Friday, May 05, 2006

Coachella Day 1

I attended my third Coachella Music festival this past weekend, and after a few days to decompress and process all the sights and sounds, I present you with my 2006 Coachella Music Festival Review.
I flew into LAX on Friday at noon and had a friend pick me up from there, and we headed on our way. It was an overcast day, which had me a little on edge since there had been some talk of precipitation this weekend in the Coachella Valley. After making a requisite lunch stop at an In-n-Out (the one we stopped at was apparently a training store, as it was located next to the In-n-Out University) and dealing with the wonderous mess that is Southern California traffic, we finally dropped down into the Coachella Valley to find sunny skies, windmills, and open highway.

We quickly passed through Cathedral City, Palm Springs, and finally – Indio. After hopping onto southbound Monroe Avenue, we reached our first destination – Food 4 Less. It has become tradition for us to stop here first thing and load up on booze, food, and other necessities before we head to the campground. We arrived there about 15 minutes after the other car of our party did (the bastards made good time by taking 60 instead of Interstate 10, but I digress), loaded up and headed to the camping ground. We quickly unloaded and made our way through security. We had our two coolers bottom loaded with beer, and as one of my friends approached the security table, the cooler slipped from his hand and spilled everywhere – Keystone Lights and all (I know, I know…). He scrambled to get the cooler back together and made it through without a word from the many security people around him who had witnessed the whole sequence.

The first night went smoothly, as it had in years’ past. Tents were set up, alcohol was consumed, and horrible, horrible karaoke blared from the speakers of the on-site “cantina”. This year, they played the Coachella movie on an inflatable screen, and it was so much more enjoyable to watch than it had been when I first saw it in a suburban megaplex in St. Louis four months ago. I’m sure that had a lot to do with the setting, the drinking, and the fact that everyone there was really into the movie, getting excited for the weekend’s festivities.


After whiling away the first five hours of Saturday (there’s no sleeping in in the desert), we made our way into the festival. The first band of Coachella ’06 that I saw was The Walkmen. I am certainly a fan of The Walkmen, but I only own one of their records (Bows + Arrows) and I rarely listen to it. That being said, “The Rat” and “We’ve Been Had” are two of my favorite singles in the past five years.

I have seen The Walkmen twice – both times at festivals (last year’s Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Festival) – and both times I was less than impressed. On both of those occasions I came to the conclusion that The Walkmen were just one of those bands, like …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, that you had to see in a club to appreciate, and, unfortunately for me, I had never seen them in a club setting. So it was quite a pleasant surprise when The Walkmen put on a great performance on Coachella’s main stage. I don’t know if it was just that performance or whether they figured out how to make their sound fill the open spaces of a festival setting, but I was quite impressed with them. They were tight and the sound was good despite the noticeably incessant gum chewing by singer Hamilton Leithauser. It was a solid start to a long, hot weekend of music.

Next, it was beer time. Getting in and out of the beer tent between the main Coachella stage and the Outdoor Stage was a logisitical disaster this year, but at 3:15, people were still flowing smoothly through the single three-foot wide entrance, which was great and all, but we had to get ID wristbands. That line was about 15 minutes.

We took the scenic route over to the Mojave Tent, checking out the various art installations and other mind-distractors, to check out Wolfmother. Wolfmother has had a ton of hype written about them, how they are the perfect mix of Sabbath and Zeppelin, how they were an Australian throwback to 70’s hard rock. Maybe it was the hype, or maybe it was the fact that we only saw three songs, or maybe it was the fact that we stood way in the back of the tent, but I was completely bored by their performance, but here's a nice picture I took then, anyway.

I knew I wanted to get over to see Animal Collective, so we left the Mojave, making a pit stop at The Gobi Tent to check out Lyrics Born. I was a big fan of what I saw, but we had to move on. I wish I had been able to check out more of their set.

We walked up to the Outdoor Theatre after Animal Collective had already started. I wish we hadn’t. All I can say about that performance is – WHAT THE HELL? It was them banging on trash cans and various other noise-making pieces of metal and making every other sort of non-melodic noise possible. It was in free-time and it was certainly free-form. Unfortunately, it was awful. There was nothing redeeming about that performance. I don’t know if they were deliberately trying to confuse and agitate people, but they managed to do both.

We made a quick exit and headed over to the Mojave Tent to catch Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. A lot of people apparently weren’t that impressed with CYHSY’s set at Coachella this year, but I thought it was great. Sure, it was nothing like the Arcade Fire, Secret Machines or Bloc Party performances of ’05, but it was still a solid set full of energy. They certainly seemed as if they were having fun and, for the most part, the crowd was really into it. They got a big thumbs up from me and I certainly hope they come through St. Louis sometime this summer.

I left CYHSY a little early, as I was to meet friends in the main beer garden prior to My Morning Jacket. In just two hours time, the line to get into the beer tent had deteriorated into a giant clusterpork that took ten minutes just to get into. So, I spent ten minutes – the first ten minutes of MMJ’s set – trying to get into the beer tent just to immediately leave once I met up with my friends. Despite the delay and annoyance of the beer garden, I was able to settle in for one of the best performances of the weekend. I had been hoping they’d get to play the last set of the night on the Outdoor Theater, a la Spoon last year, but instead they got an early evening spot. It made no difference, really, though, as their set was great, regardless of the time of day. As always, My Morning Jacket delivered the goods. It was a tight set and they played all the songs you’d want to hear - "Mahgeetah," "Wordless Chorus," "One Big Holiday," and "Gideon." The one song they didn’t play they would have sent it over the edge was “Lay Low”, but alas.

The My Morning Jacket set marked my first serious conflict of the weekend – most of the TV on the Radio set overlapped with MMJ’s. I wish I could say I made the right decision by seeing My Morning Jacket, but, based on the final fifteen minutes of the TVOTR set that I caught, it was a true toss-up, as they put on just as good a set as My Morning Jacket had (and I had never seen TVOTR). I do not regret my decision, but I really wish I had been able to see all of TV on the Radio’s set.

Sigur Ros was next on the itinerary. They played in the same time slot as Air did in 2004 – sunset on the mainstage – and put on just as powerful a show as Air did, with the orange and purple sky of the setting desert sun silhouetting the mountains as a stunning backdrop to the set. With a four or five piece string section backing them, Sigur Ros put on a truly incredible show, one that I would put in the top three of the weekend.

I wanted to catch the end of Ladytron, but the crowd was growing and it was getting dark, so I settled for a beer and caught the beginning of Franz Ferdinand. They put on a great show, lasers and all. Everything was played just a notch faster than on the albums and the song selection kept it moving along so you never got bored or antsy. They did leave a few of my favorite songs on You Could Have It So Much Better out, but overall it was a great set. I had seen them last September at the Austin City Limits Festival, and hadn’t been that impressed, but their set at this year’s Coachella was top notch.

After Franz Ferdinand, I headed over to Eagles of Death Metal and grabbed some Thai noodles and chicken on a stick for dinner. The noodles were great. Really, really good. The chicken was good, too. Eagles of Death Metal were even better. It was basically a hometown show for them and, despite a late start, they played a great set complimented by a great lighting show.

Depeche Mode was generally a let down. They put on a serviceable show, but I just wasn’t that into it. It was during their set that I finally decided to check out the VIP area. Wow – talk about a scene. It was like Hollywood was transplanted 100 miles to the east and found it’s way to Coachella. The Beautiful PeopleTM were everywhere. It was nice for about five minutes, just for the people watching, but it soon became apparent that (at that hour) the VIP section largely consisted of people who had heard about this thing in the desert and had nothing better to do, so they decided to come out for the party. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of Depeche Mode. I think.” “I liked Tool in High School.” “Clap Your Hands Say What?” “There’s a bar, right?” “There’ll be, like, directors there, right?” ANYWAY, I soon noticed the time and realized I had to make a bee line for the Sahara Tent.

In two previous Coachellas, I had only seen one show in the Sahara Tent, which is traditionally where most of the electronic artists perform, and that was only really two or three songs from The Chemical Brothers. Daft Punk, though, was enough for me to brave the glow sticks and twirling dancers, and I wanted to make sure I got a good spot for the show. (Side note – I peaked into the Mojave Tent on my way to see Daft Punk and noted that The Living Things were playing to a TINY crowd. This is due to two things – they aren’t that good, and EVERYBODY was planning on seeing Daft Punk.) I managed to get in front of the soundboard, to the middle of the tent. The crowd was buzzing. There was such anticipation and excitement in the air for Daft Punk’s first U.S. performance in 9 years, you couldn’t help but getting caught up in it. The house lights lowered and the PA went silent. The crowd exploded with even more anticipation. Then, in a perfect bit of timing and mood, the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme began playing – you know the one, the one where the spaceship and the French keyboardist are communicating with each other through keyboard tones. The crowd somehow went even more nuts. The curtains opened and out came a giant pyramid, with Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo at the top of the pyramid, in full robot gear. As they busted into “Robot Rock,” the crowd hit a level of ecstasy that lasted for the entire set. With an insane light show and energy that could not be beat, Daft Punk put on easily the best show of the weekend. It ranks up there with The Pixies and The Arcade Fire as my favorite Coachella performances. Maybe it was because I had no idea what to expect, or it was just the energy of the crowd rubbing off on me, but it was a performance for the ages. About halfway through, I moved my position to just outside the Sahara Tent, where they had giant screens set up so the thousands of people overflowing out of the tent could see the performance and I was able to get a little more space to move around. They had a great setlist, including “One More Time,” “Da Funk,” “Around The World,” “Face to Face,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” and “Crescendolls.” They weaved the songs in and out of each other, turning them inside out, throwing in bits of vocals here and there from other songs to create a seamless setlist. When it was over, the crowd hung around for at least fifteen minutes, cheering for an encore, but there was no encore to be had. The machine had run its program, and the program did not take into account this variable. No amount of cheering was going to bring the robots back out. When it became clear the crowd had no intention of stopping their cries for an encore, the pyramid, still on stage, lit up in red, blinking a few times, as if to say, “I hear you and thank you for your love.” Maybe they were human after all.

After Daft Punk finished, we headed out of the festival exhausted and buzzing from what we had just witnessed. It was time to head back to the campground, crack a night cap beer, and get some sleep for another day of music and sun.

Here are some extra pictures for you:


Blogger Ryan said...

wow, i had a very similar experience to you. i was also right in front of the sound board for daft punk and each day since, that show is slowly creeping closer to my best of all time. even better than pixies, radiohead, or arcade fire at previous coachella's. great stuff

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