This year’s Coachella lineup was underwhelming from the start, so much so that I didn’t plan on going until a pass fell in my lap about a week before the festival. It wasn’t necessarily the bands in the lineup that I thought was weak, it was the lack of originality and dynamics that I’ve come to expect from a Coachella. No Rolling Stones or David Bowie. No Replacments. Hardly any hip-hop, punk or imaginative electronic music. Too many wimpy “punch-me-in-the-face” bands like Phoenix, The xx, Postal Service… Basically, i feared Coachella had lost its edge. As much as the environment and experience was always more than fulfilling to me, I wasn’t ready to shell out $500 in support of a lineup that seemed staged for taking a big nap on the Polo Grounds.
In the end I had a blast — Coachella is one of those great experiences that triggers dopamine bursts just at the thought. The first heat of late spring under the desert sun, 100,000 people all out for good times, good music and big smiles. 6 stages (with this year’s introduction of the Yuma Tent) and all kinds of inebriating distractions.
The photos and videos below are evidence of my highlights from this year’s festival. As always, it was amazing. For those attending Coachella weekend 2 this weekend I recommend the following:
Highlights & Recommendations
- The Make-Up: One of my all-time favorite bands, I never got to see them live before Coachella (they were active 1995-1999 and I just missed them when I lived in DC ’99-’00 and got all into the Dischord bands). Ian Svenonius is still a madman and one of the great frontmen of all time, evoking Jagger and Iggy Pop while standing on the crowd’s shoulders most of the set.
- Grinderman / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: One of the great madmen songwriters of our time, Cave met and exceeded my expectations as a performer, especially the Grinderman set. The tent was virtually empty when the set began, which is how I ended up standing basically in Cave’s crotch when I caught this video. Know what else is awesome? The interactive Nick Cave Spotify app.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs — I hadn’t seen them live since a show at the diminutive Fireside Bowl over 10 years ago so I was more than a little excited to catch the older and more evolved version on the big stage. Guitarist Nick Zinner is a sonic genius and I especially loved how he’d fill in the empty space between songs — it felt like the literal (aural) echo of the “yeah, yeah, yeah” words/vibe. Karen O rules the stage, they played at least one cut from the original EP which I still love. It was probably my top main stage set of the weekend
- Visit the Yuma Tent — Even if none of the DJs appeal to you, this tent (new this year) adds a very cool dynamic to Coachella. It’s a totally enclosed, air conditioned dome-like tent (so it feels like club night even in the middle of a hot afternoon) and has wood floors, bringing even more authenticity to the dance party.
- Janelle Monae — If you’ve never seen her live, do it. Or even if you have (personally, I can’t get enough). Even after a 15-minute technical delay, Monae came bounding onto the stage and totally owned the crowd, in mid-set form, within minutes. It’s amazing what some bands can do in a short set and Monae and her huge band are something that must be experienced live. I can’t wait to hear her long-awaited follow-up (Sept. 2013?) to 2010′s The ArchAndroid.
- Watch official Coachella footage and video via YouTube
What’s buzzing at Coachella?
- The Shouting Matches — it’s a Carolina blues band fronted by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. And it’s really good if you can get there early on Friday.
- Of Monsters and Men — Pleasant, afternoon Icelandic folk/pop, I was surprised to see a full field at the Outdoor Stage for their set.
- Major Lazer — Electro-dance, lights and jamz. The kind of good fun what you’re looking for while bringing on the night. The Mojave Tent was totally overflowing for this set.
- ∆ (Alt-J) — “An Awesome Wave” was last year’s Mercury Prize winners and righteously so, in my opinion. Their live show definitely stands up and an overflow crowd was enraptured in the Gobi Tent.
- Jessie Ware — This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her work with SBTRKT and her solo album “Devotion.”
Second year of the second weekend
Last year Coachella expanded to 2 weekends with identical lineups and — one might think — identical experiences. But, outside of highly calculated gimmicks like last year’s Tupac hologram, any live music aficionado knows that no two experiences are ever exactly the same. And I think at least two bands (of the fraction of the bands that I saw) will benefit from a second weekend as well. Modest Mouse: Isaac Brock talked way too much about nothing as if he felt that his 50-minute set would somehow stretch into 90. It didn’t and the bands set ended up falling flat, with no real flow to the set beyond the second song. Tame Impala: Just a couple years ago this band was playing venues as small as Silverlake Lounge even though its sound is built for stadiums. Now on the Outdoor Stage at Coachella, it seemed they mis-timed the length of their set. Lead singer Kevin Parker seemed bummed that he couldn’t launch into one more song and the set felt as if it were cut short. The festival itself: Is weekend two even sold out? I was disappointed with the lack of diversity, depth and edginess to this year’s lineup and wonder if it has something to do with Coachella being too complacent about being able to sellout 2 straight weekends.
Already looking forward to Coachella 2014!