Beards, Blazers & Glasses: Coachella Day 2
The key to Day 2 of Coachella was mental preparation. The prospect of spending 12 hours on my feet surrounded by the dual-pronged onslaught of Tool and Madonna fans was not an easy concept to wrap my mind around. Precautions would need to be undertaken and not just of the herbal sort. Accordingly, Passion of the Weiss travel accomplice/part-time marijuana hobbyist/belgian waffle afficianado Jones on the NBA and I deliberated this gruesome confluence of music mental patients over a breakfast at legendary Palm Springs diner, Billy Reed's.
Passion of the Weiss: "What are the odds of the two of us getting into a fight with a Madonna and/or a Tool fan today?"
Jones on the NBA: "I don't know, but if you're gonna' start talking shit to one of the two, go with the Madonna fans. I bet you those Tool fans are some crazy motherfuckers."
Passion of the Weiss: "You make a valid point. You can never trust the motivation of a group of fans that willingly wear t-shirts that insult themselves. They could be dangerous."
Jones on the NBA: "Can we just eat breakfast?"
Passion of the Weiss: Not until we devise a battle plan to deal with these swine. It could get ugly."
Jones on the NBA: "I can't believe we're missing the Laker game."
And so nothing was solved at breakfast, but inside my own mind, I kept cool, expecting the worst, knowing that within three hours I would be surrounded by vast unwashed hordes of gay men, sorority girls and men and women with lip rings who found Marilyn Manson "not edgy enough" for their tastes. God damn you Goldenvoice for picking these two as headliners. God damn you.
And we were off, zooming along Highway 111, on our way to the second marathon day. Discovering a way to duck the seemingly inevitable one hour of traffic that most people were stalled in, we barelled past the row of suckers, skating into the back entrance of the festival and parking my car in the smoking clouds of sun and smoke billowing up in the beastly mid-day desert. One thing was clear even then: it is never a very difficult thing to outsmart a Tool or Madonna fan.
Though the festival's attendence was a record 60,000 people on Sunday, at 2:00 the grounds were relatively uncrowded, proving a well-cited Los Angeles theory: it is always a safe bet to put your money on Angelenos arriving late to an event and leaving early. Having spent far too much time "rolling" with the homies, we missed Murs and Giant Drag leaving my first acts of the day to be The Dears, Mates of States and Ted Leo, all three of whom delivered sets ranging from decent (The Dears) to mediocre (Ted Leo) to just plain boring as all hell (Mates of State.). So it wasn't until nearly 4:00 when the first notable act came on stage.
The Magic Numbers
3:30 p.m.-4:20 p.m. (Coachella Stage)
Its impossible to dislike the Magic Numbers after seeing them live. You may not love them. You may not even like them. But you can't dislike them. Their self-titled debut released last year was also one of those records best described as pleasant. Pretty, unspectacular, eminently listenable songs, interspersed with a few polished pop gems in the Mamas and Papas/Beach Boys California vein. Chords of shimmering sunshine, the ideal soundtrack as you wind your car on the way to some immaculate beach. The perfect soundtrack for that late afternoon moment, with the sun falling lightly into the Western sky, dipping against green palm trees gently melting into the blue.
Each song burst into color fluidly and in perfect melody, performed by band-members impossible to hate. There was no pretension. No theater. No frills. Just jangling harmonious songs that you would have been obsessed with if you'd heard them when you were 6 years old. Add that to the sweet smell of smoke beginning to crackle from some hooligans in the crowd and you had that perfect Coachella moment that happens twice each year. A moment in the late afternoon from 3:00-6:00 when a band's sound melds perfectly with the vibe reverberating through the sedated crowd. Everyone becomes suddenly pacified and even nonsensical music obsessives with a passionate hate for Madonna can't throw up an argument against the genius of organizing a festival out here, with a few great bands capable of producing waves of golden sound shadowed by the austere desert skin. That moment, when one can't help but think: "everything is pretty good."
With beatific smiles on their face, the Numbers rolled through, "Mornings 11," "The Mule," Long Legs," "Wheels on Fire," "Love's a Game," and others, producing a moment that inevitably will probably keep me returning year after year, but one that certainly did not prepare me for the next act.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 8.0 crucifixes out of 10 (+1 in the context of environment)
4:45 p.m.-5:35 p.m. (Coachella Stage)
I confess, I wanted to dislike this performance more than I actually did. First, the good. Matisyahu's backing band has skills. A lot. I make no claims to be a reggae expert, but they seemed to be close to as talented as Damian Marley's backing band the day previous. I can't front and I'm not going to lie and tell you that they don't make incredibly rhythmic dub-inspired music. I also can't lie and say that if I had closed my eyes I wouldn't have liked Matisyahyu. Luckily, my eyes were wide open.
What I saw was inauthenticity. Musicians should have a covenant with their fans promising that they will represent themselves with sincerity, i.e. that "they are keeping it real." When musicians falsely represent themselves the public is often able to detect a fraud, as it has done time again (see Mobb Deep, Vanilla Ice, or Snow).
That being said, everything about Matisyahu himself is a fraud and a gimmick. The man is from upstate New York. He used to like Phish and follow them around the country. He is now a Hasidic Jew who refuses to crowd dive because he's worried women will touch him (this is true).Seriously, the dude looks like Artie Ziff (click here), Margie's erstwhile and very Jewish beau on the "Simpsons." He has the same Hebrew name that one of my best friends had in Hebrew school. How can I take his music seriously?
Matisyahu is that guy at every high school that comes back each year with a different image. Judging from my guess, after his freshman year of high school Matisyahu was convinced he was the Rza, after his sophomore year he was Bob Marley, after his junior year he was Trey Anastasio and after his senior year he was Father Rabbi Krustofski.
He does not have a real Jamiacan accent, but he sings in one, meaning that essentially Matisyahu is doing an impression of a Jamaican reggae singer, presumably a black one. Basically, he is doing blackface and a damn good job of doing it, as his last album went gold. This doesn't sound like much but keep in Franz Ferdinand's last album barely did half that.
The point is, I don't care how proficient Matisyahu is at imitation, he is at best a great impersonator, at worst a ferocious imposter. Remember that Eminem line where he raps, "If I was black, I would've sold half." Well, if Matisyahu was black, he would've sold 1/10th. Plus, he beat-boxed. Poorly.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 6.5 crucifixes out of 10 (for live performance only)
0 crucixes out of 10 (as an artist)
5:15 p.m.-6:05 p.m (Mojave Tent)
If you think that I missed one second of Wolf Parade to watch the end of Matisyahu's set than you haven't been reading this blog for very long. Similar to when My Morning Jacket touched the highest standard of musical brilliance while most of the crowd ogled at Kanye's clothing the day previous, Wolf Parade seemed to divide humanity into two camps with their performance at the Mojave Tent. Up against the last half of Matisyahu's set, Wolf Parade's tent was relatively uncrowded when we arrived to find them running behind due to sound problems.
Finally, Wolf Parade took the stage 20 minutes late, with singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner apologizing to the crowd for their delay and expressing his hope that "we don't sound like shit."
The reality was anything but, as Wolf Parade delivered a set of staggering brilliance, one that rivalled MMJ's set at this exact time the day previous. In 30 minutes, the band ripped through "You Are A Runner and I am My Father's Son," "Disco Sheets," "Secret Knives," "We Built Another World," "It's A Curse," Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts," "Shine a Light," and others. The result was pure unadulterated genius. When the dust is settled, Wolf Parade will be the best band to emerge from 2005. For a band this young, the only band that gives them a run for their money is Arcade Fire. There must be something in the water in Montreal.
I can't say enough good things about the band's stage show. In fact, the only thing stopping them from getting a perfect score was the fact that their set was a bit short. I had seen them in their LA debut at the El Rey this past January and had been blown away by the performance, but wondered if it was a fluke. It was not. They are the real deal. They might not be as unique as the Arcade Fire but they are equally good. Spencer Krug in particular, the bands keyboardist/singer is a genius. I have never seen a singer convey so much emotion in his voice.
If you like music, you need to see the Wolf Parade the next time they come to your town.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 9.75 crucifixes out of 10
6:00 p.m.-6:50 p.m. (Outdoor Theatre)
Truthfully, I only saw Bloc Party perform two songs at Coachella. The only one I recognized was "This Modern Age." I've seen them three times previous and despite the excellence of their album, I can't say that I'm impressed with their live show. It isn't bad, its more like passable, but for a band that produced an album like "Silent Alarm," you expect more. A lot more. A band like the Kills should not be able to blow them out of the water, as they did when I saw them both at the Palladium last year. From what I saw at Coachella, the band had not improved since then. If you go to a Bloc Party show you'll have a good time watching the songs played live, but that's about it. Save your money, buy a good pair of headphones and listen to the CD loudly on random.
6:40 p.m.-7:10 p.m. (Gobi Tent)
Points to Cee-Lo for realizing that that if he made a CD under a fake name and got a really hot producer and did all sorts of catchy gimmicks, people would fall for it. But it takes more than gimmicks to make people like you. You need a good single. Luckily, for Cee Lo, he made one. "Crazy" is the best song Cee-Lo will ever make and it far overshadows anything else on his mediocre "St. Elsewhere," album.
That being said, Gnarls Barkley is a complete gimmick. He took the stage with a Wizard of Oz-themed show, with Danger Mouse behind the keys dressed as the tinmen, backup singers dressed as Dorothy's, guitarists dressed up as witches, violinists dressed as the witches' monkey guards and a scarecrow who seemed to do nothing else but stand in the corner (I presume this is Cee-Lo's weed carrier). Cee-Lo himself, wore a t-shirt that read "Mean Ol' Lion."
On-stage, he stood there "singing" if that's what you want to call it. Truth be told, Jones prolly best called it when he appraised it as: "There's always that one old broken-down drunk uncle in every black family. Cee-Lo basically sings and talks exactly like that uncle."
Luckily for Cee-Lo, "Crazy's" deserved popularity has made him very very popular among a set of people that doesn't remember him as Goodie Mobb's drunken uncle. The crowd loved it and didn't know what hit them. When "Crazy," came on, you could hear nothing but feverish pitched squeals, and I couldn't help but laugh to myself and think of Cee-Lo's classic verse from "They Don't Dance No Mo'." From those story book days when he used to call himself a rapper and before he'd been humilated by his daughter on MTV's Sweet 16 show. Ah, memories. Ah, mediocrity.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 5 crucifixes out of 10
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7:15 p.m-8:05 p.m. (Coachella Stage)
The entire time I watched the Yeah Yeah's set, I couldn't help but think of Ian's call on the band:
"Here's one of my favorite exchanges from The Simpsons:
Marge: Did anyone see that new Woodsy Allen movie?
Ned: You know, I like his films except for that nervous fellow that's always in them.
That's sort of how I feel about The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I like their songs except for that shrieking chick that's always in them."
The entire time spent watching the set, that thought kept on running throughout my head. The music itself sounded excellent in the desert twilight, coming out thundering and crystal-clear, but goddamn Karen O completely marred the entire experience.
I'm not sure how clear it is from the above picture of their performance, but Karen O took the stage with her eyes smeared with uneven gobs of blue and purple make-up, making her look like a cross between one of the Lost Boys from "Hook" and Olive Oyl. Meanwhile, she kept on shrieking and trying to make all sorts of "sexy" moves across the stage. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing sexy about Karen O. In fact, Karen O might be the most unsexy woman on the planet. The entire time on-stage, she writhed, grinded and shook, but I couldn't help but think: "this chick must've been a huge dork in the sixth grade." Which is cool, I'm glad she's done really well for herself, but then again I wasn't about to waste my time on the Yeah Yeah's set when just across the way, a band that meant a whole lot to me in the 6th grade was rocking the place.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 6 crucifixes out of 10
7:15 p.m.-8:05 p.m. (Outdoor Theatre)
Why lie? We all know why I wanted to see Digable Planets. I wanted to hear it. The song. Digable's one big hit that perhaps was of the best 50 rap singles ever made. Somewhere inside of me, an 11-year old kid deeply obsessed with Dr. Dre's "The Chronic," and EPMD's "Crossover" single, wanted nothing more to see a live rendition of "Cool Like 'Dat (Rebirth of Slick)." Naturally, they closed the set with it. The crowd went nuts. I can't deny that I was happy. Very very happy.
That being said, the rest of their set was excellent, as they ran through tracks from both of their albums. The backing band was tight and very funky as they ran through soulful interpretations of Digable's entire catalogue. The group sounded great on the mic and I couldn't help but think that Lauryn Hill stole a hell of a lot from Ladybug, Digable's female rapper.
But really it was all about the single. And for once, that was okay with me.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 8.25 crucifixes out of 10
7:40 p.m.-8:25 p.m. (Mojave Tent)
Um...hmm....where have I heard all these chords before. Oh yeah, on the Interpol album. Both of them. When the Editors learn a chord that has not been played by Interpol please alert me. If Interpol forms a JV team, I'm sure that the Editors might make the starting squad. But why mess with the Junior Varsity when you can just listen to "Turn on the Bright Lights," or "Antics," one more time than hear a copy-cat imitation of their sound. But its not just the guitars, the lead singer of The Editors sounds EXACTLY like Paul Banks. In a vacuum, I'm sure I'd like the Editors. But it isn't a vacuum. If these guys were American they'd be the Killers with a better live show, but since they're English they get hipster cred. Too bad.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 4 crucifixes out of 10
8:10 p.m.-9:00 p.m (Sahara Tent)
So I wanted to catch one song of Madonna's act just to have something to point to as marking the hideous state of America 2006. A place where our best rock festival doesn't feature Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Grateful Dead, the Who, Creedence, Jefferson Airplane, The Band and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, but instead draws today's biggest name in music, Madonna.
But what do you expect from the world when there are fans like these two pictured below
who can't help but passionately declare their love of Madonna. After all, they too are inevitably material girls.
Seriously, take a second look at this picture. This is what I was dealing with. From here on, if people ask me why I dislike American popular culture in the year 2006, I can just point to this picture and shrug my shoulders. Being there at that moment, seeing these bleating sheep watch a washed up harridan ask "how her ass looked," (the answer: disgusting), or "share your drugs with me," as though she was EDGY and actually wanted drugs rather than bullshit Kaballah holy water, I wanted nothing more than to scream "WAKE THE FUCK UP." The only thing this woman is talented at is conning the public. She's not good. She never was. She is not fabulous. She is a phony with no concrete identity. This is a why a poor girl from Detroit now has a British accent.
Paul Tollet, the promoter behind Goldenvoice and Coachella, should be embarassed of himself. In an attempt to sell more tickets, he turned his concert into spectacle. He turned the integrity he had cultivated over the last 7 years into a sham, he turned the best American festival into the MTV Europe Awards. 2006 will forever go down as the year when Coachella sold out. Hopefully, that statement will be ultimately revealed as false. But when you think about the fact that Sunday broke all attendance records, I highly doubt it
Passion of the Weiss Rating: -33 crucifixes out of 10
9:10 p.m.-10:20 p.m. (Coachella Stage)
With a few minutes to kill before The Go! Team, I caught a few minutes of Massive Attack. I love their "Blue Lines," album and I really like their "Mezzanine" album. I only saw a few songs, one of which I recognized, "Man Next Door," from Mezzanine. Horace Andy sounded great and it was a cool for a moment. I'm sure going to Massive Attack concert would be fun, if not a little slow. I would've stayed and seen the rest of the set, if not for the next act I needed to catch.
The Go! Team
9:40 p.m.-10:30 p.m. (Outdoor Theatre)
I thought the Go! Team's Thunder, Lightning, Strike! was the best album of 2005, not because it was necessarily better than Wolf Parade's "Apologies to the Queen Mary," or Sufjan Steven's "Come On Feel The Illinoise," but because I thought it was more original. A CD so original that it defies all genre categorization. A fantastic sonic collage of hip hop, dance, pop, and indie rock, the album is one of the rare few that you can play even for people who hate music (I think they're called Dave Matthews fans) and there's a good chance that they would still love it.
But in many ways, the album is very-much a studio masterpiece, one dependent on samples overdubs, and drum samples, and all sorts of studio wizardry. I didn't think there was a chance that it would hold up performed live on stage. I was dead wrong.
The Go! Team's live show is incredible, one of the most energetic I've ever seen. It feels like you've suddenly stepped into the greatest party ever held inside an animated cartoon. Go Team! leader and electric guitarist, Ian Parton, struts around on-stage rocking a vicious guitar, while Ninja, the group's rapper has the most charisma in a female musician, let alone a female rapper that I've ever seen. Not only does she have some of the best dance moves I've ever seen (and I don't usually comment on ANYONE's dancing ability), not only does she have a great flow, but she's kind of cute too. How M.I.A. became the Indie pin-up queen and not this girl, I'll never know.
In the background, the other four members of the Go! Team, whirl around on a variety of instruments, but the vibe is ferocious and kinetic. Sound crackling through the evening air bright and explosive, like each riff and rip produced a great burst of colorful fireworks into the sky. The live show is somehow even better than the album. Everyone needs to go out and buy their album and see them live the next time they come to town. They won't regret it.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 9.33 crucifixes out of 10 (because 1/3rd crucifixes are still better than none)
10:10 p.m.-10:55 p.m. (Mojave Tent)
It's ridiculous to compare Dungen live to seeing Led Zeppelin. No one deserves to be compared to that. There can never be another Led Zeppelin, just like there will never be any Beatles, just like there will never be another Bob Dylan. That being said, this year, if you want to see a live band this year that will best approximate what it would be like to see Led Zeppelin, I recommend checking out Dungen live's show. That is, if Led Zep had been Swedish.
I loved last year's Ta Det Lungt album, but had heard that Dungen's live show had been underwhelming in the past. Not quite. The show was incredible, Dungen played a lot of the tracks off of the last album, including "Panda," "Festival," and a bunch of others that I can't properly type because I don't know how to type Swedish accent marks. Additionally, they played some new stuff that sounded outstanding. At one point, Dungen's singer/mastermind Gustav Ejstes even busted out a flute solo that sounded like it had got lost somewhere between Led Zepellin IV and Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" album. It was incredible.
Dungen sounded ridiculously good, as guitarist Reine Fiske delivered bruising spiraling guitar riffs , but at times slowed it up to where they sounded almost like a prog-rock band. and at other times, got going like the best jam band I've ever heard this side of the Grateful. Dead. And the best part about it was half the crowd bailed after Madonna, so the tent for Dungen was half-empty. I stood 10 feet from the stage, feeling like I was in a time booth made by Ikea and it was most excellent.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 9.33 crucixes out of 10
10:45 p.m.-12:00 p.m (Coachella Stage)
You know who scare me? Tool fans. A lot. It wasn't just that half of them were covered in tatoos and looked like they wouldn't blanche at slaughtering a goat for their leader, it was that they're obviously so angry. If someone you know likes Tool be wary. They are inevitably more angry than they let on. I caught exactly two songs of Tool just to see what the fuss was about. Now I know. They make the music to shoot up a school to. For the ten minutes we watched, Jones was on the ground, curled up in the fetal position, as though his body contortions screamed, "somebody turn this angry white person music off." Around us, tens of thousands of people with blood-red eyes and black Tool t-shirts roared with applause and shouted along the lyrics to every song. We had only one option: Run!
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 3 crucifixes out of 10
11:15 p.m.-12:00 p.m. (Mojave Tent)Thankfully, we found a safe haven in the last act of the night, Art Brut, with Eddie Argos in full-on sarcastic excellence. How Eddie Argos managed to turn himself into a rock star is anyone's guess. He isn't particularly smooth, nor does he have a good singing voice, and he certainly doesn't have the quintessential rock star cool. Nonethless, Argos might have the most charisma of any rock star I've ever seen.
Its impossible to describe how hysterically funny Argos is and the way in which he controls the crowd. I mean, at one point in "Rusted Guns of Milan," Argos started going off on a description of the night of his epic failure, talking about how his girlfriend had picked "Back to the Future," because they had seen it before and therefore wouldn't be distracted by following its plot. It might sound a bit dull in translation, but I'm just going to have to bust out the old standby cliche: you had to have been there.
I'd seen Art Brut the first time they came through LA, about six months ago and had been impressed by their performance but not blown away. That had been their first US tour and they were just integrating new guitarist Jasper Future into the band. Since then, the band has improved dramatically to the point of where they have been a must-see live. On the album, the songs are much tighter in structure than they come off live, as the band particularly Future have come into their own.
Art Brut came on late (11:30) and Argos declared to the crowd, "The Coachella people said they're going to let us go till 12:15 because they were so late in setting us up...even though the fire marshal says its $1,000 a minute."
They played until 12:23 and there was never a moment where the show's energy died down for a second. Argos wouldn't let it happen. The man is a maniac and a brilliant showman. And Art Brut's new songs that they debuted sounded as good if not better than the old stuff. After seeing their live show, it's impossible not to be a believer. Before seeing this show I was skeptical whether or not Art Brut's schtick would wear thin after the triumph of their first album. After seeing it, my doubts have been quelled.
Passion of the Weiss Rating: 9 crucifixes out of 10
And just as the last three shows of the night (not counting those ten Toolish minutes) had featured three of the five greatest performances of the weekend and just as we were savoring the musical brilliance that had just erupted before us, the other Coachella smacked us hard in the face when we were treated an hour wait to leave, stacked like sardines in a mob of sweating bodies, waiting to file out of the one narrow exit. Consider it the new Coachella meeting the old.
Yet despite the inconvenience, despite the vast swarms of all-too-trendy "VIP" Angelenos there only for the party, despite the hordes of psychotic fans that had come to see only one band (see Depeche Mode, Tool, Paul Oakenfold), Coachella seemed very much like the perfect analogue to life itself. On some levels, one could claim that life, like Coachella is really about the Kanye West's, the James Blunts, the Madonnas and the Matisyahu's. After all, those four acts were perhaps the biggest draws of the festival. But that isn't what I gained from my two days spent in the baking desert sun. What I gained was the experience of seeing true human genius played out before my very eyes, those moments where I was positive that what I was seeing had the potential to be something that I'd always remember. No matter how many Madonnas or Kanye West's they throw at you, there are always other options. There is always another radio station, another philosophy, another musician to turn to to receive pure unfiltered authenticity.
My Coachella experience wasn't about the top 40 acts mixed in to to boost ticket sales, it was about those bands that flew under the rader, the bands that everyone missed while they were busy obsessing over the latest flavor of the month pop sensation. As I drove home the next day, I wasn't thinking about bashing Goldenvoice for its decision to pander to the masses, but rather I considered those moments of purity, those indelible moments where the music created a mood bigger than us all and swept us into another place far away from the concrete realities of the day-to-day grind. And though I hate to admit it, there's no way in hell I'm not going to return next year. There's something undeniably magical about Coachella and not even Madonna or Tool can spoil that. The scenesters can have their swag parties, their MTV-friendly headliners, their VIP tents, as long as there are bands like My Morning Jacket and Wolf Parade stamping pristine moments into the heat of the day, everything is really quite alright. Its only bleeding.