Anyone surprised by the news that Guns N’ Roses will reunite at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is clearly forgetting one of Axl Rose’s signature mantras: “All we need is just a little patience.”
Wait long enough these days and it seems you’ll see every band that has ever broken up come back together, one result of a struggling music industry that’s increasingly relying on concert tickets to replace record sales. Chances are good too that many of those reunions will take place at Coachella, which since launching in 1999 has developed a reputation for luring A-list rockers and rappers out of retirement.
So it makes perfect sense that some semi-original version of Guns N’ Roses -- with a lineup that includes Rose, guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan, according to various social-media posts -- is set to perform at the high-profile festival in Indio, Calif., especially after last year’s headlining set by AC/DC proved that crusty dudes with guitars still had a home amid Coachella’s pop stars and EDM bros.
The manicured expanse of the Empire Polo Club, where Coachella 2016 is scheduled for April 15-17 and April 22-24, is an ideal setting to hear “November Rain,” “Don’t Cry” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” sweeping rock songs with a sense of scale now rarely heard in rock.
Yet the inevitability of GNR’s return also contributes to a feeling that Coachella’s traditions are beginning to harden into something more obligatory: mere maintenance, essentially, for one of music’s most closely watched brands.
That feeling is only bolstered by another of this year’s headliners, LCD Soundsystem, whose fans haven’t needed nearly as much patience in awaiting its comeback: This lovably wry New York dance-rock outfit played a so-called farewell concert less than five years ago, which indicates the lengths the festival will go to fulfill its reunion promise. Perhaps the young men of One Direction will climb back in their still-warm saddles in 2017.
It seems significant too that both Guns N’ Roses and LCD Soundsystem are reportedly using Coachella to kick off extensive tours that will take them far beyond the desert east of L.A.
That’s always happened, of course -- the Pixies (in 2004) and Rage Against the Machine (in 2007) didn’t limit their comebacks to a single gig. But the vaunted Coachella reunion used to carry a convincing one-off electricity, as though the festival had made the impossible happen. Now it’s simply a reliable component in a carefully calibrated marketing strategy, as we saw when Outkast headlined in 2014. Performing for the first time in years as part of the trailblazing hip-hop duo, Andre 3000 looked prematurely exhausted by the summer he’d committed to spending on the road.
There are other ways in which Coachella’s latest lineup feels a bit routine, from the high number of repeat visitors -- including Ellie Goulding, Disclosure, Zedd and Calvin Harris, all of whom played in 2014 -- to the presence of James Bay and Of Monsters and Men, who will uphold the festival’s troubling commitment to dreary, vaguely folky alternative rock. (Hopefully, neither of them attempts to cover Morris Day and the Time’s “Jungle Love” as Hozier rather embarrassingly did last year.)
None of this means Coachella has lost the charge that arguably makes it America’s most prestigious live music event. To some degree, the festival’s predictability, along with its deluxe amenities and celebrity clientele, is what enables it to sell out of regular passes before each year’s lineup is even announced.
And unexpected bookings are peppered throughout the bill, including Rae Sremmurd, the rowdy Atlanta rap twosome; Kamasi Washington, the adventurous L.A. jazz saxophonist; and the buzzed-about country singer Chris Stapleton, who’s also slated to appear this year at Stagecoach, Coachella’s roots-music companion festival. Major surprises could be in store, as well, during performances by serial collaborators like Major Lazer and ASAP Rocky, while Ice Cube’s advertised solo set could easily turn into an impromptu N.W.A show.
But then again, that would be just another reunion -- precisely what Coachella has trained us to anticipate.