By James Hibberd
July 27, 2017 at 08:55 AM EDT

“Coachella — this is the best place to be in the world right now!” declares Grouplove bassist Sean Gadd.

“Let’s bring in the storm!” yells keyboardist Hannah Hooper.

And with that, the chronically upbeat Los Angeles-based rock quintet kicked off their first-ever set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, while the famous annual mega-concert had a few new experiences of its own: This is reportedly the first time in the sun-baked Indio festival’s 13-year history that it’s rained, and the first time organizers have scheduled two weekends of performances since 1999.

While a storm didn’t turn the polo fields into a muddy nightmare like some feared, there was a persistent drizzle, unusually cold temperatures and gusting winds that had many under-dressed concert-goers huddling together for warmth. When Jimmy Cliff took the main stage that afternoon, he probably didn’t expect singing “it’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day” during his rendition of “I Can See Clearly Now” to be considered mockingly ironic.

In addition to the festival’s usual assortment of casual-sexy wear (sort of American Apparel meets Burning Man meets Indian casino cocktail waitress), this year’s fest gave rise to an all-new Coachella accessory: the plastic poncho.

Some clearly planned ahead and rocked it:

Others improvised:

And some had a hard time telling the rain gear from the trash bags (while unraveling my poncho a passerby threw his empty beer cup into it).

Of course, there was also the music, and that wasn’t dampened at all. The main stage’s sound and display were top notch, delivering towering monitors, dramatic crisp lighting effects and surprisingly clear fidelity even at a hundred yards or more back. Some of audio systems on the smaller stages sounded a bit more muddled, but Coachella has largely mastered the art of putting together a stunning collection of outdoor shows.

The Black Keys (pictured  at the top of this post), arguably the hottest American rock act around right now, were Friday’s main stage headliner (Radiohead tops the bill on Saturday and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg on Sunday). Leading up to the set, the in-house DJ played “Blame It on the Rain,” but by then the joke was getting old. The Keys launched into their set with “Howlin’ For You,” which had a fair chunk of the estimated 75,000 attendees singing the “da-da-da-DA-dah’s…”


Earlier, Britpop veterans Pulp were front and center. Never been a Pulp fan, but they won me over live. With a heavy dash of old school British theatricality, Jarvis Cocker & Co. turned the smoke machines up to 11 and delivered impassioned versions of fan favorites like “Babies” and “Common People.”

Another import, Arctic Monkeys, likewise heavily delivered on their best-known tracks, from note-perfect renditions of “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” to “Fluorescent Adolescent” to “Crying Lightning.” Lead singer Alex Turner is still sporting the ’50s rockabilly look he rolled out last year.

On the electronic side, M83 and Neon Indian particularly impressed.