The Weeknd and Swedish House Mafia review, Coachella 2022: Kanye West’s replacements lack a certain magic

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 (Getty Images for Coachella)
(Getty Images for Coachella)

The road to Coachella’s closing set has been a bumpy one. Thirteen days ago, Kanye West – who had long been booked as the Sunday night headliner – revealed he was dropping out, leaving promoters to scrabble around for a worthy replacement at the last minute.

In the end, however, the solution was simple. Returning EDM giants Swedish House Mafia were already on the Coachella lineup, with a promised late-night comeback show after their 2013 split and 2019 reformation. But to make it seem as though they hadn’t just lazily bumped up an already-booked act, it made sense for organisers to sprinkle some more star power over the relatively faceless European DJ trio. Enter The Weeknd.

It’s safe to assume that the Canadian pop star was first choice. Like Swedish House Mafia – and Doja Cat, who performed before them – The Weeknd is managed by Wassim “Sal” Slaiby. He collaborated with the group on last year’s “Moth To A Flame”, as well as this year’s “Sacrifice (Remix)”. Thanks to the ongoing success of 2020’s “Blinding Lights”, he’s also one of the biggest artists on the planet – which couldn’t hurt the festival’s credibility.

For an event that usually runs like clockwork, a 35-minute delay for the double headliner set is less-than-auspicious. Under a round circular stage resembling a giant Polo mint (that’s a Lifesaver to American readers), it’s Swedish House Mafia who kick off proceedings. “Ladies and gentleman, allow us to reintroduce ourselves,” booms Axwell, before introducing Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello. Their relentless beats come thick and fast, as pumpingly energetic and anonymous as a spin-class soundtrack. Fireworks light up the Indio sky, presumably because looking at three middle-aged blokes nodding away behind a desk isn’t terribly captivating. The main question now is, when and how does Abel Tesfaye – aka The Weeknd – work his way into the equation?

After almost an hour, fans have their answer, as The Weeknd walks onstage for a rendition of “Sacrifice”. Wearing a simple black shirt and with gloved hands (no heavy facial prosthetics tonight), he’s forced to shout over Swedish House Mafia’s backing noise. The trio remain onstage for a somewhat forced “I Can’t Feel My Face”, where The Weeknd sounds like he’s singing against the instrumentation, rather than gliding across it. As Swedish House Mafia finally slink off stage, however, he settles into the swing of things, unleashing the Eighties-indebted power-pop of “Blinding Lights”.

In what is a typically stripped-back show, The Weeknd relies on his own starpower to hold the audience’s attention, rather than props or dazzling laser displays. Simplicity definitely suits him, but it still seems as though it’s missing a certain headliner flair. Next time you cancel a show, Kanye, give everyone a bit more warning, why don’t you?

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