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Coachella Music Festival
Empire Polo Field
Indio, California
April 17 - 19, 2009

Written by Joshua Williams Photographed by Amy Davidson

Opposite Photo:
Leonard Cohen



This was our third year at Coachella. It’d probably take a few more years to be an expert, but we’ve gotten pretty familiar with it. We know when we get a crappy parking space, we’re used to trekking through the heat. We’ve figured out the best places to piss and even have our favorite bartender. Coachella’s become our de facto summer home. Luckily, the festival was a week earlier this year, which resulted in more amenable weather upon our arrival.

Day One

Airborne Toxic Event

Airborne Toxic Event

After getting settled, we went to shoot our first band, Airborne Toxic Event. They are a typical rock band set up with the addition of a string section. They play pretty pop music. I imagine lots of college girls enjoy them when they’re feeling a bit maudlin. I was struck with the notion that every song appears poised for a coming of age soundtrack. Maybe they’re already on a few. Here’s the scene: right when our antihero starts walking away from the misunderstood homecoming queen’s house, it begins to rain, she chases after him, they kiss in the rain and cue Airborne Toxic Event. Then they live happily ever after. Twenty years ago, John Cusak would have blasted then out of his boombox. Molly Ringwald would have celebrated her birthday to it. I guess more recently Zach Braff would have pondered the nature of life and existence to it, or those vapid souls on those MTV “reality” shows would have stared at each other to them. So this band is a bit formulaic. They play it well; I just don’t find it very impressive.

Black Keys

Black Keys

The Black Keys were a welcome change. I wish I had paid more attention to this duo in the last few years. I think due to the band being a pairing of singer/guitarist and drummer, they get an unfair comparison to The White Stripes. Although both bands are steeped in the blues, the Keys have a much more evident strain of southern rock in their set, with a good pinch of punk rock swagger. Also, being from Ohio, which for some reason is an incubator of original American music, I can expect much more in the years to come, either as the keys or in other projects. Singer Dan Auerbach has released a solo album, keep it hid, which finds him entering new territory and making quite a powerful record. After listening to a few tracks on his page, I’m pretty sure they’re download worthy.

Crystal Method Press Conference

After the Keys were finished, we headed over to the press tent to cover the Crystal Method press conference. They were definitely a pleasure to talk to, and were quite willing to share what they’ve been up to. I brought along my trusty tape recorder to record it, but to be quite honest, it’s a pain in the ass to decipher the thing word for word. They haven’t gotten an entire tour schedule set up just yet, but expect them to be around North America and Europe by years end. They have a new album, divided by night, which is set to be released any day now. An extensive new stage show had them rather excited, and they didn’t necessarily promise a lot of equipment destruction, but they didn’t rule it out either. The talk gravitated towards gear, and their opinion on outboard gear versus vst, etc. They answered that many of the old songs may go through a bit of a makeover, but to expect them to have a signature Crystal Method sound. As to the question of what types of gear to use, they gave the best possible answer: whatever gives the best sound.

Leonard Cohen

So far in our first day, we’ve had an unmistakably music festival day. Start off with an indie rock band, then a blues rock/punk duo, and then interview a duo of dj/producers/electronica artists. To continue this adventure in eclecticism, we were off to see the one and only Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen is still bringing his original mix of poetry, folk and crooning. He makes you want to throw on a dark suit, slug some scotch, light a smoke, and ponder the nature of love, loss and life. He’s gotten old, but he’s still able to deliver a pretty solid set with a tight band to back him up. Favorites such as “Bird on the Wire”, “The Future”, and “Hallelujah” were played and of course, greatly appreciated by the crowd. And let’s face it, Cohen’s hallelujah is quite possibly the most beautiful song ever. If you don’t get goose-bumps from it, something may be wrong with you.

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

After catching the Cohen set, it was off to the main stage for Franz Ferdinand. They were solid with their set, with the distinctive voice of Alex Kapranos over their dance/post punk/new wave revivalist three minute pleasers. All the favorites were played of course. They’ll probably have to play “take me out” until the band’s death. But they seem to have grown over the last few years and could conceivably be releasing albums until they’re considered the 21st century equivalent of the stones. I liked them more than I thought I would, and that’s always a nice thing.


Morrissey Morrissey

Next up was Morrissey. In case you haven’t heard, he doesn’t like it when people eat meat. This was evident with his exaggerated gagging and making pronouncements hoping that the smell of charred flesh was human, blah blah blah. I’m the first person to support a vegetarian or a vegan’s dietary choices. But it rang as silly. You’re playing at an outdoor festival. Someone’s going to be grilling something since most people tend to be carnivores. I found his rantings and exaggerated gagging act to be as annoying, if not more, than those uber-carnivores who won’t eat anything but meat, and refuse all vegetables or anything new. There are better ways to bring people over to your side. If you’re so anti eating meat, then educate the public. I’m all for sustainable farming, and relish the demise of the industrial food chain. I nominate Michael Pollen to be the head of the Department of Agriculture. But I’m not really in the mood to see some bloated has been (and The Smiths are beyond over rated) whine and bitch about the people running the concession stands. They sure as shit are working a lot harder than some pompous aging queen with a pretty voice. All you have to do is show up and sing, so shut up and get to it.

And that concluded our first day. Apparently, rock royalty performed, but we were too low on the knighted one’s list. If he didn’t want us around, we saw no reason to stay. Besides, The Stones are still a better band. And let’s face it, the wrong Beatles are dead.


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

The second day found us starting our day at the Mojave tent. We were there to see Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Apparently, Ariel Pink has released albums on Animal Collectives Paw Tracks label. And Haunted Graffiti is a live backing band, and the live shows are unrehearsed live compositions. At least that’s what the wiki world told me. In any event, I enjoyed the backing band tremendously, but found Pink lacking. Maybe in a smaller enclosed space the avant-garde nature would come across better. I just couldn’t find Ariel Pink Compelling. However, I thought the band did an amazing job crossing all kinds of genres. If it was unrehearsed and composed live, I’m even more impressed.

Bob Mould

We then saw the Bob Mould Band at the Gobi tent. Mould is a 20 plus year veteran like the has-been the night before and the comparison ends there. Mould was happy to be there, professional and appreciative. As for the sound—it was polished tight Bob Mould sounding music. Probably a little more pop than the old husker du stuff, but definitely not staid or boring or tired. It was good to see him having a good time.

Afterwards it was off to the main stage to see Paolo Nutini. I don’t know much about this act, but It was good for a summer day. A pleasant mix of soul, folk, pop and rock. I swear the first couple bars of ‘Jenny, Don’t be Hasty” was lifted from Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”. Maybe it was an intentional homage. Nutini has a pleasant rasp to his voice, and could easily do Louis Armstrong and Rod Stewart covers. Good stuff to play at a cookout, so don’t call Morrissey.

TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio was next, and I must say, they are a band that has seriously grown on me. I had never seen them live before, and was left unimpressed with a TV appearance I saw. But I did enjoy some tracks I had downloaded, so I was hoping for a good performance, and I got one. I still have no idea how to describe this band. There’s a little bit of everything in it, and it all meshes well. They are without a doubt one of the more original bands of the last few years.


Band of Horses

Then it was off to the outdoor theater to see Band of Horses. They have been around for a few years now. Singer Birdwell has been compared to Neil Young and Wayne Coyne in the past. I can see where that comes from. There is also a good amount of southern rock coming through. Wrap all that up in a shimmering guitar and there you go.

Then it was time for MIA. We covered her last year in the mob riot of the Mohave Tent. At least this year she was on the main stage. I guess that’s a testament to her climb in the charts and rise in popularity. However, I do have one complaint. Can you please stop blowing that freaking horn every eight bars? Once in a while is ok, but we don’t need an air raid drill every twenty seconds. Other than that, I think she has a lot of talent. She has formidable skills as a rapper, she has great energy, and laying down “paper planes” over a Clash sample is a pretty brilliant idea. But for the love of all that is holy, stop it with that damn horn!

And with that damn horn ringing in our ears, we concluded our second day

Day Three

Fucked Up

I like Fucked Up. At least I like their album Epics in Minutes. So I was interested in seeing them. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for good hardcore. What I don’t like is a rehashed GG routine. I knew something was up when front-man Pink Eyes appeared on the edge of the stage holding a can of orange soda. He was just a little too pleasant to the press photographers in the pit. Then of course, as the music started, he beat the can against his forehead, spewing orange soda over the people in the photo pit. Within minutes he had blood all over his face. Now, many of people in the media are contemptuous, but I think live music photographers are far down the list. It’s not as if they’re paparazzi. They’re getting you exposure, and many get paid next to nothing and have to save a lot of dough to afford the camera that your orange crush and blood just fucked up. And really, if you want to hurt yourself on stage, don’t stage it like a wrestler, if you’re going to go GG, then fuck yourself up and stick that microphone up your ass. Then you’re finally getting somewhere. Until then, you’re just playing.

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco

After getting back towards the main stage and checking the equipment, we decided to cover Lupe Fiasco. I don’t think he’s bad, I just don’t understand why everyone else thinks he’s so great. Other than “superstar”, no other song, refrain or chorus stuck with me after the set was over. I admit that I don’t really know a lot of his music. Maybe the narrative is better on the studio tracks.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah's

The Yeah Yeah Yeah's
The Yeah Yeah Yeah's

Well, well, well. It’s the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s. They do their post punk indie 21st century Siouxie thing. Karen O is a pretty engaging front-person. The music is a decent mix of synths and guitar blasts. I was pretty so-so on them until they did a cover of The Cramp’s “Human Fly”. That made me appreciate them a little more, especially since Lux Interior died pretty recently. Would I be itching to see them again? Probably not. Would I go if someone took me? Probably so.

Then it was time to take out the earplugs. These were donated to the crowd by My Bloody Valentine. And yup, they were loud. Really freaking loud. They kind of annoyed me at the end though, closing their set with about 15 minutes of white noise. If annoying the crowd was what they came to do, they were successful. Ending with a bunch of feedback that falls into white noise is fine, but it really went on to the point where I was ready to stab myself in the ears with an icepick.

Robert Smith of The Cure

And then there was The Cure. Luckily, it was at night so the mascara was saved. What is there to say really? At this point in their career, Robert Smith and the Boys are either going to deliver a quality set, or they’re going to learn its time to finally hang it up. Luckily for lovelorn death-rockers and their children, the Cure’s set is up to par. The songs were tight, the crowd was pleased, and after My Bloody Valentine’s barrage of white noise, very welcome. Smiths voice sounds the same. He looks a little bit aged, but the songs did not appear stale. And that’s a result any band that’s been around for decades can hope for.


Festival Art Festival Art
Do Lab Do Lab

Enthusiastic Fan

Elastic Plastic Sponge

The Crowd

The Crowd







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