Empire Polo Field
April 17 - 19, 2009
Written by Joshua Williams Photographed by
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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
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.
Elastic Plastic Sponge