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Monday, April 18, 2011

Coachella 2011 Review - Sunday

Sunday seemed like it would be the weakest day overall, but despite a major hole in the schedule in the mid-afternoon, it turned out to have some of the most amazing performances of the weekend.  One who was chained to some Jabba the Hutt type villain in Mojave tent all day could do worse for an overall day of entertainment.

Like the rest of the festival-goers, we got off to a very late start, due to a two-day Coachella buildup of too much party, dust and snot.  Actually, we were in the best position we'd been in as far as getting out of lot 16, just the third row in.  Believe me, you don't want to be anywhere near the middle of that clusterfuck of a parking lot when the music's over, any night.

The first act I really wanted to see was Delorean in the Gobi tent.  Sadly, they totally trainwrecked a couple of times.  A very strange thing for a live band.  Honestly, I'll give them another chance someday, because I think a lot of their performance problems were because they couldn't hear very well.  I really like their studio stuff, but they were disappointing overall.

CSS was next, and while they played really well, I wasn't happy with their choice of songs at the beginning of the set.  Not sure if they have a new album out, but they tended to play a lot of the songs from their second album, Donkey, that weren't my favorites (Off the Hook, for instance).  But after a few songs I wasn't crazy about, they pulled it out and kicked some ass.  Plus, the lead singer chick spent most of her singing time crowd surfing.  Seriously, I've never seen a lead singer in the crowd that much.

CSS @ Coachella 2011 (photo by M. Conner)
I was really hoping to check out HEALTH next in Mojave, but we had to head out to the car, so we totally missed them.  By the time we made it back in, Nas & Damian Marley were just finishing up on the main stage (thankfully) and we were able to get our usual spot for Death From Above 1979.  The biggest surprise with these guys is that the one dude plays a BASS guitar, not a regular guitar.  The drummer sings most of the time, and they rock.  That's about all you need to know about that show.

Death From Above 1979 @ Coachella 2011 (photo by M. Conner)
For our final trick, we tromped across the grounds to the Mojave tent for what turned out to be the trifecta of live electronic dance music.  First up, Trentmemøller.  I don't know where this guy came from, and I should probably do my research and find out.  This guy started slow and heavy, and progressed into a really crazy dance set.  It looked like he ran all the sound through his sampler, and at times would take the entire feed from the drum kit, and twist it up all crazy.  The crowd started small, but got to pretty much capacity by the end of his set, and he was just having the best time up there.  Another artist I'm going to add to my current favorites, for sure.

Trentemoller @ Coachella 2011 (photo by M. Conner)
While I'd seen Ratatat a few times before, I'd never owned any of their albums before seeing them.  This time around, I'd bought their latest, and I love it.  They did a great selection of LP4, along with some other live favorites I recognized from previous performances at Coachella and when they opened for Daft Punk at the LA Sports Arena.  The crowd was extremely cool, everyone dancing and just getting down to what may very well be the best American live instrumental dance-rock band today.

Sunset @ Coachella 2011
As the crowd thinned out, we realized that Leftfield might have a pretty small audience, and so we made a beeline to the front row.  Met some very cool people, including Matt from Richmond, VA, and Trent and Jennifer from Dallas, TX, who had come all the way to Coachella to see Leftfield.  This was the band that tipped the scales for me in favor of attending this year.  I've been listening to them since 1999 or so, and I never thought there would even be an option to see them live.  So when they were announced on the lineup, it was at first the ONLY reason, and eventually, the main reason for me to attend this year.

There's nothing I can write to describe what it was like, but I'll try.  I'd heard their sets are loud, like ear-splittingly loud.  I never thought that it would literally feel like I was getting punched in the nose by the kick drum, but that's the best explanation I can muster.  I could honestly feel the inside of my nose vibrating, HARD, because of the sound these guys were unloading on us.  They played basically two styles of songs, dub (no, not dubstep you ninny, GOOD MUSIC) and progressive house.  The bass and kick drum on both ripped through us like no other for the weekend.  They brought out an amazingly sexy singer for Original.  The live show far, far, far surpassed my expectations.  I only wish two things, that they would have brought out someone like John Lydon or Afrika Bambaataa for some vocals.  It's a small criticism for a band that succeeded in basically melting my brain into my skull like a soft boiled egg.

Leftfield @ Coachella 2011
Leftfield @ Coachella 2011

Leftfield @ Coachella 2011

Leftfield @ Coachella 2011
After it was over, I felt it would be good to leave on a high note, so we only stayed to see Kanye do Stronger.  It was great, but the partial song we caught before that was one he was singing on, and the singing wasn't great.  I've read that it was a very emotional performance, and I'm curious to see how it's reviewed over the coming weeks.

All in all, once again, I've been renewed and reset for another year.  I'm more serious about starting a religion around it than ever before, and that's largely because I realize that I'm going to go no matter what.  Goldenvoice sucks, but they're going to learn from this one, and hopefully they'll put on a great festival for years to come.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

So what's the takeaway from this year?  We boiled it down to basically two statements about the two things you have to remember about the people who go to Coachella:

1.  Everyone wants to party and have fun.
2.  Everyone who attends Coachella is absolutely, completely, for the whole festival, FUCKED UP.

In spite of or because of these two universal truths, we have our reservations already for 2012.

Conner, you are the man.  Happy five-year, brother... and many, many more.

See you then.

Coachella 2011 Review - Saturday

Each day things start a little later at Coachella.  The stages tend to have less good stuff until later, the parking lot is slower to fill up, and our brains idle at "I really should try to get out of this bed and scrub the filth off of me" for an abnormally long time.  It's almost a nice change from the very few hours of sleep we get before Friday 'cuz we're like little kids at Christmas, and every stage, every band, every set is a present waiting to be unwrapped.

Denny's, parking lot, sunblock, ut oh, where's my hat?  Rookie mistake.  Turned out to be OK though, even though Saturday was billed as the hottest day of the festival.  But as I followed the weather predictions and actuals pretty closely, I'm happy to report that weather forecasters have no fucking clue what they're doing.  (Note to non-goers, the only things worse to forget are: your ticket.wristband, wearing sunblock, sunglasses, and cash.)

Saturday started with EE in the Gobi tent.  These guys are just nuts, man, live drum 'n bass, and really good D&B too.  Plus, they had poplocking and breakdancing crazies on stage with them.  The band members all had painted these thick lines around their arms and legs, all the way up and down them.  They looked like some crazy-ass zebras on ketamine or something.  I'd see them again, if only for the girl with the Speak-N-Spell sampler type thing that she just kept pushing one key on:

E!  E!  E!  E!  E!  E!

'cuz, you know, that's the name of the band.

Next up, The Joy Formidable.  Hallelujah, we discovered a band we think we truly love at Coachella.  I did no research on them at all, but they sounded just amazing.  I guess they're originally from Wales, and you know how much I hate the Welsh (that's a joke, what true American knows anything about Wales?).  Nice, hard-driving guitars and a lead singer who's both beautiful (for a blonde) and powerful.  This band has more hooks than a Uzbekistani fishing boat.  Reminded me a little bit of My Bloody Valentine, but much poppier and radio-friendly.  You know it's good if I like it and it could be played on the radio.  Either that, or I have no idea what's on the radio.

Next, we headed to the main stage to catch bluegrass greats Trampled by Turtles.  As Conner pointed out, this is the kind of thing people from this part of the country do.  They sit around in their living rooms, playing instruments (read: very, very well) and sing.  I wish these guys were sitting in a circle, other than that, I can't think of anything I would have changed about this performance.  It took me halfway through the set to realize they didn't have a drummer.  The music is so rhythmic, so driving and percussive that it honestly doesn't need a drummer.  These guys may have been the most technically gifted group of musicians at the whole festival.  I assume they're playing Stagecoach, and if you're going, check them out.

We hung out in the shade of a palm tree for a while and just watched people come in from the parking lot.  We'd never done that before and it was actually a pretty cool perspective.  The shade kept moving, so we did as well, and when we finally cooled off, we headed back to the main stage for Gogol Bordello.

Gogol Bordello are one of those bands you just have to see to really appreciate or understand.  After about five songs I thought to myself, OK, I think I get it.  But we stayed for the whole thing and only then did I realize... it's a Gypsy band!  What a great concept.  Plus, our friend Insky has followed them around almost obsessively, check his site for some really outstanding pictures of these guys in New York.  They're totally high energy, you can see why these people are all so damn skinny.  Plus, none of them are Americans, so they probably eat less than 5,000 calories a day.  That helps keep ya not fat.

Gogol Bordello @ Coachella 2011
I really wanted to catch Two Door Cinema Club, but they were all the way across the polo field, so I didn't get a chance.  Instead, we decided to hang out and wait for Erykah Badu.  Man, this lady has so much class that it almost makes up for the fact that you're basically wearing sunblock and dirt for 72 hours straight.  You could only tell that she was restraining herself after hearing the last song in her set, which showed off her wonderful falsetto.  I'm still not all that familiar with her work, but I'm going to remedy that shortly.  She was flow personified, like warm milk and honey being poured.  And not just her, the band was off the hook.  I could listen to instrumentals from them, but then you add Erykah's voice, and, well?  Damn.

Erykah Badu and some dickhead with a gray baby on a stick @ Coachella 2011
Sadly, we had to miss Broken Social Scene to head back out to the parking lot.  Again, a nice break in the day, but this was the one day I could have skipped it.  Then again, a day this hot is made for your own personal cooler of water, beer, and ICE.  I took a cube in each hand and let them melt.

Caught about half of Elbow's set in Mojave.  I never realized how much his voice sounds like Peter Gabriel.  I haven't kept up with the band since I first saw them in 2002.  I actually met them at the record store signing and got them to sign my copy of Asleep In the Back.  That's the great thing about having a record store on-site.  You can buy a band's album and they'll sign it.  I really like where they are now, would be willing to get another album of theirs.  They're pretty mellow for Coachella, but live they sort of deliver this driving mellow music that no one else I know does.

By this point, the sun was full-on gone for the rest of the day.  Good thing, because we were off to catch Shpongle in Sahara.  Shpongle was originally billed as "Shpongle Presents the Shpongletron Experience," which I thought sounded pretty cool, but it changed to a DJ set at some point on the poster.  When we got there, the stage was all setup, it's one guy DJing in a gigantic Indian-inspired crazy-ass looking thing... oh hell, just watch the video here.  I can't even explain how crazy this thing looked.  I will say that it had all these videos playing on it, different videos in different sections.  And then, all of a sudden, I notice these two shapes sort of going outside the lines of the structure.  I don't know where they came from, but these two beautiful angels appeared and started dancing seductively, psychedelically.  It took me a minute or two to verify that they were flesh and blood and not just projections.  Trippy as hell.  The music was phenomenal, started a little downtempo and ended up as a great progressive house / progressive trance set that had the tent rocking.  I'm seriously buying all their shit.

We buzzed through the Gobi tent long enough to catch a few songs by Wire.  I was never a huge fan of them back in the day, but I know they're pretty well-respected for something, I guess it's their music, I don't know. They were OK.  They played well but it's nothing I'm into.  I can't say either they nor Big Audio Dynamite were disappointments, because I didn't expect much from either of them.  So we'll call that a wash.  We only stuck around for 3-4 songs of B.A.D.  Let me tell you, I know they were known for pushing boundaries back when they came out, but that shit didn't age well.  Neither did Mick Jones.

For our final trick, we went to the main stage to catch Animal Collective and then Arcade Fire.  I just don't get Animal Collective.  I was talking to Troy from Dallas just before Leftfield Sunday, and he put it that way, and I agreed.  I really wish I did, or I wish some other experimental electronic band had made it into the big time, but Animal Collective is blessed for some reason by Pitchfork, and so that's who the kids have been told to love.  The best thing about them is the quote I heard from someone the next day, "Man, I don't know what those fucking fans are on, I saw a couple of them at that show... their eyes were rolling back in their heads!"  My guess?  It's just good old-fashioned stupidity.

Arcade Fire are one of those bands that never fail to deliver for me.  This was the fourth time I'd seen them (twice at Coachella, once opening for David Byrne at The Hollywood Bowl), and they still brought me to tears.  This year, they had a marquee up in the center of the stage, with the words "Coming Soon - Arcade Fire!" written on it.  The show started with some old school previews of coming attractions related to children in the suburbs going apeshit for whatever reason, and some other trailers from like the 1950s for tract housing.  Then, the screen announced that it was time for the feature presentation, and Arcade Fire took the stage.  They did a great mix of old and new stuff, and the songs on The Suburbs finally worked for me.  I'd only listened to the first half of the album, but I definitely recognized several songs from that album in their set. Woven in with classic songs from Funeral and Neon Bible, they seemed to fit better than inside the context of their latest album.

To finish the main set, Win Butler announced, "Why don't you sing this one for us?" as the band launched into Wake Up, with its anthemic wordless chorus.  As the song changed tempo, about a hundred three-foot diameter beach balls fell, all white, all with LEDs in them.  They were all lit up in a single color at first, but as the crowd batted them around, they changed colors... purple, blue, red... all in time to the music, and all simultaneously.  We batted those suckers around gleefully for the rest of that song, and as they walked off stage, everyone grabbed them and held them over their heads during the encore, which included Tunnels (Neighborhood 1) from Funeral.

I tell you, I didn't think they'd move me as much as they had in previous performances, but when everyone started singing along during Wake Up, I couldn't help myself.  I don't know why it's such an emotional performance, and on some level I don't care.  I'm just happy I haven't become too jaded by all their (well-deserved) publicity and fame.

We passed a long, LONG line of cars on our way back to ours, and made it out of the lot in five minutes.  From where we were standing at Arcade fire (pretty damn close to the front) to our hotel room in an hour flat.  I took the liberty to gloat about it on Twitter as I read all the tweets about poor souls who were in the lot for more than two hours trying to get out.  I regret nothing.  Those beers at the hotel tasted pretty damn good.

Coachella 2011 Review - Friday

Coachella, the ancient Indian word that translates roughly to "thousands of pilled-up teenagers," has come and gone another year.  We were there, as always, despite my rants about the evils of Goldenvoice and the suckiness of the lineup.  At the end of the day, Coachella provided us a path to stumble down.  This year, it  just took a lot more work to find our way.

After the first of the weekend's three barely-adequate Denny's breakfasts, we got into line for the parking lot on Monroe Street.  We were such eager little beavers that we sat on Monroe between Avenue 49 and 50 for over 30 minutes.  We couldn't figure out why the gates weren't open for parking at 10:34 AM when the posted "doors open" time was 11 AM, but oh well.  We were definitely not the only ones who anticipated that wrong.

Buttered ourselves up with SPF 50 and trudged from lot 16 all the way to the venue.  We anticipated lines for security, but again, the gates weren't open.  I think it was about 11:20 before they finally opened the fucking gates, and we started to wonder if the festy had its shit together at all this year.

Per tradition, we headed straight to the Sahara tent.  Alf Alpha was up first, that rare breed of DJ that actually plays a wide selection of stuff.  Some tracks better than others, but he spun some good beats, and Daft Punk's Around the World was a great choice at such an early stage in the festival.

Tokimonsta was up next, I guess she was having technical problems but I didn't hear them.  "Thanks for sticking with me, guys!" she called as the issues were worked out, I guess.  I really liked what she was doing, lots of bass, some melody, and you could tell she was really glad to be there.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears @ Coachella 2011
Next up, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears in Mojave.  All I can say is, thank god for Napster, because without that formerly-nefarious service, I never would have known to catch them.  The Honeybears are one TIGHT outfit, and Black Joe has a stage presence to rival any front person at Coachella, maybe in history (yes, including Prince).

Watching these guys was almost like being in a rock and roll church or something, straight-up ass shakin' dance around and get stupid music.  If they made The Blues Brothers today, Black Joe would be the reverend, and his music would be played in the chase scenes.  And the crowd TOTALLY got it.  Sorry for the spoiler so early, folks, but this set was the runaway highlight of Friday for us.  You couldn't understand a word Black Joe said, but you believed it, believed IN it, because he sold it, and the band closed the deal.  The horn section blew the place up, and every single musician was tight.

Except Black Joe Lewis, but that's the genius of it.  He's got this sloppy charm going on with his guitar playing that he reins in just at the millisecond he needs to get back in synch with the rest of the band.  Catch these guys before they get too big, you won't regret it.  They even did this cover of I Got A Right, an old punk song by Murphy's Law:

Headed over to Outdoor Theatre to catch the last few songs by !!! (say: chk chk chk).  It sucked that there was a conflict with these guys and BJL&TH but we're comfortable we made the right decision.  They closed out their set with one of my favorites, Heart of Hearts from the album Myth Takes.  After the set completed, Nic Offer yelled, "Thank you ladies and gentlemen!  Three-time reigning Coachella champions, chk chk chk!"

Headed over to Gobi to catch The Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and his solo show.  Not great.  It really didn't go anywhere, and the singer's voice was annoying.

Caught the last few songs from Ozomatli, who I'd seen at my third Coachella back in 2002 on Outdoor stage.  They were still great this year, but in 2002, when they climbed into the crowd with their instruments at the end of the set, it felt a lot more personal.  Partially because I was way, way closer to the stage, but also because the crowd at Outdoor isn't divided into four parts the way it is at the main stage.

Warpaint were another highlight from Friday.  An all-girl band (I'm just sayin') that rocks the way they do?  Yeah, gimmie more of that.  And their drummer was just beating those things mercilessly, she was one of the best drummers all weekend.  How often do you say that about a band?  Their original stuff was fantastic, but they did a really haunting cover of the old Motown classic My Guy that really stuck with me.

Warpaint @ Coachella 2011

Headed back to the main stage to catch what we could of the end of Cee Lo Green's set.  Let me tell you, he gave it all he had, and as far as I know the band did too, but you couldn't hear anything but his voice and the drums.  Occasionally you'd hear some bass, but the sound was totally, unforgivably FUCKED UP for that set.  I'm so sorry, Cee Lo, some asshole passed us screaming "Cee Lo is bullshit!"  but he obviously is a turd and doesn't get it.  When Cee Lo was about to leave the stage, he called out, "I know you're pissed!  I'm pissed too!!  Tell 'em!" he encouraged, which resulted in the crowd giving a loud BOO to the soundman.  Then the soundman cut his mic, and he walked off stage, and you could tell this man was about as mad as he gets.  SPOILER ALERT:  The sound was pretty awful on the main stage for several acts.

Tame Impala on the Outdoor stage was next, and they performed very well.  I like them live about as much as I like their album stuff.  OK.  But I'll give them props for playing well.

Next, we took advantage of a recent development at Coachella, INS AND OUTS!!  Man, let me tell you, walking to the car and back was better than some bands I've seen (think Sly Stone), and really provided a nice break in the day.  Highly recommended if you've got a hole in your schedule and know for sure the world won't end if you don't catch any band during that time.

We got back inside in time to catch a good chunk of Interpol, but we couldn't get anywhere near the stage.  We hung out behind the sound booth, and I remember saying out loud that I always forget how much I like them until I see them live.  Solid performance with lots of early material from Turn On the Bright Lights and Antics.

Cut Copy were another highlight of Friday's festival.  The Mojave tent was spilling over it was so full, and it was the loudest tent crowd for the whole weekend.  They did a great smattering of old and new stuff, and I personally like pretty much everything I've ever heard from them, so it was a very solid set from one of the festival's best dance-rock bands.

We caught about three songs from Crystal Castles on the Outdoor stage after that.  I'd heard they sucked in 2009, and figured they had something to prove.  Their new album is fantastic, so I figured it was worth a shot.  Well, it was interesting.  The singer threw herself into the crowd during the second song.  But as I was discussing with Trent from Dallas (whom I met at Leftfield on Sunday), she doesn't really fit the band very well sometimes.  Screaming over electronica is a thing, but it's just not usually a GOOD thing.  Plus the wind may have been messing up the sound as we were pretty far back, so I can't dis 'em too much.

Headed to Sahara to catch Sasha's set.  I'm really not sure what he's calling the stuff he's spinning these days, but I'd call it "progressive techno" or something similar.  Techno is categorized by lots of percussion and absolutely no soul whatsoever, so that's why I'm calling that spade a spade.  It was technically perfect, but hey, anyone with a laptop and Ableton or Traktor or whatever can make that happen these days.  I wish I could say I liked it, but it was a little disappointing.  Sorry Sasha, I love ya for your melodic, psychedelic progressive house (see: Shpongle review on Sunday).

Sasha @ Coachella 2011

Chemical Brothers were the final disappointment of the night.  After waiting at the main stage for over an hour, we decided that 40 minutes late was asking a little too much of the fans.  Plus, there were half a dozen choads with flashlights poking around stage left, going, "Duh, um, uh, duhhhhh," so we figured it was the Coachella Stage Curse and headed out.  Of course ten seconds after we got out of the area proper they started up, but by then I'd made my peace with saying "fuck it," and we headed back to the car.

It took us the longest to get out of the lot Friday, a full 20 minutes, only because Friday's the worst day for everything, pretty much.  Coachella really needs to have a little more long-term memory and own the fact that there have been a full MONTH of days' worth of this festival (plus Stagecoach and now this "Big 4" metal and pukefest they're having coming up), and they just need to remember what they did right on Saturday and Sunday that they didn't on Friday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coachella 2011 - Answer Key, Version 1.0

This is what I'm thinking we'll see. Not too many hard decisions, but those are marked with a /:


!!! / Black Joe Lewis >> Ozomatil / Omar Rodriguez-Lopez >> Cee Lo / Warpaint >> Tame Impala >> Interpol / Cut Copy >> Crystal Castles >> Sasha >> Chemical Brothers


Trampled by Turtles >> Long fucking lunch >> Gogol Bordello >> Two Door Cinema Club / Erykah Badu >> Broken Social Scene >> Bright Eyes / Elbow >> Shpongle >> Wire / B.A.D. / Swell Season >> Paul van Dyk / Animal Collective >> Arcade Fire


Sleep in / smoke in some fucking tent for hours / wander around >> Delorean / Green Velvet >> Thunderball >> CSS >> Long-ass dinner >> Sven Vath >> DFA 1979 / Joy Orbison >> Trentemoller >> Ratatat >> LEFTFIELD >> Kanye West

Subject to change.

Coachella 2011 Schedule is UP!

There's a saying, In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

And in the world of the shitty lineup, you don't have too many complaints about missing one act for another.

Set times

More soon.