Thursday, May 13, 2004

Coachella -- all play and no work

105 degrees. 3 hours spent in the parking lot. Disgusting $8 cheeseburgers that wouldn't be serve in prison. 2 big stages. 3 tents. 50,000 concert goers, many decked out in passe trucker hats, ironic t-shirts, or ever trendy 80s ruffle skirts, sauntering across a grassy polo field at any given moment.

Tents, palm trees, and a shit load of humanoids. Posted by Hello

I suffered in Coachella, but that suffering was redeemed. Redeemed first by The Pixies, who shook our spines with a tight, demonic set culled largely from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. When the surf riff of "Here Comes Your Man" comes on, everyone was buddy in Frank Black's hands. Only disconcerting thing is to discover your snarling hero now looks like a dead ringer for Brando in Apocalypse Now. Nor have the years been kind to Joey Santiago and Kim Deal. The Pixies emerged a little later than Sonic Youth, but looking at 'em you'd think they were contemporaries of Steely Dan. That little reality check aside, it's a night for the ages. (Hardcore Pixieheads can check out their set list and download MP3s from the show here.)

Other bands I checked out on Saturday included, in order:

* Kinky: Latino party band delivered a good time, as promised.

* stellastar*: some powerful drumming mixed with what seemed like a pedestrian new wave sound, but hard to tell when you're dangerously short on oxygen. Bailed after three songs.

* Q and Not U: Subject of much hipster buzz after their set, this post-punk trio had some catchy tunes but too lyrically bombastic for my taste.

* Beck: Braving Q but Not U to worm our way into the small "Gobi" tent for Beck, I couldn't leave even though I almost died of dehydration. Beck was making a special guest appearance and graced the stoked crowd with a gorgeous acoustic set (his attempt at innovation -- plugging a gameboy into his synthesizer -- flopped due to equipment failure). Mostly covers and stuff from Sea Change ("Lost Cause", "Guess I'm Doing Fine"), along with the song I most wanted to hear, "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes" from Eternal Sunshine.

* Death Cab for Cutie: Melodic emo on a sunny day with palm trees as a backdrop. In truth, Death Cab was not especially memorable, but it's a nice break from the claustrophobia induced by fans in the Beck tent.

* Savath & Savales: brainchild of Prefuse 73's Scott Herren, this ethereal downtempo band, a cross between early Stereolab and Thievery Corporation, is fronted by some hot Euros and made for nice lazy afternoon listening.

* Stereolab: one of my favorite live acts, I was only able to catch the tail end of their set due to conflict with the Pixies. They didn't disappoint.

* Radiohead: Thom Yorke recovered from his cold just in time to deliver another abstractly beautiful set that used the same visual effects as their Hail to the Thief tour last year. They even played "Creep".

Biggest regret of the festival: skipping out on Kraftwerk (see below). Ended up sitting in the parking lot for three hours instead. Jo can attest to my constant bemoaning of this, eh, Jo?

My big regret -- robots at Kraftwerk! Posted by Hello


* The Thrills: Their Beach Boys-inflected album was one of my favorites last year, but they're merely passable live, their lulling guitar licks more suited for an afternoon drive.

* 2 Many DJs: Barely sampled this mash-up act. Not impressed by the two minutes I heard.

* Sage Francis: Jokey hip-hop fusion with a political twist. The East Coast rapper tried to stir shit by knocking down West Coast hip hop, and that didn't sit well with the 120 lb white emo boys populating the tent. Those white boys would've thrown down had they remembered to bring hairnets to keep that well-coiffed hair in place.

* Belle & Sebastian: the soothing pastoral sound makes for a fine backdrop, but aside from the absurdist portraitures I liked in If You're Feeling Sinister..., too precious for me. Bailed after 45 minutes to check out...

* Dizzee Rascal: who appeared to have delivered an urgent, rousing set, but the echo in the tent made the young cockney-accented rapper's stacatto street poetry completely unintelligible. Rolled with the rhythmic energy of the set, but I had to mentally fill in the words from my memory of Boy in Da Corner.

* Air: you wouldn't think they'd work live, but they thrash up and stretch out that dreamy atomospheric sound we've grown to love. They jam. Mostly played songs from Talkie Walkie, and ended with "Sexy Boy" from Moon Safari. Too bad no "Playground Love", my favorite Air song.

* Prefuse 73: my favorite set from Sunday came from the aforementioned Scott Herren, who cut together some dark, sharp breakbeats with unexpected melodies and innovative hip-hop samples. Cool lighting, too. Can't wait to see him at a club.

* Flaming Lips: All stunts and gimmicks. Wayne Coyne stuck himself in a bubble and rolled into the crowd. When he emerged, he sang four songs, one of which, "Fight Test", is one of my all-time favorites. Pity the rest of the time Coyne overloaded on his "New Sincerity" shtick, including delivering a rambling anti-Shrub screed that made even this vociferous Bush-hater impatient. A disappointment.

* Mogwai/Danger Mouse: Short on time, so I didn't see that much of either act. Mogwai's dense tapestry of sound was impressive in a cerebral kind of way. Heard some interesting mash up of hip hop and Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" coming out of the Danger Mouse tent. Wish I had more time to see them.

* The Cure: In between years is more like it. Sadly, their time has passed, but they just keep playing and playing and playing. Sure, you get that nostalgic kick when one of their signature hits like "Just Like Heaven" or "Why Can't I Be You?" kicks in. When "In Between Days" and "Love Cats" (a wonderful surprise) came on, all those long-repressed memories of high school came rushing back. But their mopey alterna-goth sound had become enervating, especially coming after innovative, progressive acts like Prefuse and Air. Robert Smith spent a bulk of his set playing tedious guitar solos on their new songs, all of which were instantly forgettable. I had more fun singing "Love Song" in Koreatown.

* Le Tigre: Now that's more like it. Innovative visuals (the best videos of the entire festival) matched with witty absurdist anthems and hilarious choreography. Wished they ran longer than The Cure rather than the other way around.

Also wished I saw Broken Social Scene (I dig their album), Muse (who apparently were terrific), !!!, Kool Keith, MC Doom, Elefant, Basement Jaxx, and more of Danger Mouse and Mogwai. But conflicts, late starts, and nature calls got in the way.

Next year's wish list: OutKast headliner; Replacements reunion; Stephen Malkmus; The Delgados; New Order.

My bud Andy booked an luxurious pad in Palm Springs, about 20 minutes away, decked with a heated pool and hot tub, a widescreen TV, and stocked with food and beer.
Having 20 or so of my closest pals that enhanced the experience immeasurably. Even the irrepressible Sally Yeh made it across the country. If only my law school pals weren't all in the East Coast, Alaska, or campaigning their asses off, it could've been one big party, or rather one bigger party.