Here are my reviews from the Indio Calif. event, held on April 16-18, that originally appeared in the OC Register. Photo by Kelly Swift, courtesy of the Register
Before this year’s edition of Coachella, the last time I’d heard so much talk about volcanoes was the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980. Last week’s Icelandic blast not only caused some acts to cancel their festival appearances due to grounded flights, but it had an impact on many who did perform as well.
The Raveonettes played minus band members left in Scandinavia (no big deal, thanks to their usual minimal approach). More tellingly, the eruption provided behind-the-scenes insight into how all the Coachella pieces fit into place: everything from attire and visuals to the crew and extra musicians are often flown in at the last minute.
Phoenix, for instance, had to go with standard lighting. “We almost didn’t make it here because of the volcano,” vocalist Thomas Mars (pictured, above) told the crowd just after wowing them with “Lisztomania” to open. Their production had to be muted (not a deterrent, since they wound up the sensation of the fest anyway). “Our lighting guy couldn’t make it,” Mars continued, “so we kept it simple. It’s all about the music tonight.”
I had high hopes for my inaugural concert experience with Phoenix and the French electronic rockers’ set at dusk definitely didn’t disappoint. Watching them from behind the soundboard, packed in like sardines among a gargantuan crowd, hardly diminished the experience. The gauzy soundscapes of “Love Like a Sunset Parts I & II” perfectly juxtaposed with the just-darkened night sky only enhanced what was already a significant performance. Phoenix sounded sharp throughout, especially during that pogo-worthy opener (tour drummer Thomas Hedlund was the most animated timekeeper I’d seen all day) as well as the insanely catchy and omnipresent alternative-radio chart-topper “1901.”
English star Little Boots was another one grappling with volcano fallout: with her attire waylaid, she “only had 24 hours to pull together” her still-glitzy cosmic-chic outfit.
Pixieish blonde Victoria Hesketh, who goes by that podiatric professional moniker, was the other new U.K. female electro-pop sensation on Coachella’s bill (La Roux appeared Friday), and she drew a colorful overflow crowd to the Gobi tent. People sported glow necklaces, 3D glasses to make the lasers pop out more, painted faces, animal hats; shirtless gay men danced together like it was the White Party.
Starting with a spooky cabaret dance-styled “Ghosts,” the singer/keyboardist worked the audience like a pro. Tunes from her solid debut Hands were vivacious live, especially the industrial tinged “Meddle” (where Hesketh looped the audience’s chanting and played laser synth) plus the hi-NRG dance-floor fave “Remedy” and the hypnotic “Hearts Collide.”
But Day 3 had other highlights, including the taut indie rock of Austin’s Spoon (pictured, above). The rollicking “The Way We Get By” and slinky “I Turn My Camera On” impressed me early on, but this was one of those hard choices: I had to miss the horn section that appeared later in order to rush over to Phoenix.
MuteMath leader Paul Meany sings “set it on fire” on “The Nerve,” from the group’s latest album Armistice. During an energetic and acrobatic (!) set inside the Mojave tent, the experimental New Orleans alt-rock band’s first appearance at Coachella, MuteMath did just that, playing with fervent intensity. In a live setting, the music’s skittering beats, strident guitars and dense textures really come alive.
The performance was marked by Meany’s soulful vocals and wild moves – at one point, he crowd-surfed, then stood atop his keyboards and did a back-flip off it. The eerie instrumental “Reset” found him playing an electronic guitar that made spacey sounds at the slightest touch. Their robust hit single “Typical” ebbed and flowed perfectly, while “Spotlight” was propelled by an intriguing groove, and a closing percussive jam found everyone banging on something. It culminated with drummer Darren King also crowd-surfing as drums and keyboards were thrown down.
U.K. newcomer Florence & the Machine was a revelation: singer Florence Welch belted out her ultra-dramatic alt-rock tunes (the group’s 2009 debut is aptly titled Lungs) with a confidence you’d normally see from more established vets. Indeed, she brought to mind the power of Siouxsie Sioux and the soulfulness of Alison Moyet.
Overall, I think the increased capacity at Coachella resulted in a less enjoyable experience in 2010, with longer traffic snarls, more food and waste littering the ground than in recent years, and added difficulties getting from the various stages in a timely fashion.
For me, the weekend lineup wasn’t as strong as in the past, and last-minute cancellations due to the Iceland volcano situation (among them Gary Numan, Bad Lieutenant featuring Bernard Sumner of New Order, and the Cribs with Johnny Marr) put a damper on my must-see list. Yet there were still plenty of musical gems to make it worthwhile.