I’m operating on about eight hours of sleep over the past seventy-two. The Brownie Watch will have to wait. What I can offer right now is a brief rundown of Coachella on Sunday.
It was an insane plan by just about any assessment. But sometimes when the cosmos are aligned (the concert I was planning on seeing Sunday night got canceled, as did my book club on Saturday afternoon, and by some miracle, we obtained tickets for Coachella), you have to roll with the unexpected pulse of life.
The plan was this: Fly down to see my sister and company, see my good buddy’s band on Satuday night, get home at some unknown twilight hour and then head to Coachella the next morning. What we didn’t count on was getting back at 12:30 AM, which left me catching about three and a half hours of sleep, boarding a plane at an ungodly hour on Monday morning (which involved an unexpectedly long security line and sprinting to the other end of the airport with a heavy book-laden bag to catch my fight a mere three minutes before takeoff), and then getting back in the City just in time for the day job. On time, natch.
I highly recommend this mode of life to anyone. In hindsight, I’m now pondering how I was able to rationalize such a precarious schedule. But it was the music, dammit. I’m now firmly convinced that I will do almost anything for art.
Right now, there are fantastic aches in my body from dancing like a twenty-two year old for around twelve hours. But it was worth it. And I’d do it again in a second. You’ll find me camping at Coachella next year.
I managed to get in about ten bands while I was there. I was unable to take any notes because the security goons confiscated my pen (and yet didn’t confiscate the card game I brought for us, go figure). So I’m relying entirely on memory.
Shout Out Louds: I’m convinced that Swedish rock these days is among the purest pop music being produced. And the Shout Out Louds demonstrated that they were every bit an adorable band live. I’ve loved this guys ever since I heard their EP. And yet they never seem to tour Northern California — that whole Atlantic Ocean thing probably being something of an obstacle for them. Of course, the one time they did make it to San Francisco, I was foolish enough to miss them at Slim’s. But no matter. Imagine a Smiths/Replacements sort of sound headed by a quavering vocalist with a deliberately loose command of English (and, no, Pop Matters, you’re missing the point inviting comparisons to Robert Smith; it’s the sunny uncertainty that’s endearing) and a xylophonist puncutating the rocking beat. The Shout Out Louds were plagued by tuning problems and they were a bit nervous, but that didn’t stop them from putting on an energetic show. They’re a tight band who clearly love what they’re doing. Plus, wearing suspenders on stage is always a good thing in my book.
There may be a certain kitsch factor that the Shout Out Louds are employing as a crutch. But I don’t see how anyone with a heart can resist “My Friend and the Ink on His Fingers,” which concerns a guy concerned about the potentially poisonous ink on his fellow friend’s fingers.
Donavon Frankenreiter: Having heard some of Frankenreiter’s chillout tunes in advance, I was expecting an unfortunate Josh Rouse sort of band. But while I didn’t get to see much Frankenreiter (the sun was too nice and the ground too comfortable), I can definitely say that his band offered a decidedly 1970s groove and that the drummer, in particular, knew how to bang out a solo. The best part of Frankereiter’s set was the last twenty minutes, where Frankenreiter decided to groove continuously in a way that too many indie pop bands are afraid of — which is to say, with a relaxed improvisational feel and carefree gusto. These were guys to fire up a joint to. And many folks did. My aforementioned buddy (the drummer for Deep Haze) was transfixed as these guys played. I can offer no better review. Joe Sleep Deficit says check ’em out.
Matthew Dear: At this point, we decided that a little electronica and dancing were in order (or rather I clandestinely suggested Matthew Dear as an option). Dear’s stuff is house-based, but with an emphasis on crisp high-pitched synths and unapologetic noise. It isn’t entirely revolutionary. (And, indeed, I would suspect that Dear came a little late to the electronica scene than he should have.) But it represented yet another subgenre of electronica that I couldn’t categorize and had me dancing like a clueless suburban white boy.
M.I.A.: Take trip-hop beats and merge them with a capella reggae. And you get some remote sense of who M.I.A. is all about. Frankly, I could have heard these ladies sing for hours. The way they end their “Hellos” and clip their vowels and then transmute these into some exotic banshee cry from Madagascar had me absolutely hypnotized. This is not your MoKenStef girly girl crap, dig? Must buy album.
The Futureheads: I only caught about four songs, largely because the gang wanted to see Tegan and Sara (the Canadian answer to Sixpence None the Richer, though not as one-note). They were tight, but came across as an engaging Franz Ferdinand knockoff, though without the quirk. “Meantime,” in particular, was a rollicking track. But their efforts to get the audiene involved with a game fell flat. I much preferred Dogs Die in Hot Cars, who I saw a few weeks ago at the Great American Music Hall. The lesson to be learned here is that if you’re going to ape the current trend, at least have a dangerous sense of humor.
Tegan and Sara: I thought this was a Doctor Who tribute band. But it was yet another folky duo. To their credit, they weren’t as treacly as I thought they’d be. And they were fighting the glare of the setting sun. Their gossipy stage banter and adenoid voices had me wondering if I was at a sock hop. What I can say is that they’re better than Sixpene None the Richer, but not as good as No Doubt.
The Arcade Fire: Fuck me, these guys are great live. Band members constantly change instruments. Percussionists climb the rafters and bang their sticks on metal. Band members are chased through emotionally poignant songs, to remind some of the stiffs that humor hasn’t escaped them. And you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any set ending with the bassist attacked by a cloak, lying seemingly dead on the stage at song’s end, is a bad thing.
The Arcade Fire was accompanied by two violinists who made “Crown of Love” sound bigger than I expected it to be live. They played “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” at about time and a half the tempo. I said it last year and I’ll say it this year: these guys are the next Radiohead and an extremely exciting band to watch. If they show up in your town, see them while they still play mid-sized venues. And if the Aracade Fire is too “mellow” to be classified as indie pop, then fuck you, fuck you sir very much. You can have your crappy, moribund Fiery Furances live act any night of the week. What counts these days is a band that is good in the studio and live. And it doesn’t matter how “comfortable” or “mellow” the music is. Besides, they’ve only put out one album and they’re Canadian. Which probably explains things.
New Order: I can say without a doubt that Coachella is the last big show that New Order is likely to play. Let’s say you’re a has-been 1980s band and you want to make a comeback. Do you (a) embrace the old material for a few songs, winning the audience into your favor so that you can unleash the new stuff on them or (b) mope around on stage like a bitter old man and complain about video cameras “getting my tits off” when you’re in front of about 30,000 people waiting for Nine Inch Nails?
Well, if I were New Order, I’d choose (a). If you’re a band trying to make a comeback and you haven’t had a hit in at least ten years, then my feeling is that you sure as hell better resort to canon if you hope to keep the aging remains of your fan base.
But if you’re an idiot like singer Bernard Summer, you choose (b) and blow your shot. You perform lifelessly and have an utterly bitter expression on your face when you have to perform “Blue Monday” for the umpteenth time.
I wish I can say I felt sorry for New Order. The only member of the group who put something into his show was the bassist. Was it Peter Hook? If so, that would explain a lot.
But it was clear that New Order was there expecting to be loved. And they made a tragic mistake putting all the new material up front. The songs were crap and it was only when the old stuff played that they received staggering applause. It was as automatic a reaction as the autopilot these has-beens were riding on. The funny thing was that New Order didn’t really want their fame enough to have it.
Nine Inch Nails: See previous entry. See Trent live. Pretty much the same set, except he performed the title track from With Teeth this time around, helping me in large part to better appreciate the song.
[UPDATE: Word on the street is that Tito has video of the Arcade Fire.]