San Diego Radio Sucks Quite A Bit

Monday, April 20, 2009

Coachella 2009 Review - Friday

Coachella 2009 - Saturday review
Coachella 2009 - Sunday review

It's 3:00 PM on malaise Monday, the day after the last day of The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, 2009. I'm sitting in my place sweating as if I were still on the polo field (apparently we brought the weather home with us), I've just cracked my first beer of the late afternoon, and I'm trying to decide if I'm more content that we made the most of the festival, or more upset that it's going to be 51 weeks until the next one.

These are good problems.

So we got to the event early on Friday, as usual. And, as usual, neither of us got much sleep. Despite destroying a full brick of Tecate and two squeeze limes the night before, miraculously, neither of us has a hangover that a Monster can't cure. We gathered the standard gear for a 12-hour day in the desert, ate a quick meal at the local Denny's, and took Monroe Avenue directly from our new location in Indio to the polo field. On the way, I remember telling Conner, "I can't imagine there's going to be much crossover between Paul McCartney and The Crystal Method," as both of them were scheduled at the same time at opposite ends of the field.

The first person we meet tells us he's hoping Paul McCartney won't play too long, because he and his girlfriend "really want to check out that Crystal Method set, too." Never underestimate the power of 50,000 different people and 100+ bands and DJs.

We get inside, and realize that this may be the most perfect day weather-wise ever. It's supposed to get up to 87 degrees, which is like chilly in Indio, CA. The polo field is fresh, clean, groomed, there are maybe a thousand people there at the time, and we're enjoying the fresh air. The day is ours. This is what we live for.

Switch opened the Sahara tent at noon, but was spinning some extremely hard stuff, so we never actually went into the tent. It was a lot different than the stuff I heard online, so I was a little disappointed.

Next, we checked out a bit of Dear and the Headlights in the Mojave tent. Nothing to write home about. We're not off to a great start here.

Alberta Cross was playing on the Outdoor Theatre, and despite the fact that this band doesn't seem to have a person named Alberta Cross in it, they were a nice surprise. The best way I can describe them is "southern-fried shoegaze." Yeah. I know. I've never heard of that combination either, but it really did work very well, so we stayed for the whole set.

The band, not the man, is Alberta Cross (photo by M. Conner)

We headed over to the Sahara tent to try to catch the last bit of Craze & Klever, but it sounded a lot like Gui Boratto, so either we missed C&K or they didn't show up. Gui Boratto was spinning some very cool progressive house, and we stuck around long enough to hear a song or two before heading out for more water.

Our first trip to the main (Coachella) stage was to see We Are Scientists. I didn't have time to research them before we left, but I'd heard their name many times, and never with the word "sucks" attached to it, so by default we headed over. I can't say I regret it, but I didn't really like them. They just sound too generic. There's nothing that special about them, and I'm not sure how they landed the gig on the big stage, but oh well. I don't wish them any specific harm.

Back to Mojave for Cage the Elephant. They should have been called Kill the Buzz, because as soon as we walked in I realized I was NOT going to like these guys. We stayed long enough to confirm my theory, and after that we had to just sit in the shade for a bit. There was nothing going on we were interested in even remotely until shortly after 4:00. Other than Alberta Cross, this was the highlight so far.

Our second foray to the main stage was for Los Angeles' own The Airborne Toxic Event. I know there's a lot of hype about these guys, and after the first song I could kind of understand why. They had about a four-piece strings section with them, which really sounded nice in the waning heat of the afternoon. After their first song, each song was better than the next, or at least I was liking them less after every song. Not bad, but not fantastic. Just a little too poppy for my tastes.

The Airborne Toxic Event wasn't all that (photo by M. Conner)

Headed over to the Gobi tent for the first time of 2009 to see Los Campesinos!, who were decent. A happy, poppy, yelling type of band with clever lyrics and a xylophone. Sort of reminded me of Belle and Sebastian. They also sounded a little bit like Architecture in Helsinki from last year, but much better. It was a similar formula with a better result.

We caught the first part of The Black Keys' set. A two-piece who started off a little rough for me, but got really good as they went on. The problem was that the first song sounded like they were a two-piece (guitar and drums), but the ones after that were much fuller, so I was more into them.

Mojave was the site for our first really stand-out act of the day, White Lies. These guys sound like some band that recorded an album in the '80s destined to be a mega-hit, but it got shelved for some reason. I'm pretty sure To Lose My Life is their hit single, because when they played it, the whole tent spontaneously erupted, singing the chorus of, "Let's grow old together / And die at the same time!" It was the first moment I felt that family feeling I feel when I'm at Coachella.

White Lies provided a "Coachella moment" (photo by M. Conner)

We caught a little food before heading over to the Outdoor stage for Leonard Cohen. Considering that this guy put out his first album 32 years ago, he sounds fantastic. I recognized There Ain't No Cure for Love and the seminal Everybody Knows, but the things I didn't recognize sounded great as well. The main problem with this set was that it was so quiet, the audience really had to be quiet as well for it to work. Unfortunately, there were two girls behind us who were having a very loud conversation. I tried to tune them out, but after talking through two songs, the one girl decided to call her (probably equally vapid and inconsiderate) friend.

"HEY!!" Do you like LEONARD COHEN?!" she screamed into the phone. I had had enough. If you know me, you know this is a very bad thing. So I turned to her, stuck my face about two inches from hers, looked her in the eyes and explained to her as calmly as possible that other people were trying to watch the show, and would she mind keeping her voice down? (read: "Shut the fuck up! Will you shut the fuck up, please?!"). She gave me the finger as her jaw dropped. Nice reflex, I thought.

"We're sorry," her friend started.

"Thank you, but really, please, just be quiet. I mean, it's for RESPECT," I punctuated.

I should note two things:

First, I whisper-hissed this at them, so as not to add to the annoyance to the rest of the crowd.
Second, they shut the fuck up.

We hated to do it, but we missed the last part of Cohen's set and headed over to the main stage for Morrissey. I've only ever seen Morrissey once before (he was stunning at Cox Arena about 10 years ago), but I have to say that he was the single biggest disappointment of the whole festival this year for me. I was really looking forward to seeing him, and Conner had never seen him before, so it was doubly messed up that he was so fragile up there. After two songs, he complained that the sound was terrible onstage, then a few songs later, he proclaimed, "I can smell burning flesh. And I hope to GOD it's human." Morrissey is a rabid veg, so I can understand his distaste. But come on man, you've done festivals before, suck it up and do your job!

After that, he'd stop in the middle of verses, sometimes recovering, sometimes leaving the stage. Once, after we thought he might have thrown a tantrum big enough to end the set, he came back and cried, "I just can't stand the smell of burning flesh any longer, it's making me physically sick!" I feel for the guy, but come on.

It actually wasn't horrible. Morrissey opened with This Charming Man, also played Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (from The Queen Is Dead), and a few songs from way back in his career, including Seasick, Yet Still Docked. He also did some more recent stuff, including Let Me Kiss You, in which he took off his shirt. He's reportedly going to be 50 on the last day of May, and dude looks good for his age.

We sprinted back to the Outdoor to catch the last half of LA's Silversun Pickups. Man, these guys rocked it out of the park. Heard a few promising ones from their new album Swoon, which just came out last week, as well as Well Thought Out Twinkles and Lazy Eye from the excellent Carnavas album. I wish we could have gotten closer, and I wish we could have seen their whole set, but how were we to know Moz would blow?

After that, we eschewed Sir Paul's set for two bands we'd only heard of recently, both in the Gobi tent. First up, Brooklyn's A Place To Bury Strangers. These guys sound like a cross between Joy Division, Jesus & Mary Chain and Bauhaus, and one guy in the band makes his own effects pedals. Apparently, U2's The Edge ordered a bunch of them, and the band used them all over their latest album. The stage was completely dark for most of the set, save the movies that were projected behind them. I can't remember what the movies were of, but I remember they didn't provide much light. A wonderfully eerie performance.

We stuck around for the last act of the evening, Argentina's Bajofondo. This seven-piece band blew me away. They were exactly the kind of fun, jump around and dance your ass off band you want to see right before you leave a hard, long, sweaty, sticky day in the desert. They started off with a violin solo that was as beautiful as it was technically perfect, and launched into about an hour's worth of indescribably cool shit. As the singer put it, "We've been making this music for a while now, and we're not really in a rush to put a label on it. Is that OK with you?" To which the crowd simply roared. They could have played all night as far as I was concerned. They had a famously beautiful Argentine woman on the right side of the stage with a computer and a little keyboard, and I don't know what she was doing with it, but I could have watched her dance forever. The guitarist has a voice like a Spanish-speaking Tom Waits, and between their DJ, violinist and accordionist (!?!), just had that winning combination that makes you want to jump up and down.

We headed out and were lost in the parking lot enough to hear that Paul McCartney was doing several encores, playing Hey Jude, Sergeant Pepper's (reprise), Get Back and many, many other songs we would have stuck around for if we didn't want to recharge for the rest of the weekend first. It took a little over an hour to get from the field to the hotel, and we managed to stay up until a little after three AM reminiscing about the day, and planning for the rest of the weekend. Despite our tired legs, feet and ears, we knew it would all be over too soon.

Coachella 2009 - Saturday review
Coachella 2009 - Sunday review

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