Thursday, April 22, 2010

Coachella 2010: the wrap up

The following is a wrap up review I did for a college publication.

Coachella is always a hot ticket, but with the festival selling out before proceedings even got underway, some desperate music fans tried anything to gain admittance. Outside the gates last Friday, one teenage guy was spotted begging local police officers – who he discovered are allowed to purchase a few ducats – for help.

Capacity was expanded to 75,000 people daily, making this year’s event near Palm Springs the largest ever (not to mention more difficult to navigate). Jay-Z, Muse and Gorillaz headlined, alongside more than a hundred others on five stages.

The Icelandic volcano eruption wreaked havoc on European air travel and prompted half a dozen acts to cancel (including Gary Numan, The Cribs with Johnny Marr and a highly anticipated SoCal debut of Bad Lieutenant featuring New Order’s Bernard Sumner).

Having attended nine previous Coachellas, I’ve discovered the best way to experience it is to see as much music as possible – not just the big names. Here’s an overview.


L.A.-based Iglu & Hartly packed the moderate sized Gobi tent with some party minded, danceable rap-rock that grew tiresome quickly. “Believe” and the laid back, Sugar Ray-styled “Whatever We Like” from the band’s 2008 debut And Then Boom, fared best.

Later, in the same tent, Portland’s Hockey immediately got people’s feet moving with several engaging alt-pop songs off 2009’s Mind Chaos. Singer/guitarist Ben Grubin told the crowd he was glad to be back in the area because “we went to college down the road from here,” referring to the University of Redlands. An inflatable bird was hoisted nearby the front of the stage – a perfect symbol for high flying songs like the feisty rhythms in “Song Away” (produced by ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison on the album), sophisticated “Learn to Lose” and joyous shuffle paced new tune “Rebels Marry Young.”

She & Him took to the Outdoor Theatre stage in late afternoon, a time when inebriation starts to affect attention spans. Despite sound problems and a few intimate retro folk/pop numbers getting lost in the vast expanse, the duo kept the audience’s attention. Augmented by a pair of female backing singers, Zooey Deschanel’s honeyed vocals were marvelous on “I Was Made for You” and “Over It Over Again.” Raspy throated partner M. Ward took the lead on a surprisingly rocking cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.

Many times, reformed bands sound ragged in concert. Not The Specials, back together for a 30th Anniversary tour with most of the original lineup. Taking the main Coachella stage right around dusk, the influential 2Tone/ska group sounded sharp. Neville Staple worked up a sweat running across the stage and showed off his still potent toasting skills during “Stereotype.” Singing partner in crime Terry Hall was in fine form, especially on “Niteclub,” “Rat Race,” “Concrete Jungle” and “Rudy, A Message to You” (with assistance from the entire band).


It was quite a contrast to go from New Jersey rockers Steel Train and their rambunctious (if not lyrically correct) take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” to John Waters doing spoken word. The cult filmmaker was hilarious, riffing in his usual semi-offensive way about jails, gays, Grace Jones and what he’d be like as a magazine or bar owner.

Shooter Jennings and his new band Hierophant just released Black Ribbons. The uneven prog rock concept album features spoken interludes by Stephen King in character as free form radio DJ Will O’ the Wisp. In the desert, Jennings concentrated on the spacey new material, much of which has a 1970s hard rock vibe (“Don’t Feed the Animals”) and recalls Lenny Kravitz. He spent the majority of time playing a Moog synthesizer and jamming (“Lights in the Sky”). After awhile, it became snooze worthy.

The Temper Trap turned in a mesmerizing set on the Outdoor Theatre stage. Fans waved large Australian flags as the Melbourne band channeled the sonic scope of Arcade Fire and singer Dougie Mandagi wrapped his heavenly falsetto around the songs (imagine Anthony Hegarty or Jeff Buckley).

Although the Raveonettes did a stripped down set, one concertgoer took it literally. The apparent Lady Gaga worshipper was practically naked, except for underwear and a strategically painted upper body. As for the Danish noise pop duo, the eerie “Attack of the Ghost Riders,” guitar feedback freak out “Break Up Girls!” and fatalistic “Last Dance” packed the most wallop live.

The xx are fellow minimalists who also have male and female co-vocalists; their self-titled album was one of last year’s most intriguing. But the subdued and haunting alt-rock music didn’t translate well at the Outdoor Theatre. A large, chatty crowd and poor sound mix sure didn’t help matters. Still, the haunting “Shelter” and reverb drenched “VCR” managed to break through. They would have been better off in one of the tents.

Faith No More, ever the jokesters in their 1980s and early ‘90s heyday, opened with a straight cover of hit disco era ballad “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb. Younger members of the audience were surely scratching their heads. The Bay Area band reformed last year after 15 years apart to do the European festival circuit, so they sounded razor sharp on the main stage. Leader Mike Patton - clad in red suit and utilizing a cane as a prop - showed his elastic vocals, which can switch from crooner to crazed mode in a heartbeat, were still very much intact. “From Out of Nowhere” and “Surprise! You’re Dead” raged hard as drummer Mike Bordin pounded on it all furiously. And keyboardist/backing vocalist Roddy Bottum shined on hits like “Epic,” “Midlife Crisis” and “We Care a Lot.” Another tender cover, Michael Jackson’s “Ben,” found Patton roaming the audience and crowd surfing.

Muse are stadium rock kings in Europe, so they had no trouble turning in a stellar performance at Coachella. Starting with “Uprising,” the bombastic, yet riveting set recalled the glory days of Queen. It featured stunning visuals (lasers, animation) and numerous fan favorites (“Supermassive Black Hole,” “Starlight,” “Time is Running Out,” “Knights of Eurasia”). Singer Matt Bellamy, wearing futuristic shades, displayed his mind-blowing guitar prowess at every turn (especially amid “The Star Spangled Banner,” done Hendrix-style). Other highlights included their regular dramatic cover of Anthony Newley’s “Feeling Good” and over-the-top “United States of Eurasia.”

Devo is about to release its first studio album in 20 years. In a fantastic midnight set, several of them were debuted (“Fresh,” “What We Do is What We Do,” “Don’t Shoot Me I’m a Man”). Out in the Mohave tent, they meshed well with the old herky jerky new wave hits from the past (“Whip It,” “Peek-A-Boo”). The band was tight, played in front of humorous cartoons on screens and unveiled their latest matching outfits in the “test marketed” color scheme of blue.


More strong sets came on the final day.

MuteMath mixed unusual time signatures, atmospheric rock textures and soulful vocals, which all worked well live. They concluded by smashing their instruments.

Florence and the Machine, fronted by Florence Welsh - a spitfire who definitely knows how to get a crowd pumped - belted out her dramatic, harp-enhanced tunes and sang a duet with Nathan from Cold War Kids.

Little Boots’ electronic dance music was an effervescent delight, aided by a laser synth that rivaled Muse’s light show.

Sigur Ros’ Jonsi, dressed in military styled garb, enchanted fans with quiet, intricate songs from his latest release Go.

Spoon played taut, workmanlike indie rock in a satisfying performance frontloaded with some of their best known tunes (the jaunty “The Way We Get By,” funky “I Turn My Camera On”).

Thom Yorke was in a looser mood than usual while fronting Atoms for Peace. They did his Eraser solo album in its entirety. While the experimental songs – played with precision by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, longtime producer Nigel Godrich and others - were interesting, they weren’t nearly as captivating as Radiohead material.

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