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A throwback no more: Coachella is finally laying off the reunions

Pop Music Critic

Coachella is going back to the future.

After years of tapping old-school rock bands and marquee reunions, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Tuesday unveiled a remarkably forward-looking lineup for its 2017 edition, set to take place April 14-16 and again April 21-23 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

Beyoncé, Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar will headline the annual desert blowout, generally regarded as the country’s most prestigious music festival, while dozens of other up-to-the-minute acts will perform, including the xx, Travis Scott, DJ Snake, Bon Iver, Shura, Gucci Mane, Majid Jordan, Lorde and Justice.

In case the message wasn’t clear, a pointedly named Atlanta rapper — Future — will appear as well.

This state-of-the-art bill represents something of a return to Coachella’s early days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it found success bringing intrepid modern-rock acts and stars of electronic music to a grassy polo field two hours east of Los Angeles.

Yet as its scale grew, Coachella began looking to the proven mainstream — and to the past — to satisfy bigger (and wealthier) audiences less concerned with the cutting edge. Last year, the reformed Guns N’ Roses played; other headliners over the last decade have included AC/DC, Jack Johnson, Paul McCartney and the reunited Outkast.

By 2016, Coachella’s throwback vibe was so established that its powerful L.A.-based promoter, Goldenvoice, launched the Desert Trip festival in the same location with an audacious lineup of six formative classic-rock acts: McCartney, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, the Who and Roger Waters (the last of whom had played Coachella in 2008).

So, as much as Coachella 2017 seems to be channeling the concert’s original spirit, it might also be a sign that Goldenvoice has split its ambitions: Desert Trip for the olds, Coachella for the kids.

Whatever the motivation, the festival couldn’t have selected anyone more exciting than Beyoncé, the most consequential artist in pop music right now. The singer’s 2016 album “Lemonade” — a fiercely personal work with plenty to say about race and gender politics — showed that popularity has only deepened her commitment to innovation.

And her thrilling performances last year at the Super Bowl (where she stole the show from Coldplay) and the Country Music Assn. Awards (ditto the Dixie Chicks) demonstrated how easily she stands out in a very busy crowd.

Coachella’s first female headliner since Björk in 2007 — and how sad is that? — Beyoncé is certain to make a mark in Indio.

Lamar, the celebrated rapper from Compton, was another inspired choice. Though his most recent studio album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” came out nearly two years ago, its themes of African American identity will no doubt resonate at the beginning of a Donald Trump presidency that so many find threatening.

Unlike those first-time headliners, Radiohead is a familiar Coachella presence; this will be the English band’s third appearance atop the bill. Yet few rock acts are as interested in pushing the genre’s limits — or in venturing onstage from the recognizable sound of a hit.

Lower-profile risk-takers pepper the rest of the lineup, including Kiiara, whose breakout single, “Gold,” uses software to disrupt a breathy R&B vocal; the eccentric one-man electro-soul band Francis and the Lights; and Swet Shop Boys, a transatlantic hip-hop duo with actor Riz Ahmed doing songs about police surveillance and the no-fly list.

Inevitably, Coachella will present a handful of old-timers in New Order, the veteran British pop group (minus founding bassist Peter Hook), as well as DJ Shadow and the Avalanches, two pioneers of sampling that made acclaimed comebacks in 2016.

The bill has several head-scratchers too, most notably the Hollywood film-score maestro Hans Zimmer. (Here’s hoping for a collaboration with DJ Khaled, who’s listed right next to Zimmer on the Coachella poster.)

But even that oddball pick seems like evidence of Coachella’s renewed sense of adventure — fresh air sure to feel welcome under the hot desert sun.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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