I’ve been trying to encapsulate my thoughts on Coachella for a few days now, and every time I find the task more and more daunting. How do I sum up three days of non-stop music, featuring some of the greatest artists of today (and a few of all time)? How do I explain an experience that I’ve been gossiping about for years now, finally come to fruition?
I’d been to a couple of multistage festivals before, but nothing approaching the sheer volume of talent that Coachella offers. Five stages – at least two or three of them operating at any one time – accessorized with massive art exhibits, a full-service campground and even a record store (handy for when Record Store Day falls on the same weekend). Operationally, I found almost nothing to complain about – despite having 160,000 people cross through the gates over three days, the festival ran like a well-oiled machine (minus a couple of delays for headliners to set up). Which, rightfully, put the music at centre stage.
So instead of trying to work my way through every single set from the weekend, here’s my “highlights edition” recap of an astonishing weekend.
– Craig Finn from the Hold Steady nerdily dancing along to every note of his band’s performance. No wonder the band has such a devoted following – his enthusiasm is infectious.
– Conor Oberst sporting the most ridiculous wardrobe of the weekend – a hideous hat and sunglasses combination – but one of the tightest backing bands. Too bad he let them sing a song or two.
– Franz Ferdinand’s Nick McCarthy rocking a broken leg but rocking regardless. Plus, awesome choices for the non-singles (“Outsiders” and “40 ft.” in particular).
– Morrisey’s great choices for Smiths tunes (“Ask”!) and living up to his prima-donna reputation. Not only did he complain endlessly about his sound, but he almost stopped his set due to the smell of meat (quipping, “I hope it’s human”).
– Paul McCartney absolutely owning the entire weekend with a set lasting almost three hours and hitting a full 35 songs. There are rumours that Macca might be playing Halifax this July, but his Coachella performance was so astonishingly comprehensive that I’m not sure I’d even go again. I’ve seen nearly everything McCartney could offer, and it was brilliant.
– Lying on the grass and zoning out to the dark grooves of Liars while the 20-somethings in front of us danced like idiots.
– Superchunk making a damn good argument for why they deserve more praise in the pantheon of 1990s indie rock.
– TV on the Radio reminding me – and several thousand others – why “Wolf Like Me” is one of this decade’s best singles. Too bad that about half their set was nearly ruined by a fuzzed-out low end, shaking the speakers and overwhelming every bit of melody and magic in the band’s sound.
– You could tell Fleet Foxes were bothered by the juxtaposition with Thievery Corporation on the other stage; it was one of the few times all weekend that competing sound from a nearby performance was an issue. They soldiered on, though, and ended beautifully with “Mykonos”
– M.I.A. lived up to her reputation of being memorable – but not the same way to everyone, I suspect. The weekend’s most divisive set saw the new mother dwell on her insecurities and use repetition as a crutch, but there was no denying the flashy spectacle she was offering. Complicated, to say the least.
– The Killers playing pretty much the same as they did when I saw them in Montreal, just with a bigger crowd and more new material. Good call ending on “When You Were Young,” though – that song’s a monster.
– I was a bit miffed that other plans led to me missing half of The Gaslight Anthem’s set – including all three singles – but the Jersey boys did alright on the strength of their album tracks. Thank goodness I didn’t miss “The Backseat.”
– Catching the Dandy Warhols’ Zia McCabe joining The Brian Jonestown Massacre on-stage. Anyone who’s see the documentary Dig! would have undoubtedly gotten a big kick out of that.
– Peter Bjorn and John were a textbook study of how to cherry pick a disappointing record – Living Thing – into a pretty spectacular set: choose the right songs and play them with gutso. Plus, they brought along a “Swedish smorgasbord” of support, from Lykki Li to Robyn.
– In contrast, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are touring the best album of their career and played as if they knew it. They had the crowd dancing with the hot tracks and melting in the palm of their hands with the ballads. They’ve found the perfect balance between brawn and beauty.
– At the end of My Bloody Valentine’s beautifully abrasive set, they played “You Made Me Realize,” stretching it into 10 + minutes of noise that had most of the crowd covering their ears. Perhaps the most punk rock thing I’d ever seen.
– We end with regrets: I regret that I spent time wandering instead of holding station at Public Enemy’s set for longer, because they were absolutely destroying It Takes a Nation of Millions… And then, because we had to drive back to L.A. – and because the band was inexicplibacly delayed for 40 minutes – I only got to see about 20 minutes of The Cure. They ended up playing for almost three hours (before getting cut off by festival organizers) in a prog-heavy set that probably wasn’t to my taste…but oh, how I would have loved to have heard “Just Like Heaven” or “In Between Days.”
Want more photos? With my brother and I both snapping pics, there’s plenty to go around after the break (his get the * beside them – plus, he shot the Macca and Killers shots above):
The Hold Steady