Thursday, May 04, 2006

Coachella 2006 - Day Two

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The morning (or early afternoon) after Depeche Mode delivered an energetic performance of “Never Let Me Down Again,” I wondered if that might well be the theme of the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. After all, after witnessing all or part of almost two dozen sets on day one of the fest, artists here seldom disappoint.

Of course, I had to take a detour before getting to that Dave Gahan-promised land of never letting me down again courtesy of the noise of the Octopus Project. Performing at noon on the Outdoor Theatre stage, I could only listen in horror thinking of so many more talented artists that could be showcased. They made Gram Rabbit’s 2005 performance sound good.

Things got better quickly when Giant Drag took the same stage next around 1:05 p.m. I caught the first six songs delivered by the duo (singer-guitarist Annie Hardy and drummer/keyboardist Micah Calabrase). Although Hardy is often compared to Liz Phair or PJ Harvey, I thought she was funny and a true original. The Laguna Beach native is armed with loads of charisma and freely chatted with members of the audience positioned at the front of the stage. She delivered the funniest line of the weekend (“I saw Kanye yesterday; so did a bunch of lame white people”) and Giant Drag’s version of “Wicked Game” was an absolute winner.

Then it was off to see Youth Group, where I arrived near the Coachella Stage about 10 minutes into their set just in time to hear an amazing version of “Forever Young” (the band’s version of the Alphaville ‘80s classic is featured on “Music from the O.C.: Mix 5”), before the Sydney, Australia-based band played some great originals, notably the Pet Shop Boys meets Wire Train-styled “Shadowland.”

By this time Sunday, the temperature was clearly around 100 so I sat down in a shady area to catch the full set from Los Amigos Invisibles (2:14-3:10 p.m.) on the Coachella Stage. The Venezuela-born Latin dance group played an intoxicating mix of disco, funk and acid jazz that was perfect for the afternoon heat.

Looking back, the next band I caught was likely the most thrilling performance of Sunday. The Magic Numbers, two sets of siblings (Sean and Angela Gannon, Romeo and Michelle Stodart), are clearly as original as they are talented. During the group’s Coachella set (3:31-4:20 p.m. on the Coachella Stage), I heard musical echoes of artists ranging from the 1960s’ West Coast rock scene (the Mamas & the Papas, clearly), but there is something timeless about Romeo’s natural approach. Listening to the folk-tinged “Don’t Give Up the Fight” or the pretty vocal harmonies-rendered “I See You, You See Me,” I could envision those songs having been big hits 40 years ago. And (radio and Vh1 willing) they could be huge today too. “Love’s a Game” could have been penned by Burt Bacharach, while several new songs penned for the group’s forthcoming sophomore effort (notably the uptempo “Take a Chance”) sound like they are expanding the sonic reach of the quartet without any loss of magic.

Next, it was off to grab some pizza (as hot as it was, I needed more than water after spending 5 or 6 hours on the polo field) and check out Matisyahu’s 45-minute set from the shady comfort of a hill overlooking the big stage. His reggae-rock hybrid is catchy and his performance outdistanced the more celebrated Kanye West appearance a day earlier. “King Without a Crown” is an accessible track, but ultimately the mix of Hasidic chant, crunchy guitars and beatboxing left me somewhat cold. However, I can see hardcore fans of reggae being drawn by his spiritual fervor in ways that didn’t connect with me.

With the impending storm known as “Madonna” set to arrive at the Sahara Tent around 8:10 p.m., it was time to head over to get a place inside. First, there was a full-length set of sounds and sights courtesy of celebrated DJ-remixer-producer Paul Oakenfold. Despite the incredible heat inside the tent, people danced and danced during his extended set.

Madonna was set to play just after 8, but went on much later (I think she went on 30 minutes late, almost unheard of at Coachella) and only played around 35 minutes. I was positioned toward the back of the tent and really could only see the diva via the video screens. She seemed to put on an energetic show, but the heat and lack of clear sight lines left me ultimately disappointed. Damn, not being 6’4” when I go to these types of shows…I should have gone and checked out Bloc Party and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs instead.

Sunday night was a whirlwind of walking around and trying to see as much as I could before Coachella 2006 disappeared into the past. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Tool and only watched a few songs. Massive Attack, whose performance preceded Tool on the Coachella Stage, was better – especially when performing the more ethereal trip-hop side. When the band rocked, it was not as effective.

The Scissor Sisters were the perfect act to close things out, performing into the midnight hour. All fun, with the cool night and grassy plain in front of the Outdoor Theatre providing a spacious place to dance and groove.

Looking back, I caught all or parts of sets from more than two dozen acts. I only wish I had been able to check out twice that many. I wish I could have caught Cat Power, Imogen Heap, the Like, Bloc Party, Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Wolf Parade and Nine Black Alps.
And I’m sure many more were worth a look and listen too…

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