Coachella never lacks for big acts. But the festival drafts stars carefully, upholding the idea of cool it's cultivated over the last decade and a half. Some A-list acts fit in: your Princes, your Paul McCartneys, your Kanye Wests. Others — like, say, Imagine Dragons — don't.
That said, at least one silent-majority type sneaks onto the bill every year, the result, perhaps, of its being booked prior to the explosion of an uncool but unavoidable Top 40 hit. Last year it was Bastille; in 2013, the Lumineers.
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015
The outlier at Coachella 2015 was Hozier, the Irish singer-songwriter whose Grammy-nominated "Take Me to Church" recently vaulted him to the kind of mainstream stardom Coachella typically abjures. On Saturday evening he performed on the main stage, a reminder that even roads to the edge have a middle.
It wasn't that Hozier's sound was so out of step with the rest of the festival; indeed, he's just one of a good handful of bluesy guitar guys on this year's bill, along with Jack White, Benjamin Booker and the grizzled veterans of AC/DC. But where each of those acts works to personalize its roots music with a distinctive stomp or a kind of live-wire energy, Hozier was content merely to channel an established idea, as in the heaving "To Be Alone," or "Someone New," an Otis Redding-style soul number seemingly designed to get a field full of people dancing like cooked noodles. (His plan worked.)
At his worst, he was studied and listless. At his best, though, he made you wonder what's so wrong with established ideas. After all, I don't look forward to the garlic crab fries at Coachella because they challenge my notion of garlic or crab or fries; I look forward to them because they deliver salt and fat in deliciously comforting proportions.
And, besides, when Hozier did reach toward surprise — as when he brought out Este Haim for a deeply goofy rendition of "Jungle Love" by the Time — the result just made him appear kind of stiff and out of touch. He was more convincing (and, somehow, cooler) when he embraced his inner square.