Another hot, dusty and wonderful three days in the desert. Your intrepid reporter compiled some notes along the way, which I have assembled in the cooler climes closer to the Ocean. But first, some random observations:
- Over the three days of the festival, more memory chips were filled with photographs and video clips per acre than anywhere else in the state.
- Smart folks did what they could to keep melanoma at bay, other folks with lobster-colored flesh figured that the lesions won’t show for years.
- Bands on stage at sunset benefit from the most intriguing lighting opportunities.
- Best of many great t-shirts: a guy in a shirt that said “DJÖRK.”
- Best offsite party was c/o our new good friends at 103.1 offering the coldest Beck’s beer in the county; just what the doctor ordered.
Goldfrapp tortured their fans with nearly 10 minutes of taped off kilter bagpipes, Tom Waits-styled Weimar circus music and Russian war anthems before finally taking the stage and shifting into gear. Alison’s semi-ethereal vocals glided over a lush and throbbing beat. A smart bet is the Broccolis signing the band for an upcoming James Bond opening credit sequence.
Vampire Weekend’s ska inflected, Congolese flavored sound is riding the crest of KCRW attention but the band is poised for some critical backlash. A little bit Park Life, a little bit Arctic Monkeys, led by the semi-crazed lead singer Ezra Koening.
Breeders delivered an unpretentious set.
Toward dusk, Canada’s favorite twins (Kim and Kelley Deal) better known as Tegan and Sara offered a confident set of jangly guitars and forceful rhythms.
More than a few folks joined us in a hasty retreat from Raconteurs; Jack White’s side project was a noisy mess.
As to Santogold, call me old school, but it’s just not a concert with a guy, his turntable and a laptop with three chicks singing.
The reformed Verve had guitars roaring in their first US appearance in a decade, and came on like a cross between Radiohead and Oasis. A pile of foot pedals and flanges augmented Nick McCabe’s guitar work with some taped orchestral burnishment. Lead singer Richard Ashcroft’s patented back of the throat singing was lustfully energetic. The set closed with a triumphant “Bittersweet Symphony” paired with the previously unheard “Sit & Wonder.” The new song showed promise (“most bands don’t make new music when they regroup, we do”). This was the best set of the first day.
Jack Johnson toned down the decibels for a pleasant close of the first night. The palm trees were more fitting for the surfing singer than they were for the pasty skinned Brits beforehand or the following day.
Carbon Silicon is Mick Jones’ current effort at another elemental band, post-Clash. Humorously wheezing in the heat, he took the tented stage in the early afternoon attired in his Sunday best: black suit, black Trilby and pink Oxford. His jacket and hat were soon doffed. He was one of only two Hall of Famers on Saturday’s bill, neatly book ending the day with the man from Minnesota. Most of Carbon Silicon’s set was from their prolific output of MP3s, digital albums and old school CDs. Guitarist Tony James (a legend himself, formerly of Generation X) looked a bit more crisp in his tropical attire. Jones rewarded his decades-long fans with a mash up of “Police on My Back” to close the set. When I asked him offstage after the show, Jones confirmed my speculation that it was his first gig in the desert since The Clash played their career apogee at the US Festival in 1983. Jones was amused at the midafternoon offsite party where we met. Much like the pool party scenes from The Entourage the guest list is comprised of beautiful girls and ugly men. Jones, whose teeth have never been on close terms with fluoride, heartily grinned and agreed with my assessment of the party. He then spoke about his early exposure to reggae, when the Clash were working with famed producer Lee Scratch Perry, Perry took his remixes back to Bob Marley who in turn wrote “Punky Reggae Party,” which started life as an obscure B-side and quickly took off with its name checks of The Clash and The Jam. Jones’ story was a great full circle, melding the day’s desert heat with the steamy heat of his reggae influences.
Back on the Polo Field by 5.30, in time to catch Café Tacuba’s fiery Latin stylings. The band’s crisp black and white stage outfits were charming, and the band had the audience enthralled. Grammy awards have not slaked the band’s thirst for authenticity.
Dwight Yoakam is the only artist singing both weekends. “Act Naturally” (will Ringo reprise his version on his summer tour?) and “Streets of Bakersfield” were homage to Yoakam’s hero Buck Owens. “Close Up the Honkytonks” was another favorite, dedicated to all the folks gathering “in greater Indio.”
Hot Chip won my award for most clever name and most overflow attendees, but I was unsure about all the fuss.
Cinematic Orchestra was plagued by audio problems, but the patient crowd was rewarded once the set got underway. The dual keyboard approach was complemented by colorful jazz saxophone work. When the band’s strong female vocalist was offstage, the instrumental passages were reminiscent of Van Morrison’s great “Into the Mystic” and “No Guru” vibe.
Rilo Kiley pulled in a young demographic, due less to the lead duo’s prior lives as child film stars and probably more to appearances of the band’s songs in Dawson’s Creek, The OC, Weeds and Gray’s Anatomy. “The Moneymaker” worked well with its insistent beat (and earlier appearance appropriately on Nip/Tuck). Rilo Kiley remain unobtrusive and likable.
Kraftwerk elicited the least amount of improvisation all weekend; their hugely influential sound remains methodically intact over the years. The aural and visual emphasis on machinery was maximized in their most famous tunes: 1974’s “Autobahn” and “Trans-Europe Express” from a few years later.
Portishead was scheduled to headline on Saturday. Many folks seemed to be in ecstasy during their set, fawning over Beth Gibbons’ every vocal move. For me, their gloominess was in keeping with their protocol of disliking the touring process. Their familiar first hit offered a respite from the angular and jarring sounds of the new album.
Prince came on late, as per his notorious penchant. No doubt a result of clever contractual negotiation, nearly every spotlight and ambient lighting rig switched to purple about ten minutes before he took the stage. The purple glow across the huge field was impressive indeed. He brought on his old buddies from The Time to reprise their hits “The Bird” and “Jungle Love,” followed by Shelia E’s rendition of “The Glamorous Life.” I hope I wasn't the only punter to pick up that Prince’s early set cover of “Soul Sacrifice” was not only a nod to Santana's career-launching rendition at Woodstock four (sic) decades ago but an acknowledgement that Sheila E's late uncle was in Santana's band at around the same time. Prince was certainly the most offbeat choice to headline one of the nights, but he used his first festival appearance in the USA to suitably grand effect.
Gogol Bordello is a raging ragtag of Romanians; they had the main stage rocking as the sun peeked out from behind the pleasant cloud cover. A bit like Manu Chao last year in that there is no language barrier when music hath beauty and power to soothe and stimulate folks.
Metric added to the bevy of Canadian acts on the bill with a late afternoon blast through many of the crowds' favorite tracks. Emily Haines likened her temperamental keyboards to a woman. The staccato beats wore thin, however.
Spiritualized went decidedly down tempo with an all acoustic and all female band comprised of a string quartet and choir. The throbbing bass from the neighboring tents left the duo sandwiched sonically.
It was very hard to leave Spiritualized before they closed their set, but My Morning Jacket beckoned (highlighting the fun and angst of choosing between overlapping sets). MMJ channeled Crazy Horse with some churning guitar fireworks. Jim James’ throat shredding vocals were most effective against tasty synthesizer licks from the era of Who’s Next. The couple new tracks were nowhere as well received as the back catalog. The band scrambled offstage before most folks realized the hypnotic set was over.
Roger Waters closed Coachella with all the aural and visual overload folks have come to expect from one of Pink Floyd’s founders. Flying pigs, multi channel sound, fiery blasts of flames and trippy film montages had the sun-sapped audience enthralled. The centerpiece was the full splendor of Dark Side of the Moon, delivered intact. From a purely mercenary point of view, Roger Waters and David Gilmour collectively make more touring dollars by staying apart, leveraging their apparent acrimony more lucratively than periodic Pink Floyd tours. Indeed, as folks look to future Coachella lineups with the promise of big name reunions, remember this article when Pink Floyd is the semi-shocking headliner down the years.