By Scott T. Sterling
For all of your buzz bands, superstar DJs, European sensations and celebrity sightings, it was two American musical institutions – the Wu-Tang Clan, representing Staten Island, New York, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers from Los Angeles, California – that dominated a stormy final night of Coachella 2013’s opening weekend.
Like the true Shaolin masters they are, the Wu-Tang Clan stormed the Coachella polo fields from the outdoor stage, generating such a massive influx of fans that the entrance to the VIP viewing area turned into a bottleneck and had to be shut down, while general admission fans packed every available space from the front of the stage stretching back as far as the Do Lab dance area and even the Gobi tent.
Ghostface Killer, Method Man, Raekwon, RZA, Inspecta Deck, U-God, GZA, Masta Killa, Cappadonna – individually, Wu-Tang Clan is home to some of the best (and most lethal) rappers on the planet. At their Coachella performance, they displayed their skills as a group, working together like a battle-ready hip-hop machine, allowing each member to shine while smoothly supporting each other on the mic (they also featured a full string section, providing added depth to RZA’s meticulously produced beats).
The legendary rap collective is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their groundbreaking 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). They ran through their deep catalog of street anthems and hip-hop classics, touching on songs like “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Can it Be All So Simple,” and “Protect Ya Neck.”
They also showcased solo hits, with Method Man pulling out “All I Need” and “Bring the Pain.” Fellow New York hip-hop legend (and Sunday night birthday boy) Redman joined the group onstage, teaming up with Method Man to perform their 1999 track, “Da Rockwilder.”
The galvanizing set from “Hurricane Wu” (complete with monster sound system) was a real weekend highlight, setting a high bar for both performance and overwhelming fan reaction for acts to come.
The weather was a big factor on Sunday night, with whipping winds and plunging temperatures creating a virtual sandstorm throughout the Coachella grounds, forcing concertgoers to bundle up with whatever was available, with men and women both utilizing bandanas as makeshift face masks against the onslaught. The Wu-Tang Clan’s entire supply of hooded sweatshirts (going for $50 a pop) sold out at the merch booth. Still, everyone in the vicinity was literally coated in a layer of thick brown dust.
The diehard Coachella crowd toughed it out to fill the main stage area for a bombastic headlining show from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who delivered a fist-pumping set consisting almost entirely of hits. “Higher Ground,” “Under the Bridge,” “By the Way,” “Californication,” “Give it Away” – Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer thundered through their radio staples confidently, with Flea pausing to turn up the lights so he could “see human faces,” going on to thank everyone and say that he loved the Coachella crowd from “deep inside my spleen.”
The Chili Peppers and Wu-Tang topped a sprawling and customarily eclectic day of music, including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds assaulting the main stage area with dark-lit gothic rock heavy on the melodrama, featuring a children’s choir and a string section, pulling out songs like “Red Right Hand,” “Deanna” and “From Her to Eternity.”
Vampire Weekend fired up the main stage crowd (which appropriately included True Blood actor Alexander Skarsgard) with a frothy mix of songs from all three of their albums, including the anticipated Modern Vampires of the City, due May 14. Older tunes like “Campus” and “A-Punk” blended seamlessly with new songs like the outstanding “Diane Young,” with frontman Ezra Koenig’s subtle Elvis Presley impression.
Colorado electronic music artist Pretty Lights (who makes a point to offer all of his music for free, with a new album due on July 2) made a big impact on the outdoor stage, mixing big, dubstep-influenced beats with rock and soul samples, turning big chunks of Pink Floyd’s classic rock staple “Time” into a trippy remix during his organic dance party.
Australia’s psych-rock outfit Tame Impala played a truncated set due to a late start time, but still managed to get the outdoor stage area swaying with druggy tunes like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Elephant.”
Stoner-rock stalwarts Dinosaur Jr. did not disappoint, with J. Mascis shredding through early ‘90s classics like “The Wagon” and “Feel the Pain,” with actress Chloe Sevigny spotted rocking out at the front of the stage.
With Weekend 1 of Coachella 2013 now officially in the books as exhausted revelers make their way back to reality, a whole new crop of music fans and party people prepare to descend on Indio, California next weekend for their own sonically-driven party experience to treasure forever– although hopefully without another blinding desert sandstorm to go with it.