Coachella 2014: Pharrell Williams and friends fight against the wind

Pharrell Williams performs Saturday night at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio.
(Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)

It might seem crazy, what I’m ‘bout to say, but Pharrell Williams kind of blew it Saturday night at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where in spite of a hot streak that’s included some of the past year’s biggest hits -- “Happy,” “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines” -- the singer-rapper-producer seemed not quite ready for his prime-time performance.

Williams himself might insist he was the victim of the blowing: At least three times he complained about the “stupid” wind that turned Coachella into a dustbowl Saturday; he said it was ravaging his voice and had forced him to scale back his stage production. And, indeed, by the end of his hour-long set, his vocals had become not much more than a hoarse bark.

But as much as you felt for the guy, who seemed genuinely sorry that his big Coachella debut wasn’t going according to plan, you had to wonder why none of his handlers had put the most important lesson of pop stardom into his head: The show must go on.


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Especially when the show has so much else going for it.

Wearing a hoodie, scarf, denim cutoffs and, of course, one of his trademark hats, Williams was a perfect picture of the goofy cool he’s made his own lately. He had a set list packed with an insane number of all-time jams, and a muscular six-piece band capable of handling them.

And he had superstar pals, such as Gwen Stefani and Snoop Dogg, eager to join him onstage.

Yet Williams couldn’t be consoled: During “Get Lucky,” the Grammy-winning Daft Punk hit he sang and co-wrote, he simply hung his head and allowed his recorded vocal to carry the song for him. Next weekend at Coachella’s encore run, he said, he’d make up for the performance even if he had to wear a gas mask.

It wasn’t all such a waste.

Williams opened the gig with an appealingly slinky version of his other Daft Punk collaboration, “Lose Yourself to Dance,” then led his band through the stuttering funk of “Come Get It Bae,” from his recent solo disc, “G I R L.” His old solo tune “Frontin’” was fun, as Williams tried out some of the pelvic thrusts that might be pop stardom’s second-most-important requirement.

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He brought out Nelly to do “Hot in Herre,” then Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy to do “Pass the Courvoisier Part II” -- both decade-old hip-hop hits that still sound like visions of pop’s future.

Tyler, the Creator, from L.A.'s Odd Future, jumped onstage during “Lapdance,” by Williams’ psychedelic rap-rock band N.E.R.D. And there was Snoop Dogg, in no particular hurry to get anywhere as the relaxed thump of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Beautiful” filled the desert air.

In a way, though, the presence of those others stars -- especially Stefani, whose surprise appearance for “Hollaback Girl” sent a wave of excitement (and camera-phone flashes) through the crowd -- only emphasized what seemed like Williams’ core discomfort at being the center of attention.

Before he was the guy, Williams was the guy behind the guy, crafting hit after ingenious hit for others to sell with their charisma. His remarkable run of singles in 2013 and 2014 suggested he’s ready to do some of that selling on his own.

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But even when he wasn’t griping about the wind Saturday, Williams often appeared unsure what to do with himself, the sideman suddenly thrust into the leading-man role.

Perhaps that’s why he filled the stage with pals (and what looked like a few strangers) for his finale of “Happy.” Surrounded by other people for the audience to gaze at, Williams seemed more at ease than he had all night.

Better luck -- and a better “Get Lucky” -- next time?


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Twitter: @mikaelwood