friday was a slew of retro rockers, like Britain’s Elastica/Echobelly-esque indie darlings Wet Leg (featuring the charming and adorakable buddy act of co-frontwomen Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers); Orange Country punk/prog duo the Garden (whose honorary third member was a stilts-legged court-jester mascot that looked like Iron Maiden’s Eddie on a crafty papier-mâché budget); the probably-Blink-182-influenced Yungblood; and Muna joined by fellow indie-pop trio Boygenius (aka the supergroup of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus) for “Silk Chiffon.” The other big cameos of the day, at a festival that could be alternately called “Cameochella,” took place during hip-hop superproducer Metro Boomin’s Sahara Tent, as he was joined by John Legend, Future, 21 Savage, and even Coachella veteran the Weeknd.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival continues Saturday with another history-making main stage appearance by BLACKPINK (the festival’s first-ever K-pop headliner, as well as the first Asian headliner of any genre and the first-ever girl group to headline); Underworld (who, like their ‘90s techno peers the Chemical Brothers, played the very first Coachella fest); another festival veteran, Björk; and Boygenius. See you in the desert.
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