It’s that time again when I spend stupid amounts of time recalling this year’s Coachella through my eyes. If you went, tell me where I went wrong (other than missing the end of The Cure, I already know). If not, close your eyes, cue up some of these tracks and imagine you were there.
The Coachella Report (or “Bring the Noise!”)
***** Seriously Classic
* Like seeing Perry Farrell for the tenth straight year
Note: ½ indicates ½ star so ***1/2 = 3½ starts
PS = I only saw a partial set
FAWE – Watched act from afar while eating
Artist: We Are Scientists
Because Why?: We are Scientists got screwed – a super early start time in the blazing sun. These dudes deserved a later slot in the tent with a light show. Luckily, they seemed less worked about it than I was. They delivered a rocking set that sounded like they deserved a bigger spotlight.
The Best Part: We somehow missed “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” despite only missing two songs. Did they open with it? “The Great Escape” was a solid closer though.
Artist: Cage the Elephant
Because Why?: To be fair to them, I only saw about 5 minutes of this show. But to be fair to me, that’s because they ended their set 20 minutes early. Why would you possibly squander a chance to play to an audience this large? Coachella organizers were probably happy but the rest of us were massively disappointed.
The best part: He ended by crowd surfing but folks refused to put him down and carried him almost all the way out of the tent.
Artist: The Hold Steady
Because Why?: Nobody but nobody enjoys what he does more than Craig Finn. A six year old boy invited on stage wouldn’t be having as much fun as he does. So watching him run around ecstatically and throw “I can’t believe I’m up here!” expressions at the audience is a huge part of the charm. Unfortunately, the sound seemed garbled to me which hurt this set a bit.
The Best Part: Every time “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” exploded into the chorus.
Artist: M. Ward
Because Why?: This was just a good sounding show with a stage packed with solid musicians (couldn’t he have lent a few to The Ting Tings for their set?). A nice mellow palate cleanser.
The Best Part: Hearing “Never Had Nobody Like You”, one of only a few songs of his I really know well.
Artist: The Ting Tings
Because Why?: Another act seemingly custom built for festival sets. Both band members ooze charisma and the tunes sounded great. Still, they never quite whipped the crowd into the frenzy I expected. Part of it may have been the fact that so many of the instruments were prerecorded. Why not hire a few more musicians and support the economy?
The Best Part: A horn section that livened up and vogued their way through “We Started Nothing”, never once losing the dead serious expressions on their faces.
Artist: Franz Ferdinand
PS // FAWE
Because Why?: A band like this cranking out “Take Me Out” and “Do You Want To” always has a welcome place at a festival. But they don’t really do enough much to capture your attention and never really outgrew their initial outsized expectations. Like a fun background house band while you eat your tacos.
The Best Part: Mmmmm, tacos.
Because Why?: I always give points to musicians who put a lot into ensuring it’s an entertaining show. Featuring dancing girls with their skin painted alien green and a dude dressed in a giant robot suit definitely qualify. In the end though, still felt like a hybrid between typical DJ set and typical hip hop set.
The best part: The robot.
Because Why?: I really would have liked to see this whole set, though I guess not enough that it beat out other acts. He always sounds the same to me, faithfully cranking out the standards. Sort of like a vegetarian, ambiguously-sexual Wayne Newton. I will now begin fielding death threats from his fan base.
The Best Part: Getting both a Smiths song (“Girlfriend in a Coma”) and the excellent “Irish Blood, English Heart” in the short time I was there.
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Because Why?: Attention overhyped alternative bands: you just had all your buzz stolen by a 74 year-old man immaculately dressed in suit and fedora who repeatedly expressed his gratitude with “Thank you, friends”. I was desperately worried this would be boring and had my backup plan all ready to go. Instead, LC owned the crowd and delivered the best set not only of the night but of the entire festival. That spookily deep voice backed by a trio of high-pitched females and the best backing band of anyone I saw made for an unexpected Coachella classic.
The Best Part: Music is often described as a religious experience but “Hallelujah” was nearly literally one as the crowd, already in the palm of Cohen’s hand at that point, sang along mightily.
Artist: Girl Talk
Because Why?: Why can’t other DJs take lessons from Greg Gillis? My expectations were huge and he delivered, creating the best house party of the weekend. He mixed up album tracks with some new stuff (MGMT’s “Kids”!) The crowd loved it and an inflatable Grim Reaper and balloons dropping from the ceiling were only icing on the cake.
The Best Part: Having the entire audience get a little bit softer now and then louder now to Otis Day and the Night’s “Shout”.
Artist: Paul McCartney
Because Why?: There are certain things in life you accept as hard truths and the fact that I would never in my life see a Beatle play live was one of those. John and George are gone, you’re kidding if you think I’d go see Ringo, and I wasn’t ready to shell out hundreds to see Paul. So him even just walking out on stage and playing the first note (“Jet!”) is worthy of four stars because it seemed like the impossible had come true. Hearing songs like “Lady Madonna” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” come to life was like Willy Wonka giving this boy the golden ticket. So why not five stars? Because there were missteps: his stage banter and vamping are painfully bad and disrupted the show’s momentum. At times it felt like a sold-out crowd humoring Grandpa McCartney. Also, eliminating the final verse of “A Day in the Life” and pasting in a chorus of “Give Peace a Chance” was stupefying. You could actually feel Lennon’s disappointment in the air.
The Best Part: “Live and Let Die” complete with a wall of fire and fireworks was rockin’. The “Hey Jude” sing-along with a field of ten thousand people was cliché but fantastic. But I’d give the highlight to closing the show with a killer jam of “Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise) and “The End”. Didn’t see that coming.
Because Why?: What a trip it must have been for George Harrison’s wife to watch Paul McCartney play one night and her son the next day. Unfortunately, Dhani Harrison has a lot to learn from Macca. Despite liking the album, I was bored by the live show. And Harrison came off as a bit pompous and self-absorbed (Hint for next time: If someone comes out to do guest vocals, at least acknowledge their presence as they exit the stage).
The Best Part: Their roadie throw a fish into the audience and asks “Anyone want fish sticks?” before the set starts.
Artist: Drive-By Truckers
Because Why?: The Coachella outdoor stage at 3pm might be the toughest assignment in rock because the sun is in your face, the heat is searing and the crowd is looking for any excuse to leave for a tent and some shade. But you wouldn’t know it by the way these guys brought the Southern rock, spilling out tales of whiskey, beer, and assorted other forms of alcohol. A totally enjoyable set.
The Best Part: “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy”!
Artist: Dr. Dog
Because Why?: Not having found many who know or like these guys, it was nice to finally find a tent of people who agree with me. The band was tight and played much more rocked-out versions of stuff than their albums display. Thoroughly enjoyable despite sound trouble that bothered the band but we didn’t even notice.
The Best Part: Anytime the bassist/singer let out his trademark yowl, especially on “Army of Ancients”.
Because Why?: Because we stared at a crew taking their time setting up the stage and no one bothered announcing these guys had cancelled because the singer had become “ill”. Next time post a sign to the microphone so people don’t stand around assuming a show is coming. Weak.
The Best Part: Nothing
Artist: Amanda Palmer
Because Why?: Amanda wins the award straight-out for the most entertaining act at Coachella. She entered the stage behind 19 fans painted in zebra stripes and letters that spelled “AMANDA FUCKING PALMER” across their backs. She dressed in a corset and garter belts. She covered Muse’s “Time is Running Out” backed by cello and crowd surfed from the front of the tent to the back to lead the audience in a sing along of Radiohead’s “Creep” (on ukulele). She praised Leonard Cohen and dissed Morrissey. As a self-designated microblogging addict, she created a set that was Twitter-worthy at every turn.
The Best Part: “I Google You”, a song about doing online searches for ex-lovers on those lonely nights.
Artist: TV on the Radio
Because Why?: I saw them a few years ago and thought they were good, not great. But since then they had released the brilliant “Cookie Mountain” and “Dear Science” so I was positive they would absolutely dominate this time. My verdict: good, not great. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe sings his heart out and I’m always a sucker for a horn section but these guys truly lack charisma, avoided many of my favorites off “Dear Science” and never really got any momentum going.
The Best Part: A few moody instrumental interludes in-between songs and “Staring at the Sun” as the sun slowly set.
Artist: Fleet Foxes
Because Why?: This was tonight’s “Will they be awesome or boring?” conundrum and, like Leonard Cohen last night, they aced the challenge. Their voices sounded amazing, “perfect harmony/angels from Heaven” type of amazing. And with the sun setting and a deep blue taking over the desert sky, this was the sort of karmic set that only Coachella seems able to deliver.
The Best Part: “Ragged Wood” was completely captivating.
Artist: Band of Horses
Because Why?: After the magic of Fleet Foxes, I thought things could only get better with Band of Horses. I wasn’t right. It was a good straightforward show but didn’t offer any surprises, just a live reading that even lacked a bit of the energy of their recordings. And they closed with a new song no one had heard yet – a questionable strategy.
The Best Part: “The Funeral”.
Because Why?: I’ve seen her twice before and was underwhelmed both times. But I decided to catch the second half of this one which was still enough to make this the best performance of a day packed with strong sets. Most artists are desperate to be liked (“Are you having a good time?”) but M.I.A. could not give a shit. You’re in her world now so sit up and pay attention. This show was a full-on assault to the senses, like U2’s Zoo TV tour gone Bollywood. She ponied up for her main stage set with a barrage of video flashing static, early computer fonts, and looped Indian musicals like a pirated TV station on the fritz. Transitions between songs were pierced with a constant stream of air horns and New Year’s Eve noisemakers while M.I.A. gave mock press conferences from behind a podium filled with microphones. There were so many people wandering the stage you truly had no idea what was going on. It was exhausting, incredible and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
The Best Part: Ending the set with a field of people repeatedly discharging four shots into the air during “Paper Planes” while she cruised through the crowd. Ending the set with your big hit may be cliché but it created a moment that rivaled “Hey Jude” for uniting a massive crowd.
Because Why?: You probably just need to be in the right mood. I was actually rooting for these guys – how can you not want 80’s booming metal with hilarious lyrics to succeed? Bit I found myself impatiently wondering if I wasn’t missing anything more musically satisfying (Answer: Yes, Jenny Lewis).
The Best Part: Lead singer’s English as a second language rant against charity rock (“Rock against Africa didn’t cure Africa, rock again AIDS didn’t cure AIDS so we are going to rock against ass”).
Artist: Jenny Lewis
Because Why?: A set I decided to check out last minute turned into the day’s best surprise. I’ve been underwhelmed by Rilo Kiley live but Jenny Lewis seems far more comfortable with her new band. Her voice sounded stellar, the harmonies on “Acid Tongue” were stellar, and, as always, she looks real nice.
The Best Part: A rabble-rousing “The Next Messiah” that ended the set.
Artist: The Killers
Because Why?: Maybe this was a case of having my mind made up before I got there, having been turned off by the new album and its weighty philosophic questions about being human vs. dancer. “Somebody Told Me” was fun but once they turned back to the new album and staging what seemed a by-the-numbers rock set, I decided to turn elsewhere.
The Best Part: “Shadowplay”, even though by then I was well on my way to another tent.
Because Why?: These guys were primed to be this year’s Justice and had a packed dance tent that wanted them to succeed. So imagine the disappointment when they cranked out a set that sounded like every other electronic act of the weekend. It was fun to dance to and the lasers were nice but these guys need to spend time watching some Girl Talk to better hone their act.
The Best Part: “Bounce” is still gonna be a fun song, no matter when and how it’s played.
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Because Why?: Lupe Fiasco’s confidence is less Kanye (pure excess which borders on comic) and more Michael Jordan (someone at the height of their powers who can’t help but radiate self-assurance). He breezed through a set of slight-reworked versions of his songs, backed by a full band for a crowd who didn’t know his stuff well but seemed charmed nonetheless. Like We are Scientists, Lupe deserves a night time slot and full light show. Next time out this could be a four star performance.
The Best Part: His “Go go go go go go go go go go gadget flow”.
Artist: Lykke Li
Because Why?: Like the Drive-By Truckers the day before, Lykke mustered impressive energy in the day’s toughest slot. An enjoyable set though I’m still not sure she deserves the mountain of hype she’s been accorded.
The Best Part: A cover of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli”. Did not see that coming,
Artist: Peter Bjorn & John
PS // FAWE
Because Why?: Reread my review for Franz Ferdinand. But substitute “Young Folks” and “Nothing to Worry About” as the two songs and exchange the word “pizza” for “tacos”. There. Review done.
The Best Part: Mmmmmm, pizza.
Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Because Why?: Probably the festival’s biggest disappointment, I expected huge things from the Ys. But the punky, eclectic and unpredictable Karen O has given way to one who doesn’t seem to want to get dirty and takes pauses mid-song to hydrate and adjust her outfits. And without Karen taking over, the other two band members are solid but hardly commanding. Add some lackluster ballads off the new album and this one was a low-energy bummer. Completely different from their stunning set two years ago.
The Best Part: “Black Tongue” was the only flash of their previous energy.
Artist: Paul Weller
Because Why?: I was worried this would be a low-energy affair after hearing his mellow new album but he muscled out some old school British rock instead. And with most folks reserving their spot for The Cure, it was easy to walk right to the front of this one.
The Best Part: No Johnny Marr when Morrissey played but Weller stunned everyone by bringing the guitarist on stage followed by the words “This is ‘A Town Called Malice’”. The festival’s single best surprise.
Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Because Why?: It seems the more you already liked MBV, the more you would like this show. They weren’t exactly there to gain converts, instead playing their songs as loudly as possible in a set filled with feedback, no stage banter, and a 25 minute barrage of noise to end. 25 minutes of stuff that can’t even be described as musical notes. It was pretty breathtaking for the first ten, and comical for the next five. Then it was just stunningly confusing, likely the exact reaction Kevin Shields was looking for.
The Best Part: With no stage show to speak of (they just stand there), lying in the middle of the field and watching the stars to their spacey music.
Artist: Public Enemy
Because Why?: They played “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” straight through from start to end, apparently the first time they’ve done that in sixteen years. Chuck D gave us historical references and trivia about the album as it went (Side B was originally supposed to be Side A until they got switched in mastering). Flava Flav was a ball of energy, making sure he gave equal opportunity by jumping into the crowd off every part of the stage. Sunday’s best show.
The Best Part: Flava Flav, who kept the crowd wondering what he would do and say at every turn.
Artist: The Cure
Because Why?: No rating for The Cure. Instead I gave myself a one-star rating. The Cure played for three hours, eventually getting their power pulled and kicked off the stage when Robert Smith and co. refused to leave the stage. It seems to have instantly entered the canon of legendary “you had to be there” Coachella shows. Except I wasn’t there for most of it. We were hearing a standard no-surprises set after having seen them many times and decided to leave early. We already knew that was a mistake hearing “Primary” and “Just Like Heaven” on the way to the car but it was too late by then. Proof once again that Coachella does not forgive the moment you show a moment of weakness. Crushing.
The Best Part: At least hearing a trio of songs from Disintegration.