Coachella 2023 Day 3 Recap Frank Ocean Björk and More
Björk and Rae Sremmurd photos by Getty Images; Frank Ocean photo by Jill Mapes

Coachella 2023 Day 3 Recap: Frank Ocean, Björk, and More

Plus reviews of sets by Christine and the Queens, Sudan Archives, Rae Sremmurd, and Momma

The third day of the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival took place yesterday at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, California. Headliner Frank Ocean offered a perplexing set of reworked classics, while Björk got her orchestra on, and Rae Sremmurd brought us back to 2015. For much, much more Pitchfork Coachella coverage, follow along here. And read our recaps from Friday and Saturday, featuring Bad Bunny, Jai Paul, Rosalía, Boygenius, and more.

What Happened, Frank? 

The stakes are always sky-high with Frank Ocean. With the reclusive singer’s headlining set coming seven years after Blonde, and six years since his last show, expectations teetered between giddily ecstatic (would he drop a new album immediately following Coachella?!) and hopelessly dire (would he drop out of the fest entirely?!). Neither of those things happened Sunday night, when he took the main stage nearly an hour late and played new versions of old songs (check out video highlights here). It was a lowkey, 80-minute set that hardly rose to the occasion and ended abruptly. There are rumors that Ocean melted down a skating rink setpiece and opted for a simpler stage design at the last minute, which could also explain why he also pulled out of the festival livestream. Whatever the case, people are pissed! 

That said, it was sometimes fun to see him tweak the genres of his Blonde beloveds, with a lo-fi house rework of “White Ferrari,” a glitchy “Solo” that eventually found an Afrobeat groove, or a hushed version of “Self Control” that glided across fingerpicked guitar. And I could get behind the piano-bar take on Channel Orange’s “Bad Religion,” the soulful version of 2021 loosie “I Can Escape (Iceman),” and a mid-performance rave set from his DJ, Crystallmess, who mixed Underworld’s “Born Slippy” with vocals from Frank’s “Lost.” But where Frank lost me was when he stood up there and vibed to his own music as the recorded tracks played; watching one of the greatest artists of our time use such a huge platform to mouth along with “Nikes” kinda sucked. 

Perhaps sensing that his unusual set required some explanation, he spoke to the audience for about 90 seconds near the start. Casual and heartfelt, he said he was not at Coachella because of a new album—sensing disappointment, he added, “not that there’s not a new album”—but because of sentimental reasons related to his younger brother Ryan, who died in 2020. Quieting the crowd and asking them to listen, he reminisced about how Ryan would always drag him out to Coachella, and the fun they had there. “I know he would’ve been so excited to be here with all of us,” Frank said. This rationale was amazingly heartfelt, which made it even harder to understand why it seemed like Frank didn’t want to be playing Coachella at all. –Jill Mapes

Can Coachella Even Handle Björk’s Emotional Intensity? 

Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for ABA

A master of elaborate masks and costumes, Björk knows how to shield herself off in fantastical ways while accessing the deep emotional truths within her music. Her armor last night on the main stage included spidery prosthetics on her face, and a dress that looked like a sculpture by glass artist Dale Chihuly on top, a leather mini in the middle, and a chain-link-fence with black mesh on the bottom. Think of her on the Vulnicura album cover done up for the symphony. 

With Icelandic conductor Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason waving at an orchestra behind her, Björk played a career-spanning set for the heads, mixing ’90s hits with deeper cuts. But one thing that bummed me out as I stood near the front was how many people were making comments like “this scares me” or “I don’t even know anyone who likes this music.” (Uh, literally look around you?) How could you not be moved by “Hunter” gone full Hans Zimmer, or a baroque take on “Isobel”? Near the end, she stepped inside a plastic-y orb, before walking off to horror-movie strings. Mother has left the building. –Jill Mapes

Christine and the Queens Get (Even More) Dramatic

Christine and the Queens’ forthcoming album Paranoïa, Angels, True Love takes inspiration from Tony Kushner’s landmark AIDS-era play Angels in America, and Chris began his set in the Mojave tent in a long black trench coat and a tall set of feathery wings—a look that also called back to Wim Wenders’ 1987 art-house classic Wings of Desire. After a few crowd-pleasers, including the indelible ballad “People, I’ve been sad,” Chris shed his wings, launching into a poetic monologue about flesh, blood, bodies, music, and living life as a man. As he carried on with his songs, his set took on more defined themes that encompassed the city of angels a couple of hours away, even interpolating famed Angelenos the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” with his own “Tilted.” Toward the end of the set, Chris memorably threw a thrashing fit, falling to the floor and writhing on the stage, but then offered an aching take on the recent single “To be honest,” ending an evening of high drama on an uplifting note. –Allison Hussey

Rae Sremmurd, Late to the Party in More Ways Than One

Photo by Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Rae Sremmurd took the Outdoor Theatre more than a half hour late—which is funny, because to hear the brothers from Tupelo, Mississippi in 2023 is to feel the sensation of time slipping through your fingers like sand. There’s no shame in this: Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi have been making hits since 2014, and despite the five-year gap that preceded this month’s Sremm 4 Life, the new set has plenty of slyspare fun on offer. 

But the promise of youth, and the suggestion of what was to come, was always baked into Rae Sremmurd’s appeal. So while Swae and Jxmmi still look as young in person as they do in your mind’s eye, rap is in a far different place than it was at Mike WiLL Made-It’s peak: Second-wave drill is mean and maximal; Michigan rap dispenses with the notion that lightheartedness need be couched in conventional 16-bar shapes or major-key production; and in Atlanta (as on the radio), the melodic texture Swae envisioned as a complement to the duo’s sound is now a default setting. So maybe it makes sense that “Powerglide,” the punishing, Juicy J-featuring single that underperformed after its 2018 release, inspired a far more raucous reaction than “Black Beatles,” the group’s gentler megahit from two years earlier.

About five hours after the last notes of “Powerglide” stopped ringing, Frank Ocean paused his headlining performance to recall attending Coachella with his younger brother, who died three years ago at age 18. It was sincerely unsettling, but amid the short, sad speech, Frank flashed a rare smile when describing how fun it was to dance to Rae Sremmurd at Coachella in 2016—a perfect capsule of joy, easy to date and catalog. –Paul A. Thompson

Technical Difficulties Can’t Stop Sudan Archives

Microphone issues delayed Brittney Parks as she set up for her Sudan Archives set in the Sonora tent, pushing back the start of her performance by more than half an hour. But once things were finally figured out, the inventive singer, songwriter, and violinist quickly swung into entertainer mode, unleashing a barrage of tracks from last year’s sprawling Natural Brown Prom Queen. She hyped fans up with a call for her freaks before ripping into “Freakalizer,” and was met with a resounding cheer after asking, “Y’all ready to turn the fuck up?!” before “OMG BRITT.” As headliner Frank Ocean’s scheduled start time drew near, audience members flowed out of the tent, leaving a thin crowd to hear the energetic end of “ChevyS10.” In the moment, it was tough seeing an artist who had worked so hard to bounce back from unexpected setbacks fall victim to a massive enterprise that has to stay punctual. But Parks’ perseverance and commitment to bringing her A-game meant that she maximized every moment of her brief time on stage. –Allison Hussey

Momma’s Grunge-Pop Class Reunion

Toward the end of Brooklyn alt-rock band Momma’s refreshingly serrated set in the Sonora tent, Etta Friedman thanked the crowd for being at their and fellow singer-guitarist Allegra Weingarten’s first Coachella experience in eight years—since the duo were in the crowd as high schoolers. Their most recent album, last year’s Household Name, is on one level a meditation on the temptation artists feel to trade a piece of themselves for a bigger market share. But its central argument can also be generalized as a response to one of the present’s taunting questions: Why try for anything, ever? Because, as their crisp and kinetic set went on to show, it can be sort of fun. –Paul A. Thompson