THE BLOG
04/25/2016 12:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Once Again, Coachella Comes to Berkeley!

2016-04-24-1461519702-7173495-GREEK19752a.jpg
The 1975, performing in Berkeley on April 22nd. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]

As it did last year, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival came to Berkeley, California, over its final weekend.

Top acts performing on the festival's closing day also played in Berkeley for the opening nights of the 2016 Greek Theater season.

Chris Stapleton, The 1975 and Wolf Alice, appearing at the Greek on April 22 and 23 (and at Coachello on the 24th), dazzled the fanatical crowds, but many probably came away thinking about...Wolf Alice.

Wolf Alice, a London group fronted by 24-year old Ellie Rowsell, rocked like a band on its way to becoming as big as Florence and the Machine, judging from the wild response to their opening set for The 1975.

Rowsell has an enormously attractive vocal style and the greatest shriek this side of Florence Welch. Melodic and rocking, with a sound redolent of folk-grunge, The Decemberists, Death Cab, even the Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath and CCR. (And they seem to know full well what makes Sab swing; just check out "Moaning Lisa Smile.") The best set I've heard by an opening act since Lucius's show last year.

But the crowd that night was, of course, there for The 1975 -- and were they ever! High decibel screaming for the band soon turned into a crowd control problem in the front rows.

After the fourth song, an oldie called "So Far (It's Alright)," vocalist Matthew Healy spoke to the mob.

"Everybody takes three steps back right now," Healy told his fans. "Can you breathe? Don't kill yourselves."

Then he launched into "Change of Heart" from the band's latest album, the number one (on both sides of the pond) "I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It."

By mid-set, it was clear they probably should've called themselves The 1985, because their sound is sometimes somewhere between INXS and late Talking Heads, with echoes of the Average White Band and smooth jazz. (There was even an extended mellow sax interlude on "Me.")

Funkier live than on recordings, the band had lots of people dancing (even in the hills above the theater, where I heard most of the show and Stapleton's set).

Highlights included "Menswear," from their first album, and "Somebody Else," from the new one.

Opening the triple bill, during a light spring rain that brought out loudly chirping birds, was a promising British band called The Japanese House, fronted by Amber Bain, who is apparently still a teenager and has been collaborating with The 1975. Her aesthetic starting point seems to be Lorde, though she also appears to have been influenced by Tears for Fears. Worth checking out.

The next night, country superstar Stapleton headlined, drawing an overflow crowd that lined up for around a quarter mile, north and south of the venue, hours before he took the stage.

Playing a set that was mostly covers -- unusual for a performer known as a hit songwriter -- Stapleton closed with a soulful and poignant version of Prince's "Nothing Compares With You."

Unfortunately, some of the crowd had already exited the Greek early and missed it.

The probable reason for the exodus -- the biggest early exit of fans I've seen at the theater since The Lumineers' disappointing show in 2013 -- was that parts were downright tedious (e.g., for what was something like fifteen minutes, he introduced the names of bandmates in the form of a sketchy song). (This was the opposite of, say, Hozier's 2015 concert at which the crowd actually expanded as his show progressed.)

Don't get me wrong: the best of Stapleton's show -- his rendition of Waylon Jennings' "Ain't Living Long Like This," for example) -- was as masterful as anything in country music today.

And I enjoyed the unpredictability of his set, which included songs that he performed for the first time or rarely ("Hard Living," Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings") and lots of quirkiness.

But there were too many dead patches for a set that strained to reach the ninety minute mark.

Opening was country singer Anderson East, whose biggest hit, "Satisfy Me," bears a strong resemblance to Smokey Robinson's "My Girl" -- a point implicitly driven home when East joined Stapleton for a cover of that soul classic later in the night. Elsewhere, he sounded like the Richard Manuel part of The Band (minus the falsetto) -- and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

2016-04-24-1461520805-9694695-greekstaple.jpg
Chris Stapleton t-shirts being sold at the Greek on April 23rd. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]

2016-04-24-1461521495-7764317-GREEK1975a2.jpg
The 1975, encoring in Berkeley last Friday night. [photo by Paul Iorio]