Took me a week to write this. Getting old? Takes days to get over the intense amounts of Vitamin D and Vitamin H (Heineken).
We lose our car on night one. We see Audrina Patridge, Aziz Ansari, Scott Speedman and Chloe Sevigny. Nobody saw the tasering of the naked wizard. We had our minds blown by the triple whammy of Public Enemy, X, and then My Bloody Valentine. The day after Coachella is the worst day all year because it’s the longest time you have to wait until the next Coachella.
Airborne Toxic Event — sounds like Arcade Fire (the lead vocalist Mikel Jolett sings like Win Butler and they even have a chick violinist!) but poppier and less arty. We don’t see what all the fuss is about but stick around until they play their modest radio hit “Sometime Around Midnight” (again! sounds like Arcade Fire!) before we skedaddled for the beer garden.
Black Keys (1/2 of them at least) — my guitar mentor Eric informs me there’s not much going on with this band. All the songs sound the same! Why do I like them so much? It’s just basic bluesy stuff in that White Stripes-esque-duo style. We sit through their entire set despite dissension in the ranks.
Franz Ferdinand — Written off by many due to “good looking lead singer” factor, but it’s undeserved (although Alex Kapranos is quite cute). This band is a solid live performer, no gaffes, technical difficulties or pauses as they tear through their poppy and danceable hits. Kapranos has some fun with the crowd in the very front rows, teasing the Beatles girls in the front row “Oh, are they playing?” and pointing out some well-coiffed Morrissey folks – “Look at his hair, you know he’s here for Morrissey!”
Leonard Cohen — His levels are so low we initially think we’re listening to a Leonard Cohen recording playing over the PA! But we’re not, it’s HIM. We all lean in to listen. Standing near us was a man shouting in classic frat boy style “LEONARD! CO!!!! HENNNN!” but he wasn’t teasing, the guy was a huge fan. A girl cries during Hallelujah. His back up band and vocalists are solid. For a man in his 70s the heat nor the venue did not bother him in the least. A great magical Coachella moment.
We stuck around for Silversun Pickups. I must say that Brian Aubert’s screaming doesn’t always sound so great live…but can you blame Leonard Cohen for this? To go from a low and experienced baritone to indie rock yelping isn’t the smoothest transition for the human ear…I am proud that this little LA band has played Coachella twice now. Perhaps they sound best indoors.
Macca! — Sir Paul was sad tonight, it was the 11 year anniversary of Linda’s passing and a motif of sadness wove through his set despite nearly 20 rather upbeat Beatles songs. Macca had two great moments: the first was a tribute to John, during which he sang “Here Today” which has such heartbreaking lyrics. He also came out with George Harrison’s ukulele and sang “Something”, with his top-notch band coming in for half the song. Genuinely goose-bump inducing. Have you ever heard thousands upon thousands of people singing “Drive My Car” at the top of their lungs together? Doot-doot-a-doot-doot-yeah!
Paul McCartney fireworks during LIVE AND LET DIE! *splosions!*
The Liars — We arrived early on Day 2 to see the band that everyone forgot to see open up for Radiohead last year. And Thom Yorke has done nothing but gush about these guys. The verdict? They are an odd bunch. Odd sounding. Odd feeling. Genuinely rocking in places. Clearly for the arty set. Best song goes “WHY’D YOU SHOOT THE MAN WITH THE GUN? — CAUSE WE WANTED TO!” This is the kind of strange stuff that kind of sinks into your subconsciousness.
We lay around on the grass while one of our contingent went to have high school era flashbacks at Superchunk. Wait, Supergrass? They’re good right, brit-rockers? No no. SuperCHUNK. Confusing. Sounds like “take a nap in the sun” time.
Calexico – a crowd quickly forms for this band, and with good reason – they sound AMAZING live with those sad Latin-tinged trumpets blaring out into the desert sunset. For some reason, I notice all the female fans at Calexico are classier than at the other shows. No tit slips at Calexico! We should stay longer but…
TV on the Radio — sounding much better than they did at the Wiltern a few months ago, where they came off a little rushed and a little muddled in places. Here at Coachella, they seemed more relaxed in an outdoor setting in front of an enthusiastic crowd that could sing along with favorites like ‘Staring at the Sun’ and ‘Wolf Like Me’. Their sound totally can scale UP. These fuckers could play the Staples Center for sure, but they reserve that venue for the likes of NKOTB and Beyonce. Hmph.
Another rather abrupt tonal change – we head from TVotR to Fleet Foxes who are playing at the prettiest time of day, switching from dusk to nightfall. Again, like Leonard Cohen, they don’t seem loud enough, but that allows them a cleaner, crisper sound that is necessary for their gorgeous harmonies and pastoral sound. As soon as Thievery Corporation begins, they lose the battle of the bands. Thievery Corp was simply much louder. Sorry, my shaggy country friends! Fleet Foxes are more deserving of a nice sit-down venue like the Greek or the Orpheum.
We break for dinner and brews between Thievery Corp and M.I.A. – who looks fabulous for a lady who just landed a baby two months ago! She takes to the stage behind a bank of microphones, as though she were a head of state talking to the media, flanked by dancers outlined in strips of neon – especially impressive when the lights turn off. Her DJ is incredibly annoying though – he kept playing the same rising bullhorn sound during her set between songs. Later I heard an ocean of complaints about his performance that drove some fans away. If you had the tolerance level, you were rewarded with many more tunes than she made it through at her previous Coachella appearance (only 6 songs!) and her high-energy political dance screeds are much more suited to the big stage.
After M.I.A. we loll around listlessly waiting for the Killers – not my favorite band in ANY regard. They have a slick stage show, their equipment and guitar stands covered by facades, a marquee K in the middle of the stage as though it had fallen from the sky, and Brandon Flowers in his feathery jacket. They start out with the song that makes me want to claw at my eyes “Are We Human, or Are We Dancer” and I notice that most of their fans are college-age girls in jersey knit dresses and big sunglasses, whose frat boy paramours also bop along to the music happily. I feel queasy. Eric suggests we try a palate cleanser…
So we head to MASTODON. I had no idea to what to expect, having read recently that the lead singer was extremely intoxicated during the entirety of his Rolling Stone interview – that seems like a good sign! It’s heavy metal but also quite proggy. I thought they sounded like Black Sabbath in places, E thought more Motorhead. Still, I feel deeply privileged to have seen a band who wrote the opening song to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, although by this time of night, the crowd seemed burnt out and exhausted. What matters is I had all traces of the Killers wiped from my psyche…until we get home and see the TV commercial for the film The Soloist and they use that ridiculous Killers song Human/Dancer in the background. THX, TV.
We are late for Vivian Girls, No Age, and Lykke Li. Whoops. We manage to catch some of -
Antony & the Johnsons — This act definitely ought to be seen in a different environment. Something about the relentless sun did not go along with Anthony’s torch songs and love dirges. He was low key and almost shy with the crowd. He had a great moment though when a long stretch of feedback would not end, but he did not lose his place in his song nor let it bother him in the least. I want to see Anthony and the Johnsons at a venue like the Hotel Cafe. Yeah, that small, that intimate. I think his music deserves it.
We wait around a little too long for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to begin. They unfortunately start their set with a slower song off their newest effort, It’s Blitz – we lose interest immediately. Why not start off with a BANG, guys? How about that song “Bang” from your early “we only have guitars and drums” days? Oh well. Time for X!
Do you know how GOOD this band sounds still? They ran through their set with such aplomb while the audience lept and pumped fists and hollered along to “Los Angeles”, “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline”, “Soul Kitchen”. Absolutely amazing. Rob remarks as we walk away from the X show: “Exene could EAT Karen O – why are people so into her?”
After that show, we are clearly on a Coachella high. Why not top it off with seeing Chuck D and Flavor Flav and a stage flanked with menacing soldiers!? Rob makes a political point – 20 years ago white folks didn’t – or couldn’t – go to a Public Enemy show. Today, I had to avoid being punched in the face by a frat boy named Doug dancing a LITTLE too aggressively. (Flavor comes out with his little son, Karma, in his arms. We are forced to chant “Go Karma! Go Karma! Go Karma!” to him, possibly scarring him for life, either turning him into someone who has no identity of his own, or someone who thinks he’s king of the universe.)
This. This is the reason you buy a 3 day pass. My. Bloody. Valentine. You don’t buy it for the Cure. You don’t buy it for Karen O. You do it to come hear the loudest, most experimental band man has ever seen. So loud it shakes you internal organs, gives your eye twitches, shakes loose your very thoughts until you are actually mindless, unable to think about anything else – helpless in the face of an ever-building-wall-of-sound. Phil Spector started it, My Bloody Valentine ended it.
I had been told by a music historian/writer to go see this band. They scared me. I ended Coachella 2009 feeling weird and alienated thanks to Throbbing Gristle. That’s kind of cool though? You shouldn’t just go to Coachella to see stuff you love. You should also go to discover new sounds. New sounds that might give you bad dreams.
See you next year.