How does one begin to even speak about Coachella? There is so much to take in, to weigh, to consider, and ultimately it is an event that cannot be replicated on a page, an experience that cannot possibly be expressed in words.
What can I tell you that might possibly be interesting? They rearranged the entrance this year. It seemed to be a more efficient setup, except that security was having people take off their shoes and meticulously going through every pouch of every bag. Coachella: now more like going to the airport than you ever thought or wanted it to be.
Another thing that always strikes me every year I go to the Festival: the area it occupies is one enormous grass polo field. Not desert sand or asphalt, but living grass (which goes completely brown by the third day, usually). I don’t think you understand quite how large this field is; I’m pretty sure it’s visible from space. But I digress into exaggeration.
Before I start talking about the music, the particular bands I did happen to catch, I need to let you know what bands I didn’t catch (to save you time, dear reader, and possibly some frustration). Last year, when I wrote up these little articles, someone called me a “narrow-minded music-goer.” Narrow-minded? No. Tendentious and impatient? Yes, yes, absolutely.
As a result of these qualities of mine, I did not see Jack Johnson. I saw him on the Coachella main stage in 2002, and I just could not stand it and didn’t want to subject myself to that again (I was in no mood to test my development as a person by seeing if I would now appreciate it).
As for Serj Tankian? I walked over to check him out, heard twenty seconds of his music, pivoted, and walked immediately away. I just can’t seem to enjoy anything the man has done since the second System of a Down album. It’s just something about the grain of his voice, as (if I remember correctly) Roland Barthes would put it.
The Verve? Like many of the bands performing this year, I was only familiar with one of their songs. I listened to the beginning of their set, and I honestly enjoyed it. Honestly! The Verve is damn good British Pop-Rock from an era of damn good British Pop-Rock. I caught maybe three of their songs before I left; for some reason I was just in no mood.
Now. How about some bands I did see.
I started off the day by going to see Battles perform. I was introduced to this band by a video done by webcomics artist Meredith Gran (www.octopuspie.com) and was absolutely blown away. I’ve heard them described as “Instrumental Math Rock” and “Circus Music on Crack,” but I have to say: their live show did not disappoint.
The two guitarists/keyboardists literally battle, the drummer and bassist falling in between them, and go back and forth with melodies and sounds. Also: they play their guitars and keyboards at the same time. This in itself is amazing. While the mixing for the performance was a little off (certain melodies and riffs seemed muffled and buried by everything else), the show was great.
After that I trekked over to the main stage to see Slightly Stoopid. Now, you’re going to hate me, but I’m no fan of reggae. Bob Marley does nothing for me. A bunch of guys from San Diego with horns and saxophones does even less. I hear that later they played a cover of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings,” which I wish I had stayed for (but didn’t…but didn’t…). I’m not saying it was bad, just not my style and certainly not conducive to the mood I was in. That mood being: sober.
I then saw part of Busy P’s DJ set. It was conventional and uninspiring, definitely nothing compared to some of the later players. He did, however, throw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” into the mix. This redeemed him somewhat.
Architecture in Helsinki is an Australian throwback to 1980’s synth-pop. Also: it is phenomenally good. Their music reminded me of everything from the Cure to Madness to David Byrne. They also dedicated a song to Prince, saying that most of the audience members were probably conceived to a Prince song (not me, I was conceived to Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time”).
I have, written down in my notes, the words “Bad Ass” next to their name, and I think this sums it up pretty well. I heard Blonde Redhead for the first time at Coachella and was blown away; Architecture in Helsinki did precisely the same thing for me this year.
I then saw the Breeders. They got off to a rocky start, but eventually became a lot of fun to watch and listen to. Honestly (there’s a lot of honesty going on here), while I am a fan of the Pixies, I have never before today heard a Breeders song.
I could definitely hear a distinct correlation between The Breeders’ music and early Pixies, when Kim Deal (so I hear) had more influence in the writing. Still, it looked like the band members were having a blast onstage, laughing and joking about. It was very fun to watch.
After being called back to the Sahara tent to meet up with my friends so we could go get food, I caught a little bit of Adam Freeland’s DJ set. When I walked in, he was playing a song…well, here are the lyrics if I remember correctly: “O. B. A. M. A. What’s that spell? You are correct!”
Serj Tankian does his thing. Photo by Chance Knecht. ©M&C
All the while, the presidential candidate’s posters and slogans were projected on the screen behind the DJ. One of my friends complained that he didn’t like being beaten over the head with politics when he’s trying to enjoy himself. As an Obamaniac myself, I didn’t mind so much. I also hear that Adam Freeland mixed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (yes, the second person to do so, I suppose) with Justice’s “Stress,” which I am also very sorry I missed, because that sounds amazing.
I arrived late for Tegan and Sara, but they stopped in the middle of a song so (I think) Sara could retune her guitar. During this time she told a lovely story about how she had whooping cough the last time she performed at Coachella and how she coughed so much she would vomit.
Barring the technical difficulties, however, they sounded lovely. Though, admittedly, I am biased (dude, have you seen them? They’re adorable!). The crowd went crazy when they played “Walking with a Ghost,” and they ended on a song I had never heard before but was absolutely fantastic.
In the rush before I ran over to see Aphex Twin, I caught the beginning of Goldfrapp. What I did see was very slow and reserved and didn’t really conform to the energy of the crowd or the evening (but maybe I’m projecting here).
Like John Cusack says (and I paraphrase) at the end of High Fidelity, “You have to start off strong, then kick it up a notch without blowing your top, and then take it down a bit.” Alison Goldfrapp, however, came out with a fantastic costume and a lot of stage presence. In different circumstances I would have loved to see this show.
I ran quickly back to the main stage to catch a little bit of the Raconteurs and, I have to say, I was much more impressed by what I saw of their live show than the few studio recordings I’ve heard.
As my friend said as his acid was just beginning to kick in, “Jack White fucking rocks.” They didn’t play anything I know off hand, but the band played very cohesively and with a lot of energy. I almost didn’t want to leave, but I had other priorities.
Goldfrapp performs. Photo by Chance Knecht. ©M&C
Okay. Aphex Twin. Most people say that the turning point for this year’s Coachella lineup was the addition of Prince. For me, it was Richard D. James. I’ve been wondering for weeks now how he would take the frenetic chaos of his music and replicate it onstage. Would he appear, as I hoped, walled in by keyboards (a la Liam Howlett) with a giant picture of him grinning projected behind him, interspersing his more outrageous songs (like “Omgyjya-Switch7”) with some of his spectacular, minimalist piano pieces?
My expectations were far too high. Tonight, Aphex Twin played a DJ set. A very disappointing DJ set. While sitting down the entire time. It started off terribly, but began to get better as the show progressed. Someone near me very eloquently stated that it was unfortunate that the best part about the show was the people on stage dressed in dog and panda and gorilla costumes.
About half-way through, he began to mix in some music (and, I believe, some of his own music) with the jarring and arrhythmic beats one expects from Aphex Twin. The show ended spectacularly with a song that sounded like a mix between a broken jack hammer and the audio track of a snuff film (“that’s the Aphex Twin I know!” I said, finally enjoying myself), but was still disappointed.
Pendulum rocks it. Photo by Chance Knecht. ©M&C
Pendulum came next and, like Architecture in Helsinki earlier today, I had never heard them before and was absolutely blown away by their performance. I thought it was great up to a point, and then they used a sample of Prodigy’s “Voodoo People” in one of their songs, at which time I said, “This isn’t great, this is fucking amazing!”
Seriously, Pendulum is a brilliant blend of rock and different styles of electro. They even used the Hoover sound from a Roland Alpha Juno-2 in some of their songs! Brilliance! It was danceable, but still enjoyable while sitting down and relaxing.
Before I saw Fatboy Slim, I caught a little bit of Spankrock and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. Sharon Jones was funky and fun, and I was blown away by a number of people swing-dancing in the back of the tent. Spankrock was good, but I was distracted by this absolutely stunning woman that came up to me and asked if we had met earlier that day and if I was from Minnesota. Confused, I replied no and she walked away.
“Wait!” I called, to no avail, “I can be from Minnesota if you want me to be!” A friend of mine later echoed Ghostbusters when he said to me, “Sean. When someone asks you if you’re from Minnesota, you say: Yes!”
If I was disappointed by Aphex Twin because of my high expectations, then I was very pleasantly surprised by Fatboy Slim due to my fairly low expectations. This man did everything I think I DJ should do in a set (because, you know, my opinion actually matters): he mixed his own songs in unique ways with other music; played easily recognizable, but slightly altered, pop songs (like House of Pain’s “Jump Around”); had a great light show going on behind him; and kept the energy high and people dancing for the entire set.
When he played “Love Island,” I don’t think there was a stationary person in the Sahara tent. Any DJ that opens a set with Gene Wilder singing “Pure Imagination” from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory deserves the top-billed position.
Fatboy Slim mixing it up. Photo by Chance Knecht. ©M&C
Okay, that was Friday. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. See you tomorrow night.
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