Friday, April 23, 2010
A wonderful look back: Coachella 2010
Photo information: I was in the VIP area on Sunday, April 18 when I ran into singer-songwriter Jónsi.
Although it was just a week ago when I was beginning my Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival experience for 2010, it really does seem like a lifetime ago.
Although I posted several video blogs from the Empire Polo Club and the Orange County Register published a series of four posts on my experience at the three-day event earlier this week on the Soundcheck blog, I wanted to offer up a final rundown of my trek to Coachella here.
Friday, April 16
Coachella for me got started with a roar. Indeed, New York's As Tall As Lions was the first artist I caught and ultimately proved to be the biggest surprise of day one. Performing in the Mojave tent, the Long Island quartet focused on songs from 2009’s excellent You Can’t Take It with You, including its excellent title tune and the lead-off track “Circles.” The band clearly is ready to make that leap to the Big Leagues, with singer-guitarist Dan Nigro leading his mates through an undeniably powerful 45-minute set. It can be exceedingly difficult for a young band to make an impression in the early and hottest part of the day, amid an overwhelming and conflicting schedule of Huge Names. But As Tall as Lions stood out all the same.
Hockey is an energetic quintet whose sound recalls '80s dance rock. The Portland, Oregon band's strong 40-minute set (played out in a very hot part of the day) included "Work," "Wanna Be Black" and several other standout tracks from 2009's "Mind Chaos" album.
Although I can't recall any day at Coachella in my previous years of attending the fest that I didn't catch at least one set on the main stage, this day was different. After Hockey finished up around 5:10, I headed over to the Outdoor Theatre and ended up spending the rest of Friday afternoon and night there. She & Him delivered a breezy, fun and memorable set of retro-'60s tunes from the duo's releases. As good as the two albums from singer-songwriter Zooey Deschanel and multi-instrumentalist M. Ward are, I wondered how the music would go over in a spacious outdoor setting. No worries; songs such as "Over It Over Again" (from "Volume Two") and "This Is Not a Test" (off "Volume One") sounded great. The duo's 45-minute set was among the most fun I saw all weekend.
Passion Pit also had success here. The Boston-band ensemble definitely impressed in its Coachella debut. Lead singer-songwriter Michael Angelakos noted playing at the festival was a “Dream come true” and noted the Massachusetts band had never played a show with this many people.
Passion Pit featured songs from the band’s impressive 2009 debut “Manners,” including a riveting “To Kingdom Come.” The group’s mix of ‘80s synthesizer, techno and other dance-pop styles was a great fit as the sun dropped down over the mountains and cooling temperatures were taylor made to get the huge crowd to move to the music.
After the high-powered set delivered by Passion Pit on the Outdoor Theatre stage on Friday night, it appeared that someone took a gigantic broom and swept everybody away. Indeed, at 8 p.m., it seemed that Echo and the Bunnymen might well be performing in front of a sparse crowd despite the ideal time frame.
However, Ian McCulloch (pictured above) and his band mates had no cause for concern. By the time the ‘80s hit makers took the stage just after 8:30 p.m., a large crowd was on hand to hear the outfit play many of its greatest songs in the magical setting at Coachella that seems to make even classic rockers sound like they have plenty to prove.
The biggest cheers came for Echo & the Bunnymen’s fantastic “The Killing Moon” and “The Cutter,” however the band scored early and hard with “Do It Clean” (an older song that was a hit for the band in England) and “Nothing Lasts Forever” (a medley that included bits of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” also came in that song). McCulloch sounded strong and his voice hit all the notes like it was 1985 again.
Although many artists come to Coachella to define and validate their status as an up-and-comer, Echo & the Bunnymen’s 50-minute set offered up a chance to see this band – as well as its songs – still matter.
Vampire Weekend drew the lively response from the audience that Passion Pit had several hours earlier. I have to admit to having not yet fallen under the spell of the band, but there is no doubt that just about everyone else crowded in front of the Outdoor Theatre couldn't get enough of the troupe.
Day one ended with a strong set from Public Image Limited. My favorite performances proved to be of the songs I knew from radio airplay ("This is not a Love Song," "Rise"). John Lydon is an interesting and outspoken frontman and made good use of his late-night platform to rant, rave and rock.
Saturday, April 17
Although I had caught a mind-bending seven full-length sets from seven artists on day one, I was in for an even longer day of music listening on day two.
But pity those who didn’t get to Coachella early on day two.
Two of the best performances I caught on Saturday amounted to a one-two punch on the Outdoor Theatre stage, thanks to Seal Beach-based Rx Bandits’ 55-minute set and Porcupine Tree’s near hour-long foray on the same stage that was to follow.
Rx Bandits made the most of their early showtime (12:30 p.m. is early, especially with the sweltering early afternoon sun), performing in front of a relatively small but rabid fan base that was here to see “their” band.
When the band originally formed in Orange County in the late 1990s, Rx Bands (then billed as the Pharmaceutical Bandits, the group was part of the popular ska movement (think No Doubt, Jeffries Fan Club, etc.). No more.
The band now plays a masterful blend of folk, blues, jam rock and doses of just about everything else. Master chops and strong song selection were key to RX Bandits’ solid outing at Coachella, including several tracks where singer-guitarist Matt Embree and lead guitarist Steve Choi would dual on electric guitars. Bassist Joseph Troy and drummer Christopher Tsagakis were part of the well-armed outfit.
Porcupine Tree proved to best several more high-profile hard rock bands that I also saw perform on Saturday, including buzz trio Band of Skulls and main stage rockers Coheed and Cambria. Indeed, I thought the relatively-unnoticed English group performed one of the most impressive sets of day two, with several concert-goers coming up to me and asking “Who are these guys?”-styled queries.
The nuance of the British folk-meets-progressive rock of Porcupine Tree was a revelation, notably the beautiful and reflective “Lazarus” featuring lead singer Steven Wilson seated at the keyboard and singing one of the key songs from “Deadwing.” Later in the set, he set out with his bandmates on the ambitious “Time Flies.” One of the featured tracks on 2009’s “The Incident,” “Time Flies” featured him playing both acoustic and electric guitar and showcased the natural comparisons that can be drawn between this band and genre pioneers such as Pink Floyd.
Although the quartet has been around since the late 1980s, it’s nice to see Porcupine Tree getting some well-deserved accolades. Count me among the group’s newest fans.
Next, I headed over to the Gobi tent to check out Girls. The San Francisco outfit played its loose Big Star/Brian Wilson/Lou Reed mix of neo-psychedelic power-pop to an enthusiastic crowd. Although I enjoy the band's disc "Album" more than the show itself, versions of the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and the group's own songs provided plenty of thrills to keep me parked in the hot tent for all of the band's 45-minute set.
Maybe the second biggest disappointment of the fest for me was the set from English trio Band of Skulls. I am a big fan of the outfit's 2009 disc "Baby Darling Doll Face Honey." The group struggled early to get its sound and/or equipment working well and they didn't seem to be geared toward connecting with the packed crowd in the Gobi tent. "Death By Diamonds and Pearls" definitely got the headbangers going, but the set fell flat for me. In fact, after four songs, I bolted in search of an early dinner.
Americana quintet Old Crow Medicine Show made its first-ever appearance at Coachella over the weekend, performing on the main stage on Saturday at 3 p.m. Because I was waiting to see Girls, I missed the group. Well, not entirely.
Wanting to make the most of the day, Old Crow Medicine Show decided rather than simply do interviews in the VIP area, they would actually play an unannounced acoustic performance for fans gathered to meet and greet the band. I caught the end of that short set.
After watching the fiery Nashville, Tennessee-based troupe perform “Jimmy Sutton” (a traditional square dance-minded classic), lead singer-guitarist Willie Watson talked about coming to Indio to be a part of the legendary festival.
“It went over great,” Watson told me. “It was an enthusiastic California crowd ready to dance and shake to old-time fiddle music.”
With Old Crow Medicine Show’s two performances complete, Watson said he was hoping to catch a few of the other acts performing later on Saturday.
“I am really looking forward to seeing Devo,” he said.
I grabbed something to eat (a burger I think) and then decided to watch Coheed and Cambria. The first act I was really able to see on the Coachella Stage, the band displayed good chops, but the music itself is simply not that original. I felt as if I had heard all the hard rock chops before. Sorry guys.
Although a reunited Faith No More proved to be much stronger than Coheed and Cambria, it were Saturday's headliners that delivered the goods. Muse simply rocked Coachella in the way you want it to happen. Opening with a powerful "Uprising" and "Supermassive Black Hole," the band never looked back. The group's bigger-than-big sound reminded me of the Queen shows I caught when I was a youngster, and there is a powerful blend of classical music and arena rock that really works. Count me as impressed.
Day two ended and merged into day three as I watched Devo thrill the masses not afraid to keep the party going as long and late as possible. Sure, Devo has been performing its artsy mix of new wave, punk, alternative rock and art damage since the early ’70s. But how wonderful to see the band pack the Mojave tent late Saturday night and generate the kind of excitement that usually greets newer acts playing the fest. What’s more, Devo’s new material — notably the infectious rocker “Fresh” — was just as powerful as the group’s big 1980 hit “Whip It.” The outfit still sounds timeless and modern, and the creative use of video juxtaposed with each song provided something magical that will surely (and quickly) become part of Coachella lore.
Sunday, April 18
By day three, I was pretty tired. The long days of standing in the blazing sun and getting up early to email posts to my editor had started to take their toll. But the good news, I saw some incredible performances on Sunday. Singer-songwriter Kevin Devine kicked things off just after noon with a politically-charged set in the Gobi tent and things only got better from there. L.A.'s Local Natives, Mutemath, Deerhunter and Sunny Day Real Estate all performed fantastic sets. But it were the trio of sets from Jónsi, Phoenix and Thom Yorke (with his outfit Atoms for Peace) that I will long remember.
Jónsi – This Icelandic singer-songwriter’s solo album go is already one of my favorites this year, and the chance to see him showcase cuts off the newly-released nine-song disc drew me to the Outdoor Theatre early on Sunday. My expectations were high, yet the Sigur Rós frontman’s potent set exceeded them handily. When Jónsi closed with an extended and emotive “Grow Till Tall,” it was as if the desert sky had been shattered by his tenor voice soaring high into falsetto amidst the layered backdrop of percussion, keyboards and other instruments.
One of the most original artists of the modern rock era, his blend of world music, rock, classical and experimentation continues to challenge, thrill and touch listeners on levels that defy most writers (this one included) to adequately convey it in words. If you haven’t seen Sigur Rós or Jónsi, please do — it’s a must.
In terms of the sets from Phoenix and Thom Yorke's supergroup Atoms for Peace, these were also fantastic. Phoenix was upbeat and fueled a dance-styled craze on the field, while Yorke's show was intense and artful.
I did check out some of Gorillaz' night ending display on the Coachella Stage, but truthfully I was so exhausted from the weekend that I headed for my car early. Coachella continues to be one of the strongest concert events on my calendar and I hope to be able to make it an annual event.