By the time Crystal Castles’ set in the Sahara tent ended early Friday evening, my muscles were sore, my skin was covered in other people’s sweat and one of the lenses from my prescription glasses had gone missing.
This was my third year at Coachella, and the third time that a band stood out as the clear winner for best showmanship of the day.
Rather than deliver cute banter in between songs, lead singer Alice Glass instead chose to wrap the microphone chord around her neck, bite it and swing it against her forehead to make a percussion sound.
Between the live instruments and the multitude of fans moshing against the speakers, the sound quality wasn’t perfect, but the raw chaos was far more exciting than the boring, pre-recorded music spun by several rather disappointing electronic acts I saw earlier that day, like Felix Da Housecat and Girl Talk.
But loving a band on the set list so much that you’re willing to sacrifice your safety just isn’t enough to get you through a day at Coachella. You also need skills like the ability to trek around in the heat without complaining and comfort with peeing in places other than a toilet. My resourceful friend, for instance, avoided long porta-potty lines by sneaking a Gatorade bottle up his pant leg and subtly m
moving it to his crotch area.
Had he not been so creative, he would have missed a surprisingly light-hearted and earnest set by The Ting Tings.
By pre-planning your Coachella experience, you should never have to commit an entire hour to the same act (unless it’s a performance you can’t bear to leave). We watched soulful folk-rocker Leonard Cohen as we shoveled down fish tacos at the food court and then listened to Morrissey’s rich, baritone voice from the beer garden. From there, we caught the last of Beirut, another band lead by an elegant male singer. Beirut narrowly beat Leonard Cohen as the most exciting (but slower) folksy act I saw that night, thanks to great accordion and trumpets.
We moved onto Rahzel, joined by Mike Patton, who beat-boxed so well that it took me several minutes to understand that the vibrations coming under my feet were all being generated by his voice, not an actual bass. After this novelty wore thin, we danced to The Presets, another keyboard-dependent electronic duo. Singer Julian Hamilton’s distinctive, Broadway show tunes-gone-crazy singing voice was much more fun than Paul McCartney’s, whose heavily-promoted headlining set overlapped with The Presets.
Luckily, I could still hear him from the fire-breathing dragon, one of the many art exhibits on display at the Empire Polo Field. The art is what helps give Coachella its special atmosphere, making you feel like you’re at a musical theme park for stoners and just plain crazy people, rather than a typical concert.
— Amy Silverstein
Let me first say, regarding Coachella, that the combination of intense heat and sleeping in a tent for two nights (with a techno blaring loudly for 3 1/2 hours, starting around 1 a.m.) will significantly reduce a person’s will to live, eat or even walk around. Secondly, let me say that Coachella is fun enough for that not to matter in the slightest.
By Saturday, I had finally found a rhythm at stage-hopping, guaranteeing that I saw all the acts I wanted to while still having enough time in-between acts to munch on a $4 churro.
The entire day was packed with more dancing than most humans do in a month, as well as a good deal of confusedlooking people trying to figure out how to pay for waters, after their brains had been so fried one would doubt whether they retained the skill to count their money.
My Saturday highlight was M.I.A., who put on a ridiculously infectious set that even managed to make annoying air-horn sounds intensely satisfying and even exciting. She called the crowd onto the stage with her for a few songs, although that was highlighted by the annoying people who couldn’t put away their camera phones long enough to dance onstage with a London jungle-hop goddess.
Soon after that, at the Gobi Tent, Turbonegro released a completely different type of energy, assaulting a willing audience with its metal sound. In the first full-on mosh pit I saw at Coachella, there was some intense metallic fervor going on for the semi-ironic Norwegian rockers.
“This is the first time I’ve been sober in my entire life,” lead singer Hank Von Helvete informed the crowd, before launching his rather large body full force into another thrasher while bouncing his man-boobs up and down suggestively.
Also playing Saturday was the spoken-word reincarnation of former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, who told a series of stories about how it was important to be punk and that you should keep your eyes wide open and never believe what the media tells you. The crowd predictably applauded the parts that it was supposed to agree with (“George Bush sucks! You guys rock!”), but Rollins was still an arresting and interesting speaker.
MSTRKRFT found his way onstage about half-an-hour after his appointed time of 11 p.m., which was pretty taxing for all the people standing inside the Sahara tent. When he did arrive, he delivered a pounding (if a bit repetitive) set that sent the crowd into a frenzy of crazed dancing and other bodily vibrations… and quite a bit of self-massaging and glowstick lightshows for crowds of seated people.
Saturday at Coachella was a blur of walking between stages and trying to see all the bands on the schedule, but was ridiculously fun despite the unbelievably hot sun.
— Michael Hafford
Though Coachella’s audience often veers decidedly toward a youthful demographic, and its lineup mostly corresponds to this, festival promoters always leave a couple headlining spots open for older, more experienced acts that still have enough talent (and functioning brain cells) left that they haven’t been featured on some celebrity rehab-type show on late-night VH1. Last Sunday, some of the festival’s finest offerings came from bands that came onto the scene before the Internet even existed, much less before the World Wide Web became a tool for the hype and self-promotion that garnered many of the day’s other artists a spot on the Coachella lineup.
After navigating through the insane, dangerous parking mess and getting inside the festival Sunday afternoon, I made a beeline for the Mojave Tent (or, as one friend aptly described it, “the armpit of Coachella”).
Though it’s been nearly 30 years since the band made a name for itself as part of the emergent L.A. punk scene, the band still puts on a hell of a live show. I nearly lost my shoes and belongings to a throng of slam-dancing, moshing, leather-clad, sweaty old guys.
After the legendary shoegazers of My Bloody Valentine ran through two relatively structured and melodic numbers, the already deafening sound kept cranking itself up as the band went through more songs and finally launched into a glorious, never ending cacophony of overlapping and interacting sounds that seemed to launch the fully absorbed crowd into outer space.
The Cure’s set was a far more soothing one, and the band sounded as clear and crisp as ever. The Cure’s sound has aged remarkably well; songs from more-recent albums were almost indistinguishable from hits from the band’s ’80s heyday.
Though all three of these bands’ sounds were tight and energetic, the appearance of the musicians behind them was anything but. These musicians serve as a cautionary tale about what years of hard-partying excess can do to a person… in addition, of course, to showing the younger bands how things are supposed to be done.
— Virginia Yapp