Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Coachella Festival #2 review: Day 3

My review originally appeared in the OC Register.
Photos by Kelly Swift, unless indicated. 

It was late Sunday afternoon at Coachella when Mike Ness of Social Distortion introduced the song “California (Hustle and Flow)” by asking the audience where they had come from. “From what I hear, most of you are from Southern California, right?”

Over near the VIP area, the loud response was definitely in the negative.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is one of the most successful and popular events of its type in the world, drawing concertgoers from multiple countries outside America.

Some people complained that this year’s dual weekend lineup was lackluster, but the wide-ranging smorgasbord of musical talent, as always, had something for everyone. (Except country. But those enthusiasts will pack Stagecoach at the same Indio location next weekend.)

XL Recordings
Vampire Weekend made the strongest mark Sunday, the NYC band nabbing the enviable sunset slot on the main stage and turning in a terrific set.

Earlier tunes “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Campus” sounded sharp, but ones from forthcoming album Modern Vampires of the City (due May 14), like the rave-up “Diane Young,” elegant and piano-based “Step” and the ambitious “Ya Hey” (with spoken-word interlude), showed the young guys have more than worldbeat melodies up their collective sleeves. Multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Rostam Batmanglij ably guided fresh musical textures onstage, heavy on electronics.

Immediately after that, I managed to witness a good chunk of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live for the first time on the main stage and wasn’t disappointed. Night time is  perfect for experiencing the Aussie goth-rock veteran and his large band. A contemplative “Jubilee Street,” from moody new album Push the Sky Away, might not have been the wisest choice to lure people over from other points on the polo grounds, but it was still transfixing. (I wonder what the children’s choir, waiting to sing at the end of it, thought of Cave’s odd lyric: “I got a fetus on a leash.”)

The discordant title track from 1984’s From Her to Eternity was riveting as Cave ventured into the crowd and the string section swelled in intensity; “Red Right Hand” proved equally shiver-inducing. “Deanna,” another '80s nugget, was a total barnburner and “Jack the Ripper” found the baritone singer prowling the stage and playing a few quick piano bars at various times.

Catching the last half of OMD in the Gobi tent was a must, especially since the synth-pop group just put out another solid studio release (English Electric) and came across exceptionally well during a headlining solo show at L.A.'s El Rey Theatre last week (see review elsewhere on this blog). 

Coachella was no exception, and I thought spry co-singer Andy McCluskey (pictured, left) had one of the best comments among performers here all weekend: Before "If You Leave," their hit single from the flick Pretty in Pink, he said, “We sold our souls to Hollywood and you loved us for it!”

With some time left before Red Hot Chili Peppers closed the festival on the main stage, I wandered into the Mohave tent just as Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard was in the midst of the incantation "Sanvean," sung in a pseudo-language. Some female fans - including one in a Middle eastern-type headdress - writhed around, obviously mesmerized.

Once her musical partner Brendan Perry returned to sing lead on the group's best known song "The Ubiquitous Mt. Lovegrove" (a No. 8 alt-rock hit in '93) and finish the eight-song set, I was equally entranced. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' show was a dazzling audio-visual assult, putting the big screens to good use. There were plenty of mini-jams going on. The band front-loaded the set with such hits as "Dani California," 'Scar Tissue," "Can't Stop" and their vigorous cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." 

Singer Anthony Kiedas and bassist Flea bantered about their favorite places in California, even mentioning the Inland Empire.

Earlier on the main stage, New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem played a compelling set.

Though raspy-voiced singer/guitarist Brian Fallon strictly concentrated on the music and barely acknowledged the crowd, the rock band still forged a true connection thanks to the inspiring Springsteen-ish lyrics and ringing guitars of opener “Mae,” powerful “Film Noir” and “45” and the title track to latest album Handwritten (a feel-good-to-be-alive song).

Surprisingly, they also pulled out a faithful cover of STP’s “Plush” as well.

Alex Clare’s fresh take on blue-eyed soul and dubstep went down well at the sweltering, packed Mojave tent. The bohemian Brit seemed amused by the reaction. His intense delivery elevated “Relax, My Beloved,” “Whispering” and “Hummingbird” well above their recorded versions, and Clare’s slow-jam handling of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” simmered. 

Subject of the new compilation The Hidden World Revealed (out in June), L.A. band the Three O’Clock were one of my most anticipated reunions at Coachella. Having missed their '80s heyday, I was in power-pop bliss at the Gobi tent, where the group's three founding members (assisted by the 88’s Adam Merrin on keyboards) showed that their old chops are firmly intact.


Lead singer/bassist Michael Quercio (above) kept the mood light and humorous. Standouts among the too-short set included an enthralling “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend” – during which Louis Gutierrez literally squeezed the feedback out of his electric guitar – and the sublime harmonies of “I Go Wild” and “On My Own.”

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