Hot as blazes and distant from any notable outpost of civilization, the desert of Indio, Calif. doesn’t jump to mind when one considers ideal concert locales. Last weekend, this logic was thrown in the backseat as the now legendary Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival stomped into town for its fourth round, bringing with it over 75 artists from rock, hip hop and everything in between playing to the masses for two sun-soaked days.
Top-notch bands, kicked off by the excellent NY garage rock of the Mooney Suzuki, dominated the early afternoon. The Donnas followed, serenading the crowd with “Do You Want to Hit It?” followed by “Take Me to the Backseat,” dedicating the songs to those over 21. I could relate, especially with the drummer. Aside from their music, the Hives’ onstage banter was hilarious, as when they asked the audience, “Who here doesn’t like the Hives? Oh yeah? What’s your complaint, pricks?” Priceless.
Overall, the hip hop acts on Saturday were a bore. Talib Kweli and the Liks both did the typical DJ-MC setup, spitting lyrics that were for the most part indecipherable and demanding the audience put their hands up every few minutes. N.E.R.D. showed up only to half-heartedly play four songs, spending the rest of the time attempting to get the crowd to yell “peace” and plugging their label’s other acts. Other than the Beastie Boys, only the Black Eyed Peas broke this mold, packing a full band and effectively connecting with their audience.
Queens of the Stone Age hit the stage with both barrels blazing, keeping the crowd in pandemonium for almost the entire set, while those at the Blur show that preceded it and the Ben Harper one that followed it vibed serenely. In a sort of vice versa, Queens mostly played material off their second album, Rated R, while Blur played new material almost exclusively, with an old hit or two thrown in to keep fans’ attention.
The day’s headliners, the Beastie Boys, only disappointed when they stopped rapping. As the Boys scolded people for crowd surfing and bunching too close together, I found myself reminiscing of the days when they talked about stealing bikes and lobbing eggs at people. Regardless, they rhymed over everything from old Ill Communication rhythms to club beats from the Neptunes, delivering a great time for all. Mixmaster Mike stole the show, throwing on beat after beat and battling a fierce desert wind hefty enough to blow his records off the turntable. Seriously.
As the Beasties wrapped things up, I checked to see if the Libertines had decided to show up yet, as there had been a nameless band in their place early. No such luck. Technical glitches in Ladytron’s earlier set pushed the Libertines into the last 10 minutes of the night, before having the plug pulled (literally). The day had become fairly chilly and I jogged over to those being herded out of the exits, still taking in all that I had seen but enviously mumbling under my breath at those with hotels nearby and tickets for day two.