Moments before Billie Eilish took to the main stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, April 16, video screens caught her still wrapped in an oversized coat, a big smile beneath her shaggy bangs.
At 20, Eilish is the youngest headliner in the long-running event’s history. And despite the fact that she’s already won more Grammys than she can handle — and just won an Oscar — it was clear throughout her set that she couldn’t quite believe this was happening to her.
Pictures: Coachella 2022: discover a gallery of artists and fans from Saturday 1st weekend
“Man, this is so weird!” she told the crowd at one point. “I shouldn’t be headlining this (thing).”
The smiles never left his face. Not like she played hit after hit on her records, not when she was joined on stage by Damon Albarn, one of her musical idols, and not against an unrelenting, icy wind.
Earlier in the day, highlights included a rare solo performance from Danny Elfman, who delivered an eerily wonderful set that mixed songs from his 2021 album “Big Mess”, themes from his film scores like “Edward Scissorhands and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” and most exciting for fans, a selection of songs from his former band Oingo Boingo.
The day was filled with good music. The French group L’imperatrice was the highlight of the afternoon. Guitar-based bands have appeared in performances by Japanese Breakfast and Wallows. And eclectic vocalists from Caroline Polachek to Rina Sawayama delighted fans with their melodic sets.
With her band nestled atop a ramp at the back of the stage, Eilish cut a tiny figure against the vastness of her backdrop. But she’s been on stage for years now, and when she slipped into “I Didn’t Change My Number” and “NDA,” there was no obvious jitters.
At the start of the set, highlights included “My Strange Addiction”, one of eight tracks she performed on her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” and “Idontwannabeyouanymore”, one of 11 numbers from his 2021 album “Happier Than Ever”.
Singer Khalid joined Eilish for “Lovely,” and later her brother Finneas, who collaborated musically with her for years, did a mini set of songs on acoustic guitar, “I Love You” and “Your Power “.
At one point, she was lifted above the crowd in an elevator, performing songs such as “Overheated” and “Bellyache.” As she came back to earth, the charming “Getting Older” kicked off as video screens played clips of home movies of Eilish as a child, until she was joined halfway by Blur’s Damon Albarn – and Gorillaz and also the good, the bad and the queen – to end the song.
“This is the craziest (thing) ever,” Eilish said as she stood beaming next to Albarn. “My first favorite band was The Good, the Bad and the Queen when I was 6. Then Blur and Gorillaz changed my world. Y’all, what’s the (beep)? Where do I go from here?”
Where she went was in a second song with Albarn, “Feel Good Inc.” of the Gorillaz, which also featured De La Soul’s Posdnuos on the rap verse.
The final round of her set featured one of her finest vocals on “When The Party’s Over” and some of her biggest hits on “All Good Girls Go To Hell” and “Bad Guy.” The crowd never reached the density of Friday’s headliner Harry Styles – the cold wind that blew all day likely contributed to that – but Eilish and her fans seemed thrilled regardless.
Only a Boy
For Danny Elfman, the return to live performance was a success for him and his fans.
“This is the first time I’ve taken the stage as myself in 27 years,” the producer, film composer and former frontman of Oingo Boingo told the crowd amid his career turning point. “Thank you for getting me out of what they call… I forget,” he said humbly at the end of the set. “Thank you… I like it here.”
Elfman, his band and a full orchestra and choir led by former Oingo Boingo guitarist and orchestrator Steve Bartek went through several Elfman projects during an hour-long set.
He came out fast and hard with one of the new singles, “Sorry.” It’s a dizzying cut, but Elfman dominated the scene and ferociously spat the venom he’s so openly talked about, leading to the creation of his first solo album in over two decades. The other new offerings, including “Kick Me”, “True”, “Love in the Time of COVID” and “Happy”, were delivered with the same passion and received even more live dimension thanks to the orchestra and at the choir.
The group also performed updated versions of Oingo Boingo songs such as “Insects”, which Elfman revived on “Big Mess” and “Who Do You Want To Be”, which had been reworked to include digs subtle in the Kardashians, Justin Bieber and Kanye. West. Elfman went through “Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself)”, “Just Another Day”, “Only a Lad”, “Insanity” and Bartek joined the band on guitar for Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party”.
The occasion marked the most Oingo Boingo songs Elfman has performed since the beloved band called him up in 1995.
“I’ve got a weird little show for you here,” Elfman said before slipping into his Jack Skellington voice for “Jack’s Lament,” “This Is Halloween,” and “What’s This?” excerpt from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.
Film composer Hans Zimmer laid the groundwork for artists in this area to perform live at Coachella by taking over the same outdoor stage in 2017 and playing music from the movies “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lion King.”
Long live rock’n’roll
Hours after French band L’Imperatrice’s set turned into an overflowing dance party under the Gobi tent, Belgian singer Stromae delivered a powerful set of theatrical music in French to the outdoor stage.
Stromae’s performance felt like the kind of show you’d see in a classic concert hall – sleek, sophisticated, creatively designed – while delivering the emotional punch of artful rock and roll.
On a stage that included four spaceship-like command posts for the musicians, Stromae moved like an actor through the narratives of his music to awe of a crowd that included Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler.
L’Imperatrice, on the other hand, plays a cheerful mix of vintage French pop, funk and disco, and delivered the first real Coachella moment of 2022 during their mid-afternoon set in the Gobi tent on Saturday.
Its six members took the stage in matching Pierre Cardin outfits with large plastic hearts pinned to their chests that began to vibrate with red lights and a low heartbeat until the first song started and the dance party begins.
With Flore Benguigui, singer of the group and only female member in the center of the stage, the rest of the group chained themselves from one deep groove to another for the greatest pleasure of the public. “Fear of Girls” or “Fear of Girls” was an early highlight. Did we mention that Benguigui sings mainly in French? We apologize for the lack of more song titles; we are long past our last language course at university.
The grooves were mostly big bass riffs and squelchy synths with bouncy funk guitars mixed in. Benguigui was very thrilled as a singer, but the guys were also fun. At one point, two guitarists and the bassist thrilled the crowd with their coordinated dance moves, playing their instruments forward, backward, side by side, ending up on their knees at the edge of the stage.
• Rapper Megan Thee Stallion, electronic dance duo Disclosure and rap group Brockhampton drew three of the biggest daytime crowds to their late-night slots.
Megan performed a raucous and raunchy series of her female sexual empowerment anthems on the main stage. Brockhampton packed the Sahara for its penultimate show. After Coachella next weekend, they go their separate ways. And Disclosure had a massive crowd dancing on the field in front of the outdoor stage.
• The Los Angeles band Wallows drew a cheering crowd to the outdoor stage on Saturday afternoon. Their fresh-faced indie rock and songs such as “Especially You” and “Pleaser” delivered catchy beats and sing-along lyrics.
• British singer Arlo Parks played a fine set in Gobi after L’Imperatrice. She has a classic songwriter feel on songs such as “Caroline.” She joined Phoebe Bridgers to sing on a pair of songs on Friday night. On Saturday, Bridgers returned the favor by going out to sing with Parks.
• Japanese Breakfast, the indie rock band led by Michele Zauner, had already performed at Coachella under the Gobi tent. On Saturday, they delighted a large crowd in the larger Mojave.
• R&B singer Giveon, who grew up in Long Beach, drew a huge crowd to the main stage for his sunset set. Her rich, soulful voice was a warm delight on songs like “For Tonight” and “Heartbreak Anniversary.”
• Japanese singer Rina Sawayama, who now lives in London, is sometimes compared to Lady Gaga for her empowerment and self-love songs, as well as her LGBT-positive anthems.
Songs such as “Love Me 4 Me” and “Bad Friend” had the crowd dancing, the majority of whom identified as LGBT when Sawayama, who identifies as queer, asked. She finished Gobi’s full set with “Cherry,” which she billed as her “exit song,” and “Free Woman,” a Gaga song she was asked to cover for the remix album. “Chromatica” by Lady.
• Singer-songwriter Caroline Polachek reminds me a bit of Kate Bush, with whom she shares an equally dramatic and dance-oriented stage presence.
His set in Gobi was captivating with fan favorites such as “Bunny Was A Rider” and some new songs such as “Smoke”. Among the watching crowd was Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, an equally creative performer.
• Turnstile, the punk rock band from Baltimore, had the happiest and most energetic crowd of the day. Most of the half-full Mojave was a noisy mosh pit of smiling, sweaty fans. Singer Brendan Yates ended the show by singing “TLC” as he surfed the mosh pit.