Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Coachella Festival 2012 review coverage: April 20

photo by Kelly Swift
My review originally appeared at

It’s great to be back for my 11th go-round at the Coachella Festival — especially after being wowed by a lot of last weekend’s festivities online.

The Gobi tent was my first stop of the afternoon, where LA-via-Chino alt-rock band Abe Vigoda drew a decent sized crowd. The low-key quartet did several recent songs that utilized a synth and recalled Bloc Party, but with far more dramatic vocals. It was a major improvement from their noisy mid-2000s No Age punk days.

Over at the Mojave tent, there was a party going on, despite the sweltering heat. Oakland band Wallpaper had a big audience waving their hands in the air and singing the Cobra Starship-leaning tunes with abandon. One young gal wearing hot pink shorts enthusiastically blew on a whistle. But a muddy bass mix and rhythms from three drummers made it a little overwhelming at times. Charismatic frontman Ricky Reed was definitely excited to be onstage during “T Rex” and “Two Pair of Shades.”

While heading over to Mojave to check out honeyhoney, I was enticed by the ebullient sound of Wolf Gang. The energetic British rock band led by Max McElligott went down a storm, especially during infectious, danceable songs like “The King and All His Men,” and “Lions in Cages,” from its 2011 album Suego Faults. Definitely want to see them again.

I first became aware of honeyhoney after seeing them serve as an opening act at the Coach House. The L.A.-based duo mixes alt-country, a bit of blues and plenty of attitude in Suzanne Santos’ vocals. Her violin work and musical partner/electric guitarist Ben Jaffe were equally impressive here. The packed crowd howled “Glad I’ve Done What What I Did,” the haunting “Thin Line,” and tender love ballad “Don’t Know How,” from last year’s solid debut, Billy Jack.

The Outdoor Theatre stage was awash in the indie rock, emo-ish strains of New England’s The Dear Hunter. Burly bearded singer Casey Crescenzo mentioned today was 4/20 (a marijuana reference), but otherwise let the anguished and mellow music do all the talking.

Best T-shirt spotted today: One that read, “bomb the music industry,” with a blood design splattered all over it; soon after, I saw a long-haired hippy-looking dude do cartwheels on the grass.

Watching Pulp's main stage evening set (and especially the previous night at the Fox Pomona) was almost like being in college again. Lanky, bespectacled leader Jarvis Cocker - pictured above - has the air of a professor. His lyrics could easily be sociology lecture topics (human sexuality, voyeurism). Still spry as ever and frequently all over the stage, the singer even provided “this day in history” info.

During the ’90s, the sophisticated, critically acclaimed band never managed to get the attention or album sales that fellow Britpop acts such as Blur and especially Oasis (whose Noel Gallagher performs today) enjoyed here in America. But after a tremendous second set at Coachella, I’m sure a lot more people will suddenly be curious about them.

Out in the field past the soundboard, I saw a group of young giddy French guys singing along to the Pulp songs at the top of their lungs. Opening with a buoyant “Do You Remember the First Time?,” the set list was tweaked slightly from Coachella Weekend 1. There were problems with the screens on each side of the stage; only one ended up being utilized. Yet the visual effects and green lasers during “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” were dazzling.

Like so many other acts throughout the day, Cocker mentioned the drug reference date 4/20: “You thought this was dry ice,” he said of the mist flowing from the stage. “You were wrong, so wrong.” “Disco 2000″ was pure high energy, and during the haunting orchestration of “I Spy,” the vocalist ventured into the crowd and used a mini camera to show close-ups of his face.

Other standouts included the lurching seediness of “This Is Hardcore” (capped with heavy breathing) and the expected closer “Common People,” where onetime Pulp member Antony Genn, now of the Hours, turned up to guest. Let’s hope the rumors of a new studio album come to fruition.

Earlier, after spending much of Friday afternoon in the various tents (where the sound mixes were often atrocious), I got my first glimpse of Coachella stage action with James. The veteran U.K. band makes stirring alt-pop music that fit its time slot and location perfectly.

I’m willing to bet trumpeter/backing vocalist Andy Diagram was the only male performer wearing a dress. Lead singer Tim Booth said they made a point to change their set list from last week, which was partially true.

Opening with a frantic “White Boy,” they also did the mesmerizing “Out to Get You,” during which Larry Gott’s slide work on a resonator guitar wafted over the crowd, Mark Hunter played melodica, and Saul Davies fiddled with abandon. Booth immersed himself into the music, shook his body all around and used his trademark megaphone a couple times. Finally, James’ U.S. hit “Laid” was given a welcome new spacey keyboard intro by Hunter and mariachi horn flourishes from Diagram.

Back out in the tents, Dawes provided one of the day’s other highlights. The Goldsmith brothers (Taylor on lead vocal/guitar and Griffin on drums/vocals), along with keyboardist Tay Strathairn, conjured heavenly harmonies and easygoing classic-rock style that often recalls the ’70s heyday of CS&N as well as the Band, which Dawes covered here in tribute to Levon Helm. (Taylor has even added his pipes to Robbie Robertson’s latest album, How to Become Clairvoyant).

Launching with the Griffin-sung “How Far I’ve Come,” the packed crowd loved every minute of the group’s performance. An organ-sweetened “Time Spent in Los Angeles” boasted a rustic charm; at one point, Taylor played electric guitar like a man possessed, sliding across the stage as he soloed. “A Little Bit of Everything,” in which Taylor sings about different people in frustrating points of their lives, was truly poignant. All told, Dawes was completely captivating.

Also, I didn’t want to tear myself away from the Black Keys on the main stage, who sounded much better than their previous appearance here — maybe it was the soulful vocals on selections from last year’s El Camino — but venturing out to the tents, I saw some of M83, who drew an overflow capacity crowd at the Mojave tent and could easily have played on one of the outdoor spots.

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