Notes from the Desert
The day before departure, putting details together before heading east. How interesting that at the other side of the country various old school artists are gathering at the New Orleans Jazz Festival – Lucinda Williams, Van Morrison, Dr. John, T-Bone Burnett, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bonnie Raitt.
Gillian Welch is the only Venn Diagram point of intersection, she is playing BOTH New Orleans and Coachella.
Coachella provides a cool online scheduler, to handle the juggling of bands. But couldn’t they have set up a better format for printing? Only a few folks are going to carry their PDA and attempt to log on and see the schedule in the bright desert light on their tiny screen.
Arrived in time to hear the thrum of Silversun Pickups in the distance, but a long hot process to clear security. The Arctic Monkeys at sunset was glorious; the band was in prime form and took full advantage of the cooling temperature and great crowd vibe. Reminded me of seeing James at dusk at the second (non-violent) Woodstock. The flow of people seemed to be from Jesus to Jarvis. The reunion of the brothers was a feedback-drenched set, as expected. But keyboard hang-ups with Cocker’s band crippled the tight scheduling of the lineup. Björk had not been at Coachella since 2002, and although she was well-received by many she sent some folks home early in 2007.
How many servers have been filled with digital images from the weekend? Everyone with a camera phone was clicking away. The sun and sonic intensity will keep skin and ear docs in business down the years. “Sympathy for the Devil” is not the ideal choice for festival songlist between sets, but there it was.
The Arcade Fire’s string section was sawing away during some ambush marketing with effective white beach balls bouncing around the heads of the crowd. This was the gig that sent the most folks into frenzy.
Tiesto’s pompous opening monologue rails against technology, yet this one man show relies exclusively on technology for his pre-recorded presentation. I admit that I don’t fully appreciate the DJ/rave culture, give me a guitar and three chords any day.
As the soundscapes Tiesto created washed over the pleasant desert midnight air, it was a nice enough experience. Thousands in the scrum were obviously loving it, pulsing and bobbing as one. But for me it could not compete with the urgency of musicians playing their chosen instruments with precision and verve…and there were plenty of these artists during the weekend.
More delays on the outdoor stage, it was Jarvis the night before and The Good, the Bad and the Queen on Saturday. What’s with these clock-challenged second incarnation Brits? But once GB+Q got underway, it was satisfying. Paul Simonon had the lowest slung bass all weekend, having put down his paint brushes for GB+Q. The result was thorax thumping bass lines, the kind heard on the album on which his axe-breaking image is indelibly classic – London Calling.
The big final day. Lots of heat, still a great crowd vibe. Fully 55% are from outside of California, including my mates from Britain. I took their lead for most of the weekend, after all they were probably the only chaps who had already seen most of these semi-unknown bands. In dank pubs, on rainy nights. And now the Klaxons and Kaiser Chiefs and Frames and Fratellis and Cribs are playing before tens of thousands, in the bright desert sun. And they stepped up nicely. Time to seek out their CDs. The highlight of my weekend was the reunited Crowded House. I missed their semi-secret gig the night before, but their sound on the main stage was stronger and thicker than I remembered it being back in the day. The erstwhile Kiwis may have even won over a few contrarian Rage fans. For me, the less said about the Rage reunion the better. Wish I had attended the Stagecoach Festival at the same venue the week after, not to see the headliner country stars, but to see the superb alt-country lineup on the smaller stages. There’s always next year, mebbe I’ll turn it into a week-long excursion in the desert.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a 3-day outdoor music festival take place in Indio in May, California annually with wide rage of music from alternative rock, hip hop, and electronica.
For more information: www.coachella.com