Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coachella 2009: About the artists

A truncated version of these bios appears at Go to the site for info on all the acts appearing at the festival.

Friday, April 17

When Coachella organizers persuaded the former Beatle to make his first American festival appearance ever (!) in Indio, purists griped about the credibility factor. Although Sir Paul, 66, is the oldest one on the bill, anyone who has caught his top-notch live band this decade (especially guitarist Rusty Anderson) can attest to their sharp renditions of Fab Four and Wings tunes. Electric Arguments, McCartney’s freewheeling third collaboration with Youth as The Fireman, trades previous instrumental ambient dance textures for weird psych-folk, blues, experimental and Middle Eastern-tinged songs containing actual vocals. With a little luck, Indio concertgoers will hear the eclectic Fireman material and marvel how the legendary Liverpudlian can still hit some of those high notes 40 years later.

Q: Besides Morrissey, which acts at the festival also did the first one in 1999? (See answer below) Years of Refusal finds Mr. Misery, longtime axe man Boz Boorer and company rocking with more urgency than ever - especially “Something is Squeezing My Skull” and “Black Cloud,” where 1960s guitar god Jeff Beck flashes that old brilliance. There are even some mariachi flourishes, which should please the large Latino fan base. Not long ago, Moz reportedly turned down millions to reform the Smiths in Indio. Old school enthusiasts can usually take solace in hearing a few classics from that revered ‘80s group in concert. Depending on which way the wind blows, he could rip off a shirt or two and press flesh down front. Don’t count on getting onstage for a hug though. [A: Chemical Brothers, Perry Farrell]

During the slinky “Ulysses,” Alex Kapranos sings “come on, let’s get high.” Weed smoke will probably be wafting around Empire Polo Field come nightfall, but who needs illicit substances when these dashing Scotsmen are around to provide a euphoric high? Tonight, a sorta-concept album about a debauched night out and the morning after, emphasizes synths and danceable beats (epic “Lucid Dreams” uses an old skeleton for percussion). Kapranos’ lyrics are saucy as ever. They should mesh fine live with adrenaline-fueled alternative radio staples like “Take Me Out,” “This Fire,” “Do You Want To.”

He’s been tagged “the new Bob Dylan” and with good reason: armed with just an acoustic guitar, tremulous voice and unique confessional songs, Oberst can be as powerful in his solo Bright Eyes guise as any rock band (search YouTube for the ’05 Jay Leno performance of “When the President Talks to God” or check out the 2006 Coachella DVD for perfect examples). Highly prolific, it can be a chore keeping up with all the Nebraska singer/songwriter’s side projects and collaborations. Latest effort Conor Oberst is a relaxed batch of supremely satisfying alt-country numbers recorded in Mexico (download the frantic folk number, “I Don’t Want to Die in the Hospital”). Another new album is due next month.

Hard times are prime source material for country tunes. When you’ve actually lived through them, the music is even more effective. Ryan Bingham - who fills the Coachella crossover slot previously held by Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam – was raised in small Texas towns on the Mexico border. He spent several years on the bull riding rodeo circuit and broke multiple bones. On Mescalito, Bingham sings about pawnshops, truck stops, putting up with a drunken father and working for peanuts in a gravelly voice that’s a cross between Mellencamp and Earle. Feisty slide-guitar stomper “Bread and Water,” swampy “Sunshine” and “Boracho Station” (partially sung in Spanish) equal one potent Americana brew.

The seeds of We Are Scientists were sown at Pomona College. Vocalist Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain became friends there, started the band in the Bay Area and settled in Brooklyn. Humor is intrinsic to everything they do (insane interviews, the joke-filled website, sardonic onstage banter). With Love and Squalor’s frantic alt-rock tunes about drunken revelry and insecurities spawned three top 40 singles and gold sales in England. The duo adds more Britpop and new wave touches on equally enticing sophomore effort Brain Thrust Mastery.

White Lies’ intense tunes tend to provoke extreme reactions among fans. Some burst into tears and compare the band’s gigs to a religious experience. No surprise there: dark song topics on the excellent To Lose My Life run the gamut from doomed lovers, murder and funeral breakdowns to hostage dramas and Electro-Shock Therapy. The fresh scrubbed West London trio ties everything together with buoyant New Romantic and angular post-punk sounds.

A tall twentysomething singer with a mod haircut and supreme swagger fronts a Manchester, U.K. five-piece and slags off fellow up-and-comers by boasting they’re the best band in the world. We’re not talking about Liam Gallagher of Oasis circa 1994, but Liam Fray of The Courteeners. Fortunately, he puts his money where his mouth is on spirited debut St. Jude (the cool cover sports Fray’s painting of actress Audrey Hepburn). Chiming guitars and sing along choruses recall Britpop’s finest (the Kinks, the Jam, the Smiths). Bono and Morrissey have given their stamp of approval. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Saturday, April 18

Not just another pretty boy musician from across the pond, this young raspy-voiced vocalist has impressive chops. Influenced by Otis Redding, Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder, his brand of blue-eyed soul bears traces of Motown and ‘70s singer/songwriter fare (the good stuff). Undiscovered was a U.K. No. 1 and earned a Brit Award. Last year’s stellar Songs for You, Truths for Me made a bigger impact on these shores, thanks to the sultry retro swing of “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” and “Broken Strings,” a hit duet with Nelly Furtado.

A gorgeous moonlit ocean image on the cover of 2007’s Cease to Begin fit the cascading indie rock/Americana sounds inside perfectly. Small travel art prints replaced band photos and lyrics, providing a certain mystique. Ben Bridwell might look like a lumberjack (long scraggly hair and beard; flannel shirts), but the dude has a marvelous crystalline voice bathed in echo effects. The Seattle-bred group backs him up with dreamy shoegazer-styled soundscapes and concise Neil Young & Crazy Horse guitar excursions. It all adds up to a cosmic experience tailor made for the desert.

Musician/activist/filmmaker Michael Franti and Spearhead have spread unity through song since the mid-1990s (you might recall his brief stint in political outfit Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy). The African-American vocalist’s socially conscious brand of hip-hop, soul and rock is always thought-provoking and inspirational. A 2004 busking journey through war zones in Iraq, Palestine and Israel led to the documentary “I Know I’m Not Alone” and acclaimed album Yell Fire! Last year’s All Rebel Rockers delves into positive reggae and dancehall vibes with renowned producers Sly & Robbie. Expand your mind and set your soul free with the guy Serj from System of a Down calls a “modern minstrel weaving stories of war and occupation into his heart of peace, giving us hope, not just tears.”

Recently, I watched an episode from Season 2 of “The O.C” where The Killers perform at Bait Shop. Maybe it was poor editing, but Brandon Flowers was tentative and dull back in 2004. What a difference a few years makes. The singer now reigns as one of modern rock’s most charismatic showmen in concert. While the panoramic heartland rock on Sam’s Town didn’t dazzle as much as the glitzy new wave of Hot Fuss, the Vegas contingent is back on track with Day & Age. Have to admit though: hip Hunter S. Thompson reference or not, the “are we human or are we dancer” lyric in “Human” is really lame.

Sunday, April 19

One sure sign you’ve made the big time: a major rap star samples your song and talks it up in interviews. Such was the case with Peter Bjorn and John, who formed a decade ago, but didn’t find international success until the lo-fi indie rock of 2006CD Writer’s Block finally connected on a wide scale. The insanely catchy “Young Folks” (unofficially known as “that whistling song”) was ubiquitous on TV and movie soundtracks. Then Kanye West used the track on his Can’t Tell Me Nothing mix tape. For Living Thing, the Stockholm trio divvied up lead vocal duties and downplayed guitars in favor of South American and African rhythms, a children’s choir and sporting chants.

Paul Weller doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When asked whether the Jam would reform, he once said “my family would have to be fucking hopeless and starving in the gutter before I’d consider doing that.” The successful trio was a seminal part of the ‘70s U.K. punk movement with working class songs and Mod anthems (“Eton Rifles,” “Going Underground.” “Start,” “Town Called Malice”) that inspired countless musicians (Oasis, Blur, Artic Monkeys). An Eighties detour into jazz/pop with Style Council led to Weller’s lone American hit (“My Ever Changing Moods”). Weller’s cool factor increased in the following decades with a steady, solid run of albums characterized by soulful rock, psychedelia and prog/folk. 22 Dreams, a sprawling and ambitious 70-minute opus, finds him zig zagging between Krautrock, Philly soul, spoken word, piano ballads and more. It begs to be heard on old-fashioned headphones.

Robert Smith turns 50 next week and looks ridiculous sporting the same teased rat’s nest hairdo, smeared red lipstick and black frock onstage. Regardless, the Cure have treated SoCal to plenty of memorable concerts since the early ‘80s. Regular Coachella attendees still rave about the British goth rockers’ transcendent 2004 closing night set. I recall the mesmerizing 1997 KROQ Weenie Roast gig at Irvine Meadows, when they played nearly three hours and ended at 2 a.m. Smith’s wailing is creepy as ever and the underrated guitarist frequently astonishes with psychedelic runs. Porl Thompson’s return helped make 2008’s 4:13 Dream the strongest Cure album since Wild Mood Swings. Set lists usually span the group’s entire 30-year catalog, so this could be another one for the books.

Talk about wearing influences on your tattooed sleeve. This New Jersey punk band doesn’t hide the fact it worships The Boss. Scrappy front man Brian Fallon says “when I was a little kid listening to Springsteen, I remember thinking these aren’t songs, these are gigantic rides you went on and if I could even attempt to do that it would be excellent.” Rousing album The ’59 Sound succeeds with earnest tracks about facing adulthood and ample references to cars, girls, the open road, etc. Miles Davis and Tom Petty are name checked; astute listeners might spot nods to Counting Crows and Bob Seger.


Nicky May said...

you missed Perry Farrell!!

newwavegeo said...

Yeah, I only did a few blurbs of the artists. Other writers at IE Weekly did the rest.