Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coachella Festival 2011 review: Day 3

A different version of my review originally appeared in the Register newspaper and can be viewed at:

IMG_0685Despite heavy hitters like The Strokes and PJ Harvey, a laid back vibe enveloped Coachella: Day 3, when people seemed to trickle in the gates more slowly. Maybe everyone was just spent from witnessing Saturday’s countless musical treasures until the wee hours.

There were also fewer “must see” acts and time slot debates. I did leave an absolutely splendid The National for Duran Duran’s entertaining ‘80s dance-pop hits - a tough, but not regrettable choice.

That provided ample time to roam about and encounter oddly attired festivalgoers. Spotted dancing to the effervescent alt-pop of Jack’s Mannequin was a teenage girl wearing sunglasses, a police hat, skimpy bikini and top (plus mini handcuffs and badge). Written in marker on her backside was "booty patrol" and "my body, my choice."

2:35 p.m. Speaking of Jack's Mannequin, energetic leader Andrew McMahon was in top form, alternately standing and sitting while pounding on his piano with a vengeance. He said he didn't expect so many people to turn up to watch his early slot of the main Outdoor Theatre stage. Those that did were treated to supple singing on "Spinning," "Bruised," "Dark Blue," "La La Lie," plus new tune "Racing Thoughts," which could appear on the band's next album due later this year.  

3:45 p.m. Dallas Green, who performs under the name City and Colour, drew a big mid-afternoon crowd with his live group to the Outdoor Theatre stage. A successful singer/songwriter back home in Canada, where he has won a Juno Award and plays guitar for post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire, Green releases third studio album Little Hell in June on Vagrant Records.

Possessing a hushed, fragile voice, Green ably battled booming bass sounds emanating across the field from rapper Wiz Khalifa during a short solo acoustic segment that included the harmonica-fueled “Body in a Box” and gentle new single, “O, Sister.”

Once the full band returned, it was time for some folk-tinged classic rock. Some slow burn guitar work on “Sam Malone” channeled early Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Appropriately enough, Green has recorded his fellow countryman’s “Cowgirl in the Sand,” took part in a Young tribute at last month’s Junos and had 2008’s Bring Me Your Love compared to the rock 'n' roll veteran’s classic Harvest. But the set's standout was “As Much As I Ever Could,” which featured Green’s soulful vocals, pristine group harmonies and guitar feedback. Reminded me of when I saw My Morning Jacket at Coachella ’08.  

4:50 p.m. Jimmy Eat World has been around for nearly 20 years, so I was surprised to hear singer Jim Adkins announce this was the Arizona group's maiden Coachella appearance. The guys never disappoint live with a workmanlike style of emo-rock. On the Outdoor Theatre stage, fans were treated to several top 10 modern rock radio hits (the sharp riffage of "My Best Theory," pummeling drums in "Big Casino," "Pain," "Work," not to mention "The Middle" and "Sweetness" from 2001 classic Bleed American.  

6:05 p.m. L.A.-based garage rock darling Best Coast barreled through more than a dozen endearing lo-fi tunes on the same stage. A toast of the Pitchfork cognoscenti, the band’s first full-length Crazy for You entered in the top 40 of the Billboard 200 chart. Leader Bethany Cosentino has a laconic vocal style akin to Courtney Love and writes short, simple songs, where her guitar playing is drenched in reverb and distortion, often like Jesus & Mary Chain or Raveonettes.  

At Coachella, she launched with “Bratty B.” On other selections, such as “Goodbye,” “I Want To” and the album’s title track, she made a beautiful noise alongside music partner Bobb Bruner and drummer Ali Koehler. Newer songs “Gone Again” and “When You Wake Up” were equally good. Before doing the crowd pleasing “Boyfriend,” she related the story of how she attended the festival as a fan at ages 18-19 and “now at age 24, I’m playing here. So anyone out there with a dream, keep working on it.” 

The National, Coachella 2011
7:23 p.m. Taking the Outdoor Theatre stage around sunset, The National came equipped with a two-man horn section and mesmerizing special visual effects on the screens to match their music. The wind started to kick up, which caused minor wavering sound glitches, but nothing too detrimental. Crowd surfing commenced with opener "Bloodbuzz, Ohio," from 2010's High Violet and Matt Berninger sang with his eyes closed. At times, his deep baritone and the band's moody vibe brought to mind Leonard Cohen at the same location, around the same time on Day 1 of Coachella '09.

The band definitely knows how to conjure up a sense of mystique live, as evidenced by "Anyone's Ghost," "Slow Show," "Afraid of Everyone," "Conversation 16" and the intense, percussion-heavy "Squalor Victoria."

7:50 p.m. Since I'm a diehard Duran Duran fan going back to the early '80s, I was carefully keeping an eye on the screens over at the main stage to see and try to hear what was going on there and decide when to tear myself away from The National.

I'd read Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic was going to reprise her guest vocal on "Safe (In the Heat of the Moment)" from Duran's stellar new album All You Need is Now at some point.

As soon as I saw her visage, I literally raced across the field to catch the end of that song and revel in the remainder of the influential synth-pop band's strong set, which featured "The Chauffer" (driven by keyboardist Nick Rhodes' eerie sonic bed), string section-enhanced "Ordinary World," vibrant "Rio," ultra-dramatic "A View to Kill" (prefaced, as on the past several tours, by an orchestral James Bond Theme instrumental) and snappy closer "Girls on Film," which segued into Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" - not the entire song, as many reviews have stated.

Day-glo animated visuals on the big screens during the discofied "Girl Panic!" and elsewhere added to the whole joyous experience. Racy, R-rated clips from the old, once banned music video to "The Chauffer" probably surprised those who had limited knowledge of Duran's history though.

Below is some live footage of the band I shot with the Sony Bloggie:   

9:09 p.m. The Strokes performed in front of a bright LED backdrop on the main stage, while dimly lighted. The New Yorkers just put out First Impressions on Earth, their first studio effort in five years which reached the top 5 on the Billboard 200 chart. The jittery, shambolic garage rock went down well in the high profile slot. Everyone was dancing around on the field to the jaunty "I Can't Win," alt-rock hits "Hard to Explain" and "Someday" and new tunes like "You're So Right," "Games" and appealingly upbeat single "Undercover of Darkness," which were also well received.  

10:20 p.m. An inspiring message similar to Best Coast also emerged during Neon Trees’ high energy late evening set in the Gobi tent. Front man Tyler Glenn said the Utah-via-Murrieta, Calif. band had passed out demo CDs at Coachella ’06. “We were nobodies then; now here we are.” The stage was running late, but the group still managed to draw an impressive audience against PJ Harvey and Kanye West elsewhere.

They initially battled sound problems that were eventually rectified during adrenaline-fueled opener “Sins of My Youth.” The musicians were dressed just as glamorously as their vibrant alt-dance music.

Glenn sported a spiky synthetic yellowy white Mohawk applied to his own usual thin strip of hair (I actually thought it was real until the singer remarked, "This weave is killing me"); guitarist Chris Allen had a regal white jacket with assorted feathers attached to the shoulder; drummer/backing vocalist Elaine Bradley looked like Ziggy Stardust (my colleague noted how she was always in the rhythmic pocket); bassist Branden Campbell wore star glasses and a skeleton shirt.  

Several teenager girls packed against the front stage area and screamed their lungs out as Glenn darted around and leaned over them to sing. Overall, the performance was almost as good as when I saw them at the Glass House last year.

A few new songs were unveiled, chiefly a poignant one which was dedicated to kids bullied in schools. Highlights included the infectious new wave-ish “1983,” searing, danceable rocker “In the Next Room,” "Girls & Boys in School,” where jumping around was a given, and the supercharged No. 1 alternative radio hit, “Animal.”

Duran Duran photos by Laurie Fanelli,
The National and Empire Polo Field photos by Chris Thacker via

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