April 30, 2008

A Coachella Story: Volume One

It's a tremendous task to cover Coachella while it’s still relevant. Even if the laptop were brought, it likely would have remained zipped throughout the weekend's fun. It might not be on the hour coverage or contain high-resolution, close-up pictures (professional ones from Friday can be viewed here), but let’s assume storytelling (and amateur photos) are always relevant, right?

This wasn’t just any three day camping experience, this was Coachella, where more than 150,000 people unite over a music melting pot. And with 2008 looking like the “biggest” yet for some of those genres and for festivals as whole, we were in for it. Anyone who bypassed it because of "weak" headliners truly missed out on a near-perfect, balanced musical happening. Many thought this year would belong to the young acts, but the veterans reminded us why they were invited at every chance. I'm back with a new appreciation for not only the artists I generally talk about on this page, but also the ones I grew up on.

Did I say camping? I meant to say vacationing. Thanks to hundreds of email threads and the generous project management skills of Jack and Lindy, the final game plan developed into this: 18 people in a five bedroom desert home, five miles away from the grounds, with a pool, stocked fridges, wooden sculptures of panthers and dragons, a painting of a semi-nude Burt Reynolds over the master bed, and a highly underestimated access to showers. And only one rule: no humping the panther.

We showed up to the house on Friday morning just as a local rental shop was delivering the 18 bikes. Everyone met everyone. We highlighted set times, cheered a few shots, split into teams, and cut our way through the traffic to day one.

Here are some partners in crime that will be referred to throughout, so we’ll just get them introduced:
Mike – roommate, comedian, some circles know him as Cosmo, clearly looks good with a beard
Kati – friend, designer, SS correspondent/show buddy, little, very little, makes her own denim shorts
Tony – Did not attend, may this blog be a reminder to him that his decision was a poor one

5:15 Dan Deacon’s 4:00 start time was unattainable mark for us to meet as was the Black Kids set while Rogue Wave’s 1:30 was never actually considered as a possibility (for some reason those 2pm to 4pm hours were a bit blurry). We made it in time for Australian electropop-ers Cut Copy though. "So haunted" and "Light & Music" were some jams. Spending some time last week with their latest release, In Ghost Colours, probably helped. The album is worth getting.

5:40 Even at their highest point of saturation, Vampire Weekend’s songs were delightful. They went through the crowd favorites (most of that album) and introduced a new one that was pretty good (sounding even more like Paul Simon).

They also broke their “no T-shirts, only preppy button downs and sweaters on stage” rule. We can let it slide, as it was 100 degrees.

6:30 Just the fact that the identical faces of Tegan and Sara were displayed on the main stage big screens was enough to enjoy this. At one point they stopped a song 30 seconds into it to tune a guitar, but, luckily, their wit was on point. There were funny. They were cute. They were Tegan and Sara. Here is when they did "Back Into Your Head."

6:55 The National put on Friday’s best set. The Outdoor Theatre at sunset was a perfect tint for the band’s horn-backed heart pouring. Also fitting, they opened with "Start A War." Favored were tracks from best of 2007-list topper, Boxer. An instant classic, "Fake Empire" took us into the night; I fought back some chills and hugged Kati tight.

The National @ Coachella | Fake Empire

8:00 The Raconteurs weren’t a bad soundtrack for re-hydrating on the grass. We watched the big screens from afar, freaking out at every guitar solo from Jack White. One of those solos can be seen here in "My Blue Veins."

The night was wide open at this point. With no real “must-see” acts until Saturday, we jumped from tent to tent.

9:00 I knew what to expect from Datarock. They pretty much guarantee high energy and stage antics. They did test our patience with three opening duds before getting into "Computer Camp Love", "I Used to Dance with My Daddy", and eventually a 10 version of "Fa Fa Fa." The crowd loved it. Its not the most crafted music, but always a good time. Who can’t get into a Dirty Dancing “Time of Our Lives” saxophone solo?

I know Mike can.

9:55 Our friend, Sean, had the presence of mind to mention that The Verve had ten minutes left in their set at the main stage. We raced through the center dance club area in hopes of hearing them close with “Bittersweet Symphony.” This would be the first of many good calls when it came to timing. Richard Ashcroft belted away, then pressing the microphone against his heart, and we continued running; this time skipping in circles around onlookers. When it’s all said in done, that song is one of the finest of the 90s, and likely one of the finest I’ll ever hear performed live. That moment will stay with us. Bliss.

The Verve @ Coachella | Bittersweet Symphony "This one's for Hunter S. Thompson"

10:15 We met up with some of our house crew at Spank Rock, took in a few songs and made our way over to Fatboy Slim. The living legend was late to go on, but his Willy Wonka introduction heading right into a "Praise You" teaser made up for that:

The rest of the show, however, proved how out of touch Fatboy Slim is with the youthful electronic audience. It doesn’t help that he looks like Tommy Hilfiger waving at us up there. But really, it felt like a mediocre rave with little pay-offs to the expected crescendos. We gave it a 40-minute shot and moved on, passing by the tent with Professor Murder. According to the accounts of some people at our house later that night, we should have gone in. Noted.

11:50 A muffled Jack Johnson could be heard across the way and after a few rationalizing comments about good times in high school, we decided it was a proper wind down. I’ll give that guy some credit, he’s headlining every festival this year and hasn't changed his sound for anybody.

The third good call (oh and the second was fannypacks) came as we passed the parking lot traffic situation on our bikes. Quiet and warm, the ride home was backlit by desert stars and passing cars. We arrived to a party already underway. Fade to black.

Day Two (The strongest musically) coming soon.

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