Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Coachella Festival 2009 review - Day 1

The tenth Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival concluded over the weekend, bringing 130 acts to Empire Polo Field in Indio. I managed to see partial or complete sets by 33 of them. As always, the genres were diverse (rock, pop, alternative, indie rock, electronica, dance, hip-hop and beyond) and the weather was hot, though not as sweltering as previous years.

Despite drawing 160,000 people - the second largest audience ever – it wasn’t difficult to navigate between the five stages like in 2007 when Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bjork headlined.

Day 1 headliner Paul McCartney seemed to lure more families and a grayer breed of concertgoer, who were basically well-behaved. Surprisingly, black-clad Goths didn’t turn out en masse to witness Day 3 headliner The Cure like a few years back with Bauhaus.

A new filtered water program, where the purchase of a 22 oz. reusable plastic water squeeze bottle for $10 allowed free cold water refills, was designed to reduce disposable water bottle clutter. It appeared to be a success. Everywhere I looked, people had one. The downside? Only three refill locations. And fewer people took part in the 10 empties for 1 new water bottle exchange recycling effort.

Electronica fans had plenty of opportunities to get their groove on. The Crystal Method, Felix da Housecat, The Chemical Brothers, Groove Armada, Christopher Lawrence, Etienne de Crecy and others held court on various stages while The Do Lab (the demented gypsy water dancers who present a show every few hours) and massive Dome near the main entrance hosted more DJs.


Highly touted new Britpop band The Courteeners (pictured, above) opened the main Coachella Stage and drew a respectable crowd of early arrivals with their sublime, jangly and thoroughly enjoyable tunes, namely “That Kiss” and “Not 19 Forever.”

“Black is not the color to wear in this weather,” noted White Lies front man Harry McVeigh when the packed Mojave tent transformed into a sauna. Yet the young post-punk trio was anything but monochromatic during a thrilling afternoon set culled from debut album “To Lose My Life.” McVeigh gestured dramatically and turned in some robust vocals (ably assisted by bassist/songwriter Charles Cave). Expect big things in the future from this KROQ/106.7 FM fave.

Franz Ferdinand is usually a bundle of energy live. So when guitarist Nick McCarthy used crutches to hobble on stage, I thought their dusk set on the Coachella Stage might be subdued. Wiry singer Alex Kopranos more than made up for his comrade’s inactivity by pogoing and standing atop the drums at various points. Spirited versions of “Dark of the Matinee,” “Do You Want To,” “Take Me Out” and “Ulysses” stood out.

A sailor flexing his muscles provided the large backdrop to Morrissey’s show, which was equally strong, despite undetectable problems with his stage monitors. When the aroma from a nearby BBQ stand wafted in his direction, he responded as one would expect from a staunch vegetarian (remember “Meat is Murder”?): “I smell the stench of rotting flesh and I hope it’s human.” Knowing Moz’s history of barbed comments, I laughed. Others apparently took offense. Still, the band tore into “Irish Blood, English Heart,” “First of the Gang to Die” and new songs from “Years of Refusal” with a vengeance (“When Last I Spoke to Carol,” “Black Cloud”). Added bonus: a healthy dose of Smiths numbers (“Ask,” “This Charming Man,” “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others,” “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “How Soon is Now”) for just under an hour-long set. He rarely does that many in his longer headlining gigs. “Soon” had an extra pizzazz not seen on the last few tours. Eventually, Moz ripped off a shirt and tried to throw it beyond the massive barrier, but it fell in the photo pit. He might have been moody and sick (the following night in Oakland was cancelled), but it didn't derail things at all.

Where to begin with Paul McCartney? Many people said his performance was worth the hefty three-day ticket price and if I had paid it, I’d have to agree. Let’s look at the numbers: 35 songs. 21 from the Beatles (8 came in the three encores alone). Nearly 2:45 stage time. 50 minutes past the midnight curfew (the city of Indio is supposed to levy a $1,000/minute fine; we’ll see if that happens). Macca was in fine voice throughout and was like the energizer bunny. Opening with Wings’ “Jet” and closing with the Beatles’ “The End,” the man just never tired out. It was all effortless. Amazing, considering he’s 66. It helps to have a crackin’ band like guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Wix, all of whom contributed backing vocals.

Macca dedicated Wings’ “My Love” to late wife Linda (Friday was the 11th anniversary of her death), “Here Today” to John Lennon and “Something” to George Harrison. As on previous tours, he played “Something” on ukulele, which Harrison had taught him all those years ago. Harrison’s widow Olivia was in the audience (her son Dhani debuted his iffy band The New No. 2 in the Mojave Tent on Saturday). A couple selections from 2008's Fireman album worked well live, especially “Sing the Changes.” Elsewhere, “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Only Mama Knows” and “Let Me Roll It” rocked; “The Long and Winding Road,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Let it Be” provided just the right amount of drama. “Live and Let Die” was bolstered by pyrotechnics and main set closer/sing along “Hey Jude” sent chills down the spine.

Honorable mention: We Are Scientists, Dear and the Headlights

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