Moments before Billie Eilish stepped onto the main stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, April 16, the video screens caught her still wrapped in an oversized coat, a big grin beneath her shaggy bangs.
At 20, Eilish is the youngest headliner in the history of the long-running event. And despite the fact that she’s already earned more Grammys than she can hold – and just won an Oscar – it was clear throughout her set that she couldn’t quite believe this was happening to her.
Photos: Coachella 2022: See a gallery of performers and fans from Saturday, Weekend 1
“Dude, this is so weird!” she told the crowd at one point. “I should not be headlining this (thing).”
The smiles never left her face. Not as she played hit after hit off her records, not when she was joined on stage by Damon Albarn, one of her musical idols, and not in the face of a chilly and relentless wind, either.
Highlights earlier in the day included a rare solo performance by Danny Elfman, who delivered a weirdly 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 thrillingly for fans, a selection of songs from his former band Oingo Boingo.
The day was filled with good music. The French band L’imperatrice was the highlight of the afternoon. Guitar-based bands showed up in performances from Japanese Breakfast and Wallows. And eclectic singers from Caroline Polachek to Rina Sawayama thrilled fans with their melodic sets.
With her band tucked at the top of a ramp at the back of the stage, Eilish cut a tiny figure against the hugeness of her backdrop. But she’s been on stages for years now, and as she slipped into “I Didn’t Change My Number” and “NDA,” there was no nervousness evident.
Highlights early in the set included “My Strange Addiction,” one of eight tracks she played off her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” and “Idontwannabeyouanymore,” one of 11 numbers of her 2021 album “Happier Than Ever.”
The singer Khalid joined Eilish for “Lovely,” and later her brother Finneas, who has collaborated with her musically for years, did a mini-set of acoustic guitar-driven songs, “I Love You” and “Your Power.”
At one point, she was raised over the crowd on a lift, performing songs such as “Overheated” and “Bellyache.” As she came back to earth, the lovely “Getting Older” kicked off as the video screens played home movie clips of Eilish as a child, until midway through she was joined by Damon Albarn of Blur — and Gorillaz and also the Good, the Bad and the Queen — to finish the song.
“This is the craziest (stuff) 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 years old. Then Blur and Gorillaz changed my world. Y’all, what the (bleep)? Where do I go from this?”
Where she went was into a second song with Albarn, the Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.,” which also featured Posdnuos of De La Soul on the rap verse.
The final run of her set included one of her loveliest vocals on “When The Party’s Over,” and a few of her biggest hits in “All Good Girls Go To Hell” and “Bad Guy.” The crowd never reached the density of Friday headliner Harry Styles — the cold wind that blew all day probably contributed to that — but Eilish and her fans seemed delighted no matter.
Only a lad
For Danny Elfman, the return to live performance was successful for him and fans alike.
“This is my first time on stage as myself in 27 years,” the producer, movie composer and former Oingo Boingo frontman told the crowd in the middle of his career-encapsulating turn. “Thank you for bringing me out of whatever it’s called … 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, blasted through several of Elfman’s projects during an hourlong set.
He came out fast and hard with one of the newer singles, “Sorry.” It’s a dizzying cut, but Elfman commanded the stage and ferociously spit the venom he’s so openly talked about that led to creating his first solo album in over two decades. The other fresh offerings, including “Kick Me,” “True,” “Love in the Time of COVID” and “Happy,” were delivered with equal passion and given even more dimension live courtesy of the orchestra and choir.
The band also performed updated versions of Oingo Boingo songs such as “Insects,” which Elfman revived on “Big Mess” and “Who Do You Want To Be,” that had been reworked to include subtle digs at the Kardashians, Justin Bieber and Kanye West. Elfman rocked 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 it quits in 1995.
“I’ve got a strange little show for you here,” Elfman said ahead of slipping into his Jack Skellington voice for “Jack’s Lament,” “This Is Halloween” and “What’s This?” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Film composer Hans Zimmer laid the groundwork for artists in that realm to perform live at Coachella as he took over the same Outdoor Stage in 2017 and played music from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and “The Lion King.”
Vive le rock ‘n’ roll
Hours after the French band L’Imperatrice’s set erupted into an overflow dance party in the Gobi tent, the Belgian singer Stromae delivered a powerful set of French-language theatrical music on the Outdoor stage.
Stromae’s performance felt like the kind of show you’d see in a classical concert hall — elegant, sophisticated, creatively designed — while still delivering the emotional wallop of artful rock and roll.
On a stage that included four matching spaceship-like command posts for the musicians, Stromae moved like an actor through the narratives of his music to the awe of a crowd that included Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler.
L’Imperatrice, by contrast, plays a joyful blend of vintage French pop, funk and disco, and delivered the first real Coachella moment of 2022 at their mid-afternoon set in the Gobi tent on Saturday.
Its six members walked on stage in coordinated Pierre Cardin outfits with large plastic hearts pinned to their chests that started to pulsate with red lights and a low bass heartbeat until the first song started and the dance party was on.
With Flore Benguigui, the group’s singer and sole female member at the center of the stage, the rest of the band lit into one deep groove after another to the joy of the crowd. “Peur des Filles,” or “Fear of Girls,” was an early highlight. Did we mention Benguigui sings primarily in French? Please forgive us for the absence of more song titles; we’re long past our last college language class.
The grooves were mostly fat bass riffs and squelchy synths with skittering funk guitars mixed in. Benguigui was très enchanté as a frontwoman, but the guys were fun, too. At one point, two guitarists and the bassist delighted the crowd with their coordinated dance steps, playing their instruments as they stepped forward, back, side to side, finishing as they kneeled at the edge of the stage.
• The rapper Megan Thee Stallion, the electronic dance duo Disclosure, and the rap boyband Brockhampton drew three of the biggest crowds of the day in their nighttime slots.
Megan played a raucous, raunchy set of her anthems to female sexual empowerment on the Main stage. Brockhampton packed the Sahara for their penultimate show. After next weekend’s Coachella, they’re breaking up. And Disclosure had a massive crowd dancing on the field in front of the Outdoor stage.
• The Los Angeles band Wallows drew an enthusiastic crowd to the Outdoor stage on Saturday afternoon. Their fresh-faced indie rock, and songs such as “Especially You” and “Pleaser” delivered catchy rhythms and singalong lyrics.
• British singer Arlo Parks played a lovely set in Gobi after L’Imperatrice. She’s got a classic songwriter feel on songs such as “Caroline.” She joined Phoebe Bridgers to sing on a pair of songs Friday night. On Saturday, Bridgers returned the favor, coming out to sing with Parks.
• Japanese Breakfast, the indie rock band fronted by Michele Zauner, had played Coachella before in the Gobi tent. On Saturday, they thrilled 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. His rich soulful voice was a warm delight on songs such as “For Tonight” and “Heartbreak Anniversary.”
• Japanese singer Rina Sawayama, who now lives in London sometimes earns comparisons to Lady Gaga for songs of self-empowerment and self-love, as well her LGBT-positive anthems.
Songs such as “Love Me 4 Me” and “Bad Friend” had the dancing crowd, the majority of whom self-identified as LGBT when Sawayama, who identifies as queer, asked. She finished up the packed Gobi set with “Cherry,” which she introduced as her “coming out song,” and “Free Woman,” a Gaga song she was asked to cover for the Lady’s “Chromatica” remix album.
• The singer-songwriter Caroline Polachek reminds me a little bit of Kate Bush, with whom she shares a similarly dramatic and dance-oriented stage presence.
Her set in Gobi was captivating with both fan favorites such as “Bunny Was A Rider” and a few new songs such as “Smoke.” In the crowd watching was Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, a similarly creative artist.
• Turnstile, the Baltimore punk rock band, had the most joyful energetic crowd of the day. Most of the half-full Mojave was a raucous mosh pit of sweaty smiling fans. Singer Brendan Yates ended the show singing “T.L.C” as he crowd surfed the mosh pit.