It’s hot. Not painfully hot, not warm, just hot. OK, maybe really hot, but bearable. It’s the kind of hot that’s just this side of uncomfortable, when your shirt,if you’re wearing one, is a consistent, invisible damp all over, and your armpits and lower back become a jungle furnace, humid and sticky and warm and for some reason, not all that unpleasant to members of the opposite sex. Not on this weekend anyway. Because this weekend is Coachella. And if you haven’t met, allow me to introduce you.
Every April, 60,000 stark raving mad music fans descend upon the Californian desert, 125 miles west of Los Angeles, to swill warm Heineken, maybe drink water, buy over-priced hamburgers, dress in too much or too little, but never too comfortably, and speak broadly about their intimate relationship with each and every one of the 129 bands playing at Coachella. Except Jack Johnson. Because, like comfortable clothes, he, too, is unhip.
The irony here is about as thick as the desert heat: A festival that caters primarily to pasty urban audiophiles is set in the dusty flatland of Southern California. But while watching a clubber sweat through their skinny jeans at Hot Chip is amusing, it serves only as a sideshow of schadenfreude to the main act.
The main act this year was big. Many Coachella regulars and music critics panned the festival for its weak musical offering, and if that’s the case, then I suppose I have shitty taste in music. Prince, Roger Waters, Portishead and, ahem, uh, Jack Johnson headlined, and the vast majority of the bands supporting offered an eclectic hodgepodge of indie pop, hard rock, hip-hop, world beats, trance, one dub poet and plenty more.
With so many bands playing at staggered times under three tents and on two outdoor stages, tackling the entire set list is, quite literally, an impossible feat–like trying to juggle handleless knives without getting cut. But it is enjoyable, and more than exhausting, to try.
Hot Chip was one of the highlights of the midsize bands – or any band, for that matter – filling their 50-minute set with non-stop music that morphed their electronic pop into an Ibiza-worthy set.
M.I.A., who’s popularity over the last few months has been exploding to much the same degree as Hot Chip’s tent was that weekend, was the train wreck of the festival. Performing in a tent much too small for her audience, not to mention her ego, she forced out a set to a crowd she clearly didn’t think was worthy to hear it.
The band that everyone was hoping beyond hope would kill it, did. In their Saturday night set, Portishead delivered a performance well beyond most concertgoers’ expectations, enthralling a weary crowd with their murky beats, stark lyrics and Beth Gibbons’ hypnotizing voice. Their website’s blog, Geoff Barrow said of the show, “We were so far away from the crowd it was a bit weird to tell if people connected with us.” Well, Geoff, if you’re reading this, don’t worry: You did.
Satisfying the festival, and possibly irking Floyd purists, Roger Waters spent his second set playing Dark Side of the Moon, from start to finish and stuck to the more popular songs in the Pink Floyd catalogue (The Wall, Wish You Were Here). But you know, if you’re only going to see him once, that’s all you really want him to do. After all, there’s nothing quite like 30,000 people yelling at the stage, “Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone.” For those worried about vocals sans David Gilmour and Rick Wright, don’t. The music may be note-for-note from the album, but it’s flawless, with all of the psychedelic imagery you could hope for.
Prince is simply a six-string icon, flicking the whammy bar with his hip, shredding solos to the edge of insanity and back, and simply a joy to watch. The diminutive funk-soul-rocker packs more sex appeal in his small frame, that it’s hard not to fall under his spell. The fact that he covered ‘Come Together’ and ‘Creep’ is aural justification for what a badass he really is.
Last, but not least, and without delving into too much detail, My Morning Jacket’s hype as the best live band around isn’t even hype, if anything it’s understated. Their indiscriminating exploration of musical genres simply adds up to a premier rock and roll show. Listening to them, you can’t tell if you’ve taken a time machine to 2012 or to 1977.
The list is endless of acts that impressed and depressed. The Raconteurs and all-time-great Jack White play wonderful throwback rock that’s much more appropriately digested in person than on their records. Gypsy punkers Gogol Bordello are a band of roving circus storytellers, and while their novelty may wear off, they’re too insane to miss right now.
Arguably, the best part of the festival discovering your true tastes. Bands you thought you loved, leave you lukewarm, and bands you’d overlooked leave you scouring your CD collection, music downloads and record shops for their tunes. It kind of makes baking in the desert sun worth it.