Coachella 2014 – Full Coverage

The first weekend of Coachella 2014 was again a three day affair filled with surprises and good fun.  Here are my running notes, consolidated for your pleasure.

 

FRIDAY

The heat seemed even more intense than in years past.

Compared to Outside Lands, the t-shirts at Coachella were far more clever and the people far more alluring. Perhaps that emphasis on eye candy distinguishes this southern California institution.

A guy swinging his balls at the Outdoor Theatre

A guy swinging his balls at the Outdoor Theatre

Given that Goldenvoice sold out both weekends before announcing the lineup, they seemed more liberal about letting bands book nearby gigs. Bryan Ferry undoubtedly will be more intimate midweek at San Diego’s Humphrey’s By The Bay than he was in the Mojave tent.  Similarly, look for great sets this week at San Diego’s Belly Up from the likes of Cage the Elephant, Mogwai, Bonobo and Bombay Bicycle Club.

Lightweaver, balloons and a full moon.

Lightweaver, balloons and a full moon.

Haim tore through a credible version of “Oh Well,” despite the likelihood that most of the crowd did not know it was a huge hit for Fleetwood Mac in the late 60s.

Neko Case followed on the same stage, and enjoyed a significantly cooler ambient temperature. As the shadows grew longer and a welcome breeze swept across the Polo Fields, she led her band further from the more delicate sounds of her early releases. When she did slow things down, the sound bleeding from Ellie Goulding on the big stage highlighted the perennial conundrum: stages close enough not to cause fatigue moving about, yet far enough to isolate the sound.

Goulding had the day’s first bona fide sing along, the audience participation was remarkable.

Broken Bells were the first to play under the lights, and their propulsive synth sounds were bubbly.

Everyone has their favorite Coachella schedule conflict, certainly hipsters of a certain age were flummoxed by the overlap of The Replacements and Bryan Ferry. Given that the latter is around more frequently (recently in The Great Gatsby soundtrack) the smart money was on the recently reformed Minnesotan band. With bowtie and sport coat, Paul Westerberg led the band though a solid set. Far less sloppy than their infamous drunken performances of yesteryear, The Mats were still endearingly ragged.

Meanwhile, the dapper Bryan Ferry, also in bowtie, had his eight piece band in tight form. “Slave to Love” was electrifying. A delicate, abbreviated “More Than This” slid into a full and satisfying “Avalon.” Sadly, the rest of his set was subpar.

Outkast kept their core fan base satiated, but the exodus four songs into their set list was telling.

 

SATURDAY

High winds on Saturday had campers lashing down their tents and others of us deciding to delay our arrival. Lots of folks were seen with bandit-style kerchiefs over their face and a couple Boy Scouts wore woodshop goggles against the dust.

Not a blimp hanger but the Sahara stage, mostly for EDM

Not a blimp hanger but the Sahara stage, mostly for EDM

But none of that put a crimp in Kid Cudi’s Coachella debut. He swore a blue streak between and during his hip-hop stylings. The wind played havoc with the sound mix at the edges of the main stage, but the crowd sang along in fine form.

Capital Cities looked sharp in their matching white dinner jackets, and delivered their post- disco songs stylishly. A soaring trumpet was layered over a very credible cover of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” Sunglasses stayed on many faces as the sun set, being a nice protection against the fine dust that was settling everywhere.

Furry and ready for chillier temperatures

Furry and ready for chillier temperatures

Both MGMT and Capital Cities displayed the power of the hit single. Both bands played extended versions of their current hits, delivering just what the audience wanted.

Similarly, Foster the People drew raves as they swung into “Pumped Up Kicks” on the main stage.

As the wind continued to kick up dust and pull the mercury down, the merch tent enjoyed a flock of people seeking extra layers. Several SKUs of hoodies were sold out.

Merch galore

Merch galore

Due to the turbulent winds, several precautionary measures were smartly taken: the large screens on either side of the stages were lowered, as were the speakers from the delay sound towers.

Mogwai performed in the Mojave tent, where many folks found refuge from the wind. The band’s brooding sound was especially compelling with the wind whipping the underlit palm trees at a distance.

The annual art installations were tremendous: Escape Velocity and Reflection Field

The annual art installations were tremendous: Escape Velocity prowling the Reflection Field

Pharrell Williams sported his Dudley DooRight hat, but was victim of the windy conditions that rendered his sound into a soupy mix. He soldiered on, and his fans were pleased. Pharrell gave props to Busta Rhymes, who joined him for a sparring rap sequence. Later, OC’s Gwen Stefani joined for a rendition of “Hollaback Girl.” He acknowledged that the wind and dust was wreaking havoc on his voice. On balance, Pharrell is a stew of early Prince, Nile Rogers with dashes of Gap Band and Buffalo native Rick James. Invariably Pharrell wrapped his set with “Get Lucky” and “Happy.” Minions, fans and any remaining curmudgeons were pleased.

Muse were the fairly lackluster closing act on the main stage Saturday night. Their songs were thick, sludgey and mostly unremarkable.

Here’s to a bright, calm Sunday.

 

SUNDAY

The Coachella app is a robust tool. You can customize your desired schedule from the impossibly full lineup. The map and social media functions are helpful. The trick is keeping your smartphone charged. Savvy sponsors offered tents to chill and recharge both the body and the phone.

Hipster socks: 3 pair for $30

Hipster socks: 3 pair for $30

Sunday was mercifully calmer than the sirocco winds of Saturday.

In fact, threats of wind may be the reason the well-loved billboards of past lineups are missing this year. It is always fun to track over the years a tiny font artist from the bottom of the lineup towards the top. I bet Arcade Fire has made that climb. Beck, on the other hand, slipped one notch from headlining the inaugural Coachella to the second last slot Sunday.

Chance the Rapper blasted through a rowdy mid-afternoon set, featuring a guest appearance from Justin Bieber. The latter no doubt will benefit from the hip profile of Coachella.

Bieber and Chance

Chance and Bieber

In the real world most couples you see are well matched. At Coachella, the majority of gorgeous women are walking around with dorky looking guys. What’s that all about?
Superchunk roared through their late afternoon set, mining much of the same sonic territory as The Replacements. The Gobi tent was thinly attended, which is too bad as the quartet delivered more than a few great tracks from their I Hate Music album.  I am still trying to figure out why Bruce Cockburn name checks this band.
The Naked and Famous had the coveted sunset slot at the main stage, and fully leveraged folks enjoying the cooler temperature and relaxed vibe.

Woodstock remains the granddaddy of music festivals

Woodstock remains the granddaddy of music festivals

A full moon slowly rose as the sun set. The sky was clear, unlike the apocalyptic grey murkiness of the night before.
Calvin Harris blasted his EDM bravado from the main stage, and had the place throbbing. If the delay speakers at a distance from the stage were operative before his set, they were at a very low volume. Harris had the sound system in full effect, such that a multichannel sound mix was audible across a wide swath of the Polo Field.
The seemingly endless string of balloons is more of a Coachella trademark than an art installation, as the latter change annually. The balloons remain mesmerizing, especially when each is lit in the darkness. The FAA limits these strings of balloons to 700 feet in length, but when unfurled they go on forever.

I love holding the cord and feeling the pull of the breeze

I love holding the cord and feeling the pull of the breeze

Beck stands as LA’s prototype indie hipster. He rolled through a tight set, but found it a challenge to keep up the crowd’s energy after Harris.
Disclosure was unexpectedly great; the British duo has an infectious beat built on rhythmic synthesizers.
Coachella veterans Arcade Fire closed out the weekend with a tight but somewhat contrived set.

IMG_20140411_175039_135 (640x360)

It will happen all over again next weekend, and eventually Coachella will sell out all tickets for 2015 before even announcing the lineup.  The festival has come a long way from its money-losing inaugural one day show in 1999.

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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