The Weeknd saves Coachella 2022 Sunday with imperfect but hits-filled last-minute set

The Weeknd performs onstage at the Coachella Stage during the 2022 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 17, 2022 in Indio, California. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for ABA)

Less than two weeks before this year’s Coachella festival was finally set to return to the Southern California desert after a three-year COVID hiatus, Sunday headliner Kanye West suddenly pulled out — leaving the panicked promoters at Goldenvoice hustling to find a suitable large-poster- font replacement. According to TMZ, Goldenvoice first went after Silk Sonic, but the Grammy-sweeping retro-soul duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak turned down the invitation, because 13 days wasn’t enough time for them to organize the sort of main-stage spectacle usually required to close out the biggest music fest in the US

But another artist couldn’t resist the call — or the reported $8.5 million paycheck, the insisted upon same fee that Ye would have fetched. “Coachella, you know how much I love you! I have your back. I’m here for you,” Abel Tesfaye, aka three-time Coachella veteran the Weeknd, assured the packed Indio field Sunday, as he swooped in to save the day. “I’ll always be here for you. You’re always here for me.”

It was, admittedly, a far-from-ideal situation. The Weeknd’s appearance was basically tackled onto the set by reunited EDM trio Swedish House Mafia — who were already on the Coachella 2022 bill and got bumped up to fill West’s Sunday spot — and then the Stockholm house music supergroup of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello pulled a rather Kanye-like move and didn’t hit the stage until 35 minutes past their advertised 10:20 pm start time. Then it was another 50 minutes before Tesfaye even showed up. Frustrated fans watching YouTube’s “Couchella” livestream voiced their impatience on Twitter, and the Weeknd/weekday puns practically wrote themselves.

Additionally, since Tesfaye has been busy filming his HBO series the idol (for which he is the star, co-writer, and co-director), he too was unable to slap together a last-minute grand-scale production. So tonight, there would be no facial prosthetics, no surprise Daft Punk or Jim Carrey cameos, no mummy-bandaged backup dancers, no mirrored Super Bowl carnival maze — just Abel (eventually) dropping into the desert to croon a bunch of his hits.

But… the Canadian superstar has a lot of hits. And he breathlessly raced through most of them — starting with the live debuts of the Dawn FM tracks “Sacrifice” and “How Do I Make You Love Me?,” with Swedish House Mafia still onstage. His distinctively keening lyric tenor voice crisply cut right through the inland air, and everything was forgiven: “Abel” immediately became the top-trending topic on Twitter for all the right reasons.

And the hits kept coming: “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Blinding Lights,” “The Hills,” “Party Monster,” “Heartless,” “Often,” “Starboy,” “I Feel It Coming,” a hauntingly slowed-down/stripped-back “Save Your Tears,” and another never-before-played Dawn FM single, “Out of Time.” Tesfaye even tossed in partial Future, Drake, and Ty Dolla $ign covers, and — in a cheeky nod to the absent Kanye — a bit of his recent Grammy-winning collaboration with West, “Hurricane.”

“I said we’re gonna keep going,” the Weeknd promised the audience, as his set passed the Indio area’s midnight sound curfew by about a half-hour (he presumably used some of his seven-figure Coachella paycheck to take care of a subsequent $1,000-per-minute fine). However, the show sputtered to a somewhat abrupt, encore-free, whimper-not-a-bang halt after Swedish House Mafia rejoined Tesfaye for their recent collab, “Moth to a Flame.” Still, while the Weeknd’s upcoming bells-and-whistles stadium tour will surely take things to several other levels compared to this relatively small-scale affair, the crowd-pleasing pop star proved Sunday that sometimes a singularly great voice and great songs are more than enough.

Among the other standouts of Coachella’s Kanye-free Sunday was masked mystery man/queen of the rodeo/bespoke cowpoke Orville Peck, whose American Gothic set majestically channeled Johnny Cash, Charlie Sexton, David Lynch, and Roy Orbison — and paid amusing tribute to queer trucker culture with “Drive Me, Crazy,” which Peck wryly introduced by pointing out, “Truck stops were the original Grindr.” Sadly, Shania Twain, who’d made a surprise appearance during Harry Styles’s Friday headlining set, which was apparently no longer on the festival grounds perform her part in Peck’s show bangs EP duet “Legends Never Die.” However, Peck’s guitarist Bria Salmena filled in nicely, and overall, this was the breakout Coachella performance of a legend, indeed.

Earlier in the day, a very un-Swedish House Mafia-like act also hailing from Stockholm — piss-taking garage-rockers Viagra Boys, the self-declared “worst band in Scandinavia” — really got the Sonora Tent day-drinkers moshing in earnest to their skronky, sleazy, sax-y KillCity-era Stooges-damaged racket. And also representing for rock were glamtastic Italian Eurovision winners Maneskin, who covered Iggy & the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” at one point and actually did it justice.

“I bet your favorite rapper can’t do this,” snarled attitudinal and undeniably charismatic Maneskin frontman Damiano David, who took the stage wearing a fluffy Victorian lace dressing gown until the oppressive desert heat propelled him to disrobe, revealing the studded leather harness, thigh high PVC pretty woman boots, and open-backed sheer panties he was wearing underneath. (The overall look was very Miss Havisham… if Miss Havisham lived in am S&M dungeon instead of an attic.)

“If you see a girl with better hips, let me know,” the whippet-thin rocker quipped, before he and his fellow leather-and-lace-clad bandmates debuted a ramshackle remake of Britney Spears’s “Womanizer,” then ended their wild show with David’s surprising solemn recitation of a famous Charlie Chaplin speech to honor the people of Ukraine. It was a worlds-collide set that perhaps best encapsulated the gender- and genre-blurring spirit of Coachella 2022.

Really, Kanye wasn’t missed at all. And maybe, just maybe, Silk Sonic can leave the door open to headline Coachella in 2023.

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