When approaching a sprawling venue and 90-band lineup such as Coachella perhaps my most naive plan of action was to have a plan of action. Boasting acts from the comeback kids of Nine Inch Nails and New Order, the dance feigns of Bloc Party and Kasabian, and the newly crowned kings of theatricality Bright Eyes and the Arcade Fire, 2005’s party in the desert was bigger, better and a hell of a lot cooler than years past, leaving this lowly fan-come-reporter to spend the majority of her weekend tent hopping and physically struggling to see as much as humanly possible. Employing five stages, all of which stood island-like amongst long stretches of sprawling polo field greenery, this sixth installment of the now famous concert gathered more musicians than ever, making sprinting a must, bathroom breaks few and far between and end-of-the-day satisfaction hard to come by. And it is with these dilemmas in mind, that Artsweek hereby brings to you the highlights, the low lights and the shitty time conflicts that had over 50,000 people flocking to Indio, Calif., for this year’s Coachella Valley Music Festival.
Coldplay – It’s hard not to be pretentious when your band is being hailed as the biggest in the world after only five years together. Still, boyish charm and amazing talent somehow make it okay for Chris Martin to proclaim that he is about to play the “best song ever” before launching into a track off of the upcoming X&Y. Between dedicating anthems to the late, great Johnny Cash and skipping off the stage into a crowd of thousands, Martin and his cohorts held their own and seemed to feel at home headlining under the stars.
Bloc Party – Playing to an overflowing Mojave Tent, the London-based band lived up to the hype and racked up some extra points for drawing that many people away from the Bauhaus reunion. The high-energy set (or at least the part of it that I was able to witness) had kids singing and pogo-ing at such a furious rate that one half-expected the place to explode. The tent reached maximum capacity long before front man Kele Okereke boldly announced that his band could play “slow jams,” too, but the frenetic energy found it’s way back for the live version of “Banquet” (soon to be dubbed a hit single by local radio stations nationwide).
Weezer – While mixed reviews have surrounded Weezer’s show on Saturday night, I am personally willing to forgive and forget that painful new ditty about how “we are all on drugs” and give the hometown boys’ act a thumbs up. While the set did not instill too much hope about the upcoming release of Make Believe, the band’s latest full-length, it did prove that “Buddy Holly” and “The Sweater Song” are true classics (and that Rivers Cuomo can rock a plaid sports coat harder than any used car salesman in the greater Los Angeles area).
Rilo Kiley – While some found solace in the diminishing heat as the sun set over Indio, others breathed a sigh of comedic relief as Efren Ramirez (aka Pedro from “Napoleon Dynamite”) took to the Outdoor Stage to introduce alt-country rising stars Rilo Kiley. The actor gave in to crowd pressures and urged Jenny Lewis’ fans to “build her a cake or something” before scurrying off stage. The set itself was a hands-down highlight as Lewis crooned and wailed through favorites (“The Execution of All Things”) and newer tracks (“I Never”) alike, never faltering as the crowd waxed and waned during one of the most congested and conflicted hours of the day.
UNKLE – A note to music critics everywhere: upon venturing to the Sahara Tent for James Lavelle (aka UNKLE)’s DJ set I was graced by the sounds of Jeff Tweedy as he sang his way through “Handshake Drugs” with so much gusto that I was left questioning my sanity as I walked away. And it is with this in mind that I point out that Lavelle had a lot to prove, at least to me. Still, amidst a crowd of sweaty kids and beneath a set of ornate chandeliers, UNKLE had even the demurest of us on our feet and dancing like madmen. Despite the lack of oxygen that accompanies being in close proximity with a couple thousand people in the middle of an 80-degree day, the mix climaxed at its close with the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” spun in such rapid-fire succession that by the end I was left wondering what had hit me.
Keane – Some bands are just best enjoyed while munching a snack and sipping a beer. This is not to say that Keane put on a bad show, simply that the band’s energy and stage presence played out much like a lethargic lounge act. Even Tom Chaplin’s spot-on vocals could not save his awkward gesturing and grandiose mic stand handling.
The Raveonettes – Think doo-wop meets Velvet Underground, then add a sprinkling of rockabilly goodness and you have the makings of the Raveonettes’ powerful, albeit brief set which included a rousing version of the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Embodying surf rock sounds and punk rock attitudes, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo powered through the 3 p.m. timeslot like they were headlining a sold-out club show. Taking on the growing Coachella Stage crowd, the Denmark-dwelling duo managed to put me back in the spirit after a nearly two-hour long trek from the car to admittance.
Bright Eyes – Perhaps it was the sound troubles, or maybe the wardrobe snafus, but Bright Eyes’ night-ending set played out more like performance art than an indie rock show. In between mic adjustments and belt changes, Conor Oberst and his band (composed Sunday of the majority of the Faint, along with Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner) wailed and pounded through tracks off of 2004’s Digital Ash In A Digital Urn[[ok]] in haphazard glory, amidst howling desert winds that left the vocals (and some of the crowd) feeling a bit distorted.
The Faint – They might be dripping with ’80s throwbacks, but the Faint knows how to bring the dance. After screaming my lungs dry through Nine Inch Nails, and sprinting half a polo field to reach the close of the Faint’s set, I began to doubt both my sanity and my ability to stand on my own two feet. Still, even the most over-exhausted cannot deny the raw appeal of electro-clash set closers “Agenda Suicide” and “Worked Up So Sexual.”
NIN – I think it’s safe to say that Trent’s back. After Sunday night, it almost seemed difficult to recall his rehab-filled years of absence. Sweating and screaming through old (“Terrible Lies”) and new (“You Know What You Are?”) the current incarnation of Nine Inch Nails plowed through its headlining set with fervent anger reminiscent of albums past, closing with the career-spanning summary of “Closer,” “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like A Hole” before trashing the stage like the rock stars they are.
The Arcade Fire – Furthering proving that the Outdoor Stage was the place to be Sunday, the Arcade Fire powered through its monster of a set and left not a single audience member doubting the power of the almighty accordion. Bombastic outfits and grandiose set up aside, the band conveyed a sense of urgent energy and joy amidst its eight members that won the crowd over, especially during anthems like “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies).”
Tegan and Sara – The first half of a Canadian double-threat (well, triple-threat if you count Tegan and Sara separately), the sisters took to the Outdoor Stage pre-the Arcade Fire and got the place hopping with their melodic brand of anguished guitar playing. Strumming through their catalogue opposite the Futureheads, the girls held their own and checked our health, inquiring rather demurely as to how many of us had thrown up during the weekend.
Kasabian/the Bravery – No one expected Kasabian to be the act to follow, especially after their self-titled debut was panned by every critic worth mentioning. That said, the Englanders tore their way through 50 minutes of synth-guitar and dance beats that left the tent crowd sweaty, breathless and eager for more. What immediately followed this surprise set though was the not-so-fresh and not-so-lively sounds of “hype band of the day,” the Bravery. Tech problems aside, the band members looked and felt like they had skipped practice to perfect their hair and makeup; a dilemma for any New Wave revivalist group that began losing fans to flat irons so early in its career.