This Was the Best Set of Coachella's First Weekend, Hands Down


"I hope you realize for a few seconds every day that music is sacred," Jack White said to the Coachella crowd on Saturday night, between songs. "That music is sacred!" He repeated this three times, as if to drive the point home — or to demonstrate how music is all about repetition. It's surprising the audience needed reminding: Jack White sounded like a true rock god onstage Saturday night. If any set played this weekend was truly a sacred event, it was his.

Professor Jack White. For his headlining set, White drew material from across his 16-year career, all of it sounding crisp and dangerous, as rock'n'roll should. He charged in with a 10-minute rendition of the White Stripes' "Icky Thump" before hitting "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and "Hotel Yorba," also by the White Stripes. White followed this up with the Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes" and several songs off his latest album, Lazaretto. The finale, "Seven Nation Army," whose opening guitar line the crowd chanted note for note, truly felt like a hymn — an indelible rock standard that now belongs to the culture.

In classic White fashion, his set also functioned in part as a history lesson, giving listeners the scope of American music. White has long been instrumental in keeping America abreast of its fading rock tradition, from acquiring and repressing early Elvis singles, to rekindling interest in analog sounds and recording techniques. He stretched his educator role even further on Saturday: "Yeah, this is that four-on-the-floor folk music that's so popular now!" White said when his drummer started beating his kick drum on every quarter along with the White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends." It was likely a nod to the ebbing craze exemplified by the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons that hit so hard at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

White shifted through nearly every style of American music, warping his heavy blues into country, folk and even hip-hop at times. His cover of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" reintroduced the Coachella audience to the classic in a way they'd likely never heard it before — with distorted guitar feedback and mandolin. 

His band switched styles on a dime, his supporting members moving from keyboards to ukuleles and violins to create vast and meticulously embellished soundscapes, the likes of which he never attempted with the White Stripes. True rock'n'roll never feels more alive these days than coming out of Jack White's seasoned hands.

Twenty minutes into his hour and a half set, White did have to snap his class back to attention. "Clap your hands and put your fucking cellphones down for five seconds," he scolded the audience. He was the only performer to make such a bold request. And he was one of the only performers who could have rewarded the audience with snarling, unpredictable and badass rock music. It seems that most audience members didn't follow his advice, though, as he reigned at the top of Twitter's trending charts, according to Mashable.

Rock'n'roll is not dead, nor trapped on life support in the hands of founders like AC/DC and Steely Dan, both of whom also played over the weekend. It's alive and pushing boundaries through Jack White.