Festivals always make me a bit apprehensive. Possibly because I’ve been to a ton of them, and the festival crowd is kind of a strange bunch, or possibly because I can’t bear another lecture on the benefits of a gift economy and good will. Damn hippies. Not that these things are inherently bad, but it’s just not interesting. Festivals are for music, not espousing tired hippie ideals. Luckily, I was not camping this year, so there was no need to deal with all that hippiedom.
I got there and got busy breezing past Slightly Stoopid on the main stage—day one’s only true WTF moment—and made my way over to see virtual overnight Internet success story the Black Kids. It’s impossible to judge a thing like racial identity, but it seems likely that the band’s moniker is somewhat akin to Brazilian Girls, who are neither Brazilian nor girls (in the plural sense). Black Kids put on a requisite Black Kids show, and proved that they’re more than their Wizard Of Ahhhs EP, but not much more. It’s doubtful that their live performance will win them any converts, but if you’re into what they do, they’ve got plenty more just like it
Jens Lekman would have absolutely killed his set, were it not for some glaring sound problems—the violin was way too loud. Ear-piercingly loud, and its squealing drowned out the more subtle parts on songs like “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar.” And although his tune “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” hints at a bit of mean spirited naiveté and narcissism, Lekman was remarkably charming, quipping about forsaking Jack Johnson’s set to break in to the surrounding gated communities to throw a party. Lekman didn’t travel light to the fest. He brought out a horn section for “You Are The Light (By Which I Travel Into This And That)” and “Black Cab,” and ended his set with the entire band circling the stage, arms out like little kids playing airplane games.
We tried to see Cut Copy, but those Aussie boys packed the tent to capacity and left us standing out in the direct sunlight, making dancing all but impossible. Vampire Weekend was up on the main stage, and although it was tempting to check them out to see if their live show could appease contemptuous feelings for such an over-hyped band, grabbing a snack and waiting in the shade for Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip seemed like a better use of the down time.
Dan and Pip passed out beard-shaped fans adorned with the phrase “Just A Fan,” and attacked their set with much more ferocity than anyone would think—most people spent this time languishing in the heat of an afternoon that just wouldn’t die—and brought the energy of their set down a few times with spoken word interludes and long slogs of instrumental tinkering by Dan Le Sac. Their set was a reflection of the way they write their tunes, each member excelling at their given tasks and cobbled together to make kick ass noise that’s too rhythmic to be punk and too conscious to be dance music.
Next was Goldfrapp, who seemed a bit passé against the rest of this year’s roster, but was possibly the best performance of the night. She operatically wafted through her slower tunes and gradually built the momentum needed to whip out her anthems like Strict Machine and Ooh La La, the whole time traipsing the stage in a dress that could have been stolen from the corpse of Stevie Nicks’s onetime whimsical personality, and dancing around in much the same fashion.
We tried to trickle in to see The Verve, but faint glimmers of Datarock’s set were infiltrating the quieter moments of The Verves seemingly directionless set and commanded attention. Datarock was goofy as ever, and even though their Computer Camp song is a bit played out, the rest of their set was equally energetic and fun.
Aesop Rock kicked ass. There was a lot of weed involved, and it caused me to conveniently forget to check out Jack Johnson, and although The Black Lips were tempting after the copious amount of ganja smoked while watching spank rock, their psychedelic appeal fell flat against a long, hot day spend wandering the deserts of Indio. Besides, I’d seen enough hippies for one day. (Phil Fuller)
Day two at Coachella kicked off with Cold War Kids on the main stage, a band that brings its sorrowful songs by way of Orange County. From pounding versions of “We Used to Vacation” to its star-maker, “Hang Me Up To Dry,” frontman Nathan Willett’s high-pitched delivery did not wilt under the searing heat.
From there we moseyed over to the Outdoor Theatre stage for Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks who were dressed straight outta Portland, ready for the desert sun. From under his outback hat, Malkmus bantered between songs from the band’s new release, Real Emotional Trash—he threatened to get Jack Johnson on our asses, delivered greetings from M.I.A., and with all his energy yelled out the song title “Elmo Delmo” across the crowd. Malkmus and the Jicks went on to deliver an a cappella version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” the most fitting cover of the day. Seeing “Hopscotch Willie,” “Dragonfly Pie” and “Gardenia” live make us secure in our opinion that the Jicks are going to become the indie set’s jam band. We’re packing up our Volkswagen bus now.
From there, Neil Young, er, we mean, Big Ben Gibbard (sans glasses and about 30 pounds) took the main stage, in all his hunky glory. Yes, hunky. The normal guy poster boys Death Cab for Cutie have gone all Big Label on us, but not at the expense of their music. The set list included Narrow Stairs’ “Bixby Canyon Bridget” and “I Will Possess Your Heart,” followed by favorites like “The New Year” and “Why You’d Want to Live Here.” But even Gibbard’s new svelte figure wasn’t going to his head. “I was thinking about going out there to the platform,” he quipped about the part of the stage no one had dared touch. “But I think that’s for Prince only.”
We spent a little time in the VIP area doing some people watching. After taking in the slacker couture, we realized Coachella is the only place where we feel too put together, not sloppy enough. There was a lack of celebutards, but for some reason Steven Tyler and David Hasselhoff were there, too. Old guys rockin’ the VIP!
Speaking of dinosaurs, Kraftwerk and their laptops mesmerized the masses, despite not talking or dancing or anything. Those krafty Germans and their over-the-top AV department geeks! It’s nearly impossible to gauge how many times you’ve heard samples of songs like “Trans Europe Express,” “Tour De France,” “Autobahn” and other crowd pleasers heavy on robotic synths (but you could go to the handy website www.cheebadesign.com to get your geek-out fill).
Feeling full of amped-up Kraut Rock and Portishead—yes, Beth Gibbons’ haunting vocals are intact and guitarist Adrian Utley killed it when he used needle-nose pliers as a bow to transform his guitar into an electric violin—half of us wanted to check out a DJ set. The other half of us reluctantly hiked across the Coachella grounds to the aptly named Sahara tent to catch Sasha and John Digweed.
While the British half of our Royal We bounced around with boundless energy to the monotonous beats, the American half felt despondent and alone standing outside the tent, hands on hips, as men in pants much too large for their frame spun glow sticks with cigs hanging out their mouths. And it was getting uncomfortably close to Prince time.
So Sasha and Digweed were cut off. We pushed our way to a good spot by the main stage, laid down the beach towel and awaited the funk. What we didn’t expect was the rock explosion that began, fittingly, with Morris Day and the Time. Oh-wee-oh-wee-oh, indeed. Jerome, half of us became those people who dance so crazily that bored people make up nicknames for us and keep tabs. We didn’t care. That was motherfucking Prince! And Sheila E! And we felt like kids at the school dance living the glamorous life.
We felt like punching everyone who wasn’t feeling it, which as the set got more intense was hardly anyone. The purple Prince busted out a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” which made us ponder whether Steven Tyler was feeling a little impish over, followed by an unbelievably beautiful, tear-inspiring version of Radiohead’s “Creep.” YouTube it.
Random thoughts from Day 3 of Coachella
12:45—As I walk through the campsite, people seem to be suffering from a post-Prince hangover—or at leasthangover.
1:00—The music is just starting up and so is a certain meteorological condition that rhymes with meat. The Plasticines try to wake up the torpid crowd in the Mojave tent. Girl-power goes nowhere.
1:30—All the cool kids at the show have carts, just like it was back in high school.
2:00—The Cool Kids try to achieve the impossible on the main stage, firing up the crowd while cooling them down with squirt guns. They do a better job with the former than the latter.
2:45—I’m From Barcelona enters to “Barcelona” by Freddie Mercury. Forty-five minutes later they’ve whipped the Mojave tent into something of a frenzy. Like ABBA on ecstasy (or certainly shrooms), the goofy ensemble has energy to spare, even getting a Conga line going at the end of their set. Now we’re talking.
3:30—It sure is meat out here.
3:45—There’s a VIP area? This could be bad.
5:15—I finally get out of there. Comfort, Red Bull and Grey Goose, and reliable bathroom access is overrated. Would it friggin kill them to have bathrooms in the regular beer gardens?
5:30—Gogol Bordello goes on at the main stage and puts on a maniacally brilliant show—accordion, fiddle, cymbal, gypsy, mosh madness. By the end of the set we older folks can skank no more. My sweat has sweat.
7:30—After forcing some food down our gullets we inexplicably decide to catch a bit of Love and Rockets before My Morning Jacket. How do you say whack in Eighties? I’m old enough to have had Love and Rockets play my prom; after this set I think maybe they did.
7:48—My Morning Jacket is finishing up their set on the Main Stage as the sun goes down. Sublime beauty and that’s not just the Red Bull talking.
11:00—Roger Waters may have been one of the bigger WTF headliner choices over the last few years at Coachella, but in a weird way he sort of fits in with the aesthetic . . . what with flying pigs, lasers, bursts of flame and the like. As Waters brought “Vera Lynn” to a close with the lines, “bring the boys back home,” he suddenly seemed current.