Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Musings on Coachella - Saturday Edition

I was at the first Coachella in October 1999. I had a hooked-up VIP pass. There was a great communal vibe and I wandered in and out of the performing bands’ trailers. I stood on the side of the main stage and witnessed some fantastic performances. It was my first time seeing Morrissey and he did not disappoint. I went back in 2003, 2004 and 2005. 2005 sucked. I vowed to never return.

In 2007 and 2008 I went to the Stagecoach Festival (which takes place the weekend after Coachella on the same grounds). I had a great time both years. It’s a super laid back vibe and you can actually walk around with a drink in your hand. They even have a barbeque contest with great food. If you have the artist wristband, they shuttle you around on golf carts. I’ve seen legends and I’ve discovered new bands both years. This year the Stagecoach bookers took it in a full-on NASCAR direction, so I decided I’d sit it out.

As I was sitting at my computer watching some of the Coachella coverage last Friday, I felt like I was missing out. I’d been rejuvenated by My Bloody Valentine’s performance the night before at the El Rey, so I decided I was ready to brave Coachella again. When I got offered some free Side Stage wristbands for Saturday and Sunday, I was in.

The drive out on Saturday morning was pleasant. We didn’t have a hotel reservation, but drove by a Motel 6 and decided to check their website for a vacancy. $85/night – not bad for last minute on Coachella weekend. There was absolutely no traffic until we got a few miles from the venue. We used the right lane to bypass all the traffic and went around to the back side of the parking area in about three minutes. Unfortunately they route pedestrians the long way around the grounds. It’s a pretty exhausting 20-25 minute walk with no shade in the 98 degree afternoon desert heat. We headed for some shade in the artist compound. At Stagecoach they have coolers with free beer in the artist compound. At Coachella they have five gallon tanks of Arrowhead water. We ran into a friend who offered us a parking pass for Sunday.

We jumped in a golf cart with a friend who was parked in the vendor parking lot. He had a full mini bar in the back of his car, so we poured drinks into plastic cups and snuck them into the festival. Drive-By Truckers were playing at the Outdoor Theatre, so we went backstage and watched them from the side. They sounded as good as anybody can sound from the side stage. It’s a unique perspective, but not a great place to be a part of a show.

Twenty minutes into DBTs we walked over to the Mojave tent for Dr. Dog. The last couple of Dr. Dog shows left me cold. Toby was sick and didn’t sing much when they played the Hotel CafĂ© and the El Rey show was just underwhelming. This show restored my faith. Great band.

The last time I remember seeing Superchunk was at the This Ain’t No Picnic festival in 1999. I was never a Superchunk fanatic, but I followed them in college and still own their first five records. I didn’t have any expectations going in, since they don’t play many shows these days. I was completely caught off guard when they proceeded to blow me away. A steady and reliable band like Superchunk is elevated even higher in an era of completely transparent, blatant, trend-hopping bands. In a sea of bands (and festival attendees) crying for attention, they avoided the rock star clothes, attitude and posing and focused on having a good time. Mac and Laura still look great too. And yes, they closed their set with “Slack Motherfucker.”

I stumbled back to the artist area during Michael Franti and Spearhead. Icky. This line from Wikipedia pretty much sums it up: “Except for occasionally wearing crocs on an airplane or in a restaurant, Franti has been walking through life barefoot since 2000.”

Having never seen TV on the Radio and being a pretty big fan, I had to see them. They were pretty good. That’s as strong of a statement as I’m willing to make. Pretty good. Seeing them didn’t change my opinion of them in any way. Everybody was raving about Tinariwen in the Gobi tent.

Late Friday I finally got around to watching Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story on DVD. It’s a very informative and interesting documentary and Booker T. Jones features prominently. It was the perfect time to finally see him. Appearing with the Drive By Truckers as his backing band (they also appear on his new record), the band sounded great. Hearing Booker T. do “Green Onions” on his Hammond was one of the highlights of the festival. And put that documentary in your Netflix queue.

We snuck away towards the end of Booker T’s set to see the last song of the Fleet Foxes’ set. I still love those harmonies on “Mykonos.” There was a huge crowd taking it in too.

It was time for a dinner break. We moved through the crowd at Thievery Corporation and I ate some tacos. The food at Coachella is pretty underwhelming. Would it really be that hard to hire the Taco Zone or Kogi people next year?

A lot of people were really excited to see M.I.A. When I saw her at Coachella 2005, I found her mildly amusing. At Coachella 2009, she was just unbearably bad. A “singer” jumping around a bunch of dancers in DayGlo outfits while a backing track plays is not my idea of entertainment. The airhorn siren that blared every 15 seconds didn’t make it any more tolerable. Her records have some undeniably catchy moments, but her live show is a train wreck. Many of you may disagree, it’s okay, we can still be friends.

At this point, we decided we’d put some rock in our slingshot. We headed towards the Mojave tent where Turbonegro and Mastodon were closing out the night. Unfortunately, in order to avoid the crowd, we took the road behind the stages. When we arrived, the backstage areas of all three tents were shut off. Since there was no easy way to get in front of the stage we headed back to the hotel.

Once we got checked in to the hotel, the lights went out. You can see a lot of stars when the lights go out in the desert.

A post on Sunday’s show is coming soon…..


silawe said...

I am still insulted by the complete joke of a set by MIA.

David said...

On the other hand, I had a great time at the Michael Franti and Spearhead show -- I like that bass-heavy reggae, and it was a great backdrop for dancing, and for people tossing frisbees on that great grass lawn. When it ended, Franti jumped off the stage and hugged everyone in the front row, and everyone hugged him back. Fun in the sun.

Duke said...

OK David, I feel like a jerk now. I'm glad you had fun. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I heard you rave about Dr. Dog, so I checked them out, pretty good band.