Beards, Blazers, and Glasses: Coachella Day 1
Picture the scene: It's a shade past five at Coachella and the small Mojave Tent is a sweltering 100 degree inferno. I'm slammed into one of the corners, dripping with sweat, cheeks pressed against the white tapaulin walls, surrounded by every person in the city of Los Angeles that I've ever wanted to stab.
Compound this with the fact that myself and fellow traveling partner/Passion of the Weiss race relations guru/basketball blogger extraordinaire, Nate Jones have just waited in a glittering 1-hour plus crush of traffic to get in, taking roughly 80 minutes to travel half a mile and generally debating exactly 16 times whether or not we should just park the car on a side-street and walk the rest of the way.
Finally, we make it to the gates of the festival and the first person we see is well-known Los Angeles DJ/rich kid/epitome of Cobrasnake Hipster God, Steve Aoki and my only thoughts were that either I was going to strangle myself or someone in the next six hours. Guaranteed.
All this anticipation and loathing, jamming our way through the thick crowd just beginning to peak at 5:00 p.m., rushing to catch the set of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and then only to face the horror of the crowd itself.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
(5:05-5:55 p.m.) Mojave Tent
My first impression upon seeing the crowd was that Pitchfork's influence has gotten way out of control. All it takes nowadays to become a music sensation is a 9.0 review and every poseur in this town will jump on the bandwagon and proclaim that they've loved them since they first heard their demos roughly six months ago.
Accordingly, the crowd was an unbelievably precise cross-section of everyone I despise: Hollywood kids that base their life around Brent Bolthouse clubs and cocaine and think that they're hip because they work at ICM and therefore got an advance copy of the Arctic Monkeys CD one week before it actually came out in stores and eastside hipsters who inevitably were just gearing up to hate on the band and declare the universal Los Angeles hipster epigram: They were better when I saw them at [Spaceland/The Troubadour/The Echo].
But being the closet hipster that I am [laugh now...please], I in fact did catch Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!'s first LA show, when they played the Troubadour last November, only to instantly realize that the excellence of their album did not translate well to the stage.
But I was willing to give them another chance, figuring the band had inevitably developed in the last seven months, and that it certainly beat seeing Deerhoof again, a decent band in their own right, but one also far undeserving of the hype that the press has lavished upon them.
But the scene inside the tent was too much for me, Alec Ounsworth, the lead singer of Clap Your Hands began playing songs off of their eponymous debut, much to the delight of the crowd. Everyone started going nuts. The scene was pandemonium. A fat and stocky 30-year old man started dancing wildly in front of me. He wore no shirt and had a snake-skin cowboy hat on. Violence seemed to be on the verge of rearing its ugly head, but I told myself to play it cool, , despite the throng of bodies packed impossibly tight into the tent and the temperature seeming to rapidly rise each second. My claustrophobia spiraled to unrivalled proportion and the music didn't exact help things, as there was one inescapable fact eluding most of the fawning hipster/scenesters in the audience: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! put on a really shitty live show.
Even though I'd stood front row, the first time I'd seen the band, I left unimpressed by Ounsworth's immobile stage presence and David Byrne-esque yodel that seemed maddeningly unintelligble in person. But now in the swarming white waves of heat and the disturbingly excited crowd, roughly 75 percent of whom had declared to their friends before walking into the tent: "this band has some really great buzz around them. I mean, really GREAT buzz."
Then I turned to the left of me, just outside of the tent, and there was Aoki, trying to burrow his way into the crowd, having magically left the confines of the VIP tent where all the celebrities and hangers-on flatter each other with tales of how remarkable the other one really is. And at that moment, I almost screamed, but instead I turned to Nate and said, "Let's get the fuck out of here, now!"
With his claustrophobia also reaching an apex, we immediately ducked out of the tent and its "tragically cool" inhabitants, to the [relative] calm of the surrounding area, where we listened to the rest of the set. They played exactly what you'd expect from their album, "Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away," "Over and Over Again," "Details of the War," "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth," "Clap Your Hands," and "In This Home on Ice," but ultimately the songs sounded hopelessly flat on-stage. Some bands with very good albums that are mediocre live (see Bloc Party) basically re-create their songs on stage to the point of where it feels like you're listening to a loud version of the CD on random. But others like Clap Your Hands actually manage to make the songs sound worse than they appear on the record. Anyone who tells you that Clap Your Hands put on a good show is deluding themselves. Out of any band I've seen over the last two years whose CD I have really liked, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! are the worst live band of the bunch. Truth be told, their name should be Clap Your Hands Say Meh...
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 5 crucifixes out of 10
My Morning Jacket
Outdoor Theatre (5:55 p.m.-6:45 p.m)
There was a moment during the My Morning Jacket set, directly after they finished an awe-inspiring, thrashing, wild and brilliant rendition of "One Big Holiday" from their "It Still Moves" album, where there was a second of quiet between songs. At that moment, a loud cheer erupted from the main stage where Kanye West played.
Loudly, so that everyone around me could hear, I sarcastically stated, "Oh my God!!! He just played 'Golddigger' OH My God!!"
Everyone started laughing and I'm pretty sure that at that moment, humanity could have been divided up in two camps. There were those who gravitated towards authenticity, towards true unadulterated genius, towards craft and dues paid, of years spent laboring and struggling on the road, those who wanted to see the consciousness-shifting excellence of My Morning Jacket's set, vs. those who get their news from MTV and the tabloids. Those who prefer flash over substance, glitz over grit, arrogance over modesty. The ones who chose to watch the set of a man who actually had the nerve to tell the Coachella crowd, "This is our National anthem and the best song of the year even if the Grammy's don't think so," about his good until the 7th time you hear it track, "Golddigger."
I am certain that the crowd that gathered to watch the epic performance by MMJ that unfurled before us, were in the right, fighting on the good side of humanity, against the darkness of manufactured pop music, against eccentricity for the sake of the Sony/BMG marketing department, against the major labels of the music industry that seem to just run an endless conveyer belt of banality.
Now MMJ might now be on a major label, but they don't play like it, they don't act like it and the truth is, in a just world My Morning Jacket should be one of the five most well-known bands. Instead, we live on earth, where a far-smaller crowd gathered to watch MMJ play on the small stage, where they turned in one of the three best performances I've ever seen.
Running through a variety of tracks from their catalogue (though slanting harder towards stuff off of "Z"), every song by My Morning Jacket seemed about 10,000 times better live than on their albums. And I'm a big fan of their albums. I don't think I could even begin to do justice to how incredible the performance was, Jim James' celestial voice echoing loud and crystal-clear into the early evening air, the palm trees lilting in the background, as the band roared and wailed hard. It was mind-blowing. Everyone couldn't help but mouth "wow," over and over again. It was perfect. With the White Stripes now on hiatus due to Jack Whites Raconteurs project, this is the best live band in America. Everyone needs to see them. Immediately.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 10 crucifixes out of 10 crucifixes
7:00-7:50 p.m. (Main Stage)
I like Sigur Ros. I really do. I love their live show and when I caught them at the Hollywood Bowl last summer I was convinced that they played exactly like you'd expect the best caveman band from 100,000 BC to play like.
That being said, whoever thought that booking Sigur Ros to play the main stage at sunset clearly didn't plan for the inevitable fact that roughly 94 percent of the Coachella population would be on s0me form of drug. To truly appreciate a Sigur Ros show, one needs to get into the frame of mind that you're going to see a Sigur Ros show. It's the sort of music that literally makes you want to re-evaluate yourself piece by piece and come to some sort of new understanding about the world and the universe we inhabit. IE: Talk about a fucking buzzkill. After about 10 minutes of seeing Sigur Ros, there probably were only about 12 people among the thousands in the crowd who DIDN't want to kill themselves. So we hightailed it over to
Outdoor Theatre (7:10 p.m.-8:10 p.m)
I'd listened to the Damian Marley CD a few times before coming to Coachella and while I'd been fairly impressed with it, it didn't exactly blow my mind either. So it came as amajor surprise how outstanding Damian Marley's live show was.
Taking the stage with a full-backing band, including horns, guitars and a drummer, Marley ran through an outstanding hour-long set, as the band did a superb job of re-creating his dub/roots reggae sound. But perhaps the most amusing part of the set was the fact that Marley had a guy whose entire job was to wave a Jamaican flag wildly around the stage.
About thirty minutes into the set filled with not only hits off of "Welcome to Jamrock," but quite excellent covers of Bob Marley's "Exodus" and "Could You Be Loved," Nate and I both looked at each with the same question. That being, does the flag carrier double as Damian Marley's weed carrier? The answer is inevitably a resounding yes. Add that to the list of responsibilities it takes to be a good weed carrier: sometimes carrying a flag for the artist you support is eminently necessary.
Marley's set served as the perfect contrast to the gloomy ethereal orchestra of Sigur Ros and served to make life worth living again. Huzzah. And to top everything off, apparently talking to Samson is the perfect way to enjoy a reggae concert. Who knew?
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 8.5 crucifixes out of 10
8:15-9:05 p.m. (Main Stage)
Despite the relative lack of success of their underrated second album, Franz Ferdinand drew one of the festival's most plum spots, the main stage slot prior to the headliner, and while I confess to having a major appreciation of the band, their set seemed pretty disappointing.
Of course, it wasn't like I was making it easier on everyone around me to appreciate it, mocking the admiring squeals of the 19-year old sorority girls standing next to me, who apparently were too dense to realize it and kept on asking me to take pictures of them. Apparently, they didn't appreciate the sarcasm of my repeated statement of, "oh please...please let them play the single. let them play Take me Out. I Loooovvveee that song. Fuck yeah!!"
Ultimately, Franz' sound seemed thin and tinny despite coming from the gargantuan main stage speakers. While the band delivered a brilliant show when I caught them at the Greek Theatre this fall, they struggled to replicate their sound in the cavernous desert environment. Lead singer Alex Kapronos' charisma failed to translate on the big stage, as he seemed like a tiny dancing ant, albeit a well-dressed dancing ant.
On top of it, the crowd sucked, seemingly to only be interested in hearing "Do You Want To," "This Fire," and of course, "Take Me Out." Like any band, Franz Ferdinand are at their best when they feed off of its energy, but the Coachella crowd seemed quite dull and listless. Perhaps this was because they had all rushed off to their cars to take some Prozac after Sigur Ros' deadening performance the previous hour. The verdict: Franz Ferdinand are an excellent band, but one not yet able to create the large bold sound that such a massive venue requires to succeed. That being said, their songs are great and they make some of the best pop music I've heard in the last decade. And their set certainly didn't lack energy, even though they may not have been in top form.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 7 crucixes out of 10
9:50 p.m.-10:40 p.m. (Outdoor Theatre)
Having already seen Depeche Mode once (an experience that when asked, I can only describe it as being enjoyable for about 15 minutes until you realize wow....I'm seeing Depeche Mode), I decided that my final set of the day would be Atmosphere.
About five years ago, I was a very big Atmosphere fan, as the Minnestota MC definitely would've made any top rapper list that I would've drawn up. But as I've grown older, I've outgrown the music a bit. It's not like I still don't enjoy his albums (particularly Overcast! and Lucy Ford), its just that I don't feel that it resonates in my life today as it did then. Of course, there's always one point that generally spurs one's apathy towards a particular musician or band. Be it Talib Kweli's "Quality" album, or Method Man's "Tical 2000", there always seems to be that tipping point in which you start to like an artist a little bit less (this seems to be most endemic to rap).
With Atmosphere, it was the moment when I saw him live at the Roxy and he asked girls to throw their underwear on stage. When a girl threw her thong onto the stage, Slug, Atmosphere's rapper picked it up and put it in his mouth. Suddenly, I felt like I was at a 2 Live Crew show.
But Atmosphere's set turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, as the first half of the set was your normal hip-hop show, with Atmosphere running mainly through tracks off of his last two albums, including a rendition of "Cats, Vans, and Bags" with Brother Ali.
Watching Atmosphere on stage, the only thought I had was that Slug is just a much better rapper than he should be. Judging from his appearance and subject matter, you wouldn't expect him to be as skilled on the mic as he is. But watching his set, no one could deny that his style had inevitably been honed in countless freestyle sessions and live shows. Needless to say, the man put in work and it shows. Live, his flow came off great, fluid, effortless and commanding
The second half of the set featured Atmosphere rapping against the music of a live band, with guitars, keyboards and a drummer. It was also impressive, as he ran through the older parts of his catalogue including a show-stopping rendition of "The Woman With the Tattoed Hands."
Redeeming himself for his predilection for chewing on strange girl's thongs, Atmosphere delivered a rousing hour-long set and displayed why 10 years deep he can still rock a crowd with ease.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 8.25 crucifixes out of 10
And so I ended up missing the droning no-talent ass clowns of She Wants Revenge and the trance jams of Daft Punk. Despite the fact that I heard the next day that Daft Punk put on a great show, I had absolutely no desire to see them. Even if I got James Murphy's wish and Daft Punk was indeed playing at my house, I'd probably leave it to go listen to music that wasn't ONLY appreciated by people on ecstasy, Frenchmen and Pitchfork writers.