San Diego Radio Sucks Quite A Bit

Monday, April 19, 2010

Coachella 2010 Review - Friday

Coachella 2010 Review - Saturday
Coachella 2010 Review - Sunday

Coachella. It's a festival of sights, sounds, colors, and unfortunately, smells. But just the sound of the name of the nation's biggest and best-loved three-day music festival makes a true music addict pause. It evokes images of the lush green of the polo field and the powder blue sky. It makes one remember the black dust inhaled for three solid days, which then blows from the nose for three more. But of course, Coachella is much more than the sum of its parts, it is what stops me from going completely psycho all the time. In short, it is my raison d'être. Well, that and beer.

This year was a strange one in many different ways. The most obvious from the start was the fact that everything seemed to flow backwards, temporally, as far as the talent. Friday was the best day as far as we were concerned, from top to bottom. We arrived in our usual geeked-out way, early as we could possibly stand it, after a hangover helper breakfast from the Indio Denny’s. I’d listened to literally EVERY band on the roster for Friday, so I felt pretty informed. Sadly, I knew that we’d be missing some great bands, but part of Coachella is about choices, and some of them are pretty tough.

We opted to skip Kate Miller-Heidke in Gobi, because she sounded too much like last year’s highlight Amanda Palmer. We took our usual siesta in the back of the Sahara tent, enjoying the freshest grass we knew we’d be laying on all weekend. After verifying that early Outdoor Theatre participant Alana Grace was “totally uninspired,” as my accomplice Conner state, we hung around for Deer Tick. Deer Tick have this punk alt-country thing going for them that reminds me a bit of Uncle Tupelo. If you don’t know UT, check them out, they’re a precursor to Wilco but more shit-kickin’). Singer John McCauley came out in a dress for some reason, probably more because of the heat than the shock value. I don’t think it affected his performance one way or the other.

Next up, we headed to the Mojave to check out As Tall As Lions. ATAL had a fantastic crowd of supporters, cheering and screaming for every song. The singer started a little shaky, but somehow the melody/harmony vocals were fantastic even at the outset. They pulled things together very quickly, and very nicely, treating us to about 45 mintutes of what I’d classify as shoegazey love songs.

We stuck around for the next act in Mojave, Yeasayer, and so did pretty much everybody else. It’s always great to see true crossover in this way. Too often, you’ll be in a packed situation, watching a band and you can tell that 80% of the crowd are just killing time waiting to jockey for position when the next band comes on, but this wasn’t the case. Yeasayer are really hard to define. Their first song had some messed up, pitch-shifted vocals that made the singer sound like his voice was being played back in slow motion. If you can picture it, it sounded something like Butthole Surfers meets Dead Can Dance (Dead Butthole Dance, anyone?) and I was kind of wondering if I’d researched the right band. However, the rest of the set was what I’d expected: Music with an almost-too positive vibe, bouncy, danceable, poppy and fun.

Here’s where the first pangs of regret come in for missing a band. Ra Ra Riot were up next on the same stage, but we decided to be responsible and eat. We found a truck hosted by Cowboys and Turbans from Silverlake in LA, and ordered two chicken tikka masala burritos. After about 15 minutes and screaming at the idiotic food runner who had no clue what “first in, first out” meant (check his credit score, it’s lower than his IQ, which is saying a lot), we dove into a delicious meal. I have to say, it’s fusion done right, and it was the perfect food for that place and time.

It was time for our first trip to the main (Coachella) stage to see ska legends The Specials. I’d like to say these guys haven’t lost a thing over the years, but I’m not familiar enough with them to make that call. One of them called to the crowd, “You people are beautiful! (cheers from the crowd) Well, most of you. Some of you are fookin’ ugly!” While we both agreed we would have liked to have seen their entire set, we had to leave early to see the artist I was most looking forward to for the entire event, Gil Scott-Heron.

We arrived at the Gobi tent for GSH in just enough time to get nice and close to the stage. The man who some call the godfather of rap music (this is the man who wrote The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) walked out on stage with a microphone and addressed the crowd, “For those of you who bet I wouldn’t show up, you lose!” This prompted a huge cheer from the crowd. He made small talk with the audience for another few minutes before sitting down at a Rhodes piano and mixing his smooth-as-honey vocals with the sweet, sweet sound of that electric piano. You could tell the man had aged from the way he looked, but his music is, to me, timeless in only the way that something that speaks directly to your soul can be.

The last solo song he did before he brought out a sax and flute player, a pianist and a bongo player, was We Almost Lost Detroit, a song that’s very close to my heart and always brings tears to my eyes about a near nuclear disaster about 30 miles from downtown. The four of them jammed for another 20 minutes or so, finishing up with The Bottle, one of his best-known songs. It was a great chorus he repeated, “Gotta celebrate life!” And we all sang along with our bodies if not with our voices.

We scrambled over to Sahara to check out as much as we could of Pretty Lights. I discovered them just before the festival, and I’m so glad I did, because I’ve never seen anyone rock the Sahara tent with straight downtempo before. This music takes all the things I love about hip-hop (the beat, the deep bass, the groove) and minimizes the stuff I hate about it (all vocal samples are short, catchy and usually chopped up or scratched in). Pretty Lights just absolutely killed it in my book, with a fantastic light show as a wiling partner.

I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing, but we knew we had to catch the last half of Grizzly Bear’s set. I had my reservations about whether their music would translate well to a festival situation. I’ve only heard their album Yellow House, which is mostly extremely mellow but always very articulate and precise. I think I only recognized two songs in their set that night, but I’ll be seeing Grizzly Bear every chance I get from now on. How stupid we were to let the tickets sell out for their recent show at The Belly Up in Solana Beach without getting ours. GB are famous for performing different versions of their songs live than in the studio, and with the closer, On A Neck, On A Spit, I could really appreciate how they’d taken a great recorded song and really brought it to life on stage. Their three- (four?-) part harmonies were chilling.

Next, we headed over to catch the rest of Echo & the Bunnymen’s set. I’d heard Ian’s voice was shot, and yeah, it’s pretty shot. Add that to the fact that the sound was at a hush, and it made for a very disappointing set. They did finish up with The Killing Moon and Lips Like Sugar, each of which Ian McCulloch said was one of the two best songs ever written. While it doesn’t sound like he’s phoning it in, his voice sounds like he’s calling from a cell phone that’s been through a goddamn washing machine.

We jetted over to the main stage again to catch the last half of LCD Soundsystem’s set. While I heard somebody on Sunday saying “I just don’t think they’re a very good live band,” I was one of the 10,000+ Coachellans who would disagree. This was a HUGE crowd for a band that plays essentially dance music, and I was amazed not only that everyone in front of me was dancing, but that everyone BEHIND me was dancing as well. For being in the center of a mammoth crowd, that’s saying something.

We first heard the end of Losing My Edge, where James Murphy adlibbed a bit, asking the crowd, “What is so hard about DJing that you can’t use RECORDS!?” alluding to the trend towards an all-digital environment in the booth. Again, to my surprise, the crowd absolutely went apeshit over this question, screaming and screaming for more. They did a few new ones (which were decent), All My Friends and then Yeah (Pretentious Version), which really got the crowd bouncing around, as they said it would be their last song. Somehow, they bargained for “just another six minutes, please,” as Murphy asked over and over, and finished off with New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, the last track on Sound of Silver. At one point, James told the crowd, “We’re happy to be the, well not the steak in the meal of Coachella, Jay-Z’s the steak. Not even the chicken,” he continued, saying that supergroup Them Crooked Vultures were like “the chicken” in “the Coachella meal. We’ve been over there before,” he said, pointing to the Sahara tent, where all the dance and DJ acts are normally sequestered, “we’ve been the side dish, but we’re happy to be the fish in the meal this time.”

Next, we headed back to Gobi to catch what we could of Brazilian singer Céu. She sounds a little like if Bebel Gilberto listened to people like me and started doing more stuff with a DJ. I had a great conversation with a guy from Fresno, who was there for his first Coachella. He showed me some pictures he’d taken of her at her CD signing earlier that day. “She’s hot,” he said. From the pictures, I couldn’t tell, but when she took that stage, oh man. The guy from Fresno turned to me after the first song and shouted, “Dude, I’m like in LOVE right now!” To which I replied, “You and everyone else in this tent!”

We decided that our last act of the night would be John Lydon’s Public Image Limited. I never saw (or even really truly loved) The Sex Pistols, but the man’s a legend, and we agreed that we’d go ahead and check them out. Lydon made no bones about the fact he wasn’t happy with the volume level of the stage, and he wasn’t at all concerned about being louder than Jay-Z. “Turn it up! Turn it up!” he shouted at the Outdoor Theatre’s soundman, and turn it up he did. It was a blistering set, filled largely with stuff I didn’t recognize. He did play Warrior from their album 9, as well as Bags from the album named either Compact Disk, Cassette or Album, depending on which medium you bought. The band actually went past their appointed stop time, and played pretty much right up until the 1:00 a.m. curfew, which was new for the year.

Again, regrets. PiL was great, don’t get me wrong, but I would have loved to have seen Fever Ray. I overheard a lot of conversation about how great it was going to be, and even more about how amazing it was. Also, I would have loved to have checked out DEADMAU5’s set. I hear he’d been planning it for like a year, and had a stage built by the same people who built Daft Punk’s set (this latter tidbit was in the LA Times, so I assume it’s true). Little Dragon were on my must-see list as well, but we couldn’t make it. I would have liked to have seen La Roux as well, until I encountered her fans pushing their way up to the front as we were leaving Gil Scott-Heron, heading for the back. Hell, I would have seen Jay-Z if there had been nothing else going on, but as I said earlier, Coachella is about choices, some harder than others.

Coachella 2010 Review - Saturday
Coachella 2010 Review - Sunday

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