Florence + the Machine
My Coachella bio blurbs originally ran last week in Inland Empire Weekly. Although the event has passed, you can still learn about some of the talent below.
FRIDAY, APRIL 16
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN
Singer Ian McCulloch - once dubbed “Mac the Mouth” by British music scribes due to his constant slagging of such 1980s contemporaries as Bono and Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr – continues to craft crystalline, psychedelic pop tinged tunes alongside inventive guitarist Will Sergeant. Last year’s stellar The Fountain and orchestral performances of 1984 opus Ocean Rain proved the old spark still remains three decades on.
You’ve probably heard the choral sighs of “Two Weeks” in a heavily played TV commercial for Volkswagen (it debuted during the Super Bowl), yet there’s more to these Radiohead and Paul Simon (!)-approved Brooklynites than meets the eye. 2009’s critically acclaimed Veckatimest is a sophisticated, pastoral wonder filled with chamber pop, jazz and folk shadings that unveils more nuances after repeated listens.
Harking back to the Eighties sound and detached stylistic aesthetic of Eurythmics and Heaven 17, La Roux, the British synthpop duo led by young androgynous lady Elly Jackson, has caused quite a commotion across the pond. Their self-titled debut, with sharp songs about sex and betrayal, is tailor made for the dance floor (“Bulletproof” was big in clubs here). Should go down a storm in one of the late evening tent slots.
PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED
“I sound like a bag of kittens thrown down the staircase.” That’s how the always self-deprecating John Lydon described one of PiL’s recent UK reunion shows (the first in over 15 years). While the sometimes Sex Pistol’s caterwaul is an acquired taste, there’s no denying the early noise and later dance rock music’s impact on the future Alternative Nation. The current lineup includes guitarist Lu Edmunds (The Damned, Mekons) and drummer Bruce Smith (the Slits); both were with the group for late ‘80s efforts Happy? and 9.
SHE & HIM
After alt-folkster M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel first announced their collaboration, skepticism abounded. The earthy retro charm of 2008’s Volume One proved the naysayers wrong and showed the Hollywood starlet had impressive singer/songwriter chops. The equally charming Volume Two continues in mine a 1960s Brill Building pop/cuuntrypolitan vein.
Although the original incarnation was short-lived, this influential English ska-revival band racked up half a dozen UK top 10 singles (“Ghost Town,” “Gangsters”) during the late 1970s/early ‘80s 2-Tone movement. When ska went mainstream in the ‘90s, a few members briefly reformed and played the Vans Warped Tour. This reunion is the first to feature vocalist Terry Hall. Unfortunately, keyboardist/creative mastermind Jerry Dammers is not along for the ride.
Early on, the fresh scrubbed collegiate rockers dubbed their music Upper West Side Soweto and proceeded to craft an eclectic mélange of Afro-pop, calypso, surf rock and ska tunes on an eponymous ’08 release. Peter Gabriel was name checked on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”; the ex-Genesis singer ended up covering the tune with Hot Chip. Earlier this year, Contra - with a more expansive sound, literate wordplay, plus Toots & the Maytals and M.I.A. samples, debuted at No. 1.
SATURDAY, APRIL 17
Break out the flower pot hats and matching hazmat suits: the theory of de-evolution has become a reality and the wacky men of Devo have returned to drill their herky-jerky new wave tunes into your mind again. Back in the early 1980s, “Girl U Want,” “Whip It,” “Freedom of Choice” and others were staples of KROQ’s playlist. Flash forward to the present and Devo is set to release its first studio album since 1990, hot on the heels of a new catalog reissue campaign.
FAITH NO MORE
Some people say the band’s rap/rock/funk hybrid paved the way for nu-metal, but that would belittle Faith No More’s unique sound, which encompassed everything from prog-rock and jazz to film soundtracks and sarcastic takes on adult contemporary. Following the bombastic left-field pop hit “Epic” in 1990 and alt-rock chart topper “Midlife Crisis,” elastic singer Mike Patton’s onstage antics increasingly verged on the bizarre until the group’s dissolution in ’98.
From Matt Bellamy’s high falsetto and pitch-shifting guitar solos to the prog rock, classical and metal flourishes on the albums (last year’s The Resistance features the three-part, 13-minute “Exogenesis: Symphony”), everything is huge for this English trio. Past Coachella headliners have brought their big touring productions out to the desert. Let’s hope Muse – whose current rock spectacle encompasses tall translucent platforms resembling hi-rise buildings – does the same.
The Danish duo uses the visceral noise pop of Jesus & Mary Chain and Ramones as benchmarks, but their reverb heavy gems with multi-tracked vocals also bring to mind Sixties girl groups (The Ronettes, Shangri-Las). In and Out of Control is darker than usual, containing songs about rape and suicide.
SUNDAY, APRIL 18
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Lungs is an appropriate album title since flame-haired frontwoman Florence Welch really belts her intense, dramatic vocals out (imagine a young Kate Bush or Tori Amos). The toast of Great Britain , where she snagged a BRIT Award, No. 1 chart placings and hit collaboration with rapper Dizzee Rascal, Florence says she writes her best songs while drunk (that would explain the song about poking someone’s eye out).
In 2007, the well-dressed Crescent City post-rockers became a minor YouTube/MTV sensation, thanks to the hit song and video for “Typical,” which was actually performed backwards. Dense textures and skittering beats abound on current effort Armistice, which contains “Spotlight,” first heard on the Twilight soundtrack. Live, vocalist Paul Meany plays like a man possessed.
During their 1990s heyday, Pavement was the ultimate slacker indie rock band. Onstage, the musicians were often lackadaisical (an infamous performance at the inaugural Coachella in ’99 was basically instrumental). Intriguingly fractured, yet seminal CDs Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain were marked by Stephen Malkmus’ monotone vocals, cryptic lyrics and a distorted guitar sound inspired by The Fall and Velvet Underground. Now they’re back together after a 10-year absence and a new retrospective, Quarantine the Past.
Traversing through various indie rock terrain for 15 years, Spoon has outlasted most of their ‘90s contemporaries. Unlike previous efforts, where the Austin band incorporated melodic pop and soul elements into their tense sound, Transference utilizes a more stripped down approach. Singer Britt Daniel told NPR that if self producing “meant it was somewhat amateurish, then that was fine. I wanted to live with those bits of humanity.” At Coachella, you’re bound to recognize songs heard in multiple flicks, TV shows and commercials.