Radiohead save Coachella festival from disaster after audio system failure

The band soldiered on with raw renditions of its best-known songs

Afp April 17, 2017
Radiohead's Thom Yorke, pictured in 2016 performing in Austin, Texas PHOTO: AFP

Radiohead salvaged a headlining set at the Coachella festival from disaster Friday, following a glitch-plagued opening in which the audio system repeatedly crashed.

The experimental rock icons, booked for the third time to lead the premier festival in the California desert, played most of two songs in awkward, inadvertent silence with frontman Thom Yorke oblivious that the audience could no longer hear.

After twice retreating from stage to deal with audio problems, Radiohead soldiered on with raw renditions of its best-known songs -- including Creep, the English rockers' 1992 debut single that they have since played sparingly.

Such glaring technical problems are exceedingly rare for a band the caliber of Radiohead - long a critical favorite - or Coachella, one of the world's most lucrative cultural events renowned for its punctilious organization.

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But it is the latest in a series of once unthinkable glitches in top-tier events, including an embarrassing snafu in awarding the top Oscar and sound issues at the Grammys.

Radiohead opened powerfully underneath a sea of transcendent light-beams and stars -- a "moon shaped pool," in the words of the title of the band's last album.

Three songs in, Radiohead cranked up the energy on Ful Stop with a purple-drenched, crater-laden display that had the feel of a lunar landing, but audio issues were soon sorely noticeable with jarring bleeps over the music.

The sound turned off completely two songs later on 15 Step, with lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood appearing to notice problems. But Yorke, locked in his personal zone with his eyes closed and a sound monitor in his ear, jammed away with passion unaware that the crowd could see but not hear.

Awkwardness for Radiohead

Similar issues quickly arose again on Let Down off Radiohead's seminal 1997 album OK Computer, with members of the crowd, after a collective groan, singing along to substitute for the inaudible Yorke.

Rarely chatty on stage, Yorke took responsibility for the technical problems and voiced appreciation to the crowd for staying put.

"I'd like to tell you a joke to lighten the mood or something like that, but this is Radiohead," said Yorke -- making, in effect, a joke about the band's grim reputation.

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Radiohead stripped back the sound on several subsequent tunes but did not give up the loop effects that have become a band hallmark. And the sound fortunately pulled through for Greenwood's thundering jolts of guitar on Creep.

The problems came despite growing technological confidence at this year's Coachella, where drones captured crowd footage, cellular reception stayed mostly consistent and a planetarium-style dome led by Hewlett Packard offered festival-goers a 360-degree journey through space.

One artist who zeroed in on technology Friday was leading DJ Richie Hawtin, who debuted a new live show of free-flowing graphic projections set to the artist's unusually improvisatory brand of techno.

Introduction to grime

Stormzy, part of London's fast-emerging genre of grime, voiced delight as his energetic set packed a steadily growing crowd in the afternoon sun.

"This is grime. It's like hip-hop but a lot faster," he explained in a succinct introduction of the genre, quipping that the audience probably didn't think a British artist could rap.

"I don't care if you don't understand my accent," he said, describing his reception as a "glorious occasion."

Skepta, arguably the biggest figure in grime and the latest winner of Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize, was also due to play Coachella but canceled citing visa problems.

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Indie rocker Father John Misty performed on Coachella's largest stage with a chamber orchestra to accentuate his introspective lyricism -- a contrast to his ironic, much-noticed set two years ago that featured a semi-nude, extraterrestrial-masked female key-tar player serenading a woman plucked from the audience.

Up to 250,000 people are expected to come to Coachella over two consecutive three-day weekends, which have identical lineups, after the city council in Indio, California approved a 25 percent rise in attendance.

Lady Gaga is set to headline the festival on Saturday in a preview of her upcoming world tour, while Kendrick Lamar is the final night's headliner in the wake of the acclaimed rapper's latest album release.

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