Beyoncé at Coachella: The most meaningful, absorbing, radical performance of the year

Let’s just cut to the chase: There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon, than Beyoncé’s headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California at the weekend.

It was rich with history, potently political and visually grand. By turns uproarious, rowdy and lush. A gobsmacking marvel of choreography and musical direction.

And not unimportantly, it obliterated the ideology of the relaxed festival, the idea that musicians exist to perform in service of a greater vibe. That is one of the more tragic side effects of the spread of festival culture over the last two decades. Beyoncé was having none of it. The Coachella main stage, on the grounds of the Empire Polo Club here, was her platform, yes, but her show was in countless ways a rebuke.

It started with the horns: trumpets, trombones, sousaphones. For most of the night, the 36-year-old star was backed by an ecstatic marching band, in the manner of historically black college football halftime shows. The choice instantly reoriented her music, sidelining its connections to pop and framing it squarely in a lineage of Southern black musical traditions from New Orleans’ second line marches to Houston’s chopped-and-screwed hip-hop.

Her arrangements were alive with shifts between styles and oodles of small details, quick musical quotations of songs (Pastor Troy’s No Mo’ Play in GA, anyone?) that favoured alertness and engagement.

Beyoncé performs at Coachella. Photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Beyoncé performs at Coachella. Photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

As always, one of the key thrills of a Beyoncé performance is her willingness to dismantle and rearrange her most familiar hits. Drunk in Love began as bass-thick molasses, then erupted into trumpet confetti. Bow Down reverberated with nervy techno.

Formation, already a rapturous march, was a savage low-end stomp here. And during a brief trip through the Caribbean part of her catalogue, she remade Baby Boy as startling Jamaican big band jazz.

She does macro, too — she was joined onstage by approximately 100 dancers, singers and musicians, a stunning tableau that included fraternity pledges and drumlines and rows of female violinists in addition to the usual crackerjack backup dancers (which here included bone breakers and also dancers performing elaborate routines with cymbals).

Some superstars prize effortlessness, but Beyoncé shows her work — the cameras captured the force and determination in her dancing, and also her sweat. She performed for almost two hours, with only a few breaks, and her voice rarely flagged. Occasionally her set was punctuated with fireworks that, compared with what was happening onstage, seemed dull.

Beyoncé was originally meant to perform at Coachella last year, but rescheduled for this April after becoming pregnant; her Coachella performances this weekend and next are her only solo US dates this year.

“Thank you for allowing me to be the first black woman to headline Coachella,” she said midset, then added an aside that was, in fact, the main point: “Ain’t that ‘bout a bitch.”

Big-tent festivals, generally speaking, are blithe spaces — they don’t invite much scrutiny, because they can’t stand up to it. But Beyoncé’s simple recitation of fact was searing, especially on the same night that, in Cleveland, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 15 and 45 years after their deaths, and Bon Jovi, a band in which everyone is very much alive.

She was arguing not in defence of herself, but of her forebears. And her performance was as much ancestral tribute and cultural continuum — an uplifting of black womanhood — as contemporary concert.

She sang Lift Every Voice and Sing, often referred to as the black national anthem, incorporated vocal snippets of Malcolm X and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and nodded at Simone’s Lilac Wine.

And she rendered her personal history as well. During the second half of the show, she unfurled a kind of This Is Your Life in reverse. First came her husband, Jay-Z, on Déjà Vu — with him, she was affectionate while easily outshining him.

Then, a true surprise: a reunion with her former Destiny’s Child groupmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, during which she happily ceded the main spotlight. After that came a playful dance routine with her sister, Solange, on Get Me Bodied. (Sadly, there was no Ring Off with her mother, nor a rendition of Daddy Lessons with her father.)

As Beyoncé has got older, she’s been making music that’s increasingly visceral, both emotionally and historically. She is one of the few working pop stars who need not preoccupy herself with prevailing trends or the work of her peers.

She is an institution now, and that has allowed her freedom. Lemonade is her most accomplished album, and a wild and risky one — thematically and musically.

That may be one reason that last year, Beyoncé lost the Grammy for album of the year to Adele, the sort of upset that triggered a storm of criticism about the Grammys’ relevance, and, effectively, an almost-apology from Adele.

In time, though, that moment will feel like a glitch. That space on the mantel will be filled by a National Medal of the Arts or a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Like no other musician of her generation apart from Kanye West, Beyoncé is performing musicology in real time. It is bigger than any tribute she might receive. History is her stage.

– New York Times Service


Source: Beyonce

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X Japan’s Yoshiki Speaks on Marilyn Manson and Bouncing Back From Neck Surgery

An appearance by Marilyn Manson at Coachella? Sold. Yoshiki, the leader of rock band X Japan, has pulled it off, too. Not easy, with Manson tweeting that he was previously banned from the festival, but who follows the rules anyway?

The fact that X Japan are one of the few hard rock acts on the bill speaks for itself. With hip-hop recently stealing the No. 1 spot as the most popular music genre in the world, X Japan's headlining set at the Mojave Stage is a big deal. He's up against Beyoncé in the highly coveted time slot, and even Yoshiki admits he'd rather be watching Queen Bey live in person.

On the Wednesday between Coachella weekends, Yoshiki hosted a screening of We Are X, a music film/documentary showcasing the band's journey into near-legendary status. Prior to the event, we caught up with Yoshiki to discuss bouncing back from two neck surgeries, his relationship with Marilyn Manson, and how the band established their own style in fashion overseas.

L.A. Weekly: For a first-timer, how would you describe X Japan?
Yoshiki: Disaster.

Yoshiki, what role do you play in the band?
Maker of the disaster. [laughs]. Leader of the band. I play drums and piano. I compose the music.

This past weekend, X Japan made their debut at Coachella. Can you speak on this experience and what it was like performing in front of the U.S. crowd?
It was so cool. We played at Lollapalooza in Chicago before, almost 10 years ago. Then we did a North American tour in 2010 — only went to seven cities. The last one we played before Coachella was Madison Square Garden, We played in New York in 2014. Since then, a lot of things happened. I got a neck surgery last year. I was almost paralyzed. Coachella wasn't only X Japan coming to the U.S. but it was my comeback also.

How does it feel being one of the only rock acts at the festival?
I think it's cool, we stand out. [chuckles] We are so lucky to be a part of those amazing artists. It's pretty eclectic, even though some people define us as a hard-rock band. But we have some ballads and some songs you can dance to.

Aside from your own set, what was your most memorable moment from the weekend?
I was playing against Beyoncé's slot. Because it was only last week or so, my agent said, “You are headlining the Mojave Stage.” I'm like, “Whoa, that's cool.” Then he says, “You are playing against Beyoncé's slot.” I said, “Noooo!” Because I wanted to see Beyoncé. The time that I was headlining was 10 p.m. to midnight or something, so I haven't really seen any bands or groups yet. Some of the groups we're looking forward to see are on Sunday after our show.

Speaking of, talk about the announcement of Marilyn Manson joining you this weekend.
Yeah, he's been an amazing friend of mine. So we talked about him showing up at Coachella and he said, “I'd be happy to."

I mean, that's a big deal!
I mean, he's just a very sweet person and he kindly tries to support X Japan — or support me. That's wonderful.

How long have you guys known each other?
A pretty long time.

What's the dynamic like in the studio with Marilyn Manson?
I enjoy every single process. I don't feel like we're “working” together. We're just talking, being friends — nobody's like “do this, do that.” Maybe just put this phrase with this melody or something like that. Just enjoying the process. He's very inspirational.

Talk about the making of We Are X. What do you want fans to get from this documentary?
It's not like a normal music documentary, it's more like a crazy drama. If we didn't make it right. that could have turned into a horror film. But somehow we made it right. There were so many deaths — my father's death, my guitar player's death, my bass player's death — then the lead vocalist got brainwashed and joined a cult. It's almost too crazy to be a true story but somehow the band came back and started touring again.

Talk about how the band started a fashion movement in Japan.
Because I didn't know the rule. So even though we were playing super heavy or fast music (or punk rock or whatever), I started dressing up something like a David Bowie — something feminine. People freaked out: “What are you guys doing?!” I came from a classical music background. Classical music is just full of rules. When you play Chopin, you should play this way. When you play Beethoven, you should play how Beethoven thinks. Which is cool!

Then after my father's death — when I was 10 years old — I found out about rock. I thought rock has more freedom to express yourself than anything, but it was not! Divided by all those genres and all those styles, I was like, “Fuck it, I'll do whatever I want!” Eventually that became our own genre.

You were also featured on the cover of Vogue Japan recently and your own fashion line, Yoshikimono, kicked off Tokyo Fashion Week. How does your style define you?
My parents used to create kimonos, a Japanese robe. Usually in Japan, the oldest son takes over the family business — but I became a musician. So I always wanted to do something with like a fashion line. Then several years ago, I met a kimono creator — a very cherished one. They've been doing it for 150 years or something like that. So we decided to do this kimono together. So we have a very traditional version, but we also have a rock & roll version. You know, kimono and wear these kinds of boots [points to knee-high military boots]. That kind of caught attention from Tokyo Fashion Week and they asked us if we can open it. I also did the finale, too. So I headlined Tokyo Fashion Week one year, and I also opened Tokyo Fashion Week.

How does it compare to fashion in the States?
Japan is an interesting place. We have influences from the West as well as the East. Things are mixed into the eclectic way of life. Japan's fashion is sometimes crazy, in a good way. Also we have some animation influence. Compared to the United States, it's almost like Japan's fashion seems somewhat out of control, but in a good way.

You've had much success over the years. What's next? What's your end goal?
I don't think I made it to that kind of level yet.

Really?!
No, I mean... I'm pretty unknown in the States. I have a lot to do still.

Where do you see yourself down the line?
Another neck surgery? No, just kidding. [laughs]. I already did two. The last time, they put a cervical disc between vertebrae five and six. The doctor told me not to play drums and not to play piano that hard, but it's rock & roll. So whatever works.

One more question. What are some American bands that you love?
I'm not saying it because he's a good friend, but I love Marilyn Manson. Of course, I love Kiss. I love Muse, Slipknot. I love … is Rihanna from America?

YES! I love Rih.
I do like her. And Lady Gaga. Beyoncé. Ah, can't see Beyoncé because we're playing at the same time! But that's the downside of things. I'm very happy, and sad. [laughs] But at the same time, it's cool playing at the same time. It's the same kind of slot. Anything else you wanna let us know? I just wanna thank my fans around the world, I'm in America right now. Because of you guys' support I'm here, and let's rock the world together.

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