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Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (Indio, California – April 16, 2010)

Coachella is a truly beautiful realm where long-absent bands and air-conditioned dance floors exist within walking distance.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (Indio, California – April 16, 2010)
Photo: EMI/Ruvan Wijesooriya

Coachella is a truly beautiful realm where long-absent bands and air-conditioned dance floors exist within walking distance. We spend so much of our time trapped in our plodding, far-less-interesting “real” existences that we need things like the three-day Coachella to break up the monotony. Even the skies look like something out of a Tolkein novel. This year, Coachella was especially crowded; it took me upward of two hours to finally get in the doors on the first day, but once you’re there, all the annoyances and claustrophobia fade away. Sure, it’s a bummer when the band you want to see is playing in a tent filled to dangerous capacity, and it sucks when you can’t find a cold bottle of water, but in the larger context of the festival, those little things don’t even come close to sullying the whole experience.


The Dillinger Escape Plan

Like I said, the entirely unnecessary traffic and impossibly slow line made it so I couldn’t catch potentially amazing acts like Sleigh Bells, Yeasayer, Baroness, Wale, and others. But I managed to make it over to the Gobi Tent to catch the back half of Dillinger Escape Plan’s set for a surprisingly populated crowd; you wouldn’t expect the Coachella masses of post-scene hipsters to get down with such a niche act, but there was an enthusiastic pit, and plenty of applause when the songs became recognizable. There’s a reason Dillinger was the only hardcore-leaning band booked at Coachella: They’re just so much better than the average aughtie-bred Hot Topic act. Anyone who’s heard their records knows how preposterously awesome the members are at their respective instruments, and somehow they recreate it live with ease and a heavy dose of showmanship. I watched as lead screamer Greg Puciato climbed up the stage, hung upside down from the rafters, and threw his arms out, all under the entirely un-atmospheric cover of the late afternoon. Rock on.


Gil Scott-Heron

“For those of you who didn’t think there was going to be a show here today, you lose!” a crinkly Gil Scott-Heron said to the audience, equipped, as always, with his cinnamon suit and totally badass golfer’s hat. Scott-Heron has had the most unlikely of comebacks following his perplexingly awesome I’m New Here, and he easily resisted any sort of washed-up qualms with his set. For the first few songs, it was just Gil and his piano—a “real piano” as he pointed out to his audience. And despite a few endless renditions, including a verse-absent take of “Work for Peace,” he sounded leathery as always, and still entirely relevant. And “Did You Hear What They Said?” still hits really hard. I just wish he could’ve played some stuff off of his latest record; I bet “New York Is Killing Me” absolutely slays live.


Them Crooked Vultures

The guy behind me was probably approaching his 50s, probably visits the gym twice a day, and probably was a little louder than he intended to be, but he was there for this band and that’s it. He was even sporting his TCV shirt fresh from the merch table. To be honest, I was there more for LCD Soundsystem’s performance one slot down the bill than for a supergroup, but I have to say, when you put two undisputed icons of the previous decade of rock music, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme, with a legend like John Paul Jones, it’s going to be a good time. In fact, the notion of latching onto this flimsy, potentially one-off project with such adoration makes a lot of sense. Because audiences are constantly being subjected to heinous, gravel-voiced shlock that radio is continually trying to dub “rock,” this type of boozy, riff-laden music sounds miles better than every other option available to the casual listener. We need comically oversized 12-string guitars, we need Dave Grohl hunched over his drumset like a gargoyle, we need Josh Homme’s full-throttle vocals. Rock n’ roll will never die, and the genuine awesome level of Them Crooked Vultures’s set is the biggest testament to that.


LCD Soundsystem

From the moment a giant disco ball was rolled on stage, you could tell that James Murphy was not fucking around, at least not anymore. This was probably the biggest stateside show LCD has ever put on, and Murphy was quite aware. To paraphrase: “We’ve always been the mixed nuts of Coachella, but this year we’re the fish. We’re not the steak that’s Jay-Z, but we’re the fish, finally.” It’s clear that he hopes one day to dominate the hearts and minds of everyone, not just the hipsters. The music was predictably great, with the band rolling out neo-classics like “Us v Them,” “All My Friends,” “Losing My Edge,” and “Yeah” right alongside bangers “Drunk Girls,” “I Can Change,” and “Pow Pow” off the upcoming record. Naturally, for a band that specializes in seven-minute, incredibly gradual compositions, it was one of the shorter sets of the festival in terms of song-count. (Murphy even tried to rush his banter.) The two kids in front of me were there solely for Jay-Z; they weren’t even sure what an “LCD Soundsystem” was, but by the time Murphy got to “Yeah,” they were dancing harder than anyone else in the crowd—absolute proof that this band should be far bigger than they are.


Jay-Z

And so, 11 years after starting with Beck, Rage Against the Machine, and Tool, Coachella had its first unquestionably hip-hop headliner. Crack a bottle. Rumors of Beyoncé, Kanye West, even a revitalized Dr. Dre with a new track off of the now-preposterously delayed Detox showing up for Jay’s set sifted through the festival all day—and, well, besides a predictably gorgeous Beyoncé delivering the hook on the not-very-good “Forever Young,” none of that came to be. Still, there was Jay-Z, being Jay-Z, and that cannot be touched. “99 Problems?” You got it. “Empire State of Mind”? Of course. “Big Pimpin”? “Hard Knock Life”? “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”? Yep, yep, yep. We’ll throw in “Encore” too, just to be safe. Not even a potentially debilitating sore throat could keep Hova down. This is what a headliner set should be: no filler, no obscure cuts or American Gangster-era socio-hop, just the hits you and everyone else want to hear. (I still wish he would have played “Roc Boys,” but hey, you can’t have it all.)


Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura has been one of the most consistently rewarding acts of the indiescape. They’re also adorable. Maybe it’s their synchronized suburban-hell suits, or Tracyanne Campbell’s sing-songy quips, but whatever the reason, their likableness cut right through the potentially oppressive heat and the less-than-ideal tent situation. To be fair, most Camera Obscura songs sound pretty similar, and it certainly doesn’t help when you have to abandon the flourished orchestration on record for a singular trumpet, but songs as strong as “Let’s Get Out of This Country” and “French Navy” stand up regardless of instrumentation.


The xx

The xx has only been on the collective mind of the music community for less than a year, and they specialize in incredibly empty songs. Seriously, think about how “VCR” and “Crystalised” thrive on the absence of sound that surrounds them, not the, you know, notes the band is playing. That sort of ambience isn’t exactly ideal for a mid-P.M. set on one of the biggest stages in Coachella. Thankfully, they showed up and rocked out harder than probably anyone could have imagined. They even kept the audience’s attention through a potentially horrifying fire that lit up the main stage halfway through their set, causing a wry Oliver Smith to remark, after a long pause, “The roof is on fire.” We saw a happier, less morose but still incredibly serious band, who’ve apparently become pretty accustomed to playing on such an occasion; it’s a good thing too, since these guys aren’t going to stop heading upward for a while.


Hot Chip

The fact that Hot Chip found themselves following the collective okay-ness of MGMT and the Dead Weather is more proof that the American pop industry is irreparably broken. They’ve got everything right: the well-directed kitsch, the clout, the Devo repping, and of course, the tunes, but for some reason they can’t seem to assault our shores. One Life Stand didn’t even crack the Top 100 on the American charts. They gave it their all, even for a crowd that was probably there more for MGMT. Unfurling a crazy-fast assault of all-star jams (“One Life Stand,” “Ready for the Floor,” “I Feel Better,” “One Life Stand,” “Take It In,” “Over and Over”) before you could even catch your breath. Even the awesome “Boy from School” was pushed to the side, discernibly because it was just too slow-paced for this hitlist. By the end, they’d even seduced the Dead Weather stalwarts—and if that’s not a sign of a great pop band, I don’t know what is.


Major Lazer

The Major Lazer live show isn’t exactly something that can be explained per se; it just has to be told. So, in no particular order, it included: two men in Chinese New Year dragon masks parading around the stage; a black man with a yellow mohawk who started the show in a SWAT team uniform and ended it in skivvies, and who got the crowd to chant things like “We party every day!,” “Keep it going louder!,” and “Major Lazer in the club!”; a woman in a wedding dress who simulated some mind-boggling sex positions more than a few times and stage dived off of a construction ladder that was brought on stage; and girls encouraged to storm the stage and party alongside Diplo. The music was pretty good too.


Die Antwoord

“No fucking way.” That was the gist of what my brother said to me when he learned that these South African rap weirdos were tacked on to the Coachella schedule (with a 20-minute set) about a week prior to the festival. “It’s either going to be a fun disaster or a really awkward disaster,” he said. If you’re not acquainted with Die Antwoord, you owe it to yourself to YouTube “Enter the Ninja” right now. It’s some of the most bizarre, semiserious, somehow-talented joke-rap you’ll ever hear, and performed live, it turns out to be a total banger. The band had the right amount of showmanship to go along with their insanity (they lovingly recreated that iconic Pink Floyd boxers scene from the “Zef Side” video) and the whole thing ended up being a hell of a lot less terrible than it ought’ve been.


2ManyDJs

2ManyDJs got on stage at 12:05 a.m. This was after the dancey battering of Hot Chip, Major Lazer, and Flying Lotus, most of which shared the same audience, so all of us were pretty tired when 2ManyDJs cued up their mash-up onslaught. I’ve never been a DJ person, but I’ve always found the psychedelic cutups of the brothers Dewaele to be, I don’t know, just more artistic than the average copy-and-paste hackjobs most DJs put out there. The obvious highlights were a scuzzed-up, bassed-up dropping of MGMT’s “Kids” and a surprisingly dance-floor-ready take of “Rock the Casbah,” and the entire set was pretty awesome, but I just wish I had had the energy to really lose myself in it.


Pavement

Pavement are considered to be the genesis of indie rock, but anyone who caught their set at the festival, especially after hearing some of the hottest acts in the indie world, can easily tell that indie sensibilities have simply outgrown the post-hardcore-influenced, generally unenthusiastic bedrock Pavement has spent their career perfecting. Their dwindling relevance especially hits home when you heard the grimy, dancey synths of last year’s “1901” drifting over from the Phoenix stage. That said, it was great to hear “Stereo” again, and Pavement as a whole didn’t seem to lose a beat since their decade-long absence. They were still undeniably Pavement, from Stephen Malkmus’s goofy power stances to the nonsense banter that pilfered through the stage, and they definitely sated their fanbase, but I can’t help but wonder how much this kind of music will matter going forward.


The Big Pink

The first thing lead singer Robbie Furze did when he appeared on stage was throw up the horns—you know, the pinky and index finger, the universal symbol for rock ‘n’ roll. There wasn’t any other band throughout the entire weekend that would even consider such an un-hip symbol (okay, maybe Coheed and Cambria), but the Big Pink embraces it with open arms. The band did have the disadvantage of being stuck right in the middle of Thom Yorke’s set, and right before Gorillaz’s headliner on the main stage. But that didn’t stop them from choking back on the attack. Every song just detonated, and I swear I literally felt the ground shake during “Dominos.” Sure, it might be a little insubstantial, but man, you really don’t need substantial when you’ve got hooks this big.

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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