“Hello, hippies,” Maynard James Keenan said as his circus-metal foursome Tool took the stage at Coachella Sunday night. During the last 90 minutes of the set, I spotted two shirtless men in jester hats and a woman screaming about nuclear war, made out with a woman with dreadlocks from Phoenix who kept talking about the various mushrooms she’d taken, and got pulled off my dance partner during Madonna’s set because a drunk woman in a bikini wanted to freak two guys at the same time. This isn’t hippie land; this is I.V. all over again.
Coachella has been called Burning Man Lite by many: an aggregation of all the freaks, rabble-rousers and snotty scenesters the West Coast has to offer. Goldenvoice, however, knows how to turn the circus into a classy production. Bands like Massive Attack never play live – unless, of course, they’re paid a cool million by rich promotion agents. When they do get paid, they bring out the singer from the Cocteau Twins and fifteen other special guests, play all of their hits and make a bunch of stoners pass out from the heat.
Admittedly, the guests at Coachella aren’t as prepared for the festivities as those at Warped Tour. When I tried to crowd surf during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I promptly bonked a bunch of preteens on the head. But isn’t that what we wait for every year – a good kick in the noggin?
I guess I should start writing about the acts, because that’s what I get paid for. Tool played a concise, snap-crackle-pop set that was nearly flawless – I did hear a missed note during the opening riff of “Forty-Six and Two.” The prog-metal virtuosos delivered a set drawing from the new and the old, with Danny Carey playing on a drum set fashioned from melted-down cymbals. New songs like “The Pot” hearkened back to the Lollapalooza days, when people at festivals didn’t light couches on fire.
Others didn’t live up to expectations. To a catcall choir of boos, Madonna started 30 minutes late despite the fact that she’d arrived – via helicopter – earlier in the day. After playing six recent songs, she effectively bounced. Thanks, Ms. Lock, Stock and Too Many Dancers. Bloc Party did not seem as raucous as last year, possibly due to their humid late-afternoon timeslot at the Outdoor Theatre. Although their new songs were promising, their set list relied heavily on old tunes that garnered little response, once again proving that we are indeed better than the British.
Sleater-Kinney, however, showed their bones, proving that even when 30,000 girls dress up as supermodel groupies for Coachella, three girls in tank tops can still out-sexy them. Unlike Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whose screaming scared me like any S&M fortuneteller would, guitarist Carrie Brownstein yelled, “You waited all day for this shit!” Yes, I certainly did. In a war-ridden, cynical world, Coachella keeps the impulsive hippie consciousness alive.