Another year, another Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Yawn.
Attending for the fifth time in six years, there really isn’t much unknown to me at the festival. Also, with a mediocre lineup by previous year’s comparisons and the knowledge of what had transpired during Weekend 1 of this year’s variation, there was less allure and potential for surprise than ever before. Having had purchased tickets in May of 2012 well before the lineup had been announced, I was already locked in. This was going to happen whether I was ready or not.
One of the exciting prospects of Coachella 2013 however was the fact that editor-in-chief, Miss Mari, would also be attending. A supposed music fan, she would be making her debut appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The Rookie would provide a new and pleasantly naive perspective on the festival, and potentially refresh my own excitement. The Rookie also added a different dynamic in that for her, Coachella was not just about the music. Having personally long been jaded to the varying degrees of clothing choices and celebrity sightings of Coachella, Miss Mari meanwhile spent considerable time contemplating her fashion options and daydreaming about her prospects of falling in with the Hollywood crowd. While I was accustomed to traveling to Palm Springs with the few t-shirts and shorts I needed in a conventional backpack, the Rookie brought along with her a suitcase containing no less than eight pairs of shoes and a wardrobe to clothe a small village.
Stepping through the gates onto the Empire Polo Grounds, it all came back. The lush green grass, the cohesive blending of music, art installments that catch the eye from hundres of yards away. The warmth of the sun, the friendly half-naked people, the familiar imprint of the Coachella “skyline” that will forever exist in my brain. I sincerely love this place.
Meeting up with the Rookie at the beginning of the day on the first day was a bit of false foreshadowing. Through a series of events unknown to me, she had VIP passes that I have never considered acquiring. Due to amenities such as air-conditioning, leather sofas, manicures, and a general separation of the bourgeoise and proletariat, I never saw her on either of the following days. During that brief encounter, just as I was mocking her princess lifestyle of fashion and luxury, we were interrupted by a woman with a camera. She turned to the Rookie and said, “Can I take your picture?” Without hesitation, the gleeful Miss Mari struck a pose for the fashion blogger. Complete validation for the Rookie. Ugh!
Back to the world of commoners who all had been to Coachella before, a group of seven of us gathered near the front of the Main stage and waited for the Metric show to start. As they arrived on stage and began their first songs, we each blew up a beach ball designed in the colours and maple leaf of the Canadian flag. Thus, as Emily Haines and her Canadian crew rocked the biggest of stages, a series of red and white beach balls bounced amongst the crowd between us and the band.
Next up was the also-Canadian Japandroids in the Gobi tent who smashed through their breakout hit ‘The House That Heaven Built’. The duo certainly pump out the rock but need a fair amount of refinement in their live performances. In contrast was Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men on the palm-tree lined Outdoor stage. As the sun set on the festival’s first day, this collective breezed through their set note-for-note. Meanwhile, there was nothing breezy about the Dog Blood show that followed in the Sahara tent. This eternally electronica venue has been expanded from previous years into something that resembles a Boeing hangar, decked out with enough lights and screens to light up half the Coachella valley. Skrillex’s side-project was not the usual dub-step (or bro-step…or whatever aggravating step Skrillex is categorized by). Instead, he delivered danceable tunes to a visual display that easily surpassed my moderate expectations.
Meeting up with friends at Coachella is difficult. Doing so among 80,000 other people after dark is near impossible. Therefore, when we were told to meet in the beer gardens, a latitude and longitude to the tenth decimal place might have been more helpful. Nonetheless, after walking around like a zombie for a while, we met up with a group of friends from Calgary and made our way to the Main stage for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O entertained the crowd with her outfit, make-up, monologues, and of course, singing in a set that contained familiar hits such as ‘Gold Lion’, ‘Heads Will Roll’, and the Rock Band borrowed ‘Maps’. The climax however was the new jam ‘Sacrilege’ where the band brought out a 20 piece gospel choir to bring down the house.
In my previous twelve nights of attending Coachella, the only time I didn’t hang around to catch the Main stage headliner was when my friend had a combination of heat stroke, food poisoning and old age. On that occasion, I missed The Chemical Brothers. But with The Stone Roses and Blur closing down the show on Friday night, I opted to see what else I could find. Jurassic 5 carried a flow on the Outdoor stage for a solid 45 minutes, highlighted by a DJ battle between Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark. Closing the night in the Mojave tent was Trent Reznor’s new project, How To Destroy Angels. With a dramatic set-up that included projections on a series of vertical strings that surrounded the band and some powerful vocals, the show was really more of an art exhibition than music. With chords that would build but never lead to a crescendo, the whole thing moved at a snail’s pace and never attempted to engage the audience. It was later explained to me that it “was sooo artsty” the way that the singer never showed any emotion. Uhhh…k? (Cracked out hipsters will say the weirdest stuff) With that, I moved to the Outdoor stage to catch the end of a commendable set by my hometown girls, Tegan and Sara. While ‘Closer’ and other livelier tunes had the crowd going until the end of the night, I must confess that my attention was focused on the girl in the bikini with the glowing hula hoop about 20 yards in front of me. This spectacle thus led me to add a requirement in what I am looking for in a future girlfriend/wife. She must look good in a hula hoop.
While most remains the same, the organizers of Coachella, Goldenvoice Productions, do make tiny changes each year based on the feedback they receive. This year, positive adjustments included the aforementioned increase in the size of the tent stages, the corralling for the shuttle buses and separate washrooms for men and women (a change likely motivated by feedback from the ladies). One amendment that was no so pleasant for the concert-goer was the increase crack-down at security. Opposed to the usual laid-back approach, entry into the camping areas and the grounds themselves was a much more rigorous process. However, with the bombings of the Boston Marathon not even four days old, it was understandable why paranoia at this likewise national event was borderline tangible. It was therefore also fitting that my day started off with the Dropkick Murphys. Fiercely patriotic about their hometown, it was a moving tribute as an old traditional Irish wartime tune played as the Boston city flag was raised above the Main stage. The crowd applauded as they boys took to the stage and opened with the most obvious selection from their catalogue, ‘For Boston’. It was a somewhat different tone to the usual set that the Dropkicks play. Instead of the standbys of ‘The Dirty Glass’ and ‘Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced’, the band stuck true to the theme of the week and played songs about Boston, of lives lost and staying strong. Yet, it wasn’t an angry attitude; rather one of defiance and standing tall in the face of adversity. Mosh pits formed in the dusty desert grass, but not of the usual somewhat violent variety. Instead, an oval-shaped pit emerged where moshers casually bumped into each other as if it were some kind of highschool hallway. The boys in the band rejoiced at the fact that this was their last show on their current tour and sent the crowd (and themselves) out in appropriate style to ‘Shipping Up To Boston’.
I appreciate Tool, but have never been a huge follower. Therefore, I went into Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer show with low anticipation. I do have to admit that while I don’t quite get songs like ‘Cuntry Boner’, the trailer park theme was well done and provided entertainment throughout the show. In reality however, the entire time Puscifer was on stage, I was anticipating the act that I would see next. As Maynard and the band exited the Outdoor stage, it was a mad rush to the tiny Mojave tent where thousands were already bulging the tent over capacity. As we walked up, the intro started and I began my maze-like journey. Before the festival, when anybody had asked me about the act that I was most excited to see, my response was not of the more mainstream variety of Blur or Phoenix or definitely not the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Rather it was two simple words: Major Lazer. The Diplo fronted dancehall electronica act has been pounding on my iPod for years and it was now that I finally got to see them perform live. Thus, I left all my friends and pushed into the crowd. High-tempo versions of Caribbean tunes were thrown at all those within earshot, accompanied by colours, jumping and right-proper booty-popping on stage. I had made it half-way to the front when Diplo let Bunji Garlin’s ‘Differentology’ loose on an unsuspecting mob. As the performer who I saw live in Georgetown in late February, I may be the first person to see the same song performed in Guyana and Coachella eve!. As Diplo and his hypeman rolled on top of the crowd in giant inflatable balls, one of the songs of the artists signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent record label started its familiar intro. When the bass line of Baauer’s ‘Harlem Shake’ finally dropped, the entire tent went mad. I normally hate the people who show up late to a show and feel like since they are the band’s “biggest fan” they are entitled to push through everyone in the crowd. For Major Lazer, I was that guy. As I made my way up to the front barricade, my Trinidad & Tobago bandana/flag was noticed by the members on stage just as they were about to lead the Coachella kids in a version of ‘Palance’. We jumped, moved back and forth, took our shirts off, waved them above our heads and then threw them in the air. After Major Lazer finished with ‘Get Free’ and I made my way back to my friend, Dave, shirtless and dripping, I knew that I had just been at the party of the weekend.
Back on the Main stage was Hot Chip and The Postal Service, both whom I appreciate more that the average fan. Yet, in comparison to the Major Lazer show I was just coming down from, it all seemed a bit pedestrian. Thus, the only solution to get myself amped up again was the obvious: lots and lots of glow sticks. Dave and I decked ourselves out and headed to the Sahara tent to watch Moby. He surprised me by going away from the trance stuff that I know him by and played more of a house set. During this time, I discovered that if there is one way to make friends, it’s by wearing glow sticks. Never have I got so much attention and random comments at Coachella as I did as when we danced it out to Moby. Over at the Gobi tent, Janelle Monae was finishing up her show. We walked up in the middle of a Jackson 5 ‘I Want You Back’ cover before she went into ‘Tightrope’ and Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. Dressed all in white with a backing band also all in white, the group swayed, high-stepped and generally rock and rolled together in a way that harkened back to R&B soul groups of the 1950s. In short, Janelle nailed it…absolutely nailed it. Sigur Ros is a band that I have respected for many years and getting to see them live was definitely something I needed to cross off my bucket list. While symphonic, epic and precise, the slow moving compositions of Sigur Ros seem like an interesting choice to close out a day at North America’s biggest music festival. With that said, for me, listening to an Icelandic song, in a made up language, about jumping in puddles is a pretty magical way to end any night.
Sunday is always a bit bittersweet. The body is looking forward to the end while the mind and spirit are sad to see it all come to a close. Getting a bit of an earlier start, we met up with friends again for a front row view of The Gaslight Anthem. The boys from Jersey have that Springsteen sound and play it well, but lack any songs that are really that interesting. The Lumineers however followed up on the Main stage with a show and a presence that highlighted the day. With aptly hung chandeliers, the group had the large afternoon crowd clapping, singing and dancing throughout. The Colorado folkers have the kind of festival show that could one day see them following in the footsteps of Arcade Fire or Mumford & Sons.
With a bit of a lull on the main stages, I did a bit of exploring around the grounds; the chaotically random Do Lab, the larger than life art installations and the reprieve of the campground. There we drank beer and played games on the lawn as the sun set and beckoned us back to the music. Vampire Weekend is a band that divides the indie community. They infuse West African rhythms into prep-rock, which personally, I think sounds amazing. However, the songs mocking the American upper class being delivered by privileged sons of the East coast doesn’t resonate with everyone. They are the antithesis to the neighbourhood boys of the Dropkick Murphys for sure. That said, Vampire Weekend has come to have the ability to put together an entertaining live show that flows from song to song and seems to end too soon.
As a closing act on the Outdoor stage, Wu-Tang Clan really ain’t nothing to f*ck with. Method Man, Red Man, the Rza, the Gza, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and the others did exactly what they’ve always done: spit rhymes. They transformed Coachella’s second stage into the biggest draw of the evening and had the place chanting out “Wu-chella, Wu-chella…”. Method Man seemed to take control, naturally leading into a rendition of ‘Method Man’, while the other MCs took turns in ‘Protect Ya Neck’ and ‘Gravel Pit’. While lacking big festival gimmicks, the group did entice the audience into a cell-phone lit vigil to the late ODB before getting things more up-tempo with what had to be the most sought-after souvenir of the weekend: giant black and yellow Wu-Tang Clan beach balls!
After it was all said and done, I hadn’t seen either of the two Main stage closing acts on any of the three nights. Simply unheard of! Coachella 2013 also lacked that defining moment (like that of Arcade Fire in 2011) where I knew that I was coming back the year after already. However, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think I’ve had more fun at a Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival than I did this year. With less of an agenda, I was able to explore more, take in more, and spend more time with friends. After all, like a wise snail once told me, “If you want to go fast – go alone. If you want to go far – go together.”