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Going to Coachella just doesn't mean what it used to

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

INDIO, Calif. -- Kacey Musgraves looked out from the main stage of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and took in the sea of people gathered to watch her play as the sun set on Friday evening.

This was her first time at the annual desert blowout, she told the crowd -- the latest step in a successful crossover effort that's made something of a pop star of this psychedelically inclined country singer.

"Needless to say, I'm very excited," Musgraves said. Yet her hope was that everyone, including herself, could focus on the beauty of the right-here-and-now and "forget about everything else."

Well, almost everything.

Introducing her song "Mother" just a few minutes later, Musgraves acknowledged that her audience extended beyond the boundaries of Indio's picturesque Empire Polo Club -- specifically to her native Texas, where she said her mom was watching Coachella's livestream on YouTube.

Musgraves wasn't the only one with that kind of information in mind. A marquee performance by Childish Gambino relied on exquisite images designed for close inspection rather than viewing from hundreds of yards away. As the first major festival in an increasingly crowded season, Coachella is accustomed to the spotlight; indeed, it's what transformed a once-scrappy rock-heavy gig into a lifestyle destination (not to mention a cash cow for the company behind it, Los Angeles-based Goldenvoice).

 

But Beychella, as last year's extravaganza quickly became known, raised the creative stakes with its thoughtful and heartfelt reimagining of a halftime show at a historically black college. By putting on such an unforgettable performance -- one she's revisiting in a hotly anticipated Netflix documentary due Wednesday -- Beyonce pushed other artists to create event-like moments more ambitious than a typical festival appearance.

That certainly seemed to be the case with Childish Gambino, the alter ego of actor Donald Glover, who began his set by informing the audience that what we were witnessing wasn't a concert but an "experience."

And so it was: With mobile cameras feeding carefully composed close-ups to enormous video screens as Glover sang, danced and descended into the crowd at one point to find someone eager to smoke with him, the show felt more like a mini-movie than a live performance; the cinematography, if that's the word to use, was as gorgeous as that on Glover's brilliant FX series, "Atlanta." (True to his auteur's sensibility, Glover barred The Times from photographing the show.)

The problem was that, unlike Beychella, Childish Gambino's set -- with R&B and rap songs that rarely transcended Glover's obvious admiration for Drake, Kanye West and Parliament-Funkadelic -- seemed optimized for YouTube, not for the tens of thousands watching and listening on the ground at Coachella.

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