Outdoor festivals are great on the West Coast. The hot sun tingles through the SPF 100 block, giving everyone a nice golden tan. The desert wind cools you down, and the palm trees and mountains decorate the world around you while you listen to some of the best music around today.
Coachella is a two-day event, on its fourth year, with 2 stages and three tents pumping music from noon to midnight. The stages are where most of the rock music is, as well as the "bigger" bands, while the tents hold some of the lesser-known acts and all the dance music. The Sahara Tent hosted the majority of the dance music, giving the feel of an all-day rave. The crowd that lingered there shaking their booty all day and night were typical rave kids, while the rockers banged their heads at the stages. In between both worlds were the beer gardens (where I spent quite a bit of time in between bands), food, and art exhibits.
But Coachella is really about the music. With so much of it going on all at once, the avid concert-goer must make lucrative decisions about who to see and what to miss. This is my account of the desert festival. Unfortunately, I couldn't be in more than one place at once, so this is a review of the music I was able to experience. (For the full line-up, check out: www.coachella.com)
The Gobi Tent was the smallest tent with the least known acts. I don't have anything against smaller acts, but there was so much other stuff going on, I never made it to that tent on the first day.
The first band I saw, or tried to see, were the Donnas. My friends and I were walking up to the Main Stage where they were playing, and right as we approached the area, we heard, "Thanks. We're the Donnas! See you next time!" We just laughed. They only played for a half hour and we'd missed it. Whatever, it's the Donnas.
The next band we checked out was The Rapture. They were in the Mojave Tent, which was the middle tent. Unfortunately, that tent was terrible all day. The sound was awful. It was too small to hold any sort of decent sound outside. Through no fault of their own, due to problems with the tent, The Rapture ended up going on much later, which ended up pushing back that tent's schedule all day. I felt bad for them. For those of you who don't know, The Rapture is a great retro rock band. Due to the audio problems, though, the singer's voice was muffled even though he was screaming. It was a terrible show, but it wasn't their fault. It was so bad that, unfortunately, the funniest thing I saw all day was a man in front of me, maybe a reporter, asking this lady to take his picture. He stood with the band playing on stage in the background holding a thumb's down sign. Ouch.
The surprise of the day was the band Kinky. One of the great things about Coachella is that there is so much good music, you discover a lot of bands that you'd never heard of before. For me, that was Kinky. They played on the Second Stage in the late afternoon sun. They were a fun rock band with lots of Latino flavor. Everyone was dancing and feeling the good vibes.
Next we rocked out to The Hives on the Main Stage. And they kicked ass. The music was great, and the singer (Pelle Almqvist) was funny and cocky. He wondered aloud what a few wacky Swedes did to be playing under the palm trees in Southern California. He was running up and down the stage, jumping on the speakers, towering over the audience. Very Jagger-esque. Total rock star. They also treated the audience to a country song as a joke, which was cute. The Hives played a great set and gave us some good rock n' roll.
When The Hives finished, I stayed at the Main Stage to check out Blur. They were good, it was kind of a chill set but I enjoyed it. They played a mixture of old and new stuff. Some rock songs and some dance songs like "Girls & Boys", etc.
After Blur, we ventured over to the Sahara Tent. Marques Wyatt was jamming. He's a great DJ from LA, and the host of Deep, which is, in my opinion, the best night out in Hollywood. And he kicked it up at Coachella. Even my friend from New York who was with me, who doesn't listen to house music, was dancin' her little head off, saying, "This kind of dance music I like!" For two rockers, we found a new home in house music. Masters at Work spun next, for two hours. I stayed for the first 20 minutes, and they were also great. Some of my friends remained for their entire set and told me later that the whole two hours were amazing. It was a non-stop dance party in the Sahara Tent. The sound was great, there was tons of room to dance, and we were running around like little girls. After awhile, though, I returned to the stage area to see what was going on over there.
I checked out Blue Man Group on the Second Stage. I liked the Second Stage a lot -- it was a smaller stage and much more intimate. You could get completely up close if you wanted to. Which I did for Blue Man, just to check them out, and it was cool. They had some sampled music to go along with their show, and it was a nice, entertaining performance. It was more than I had expected it to be.
We left their set early to wander over for the Beastie Boys who were on the Main Stage. Mix Master Mike was mixing it up, but it was not my thing. I listen to his Friday night show sometimes on Los Angeles' KROQ, but I came to hear the Beastie Boys, and they were not what I expected. I've seen them before, in a small venue in Paris in the summer of '98 and they were great. This was their first show in 4 years. It's not a Beastie Boys concert, though, it's a music festival -- they're only playing for an hour, I'm sorry, they should play some hits. But they didn't. To make it worse, they teased the crowd. A few songs into the set, they started playing "Brass Monkey." The crowd got all excited and started singing along, and then they stopped playing. Everyone paused. One of the Beastie's said, "Oh, sounds like you all wanted to hear that song." Yes, we did. But instead of continuing they just went into some other new mixy shit. That was a weak move. I left.
I was worried all day about the fact that Groove Armada, who I really wanted to see, were scheduled to play in the Mojave Tent. That was the one that was crappy all day. This wasn't their DJ set, this was their live set, which is much different. The DJ set is the two main guys spinning -- good dance stuff. But their live set is the two main dudes and like an eight-piece band along with them, which I felt belonged on the Second Stage. They went on very late (pushing The Libertines who were supposed to close that tent to play the next day instead) but somehow that tent pulled it together. It wasn't their best show. I was fortunate enough to have seen them 2 days prior at the Palace (check out the Groove Armada live article for more details). But they made the best of it and they sounded as good as could be in that tent. It was a nice closing to the end of the first day.
I started the day in the Gobi Tent (where I'd failed to make it the first day), to check out the Ian MacKaye Q & A session. It was a packed house and basically Ian was answering questions from anyone who had any. He talked of the old school days, when underground music was still underground. He professed that he didn't strive to be anti-corporate but that he just wanted to deliver good music. He discussed starting Discord Records in 1988, and some of the various bands he signed. It was a cool little session that brought me back to the days of jamming Fugazi and Minor Threat at maximum volume when I was a pissed-off teenager.
Afterwards I went to see Ben Folds, who was one of my surprises that day. He played early in the afternoon on the second stage, and though I had heard of him before, I never knew his music. And I enjoyed it. He was very funny and witty, cracking jokes at the piano. He was entertaining -- I liked his songs and enjoyed his humor. During one of the songs he said, "Let's try this verse in Japanese," and oddly enough, he did indeed sing in Japanese (at least it sounded like it), and it was pretty hilarious.
I made my way over to the Main Stage next to check out The Mars Volta. They were awful. They could have been good, but they were way too loud. I don't have anything against loud rock n' roll, but this was just noise. There was no rhythm, no melody, just noise. A little tip for the band: if 3/4 of your audience has their fingers in their ears blocking the sound, YOU'RE TOO FUCKING LOUD.
So I walked back to the Second Stage for my second surprise of the day, Tortoise. I have to admit, I had never heard of them before, but they were fucking great. It was all instrumental. There was a guitar, a piano, 2 xylophones, and a bass. Sometimes they would get a little heavier, but they just carried us through, sustaining us, keeping us in. Maybe chilling on the grass in the afternoon sun added to the atmosphere, but I really enjoyed them.
The rest of the day I stayed at the Main Stage. How could I not? First there was Sonic Youth. And they fucking rocked. Kim Gordon sang almost half the songs, and she fucking kicked ass up there, in a mini skirt and all. I've loved this band since as long as I can remember and they just rocked. They played a great mixture of old and new and brought me back to being a kid and wanting to be like Kim.
Jack Johnson followed, and though it was quite a switch, it worked. I love Jack too. I felt like I was at a hippie fest, listening to his acoustic guitar as the sun was almost setting. Jack is Jack. He sounds no different live then he does on his album, so if you're into his music, you'll dig his live set.
Ah, The White Stripes. Finally a good rock n' roll band. They're only a duo, but Jack (White) has enough rock star presence to make it feel like an entire band is up there. And Meg was all cute, playing her little drums, nonchalantly looking around like it doesn't even matter. They were fucking great. It was my first time seeing them and it was one of the best rock shows I have been to in a long, long time. Thank you White Stripes, thank you.
Iggy Pop and The Stooges. So great to see them. I've enjoyed their music ever since the guitarist in my band in high school turned me onto them. We covered "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The great thing was, they played that song. God it rocked. They rocked. I'm too young to really know, but I know they haven't changed. Iggy is still shirtless running around on stage like he was still in the 70's.
And finally, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They put on an amazing show. They were fucking tight. But Anthony can't sing. I love the lyrics, but he can't sing. That's ok, though. The band was incredible. They also, unlike the Beastie Boys, played all their hits. Every song, you were like, 'I can't believe they're playing this.' Great mix of old and new, "Suck my Kiss", "Californication", "I Could Have Lied" etc. They played it up. It was a great close to the weekend.
And that, folks, is what I experienced at Coachella 2003. As I write this, NY is making a decision on the Field Day Festival and I hope you guys get to have it. I do hope you have a better bathroom situation then we did. Those Port-o-Potties were nasty. I don't know what people were eating, but it was the most disgusting thing I had to experience. I finally found some makeshift bathrooms for the ladies, with running water to wash your hands and everything. It was like heaven. I also hope that you people pick up your trash, unlike the concert-goers I was with. Granted, there were minimal trashcans, but I went out of my way to find one instead of just disposing my water bottle or whatever it was on the ground. By the end of the day, the field was covered in water bottles, especially the dance tent where much water was consumed since everyone was on E. It was very hard to dance without tripping on all those bottles. It was pathetic. People, who raised you?