Saturday, April 16, 2011

Coachella Day 1: An Overview

Artwork is a big part of Coachella, including the "reelMobile" (a reel-to-reel tape player on wheels) and the Asian-styled Pagoda where people can gather together while seeking shelter from the desert sun.

Those who go to Coachella simply because they want to see a single act, or because they simply want to "hang out" or try to catch a celebrity sighting (I almost walked into Paul McCartney last night! Now that got even me star struck!), really do miss out. Take my day 1 experience at the fest.
It began with checking out some of the impressive artwork positioned around the Empire Polo Club in Indio, but included a number of entertaining and energetic performances during the heat of the day, magic of twilight as the sun turned to a yellowish glow in the west and finally in a welcoming cool night.
The Rural Alberta Advantage launched proceedings on the Outdoor Theatre with a hard-hitting set under a blistering sun at 1:15 p.m. (right on time).
Performing its intoxicating blend of indie rock, folk and electronica (thanks to several songs that utilized only drums and keyboards), singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist Nils Edenloff fought off a cold as he led his threesome (keyboardist Amy Cole, drummer Paul Banwatt) through 13 songs over the course of 35 minutes.
Highlights of the set came quickly, with my favorite song "Tornado '87." Edenloff explained that the song was a true story of a terrible twister experience he has as a child.
"Muscle Relaxants" allowed Edenloff and Cole to blend their voices, while Banwatt's incredible drum playing served as the lead instrument, bounding over and around the acoustic guitar and keyboards.
"Drain the Blood" was a driving rocker, not an easy feat as the Alberta-raised Edenloff played his sweat-soaked acoustic guitar like his troupe was the day's headliner.
Maybe before long they will be.

Performing on the Coachella Stage in front of a big crowd, the Los Angeles-based Ozomatli may have been a stranger to some in the huge crowd at 3:30 p.m. but was likely a band they felt they knew well when things came to an emotional close an hour later. Not many outfits play a sonic stew that includes rock, urban hip-hop, funk, reggae, merengue and East Los Angeles R&B, but Ozomatli played all that in typically-winning fashion.

The group's momentum built in intensity as the set moved along. A version of "City of Angels" kicked things off strongly enough. But by the time the group got to "Saturday Night" positioned near the end of the set, the eight-member band had somehow mixed up rap, riff-rock and dance music to the delight of a crowd challenged to dance and jump around in the desert heat.
After Ozomatli's set came to an official end, the band members went into the crowd - instruments in hand - in an embrace that capped a special performance.

Perhaps the strongest performance of the day I caught was the last two songs from The Drums. Performing in the Mojave tent, the group had a large crowd totally caught up in their '80s-sounding dance-rock concoction. My short listen had me drawing comparisons between them and Echo & the Bunnymen.

I can't say I loved Ms. Lauryn Hill's entire set. I thought she got off to a sluggish start, but things did pick up about four songs into her run. I kind of felt that same way about Cold War Kids. After watching the quartet perform just over 15 minutes, I extracted myself from a packed audience at the Outdoor Theatre and headed to see Interpol back at the Coachella Stage. The band put on a great show, blending its goth-rock sound mined from the Cure, Church and Bauhaus with modern rock across 50 minutes. I was not quite as impressed with the Black Keys, although that may have as much to do with me being seated so far away (I finally took a break to get off my feet after 10 hours of walking/standing pretty much non-stop).
Before heading out, I caught the day 1 headliner, Kings of Leon. I had previously seen the band a couple of times, but that was a few years back when they opened for U2. They have definitely expanded their sound and now embrace arena rock in a big way. That was clear across the band's 70-minute set, complete with a flashy fireworks finale.

Looking back at day 1, Interpol and Rural Alberta Advantage were the best full sets I caught, but of course I only caught a fraction of all the musical action. Well, today I'll be back at it. I'll post tomorrow morning to let you know what I saw.

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