Coachella — Day One

It seemed like blasphemy to bring a laptop to a music fest so I’m writing this blog from the computer tent (which in retrospect is hardly less blasphemous). In other words keeping it brief and no photos until probably Monday and possibly later but: May I present Stranger in the Alps’ Coachella Thus Far.

The experience: This is the first year that cars have been allowed in the campground which meant extensive searching to get in and potentially hours of waiting. But just when I started worrying that the fest had finally lost its already loose grip on organizational skills a quick tour of the campground revealed actual farmer’s markets genuine general stores and real affordable food. So er good one Coachella.

But I’m fairly sure no one reading this is all that concerned about the campground so a band-by-band breakdown thus far.

  • Deer Tick opened its set by making a brief comment about the way the Meat Puppets redefined punk with its country inflections but if I had to play the easy influence guessing game I would’ve gone with The Replacements. The frontman showed up in a foam green cowboy hat and a sundress (because it’s "fucking hot") and his Westerberg-ish growl is actually a lot less nasal in person than on record. The new material also has a nice R&B feel adding bits of Otis Redding and The Band to its back-porch punk. And the ZZ Top cover at the end? Nice.
  • By the time The Avett Brothers started up the side-stage speakers were already blown (which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the fest). But the Bros. made the most of their suddenly fuzzier sound and their polished country-pop went down smoothly with the crowd. They were energetic enough but a little bit more edge would’ve been welcome.
  • I didn’t feel like cramming into the Gobi tent for Yeasayer so lingering at the back seemed like a decent option. At least until the sound from the dance tent started overpowering it entirely. Seemed like a decent set and I regret not getting closer.
  • But that’s the price you pay for trying to get close to She & Him. Zooey Deschannel has somehow become the poster girl for quirky indie rock chicks and the crowd burst into a series of "I love you"s that would’ve been better suited to a Justin Bieber show. But the music itself was plenty inviting — somehow it seems to conjure bits of Carter Family warmth in with Deschannel’s cooing and bouncing about. Unsurprisingly though things improve significantly when M. Ward takes over the vocals as on his "Magic Trick" and a rollicking "Roll Over Beethoven." But to be fair Ward would improve anyone’s set.
  • The Specials take the main stage with more energy than I ever would’ve expected running back and forth across the entire width of the stage and just generally erasing any ill-will that ska’s third wave brought to the genre. Unbelievable.
  • Can’t stay long though because Gil Scott-Heron is my top priority of the day. His set is heavy on the classic material despite an incredibly strong new album. No complaints though; the set-ending "The Bottle" is infectious; as is the singer’s clear joy at playing to such an appreciative crowd. As he said "All those who thought I wouldn’t make it here you’re wrong."
  • Note to self: Check out La Roux sometime soon. The crowd they’re drawing is so passionate that getting out of Heron is almost impossible.
  • Almost out of time so in brief(er):
  • Them Crooked Vultures do rock and Grohl pounds the kit like an animal but it seems a bit flat considering the pedigree. Volume’s not the same thing as strut guys.
  • Echo and the Bunnymen mix classics ("Roadhouse Blues" "Walk on the Wild Side") into their set to solid effect. The "mysteriously sexy frontman clinging to the mic" vibe doesn’t work as well anymore but doesn’t detract any either.
  • LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend let’s just say I’ve never really got them and leave it at that.
  • It takes until just before getting to the tent to remember who Little Dragon is (the singer guests on a couple of the new Gorillaz tracks) but once I do it’s obvious why Damon Albarn likes ’em. Eclectic worldly pop with top-notch vocals. I’ll need to check this album.
  • Jay-Z starts 10 minutes late by putting another 10-minute countdown on the screen. But the multiple video screens and elevating-through-the-ground entrance are worth it as is an amazingly energetic set that I duck out of before Beyonce because of…
  • Fever Ray’s lower-budget but visually mind-blowing costume-and-fog extravaganza. Holy heck do I ever want to see these guys in a dark club; the music also makes way more sense with the visual accompaniment.
  • John Lydon isn’t the easiest voice to stomach but PiL’s "Flowers of Romance" is still oddly hypnotic. The band’s death disco draws a relatively tiny crowd but the fact that Lydon’s avante-rock is still weird three decades on says something to his outright inventiveness.

Now onwards and upwards… Devo John Waters and plenty of less-retro weirdness on the way.