Coachella - Another Perspective

By theajaysharma

It's been some time since the amazing Coachella Festival and I'm sure most of you who didn't go are sick of hearing about it. But one of our members, David Virr, sent in a review offering another perspective on the festival.  Read on for David's review...

This year's Coachella Festival was the third annual spring concert that is fashioned after the world-famous UK summer festivals of Reading, Glastonbury, T in the Park and more. The lineup this year is easily the most ambitious, and as musically diverse as previous years. With ticket prices totaling 0 for the weekend, I left San Francisco wondering a) would it be worth the price of tickets, gas, food, and lodging? and b) where the hell was i going to sleep?

The answer to question b was a motor lodge an hour away from the festival. I felt lucky because everything I checked along the way had been packed with NASCAR fans, and motels closer to the venue were overbooked and charging double the normal rate. Having never been to Southern California, I was surprised at the scenic beauty of the area near the venue - huge red-brown mountains, groves of palm trees, and bigger groves of giant power-generating windmills. After 8 hours of driving, I found myself on the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway (aka I-10 East), bound for Indio, CA. Never been to Indio? That's ok, it's a pretty little desert town whose major cash crop is grass (not the stuff in your pipe, the stuff on your lawn). It is also home to the Empire Polo Grounds, a polo/equestrial complex that was kind enough to sweep away the horse plop and make room for thousands of cars, and even more people.

Security is very tight at the entrance - even backpacks are prohibited, though I see people removing one strap and passing them off as courier bags (I didn't know Jansport made courier bags). I wonder if the security is to keep joints and beers out, or to keep those pesky indie-terrorists away. Thanks to this super-tight security, I miss Cornershop and catch only the last song of Pete Yorn. Is it too late for "For Nancy"? It already is...

I staked out a good spot to watch The Charlatans, who were due on in about 10 minutes. The Charlies come out a few minutes late, with Timmy wearing a jean jacket and sporting a George Michael haircut. The set is remarkably similar to the one they've played on their recent tour - 4 tracks from "Wonderland", plus "One To Another", "The Only One I Know", "Weirdo", "North Country Boy", and the closer "Spronston Green". The only surprise was "Tellin Stories", and despite their predictability, the band played a tight and entertaining set. One cool thing about festivals like this is that people who would never see Charlatans in a club are checking them out and enjoying them, which is what these shows are all about. Even Jack Osbourne was into them, as he stood several rows away listening to another LA resident with a British accent.

As the sun set, it was over to the main stage to see Siouxie and the Banshees, who are in the middle of a hugely successful US tour despite having no label. It didn't stop Morrissey, and it hasn't stopped Siouxie either. Playing a set of mostly early hits, the band attracted a huge crowd, and the lighting system kicked in as the sun set over the mountains in the background. Toward the end of Siouxie's set, it was off to the concession stand, where I wolfed down some overpriced, but decent-tasting food.

At most concerts I've been to, the food is downright awful, in quality, price and selection. But at Coachella, there's a row of booths selling everything from Teriyaki bowls to quesadillas to vegan specialties. And you can wash all this down with a Coke, smoothie, or a bottle of water.

Caught a few minutes of Queens of the Stone Age, whom I'd seen open for the Foo Fighters once before. Although I like the songs of theirs I've heard, they failed to inspire me with their set of mostly new-and-unreleased songs. They weren't bad or anything, just outmatched in a venue that was playing host to some of my all-time and current favorite bands.

After "dinner", it was over to the Mojave tent, where a DJ named Z-Trip was onstage and getting the crowd excited with his genre-bending set that combined such things as "Billie Jean" with Rage's "Testify". I had never heard of Z-Trip before wandering in, but his stage prescene suggests you'll hear more of him soon. At one point he put on a remix of Beck's "Where It's At", but then pulled the song off and grabbed the mike. After saying that he was the DJ and he could pull a song off if he wanted (DJ Vinny take note), he said "let's just bring Beck out here and he'll do it himself". Suddenly the crowd went wild as Beck too the stage for a surprise appearance. He and Z-Trip performed "Where It's At" together before Z yielded the stage to Beck and his mohawk-wearing bassist. The two played a handful of acoustic songs before bidding the delighted crowd farewell.

The Vines were up after Z-Trip, and I stuck around in front and watched the band set up. Now, I had never heard the Vines before this and only heard the hype of people who compared them as anything from The Hives to Nirvana. As Capitol Records' new darlings, the band took the stage looking as if they had drank their entire Capitol advance earlier that night. The lead singer nearly fell over several times, but they immediately tore into some fast, gritty rock & roll. In mid-set the slowed things down with a cover of Outkast's "Mrs. Jackson", and followed that with their new single before taking off. On first listen, The Vines appear to be yet another garage-ish band to make waves, although they have a distinct punk edge as well. This bombastic trio has infinite potential, as they possess the possibility of mass appeal.

Back to the mainstage, where Bjork is at the tail end of her set. With a huge ensemble of musicians onstage and manic light show, she had command of the enormous crowd as she began "Human Behaviour" with the bright full moon rising opposite the stage. At it needed was a moth and someone in a bear costume (though a hairy hippie would have done). After singing her final song in a giant leaf, everyone began jockeying for a spot for Chemical Brothers.

My spot, of course, was a few feet from Volkswagen-sized speakers, which innocently sputtered out background music while the Chem Bros gear was set up. But as soon as the opening "Music: Response" began, it was obvious that these speakers were designed to reach much further distances than my proximate ears. After a slight retreat, I was read to enjoy the duo's medley of dance classics. If you've never seen the Chemical Brothers before, they basically play the hits, but blend them together and slowly travel from one song to the next so that the music never stops during the entire set. The newer songs ("Star Guitar", "Come With Us", "It Began in Afrika" were most impressive, and sounded great when mixed in with favorites like "Out of Control" and "Block Rockin Beats". Since Oasis and Charlatans were in town, I was hoping for a rare live performance of "Setting Sun" or "Life is Sweet", but no dice.

After the Chems were done, it was time to walk the 3 football fields back to the car to the sounds of Cake finishing their set in the background. The walk was long enough to hear nearly every Cake song I knew. Once in the car, it took 45 minutes to get about 45 feet, and another 30 to get back on the highway. I did find a cool radio station while waiting though - 98.3 - that played 2 Chemical Brothers songs and Depeche Mode back to back.

The next day was bright and sunny, and despite what you've heard about deserts, it wasn't too hot (80 perhaps, with a light breeze). Sunday Brunch Indio Style was a roadside In-N-Out Burger, which for non-Californians is essentially a fast-food burger joint, but somehow the merry teen-agers who make the burgers manage to make beef, cheese, and bun taste almost magical. It was even good enough for a group of Smiths fans with a big "Meat is Murder" sticker on their car. It appeared to be Britpop fan headquarters today, with Oasis, Blur, Charlatans, and other stickers common on cars.

By arriving early, I got a much better parking spot this time, and parked near several other New Englanders (with Maine, Mass, and Vermont plates) - I wonder if they drove all that way just for the show. I mean, despite my NH plates, I only drove from Northern CA. Got a better parking spot for the car and then got a spot at the end of a very long security line. It took a full hour to get in, which caused me to miss Elbow and Saves the Day.

I decided to check out Blonde Redhead on the second stage, since I heard that Idlewild's Roddy Woomble loves this band. While I wasn't really into them, they were an interesting lo-fi indie combo that reminded me a little of Sonic Youth. After enjoying a Dove bar, it was back to the mainstage to wait for the Strokes.

Hip-hop act Mos Def were finishing their set, and while this isn't a band I'd normally check out, they had an interesting blend of styles and were talented musicians to boot. Since much of hip-hop's criticism stems from a lack of live instruments, bands like this give us hope that the future of rap might not be all Ja Rule and Eminem.

But since I was there to see the Strokes, I weaved my way through the crowd and got a decent spot about 10 rows back. As the Heinekens were brought out onstage, the Strokes followed a few minutes later to a crowd eager to pogo. And pogo they did, through much of the set. They played almost the entire album, plus a handful of new songs that included the live staple "Meet Me in the Bathroom". The Strokes are officially rock stars, and the people singing along were a very different bunch from the mostly mod/indie crowd I saw them play to at TT's a year ago. The people around me acted surprised when they began "New York City Cops", and a crowd surfer or two passed overhead before one finally kicked me in mine. The final crowd surfer was Julian, who ventured into the crowd with his microphone. While he disappeared a few times he kept up with the vocals. It this it? Yes, this is it.

Back to the second stage I went, to wait for Belle & Sebastian to come out. While I'm waiting, I hear something that's not the overdue Foo at the other stage - it sounds like Tenacious D, and later I find that it is in fact Jack Black. They play a few songs before yielding to Dave Grohl & co.

After a long set-up (well, they have something like 9 members), Belle & Sebastian emerged bright and cheery. Stuart is almost as talkative onstage as fellow Scot Fran Healy - must be something in the Irn Bru. They did reveal that their new album is to be called "Storytelling" as the played a cute little song with a flamenco beat. Finishing with a bombastic (by B&S standards) "Legal Man", the band finished a well-rounded set that included tracks from all of their albums (including the forthcoming LP) and several singles. As the sun set beyond the mountains in the distance and rows of palm trees behind the stage, Stuart noted that it was the first time the band had ever played outside, but that they'll do it again real soon.

Finishing up on the mainstage were the Foo Fighters, of which I'm a big fan, but having seen them several times before I opted for the rarer occurrence of a Belle & Sebastian set. The Foo were in top form, closing out with rackous versions of "Monkey Wrench" and "Everlong". Cameron Diaz was enjoying them, as she stood about ten feet away. But her bodyguards whisked her away before I had a chance to say anything stupid (like, when I was 16 I saw you shoot a straight-to-video film in Maine).

When I saw the Prodigy in 1997, I wasn't sure if I'd ever see them again. After "The Fat of the Land" they remained silent for years, with the exception of their 1999 remix album and a Maxim solo cd that Maxim's mom probably didn't even buy. But here it is, 2002, and the Prodigy are back in full form. They look and act as manic as they were in the mid-90s, and had the crowd rocking with "Their Laws", "Breathe" and "Smack My Bitch Up". The set included a few new ones, which are in the same techno-punk style of the last album. Of course, it wouldn't be a Prodigy show without a Prodigy Pit (a bizarre hybrid of moshing and dancing that occurs only at Prodigy shows), and such a pit appeared for "Poison", "Firestarter", and "Mindfields". Don't know what Liam Howlett's been doing for the past 5 years, but I'm glad he ain't doing it anymore.

What one band could make me drive a total of 20 hours, spend a week's pay, and miss 2 days work? Sorry, B&S, the answer is Oasis. Having met many of the UK's biggest bands through the radio show, I would still carry on like an idiot if I ever came face to face with Oasis. Holy shit, fucking Oasis. And I'm in the third row. So what if the guy next to me feels like he swallowed a convection oven, fucking Oasis. Britpop's bona-fide arena rockstars take forever to set up before "Fucking in the Bushes" blares out of the speakers. The band comes out, and the brothers Gallagher are as much of a spectacle in the flesh as they are on TV. Liam mutters something into the mike, and the band kicks into "Go Let It Out", which they've been opening with for 2 years. They follow it with "Columbia" and "Acquiesce", both of which have the crowd singing along like a bunch of drunken pub-goers. One would not want to be drunk up here, because getting out to use the restroom means giving up your front and center spot, and missing "Hindu Times". Today's set is a combination of new songs and old classics, with nothing from "Be Here Now" and only "Go Let it Out" from "Giants". Of the 3 new songs they play, "Hung in a Bad Place" is my favorite. The third is a song with Noel vocals and an opening sample of Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing". But that's ok by me, as they go into "Supersonic", "She's Electric" (!!!), "Cigarettes & Alcohol", "Rock & Roll Star", and "Don't Look Back in Anger". Hell, this is like seeing the band in 1996. They even closed out the show with "I Am the Walrus" (I thought they stopped playing that years ago). While they didn't take me up on my request of "Slide Away", it was an amazing set that left me fully satisfied, and justified my huge investment of time and money to see this show. One lucky fan left with Liam's tambourine, though from the fight over it, it could now be in the hands of several. Fucking Oasis.

Getting out as a bit easier tonight, which is a good thing since it's 11pm, I've got no money for a hotel, and SF is a good 8 hours away. As I drove away from LA up into the mountains on I-5, I was treated with a dose of KROQ's legendary "Rodney on the Roq" show, which was an inspiration for British Accents though I had never actually heard Rodney live. Doves, Idlewild, Pulp, Vines - he had it all, as well as a correspondent in the UK who suggested we all check out The Music and Electric Soft Parade. Done and Done.

I saw less than half of the performers. One could write an even bigger review about the bands I missed - Beta Band, Cornershop, Elbow, BT, Sasha & Digweed, Saves the Day, Kosheen, International Noise Conspiracy - and lots more. I'm not sure if this is what the UK festivals are like because I've never been to one, but it sure was a great time, and the lineup couldn't have gotten much better. Now if we can get someone to do this on the east coast - have it in the fall in western Mass when all the foliage is happening, or something. Fucking Oasis.

All images taken by Aleks Garibay/Undertheskin