Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lights & Music: Coachella 2010

Blogger Status: No longer MIA!

So sorry for the rather long hiatus from the blogosphere...I returned from my 5 days in the California desert completely sleep deprived and yet in a crash course with a crazy hectic last week of the school, finals, and a full work schedule.  Anyway, as promised, and way over due, my music festival rundown:


WARNING: Longest post ever!

With every intention of making my long weekend as loooong as possible, I flew out Thursday morning before the sun was up.  Rob picked me up from the airport, and after a quick bout at COSTCO to stock up on supplies for the weekend, we ventured out of LA's urban sprawl into the vast California desert where the music festival is held in the Coachella valley at Indio Polo Fields.  After meeting up with some friends and my sis we made our way to the camping grounds and got comfy as the line to get into the field was pretty substantial.  The festival sold out, and more than 75,000 people showed up each day...yeah, there were people everywhere!

Camping was great, we met people from all over; sleeping apparently wasn't a priority for like anyone though, as the all night impromptu dance party next to our tent could attest too. Coachella definitely made the international scene this year, with substantial turn outs from Aussies, Europeans and South Americans, along with the normal So Cal mix up, pretty cool.


I made my way in early. There are 5 stages and official acts start around noon each day and wrap up around 1 am.  Plus there's the art exhibits set up all over and the DoLab, pretty much a club set up on a field that bumps all day long.  I was able to sneak in my DSLR Friday, evidently it counts as a professional camera - though it's totally entry level.  The other days I had to make do with a point and shoot.  Making my way to the gigantic tents set up on the even huger fields, I heard sounds from the first acts floating through the air - my anticipation and excitement levels were pretty high.  First up I caught partial sets from Kate Miller-Heidke, Deer Tick, DC native rapper Wale, and As Tall As Lions.  All pretty good, but nothing I had come to the festival to see.

Up next was Sleigh Bells.  By the end of a Coachella weekend, jamming your way into dense and near treacherous crowds of overflowing tents to see your favorite big names is pretty typical, but huge crowds turned up earlier than normal Friday afternoon with me to see some newcomers.  The crowds for Sleigh Bells and following act Yeasayer were huge.  Sleigh Bells has a totally unique style and they're good.  Yeasayer is almost really good, they're yet another group with a high voiced male singer (yeah, I'm into it) and with a couple pretty good songs, hopefully they can tap into their potential and come up with mostly good songs and a few great ones.  

About this point we made our way to the Sahara, aka the Dance, Tent.  We caught a bit of Proxy, man's straight out of Moscow, and throughout his whole set the sickle and hammer and other Communist images were all over the screens, a bit unusual but then again I ran around through 4 years of high school in a shirt saying 'CCCP' old men always thought I was Russian, ha, eh no it was our Cross-Country logo.
Proxy and his Soviet Union screen images in the Sahara Tent.

We stuck around dancing for a bit of Aeroplane - I love that Friendly Fires remix! and then made our way to the Outdoor theatre for She & Him.  Overall, they were good not great, but Zooey Deschanel was totally endearing, she is a movie star, and M. Ward can hold his own on guitar.  Passion Pit was next during sunset and they put on a great show, as newcomers they were totally awe-struck to be playing to such a huge crowd and lived up the moment. 
Passion Pit at the Outdoor Theatre

We then caught a bit of legendary Gil Scott-Heron, glytchy hip-hop synth musical creation Pretty Lights in the Dance Tent (download albums for free and legally here - it's his website), and hipster mother-ship Grizzly Bear.
Pretty Lights in the Sahara Tent

Reunited Echo & the Bunnymen were hands down the winners of best surprise performance.  I wasn't super familiar with the British post-punk group, and that made it even more of a treat when they completely blew me away.  It didn't hurt that they mixed in Lou Reed's Walk On the Wild Side, a sure way to win me over, and lead singer Ian McCulloch euphemistically chatted about something to do with him, Lou Reed, dinner and prostitutes...right.  Best song intro came after McCulloch introduced Walk On the Wild Side as the best song written by an American and followed with one of their songs, the best song ever written, and finally a third song which he introduced as the second best song ever written, began playing...and then "stop, stop stop" pause, "the second or third."  His pretentious ramblings throughout the set were funny and even charming.
Echo & the Bunnymen at the Outdoor Theatre

After that I caught an impressive set by Imogen Heep, who had sound trouble, and therefore did the whole thing acoustic on the fly...very skilled.  Up next was Little Dragon, I just love them, Swedish electro-pop with a bit of a dark-side.  Why are so many awesome groups coming out of Sweden these days?  
Imogen Heep in the Mojave Tent

The night wound down with Vampire Weekend, not my favorite but the indie kings were admittedly pretty fun, followed by Jay-Z, the man is talented, played an awesome set full of crowd-pleasers and oh yeah brought out Beyonce. 

Time came for the weekends first real sacrifice though...sure I had already skipped LCD Soundsystem (yeah, not really into it) and Them Crooked Vultures (which is saying something as I was basically in love with Dave Grohl from the ages of 13 to 16), but Fever Ray  was playing at the same time as Whitest Boy Alive, tough break.  We skipped out on the end of Jay-Z to catch Fever Ray, aka Karin Andersson (that's right, big surprise she's Swedish) of the Knife. They remind me a bit of Radiohead in the way they navigate around vocals almost as another instrument, foregoing the normal vocal sound...think Kid A. No surprise after the Radiohead likening, I'm a big fan. 
Fever Ray in the Mojave Tent

While a tent probably isn't as ideal a venue as like a dim basement club for Fever Ray, they were great. Andersson has been at times been referred too as Sweden's electro-witch, and their sound as goth pop, so it was totally acceptable that the band came out dressed as some sort of techno druids with pretty ghastly face paint, their were vintage lamps on set, a lot of smoke and lasers.  The experience was a bit surreal and very welcome.  Best part was, as Jay-Z was still going and deadmau5 starting up only dedicated fans filled the area.  It did hurt a bit skipping Whitest Boy Alive, but Fever Ray wins hands down. 
Fever Ray in the Mojave Tent

We finished our first  night in the Sahara at deadmau5, who had a set of epic proportion, fantastically visual (the man was mixing on a pyramid lit up like the stars), and an LED covered mouse hat with a light mouth that moved as he spoke.  Finally, after a great day we staggered back to the camp, rehashed the day with people for a bit and somehow found sleep amidst the heavy beat thumping next door.  Ready to do it again the next day.
deadmau5 in the Sahara Tent


Saturday started with Portugal. the Man who covered David Bowie, a sure way to get any hipster moving (or really any relatively normal twenty something, aka me, for that matter).  Next I made my way over to see my favorite radio personality, Jason Bentley of NPR affiliate LA based KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, mixing in the Sahara, he was pretty good.  Then Scottish band Camera Obscura (unknown to me, but really enjoyable) sticking around in the Mojave tent for following act Beach House, a show I was highlt anticipating. They didn't disappoint.  They're a bit mellow, and lead singer Victoria Legrand has a sort of breathy, ethereal voice.  Both Camera Obscura and Beach House were great, it was a solid one two punch in the Mojave.
Beach House in the Mojave Tent

After that we took our shoes of and sat in the grass while listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, an all around folky good time.  We then caught half of Gossip, and yeah lead singer Beth Ditto can sing, reminiscent of Arethra Franklin before running over to the Raveonettes, love them.  The volcano in Iceland kept a number of acts grounded in Europe, including half the Raveonettes.  Turns out only the lead duo made it into the States, and in a pretty brave move the two performed, without their band, an apparently impromptu set.  It was great, true to their roots, stripped down to just raw music and talent...no drum machine, musical aids, or any other stuff that sometimes clogs or distracts their music.  It reminded me why I love them.  After that we crowded the grass to watch the XX, and after a day and a half of bigger and louder at Coachella, the calm and near quiet of the group was amazing - it didn't hurt that I'm pretty infatuated with this group right now too.  We hopped on over to a bit of Dirty Projectors, new comers in the progressive rock genre, who were great.  Then Hot Chip.  Second time I've seen them, and yes, they were even better this time.  A laid-back sunset dance party on the grass.  
Sunset on Night 2

After crossing the short distance to the Main Stage, we listened to about 2 minutes of Faith No More before heading out – so you found my musical weakness, not really into metal. Then, along with it felt like everyone else at the festival, we pushed onward to the Outdoor theatre to see MGMT.  They were good, playing a lot of new stuff that was okay, nothing spectacular though.  But, literally the moment the first few chords of "Electric Feel" wafted through the desert air, everyone stopped -- the throngs of people criss-crossing to other stages halted, sitters jumped to their feet, and it felt like all 75,000 people for that moment tuned into MGMT and Electric Feel, going crazy over it.  That was spectacular, then it ended and criss-crossers kept moving, people sat, but that song was pretty epic.  Muse headlined the night, and they were unbelievable...it helps when you've been listening to a group for nearly a decade.  It was definitely over the top, lead singer/guitarist/pianist Matt Bellamy played guitar behind his back, over his head, and even did a Jimi Hendrix style Star Spangled Banner rendition.  It all worked for them though, and they blew it out of the water. After we caught a little of the Dead Weather set, but really none of Jack White's projects compare to the White Stripes.  And ended the night with Tiesto, who graduated from the Dance tent, and was playing on the Main Stage.
Teisto on the Main Stage


Day 3, the final day, brought a new string of great performances.  We started out with Local Natives, an LA band; and then we Owen Pallett, who plays the violin and used to go by Final Fantasy, next onto MUTEMATH with soulful vocals and sometimes strange instrumentals.  Up next, I learned Mayer Hawthorne is from Michigan in some in between song banter during his also soulful set.  Next, Matt & Kim played a surprisingly fun and energetic - only surprising to me though as I only knew one song going in, apparently energy is kind of their thing.  I like that the girl's name is Kim and she plays drums.  After, we caught a bit of British singer Florence and the Machine's set, I was definitely impressed by her vocals/stage presence, she really let it out.  
Club 75 in the Sahara Tent

After a bit, we crossed the polo fields to the Sahara tent for Club 75, an Ed Banger crew conglomerate with Busy P, DJ Mehdi and the guys from Justice.  They stepped out, said "Welcome to Paris" and got to it.  I'm easily won by poppy-French House, so I had a good time.  I then insisted we leave early to see Charlotte Gainsbourg, French actress/singer (you may remember her from such movies as the Science of Sleep or I'm Not There), who was totally great.  Her vocals can be a bit...dull to some - though I refuse to admit that, but everything worked for her at Coachella. She was up on stage singing/banging on a drum and really getting into, she didn't need Beck's back-up vocals like she had on the album, it was great just her. 
Charlotte Gainsbourg in the Gobi Tent

Heading over to Jonsi, front man of Sigur Ros, we caught sight of him coming on stage with a full Indian head-dress, amazing.  He is one of a handful of men that can engender so much emotion in their music that other men have been brought to tears.  Really, he was soooo good, and played at a perfect time, sunset on the last day.  It was more like an experience than a concert, as beautiful sounds engulfed you from every angle.  
Sunset of Day 3 - 
the cloud cover was a God send, taming the usual boiling temperature of the desert.

Then I caught a few songs from Spoon, another uber popular group I'm not that in to, before stopping by for about half of Phoenix's set.  The French superstars were an infectiously good time, at least for the first half we saw.  It got pretty windy after we left and I heard it just carried the sound away and left the end of the set a bit of a bust - good time to head to a tent.  We jumped into the last song of Miike Snow, yup they're Swedish, which happened to be this years hit for them "Animal."  And then crossed over with the masses to Infected Mushroom, yes legendary psychedelic trance electric group.  They had a pretty amazing stage set up, flanked on both sides by huge mushrooms, and the played an exciting set impossible not to get into.  
Infected Mushroom in the Sahara Tent

We stayed in the dance tent for the next bill, Orbital, pioneers of techno and house who reunited to play this show.  I cut out early for a bit of a guilty pleasure, Little Boots, she's like Kylie Minogue, it was a lot of fun, the crowd was really into the show and it was accompanied by pretty cool lazers.  I busted out at the end though, immediately making my way over to Thom Yorke.  
Orbital in the Sahara Tent

You may or may not be aware I'm a huge Radiohead fan.  So seeing Thom Yorke was possibly the highlight of the weekend for me.  He stepped on stage, said “My name's Thom” then he brought out his side project Atoms for Peace (including Flea of Red Hot Chilli Pepper's fame) and they played every song from Thom's album The Eraser, in order.  I love how relevant Thom Yorke is, that he released an solo album, 3 years ago!, and is now playing it in a headling spot at one of the largest music festivals in the country, crazy.  Anyway, the band left and Thom soldiered on by himself.  I about lost it.  It was pretty incredible, him up there just with a guitar and piano, playing acoustic.  He played two Radiohead songs, “Aribag” and “Everything in It's Right Place” totally stripped-down and acoustic, just vocals and the one instrument, with Thom on piano for the latter.  This was followed up by an extensive encore with the band. 

After Thom Yorke, everyone was pretty geared up for Gorillaz.  They played a spectacular set, with a pretty amazing and eclectic list of guests performers.  It was their first performance since 2005; I didn't really appreciate them back then, though yeah they're hits were totally catchy...Clint Eastwood anyone?...and didn't do much listening before the show, but the performance was pretty phenomenal.  On top of that, the Clash's Paul Simonon and Mick Jones played the whole set with them! the Clash!  The whole set was pretty focused on the music, and it was kind of a worldly electric pop – Mali music was there, hip-hop, soul, dancehall, an Arab orchestra as well as a bunch of other stuff, all disguised as pop; though the animation the Gorillaz are kind of known for was there and awesome as well.  Guests included De La Soul, Bobby Womak, Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon (who I already mentioned an affinity for) and samples from Snoop Dogg (performing via video) and Gil Scott-Heron.

Bottom Line: It was a great display of music.


becca said...

great review, kim! maybe someday i'll go.

Camille Lewis said...

umm... wow.

That sounds incredible. Thom Yorke.. wow. Jonsi? Jealous! And Mutemath? did you like them? I saw them at ACL, they were fun. And MUSE?!?!? I need to see that band. When I was at SXSW Muse put on a secret show in some basement and I'm still not over the fact that I was so close to seeing them, but so far.

Anyway, I'm glad your weekend was so awesome. You totally deserve it!

Sophie and Morgan said...

Out of curiousity, how many years have you been going to this?

And random thought, my brother got married to a girl from Chino Hills over the weekend. She said it's pretty close to Claremont though I've not taken the time to google map the exact layout.