Coachella 2007-Day 1
Of Montreal-Outdoor Theater (4:55-5:45)
After sitting in the prerequisite hour wait of Coachella traffic, I was treated to the above sight: Kevin Barnes rocking the stilts-look, complete with a long flowing white dress. Typical. At this point, it'd be more shocking if Barnes showed up in a t-shirt, jeans, and an Atlanta Braves t-shirt, instead of the emaciated Aladdin Sane-Bowie look that he cultivates (obviously he isn't actually eating any of that Outback Steakhouse).
For a typically compelling live performer, Barnes' set was merely so-so, a victim of the poor sound that plagued the outdoor stage all weekend. In the midst of the sluggish mid-day heat, Barnes played listless renditions of songs from his excellent Hissing Fauna record. He seemed surprisingly uncertain of himself, rarely speaking to the crowd, giving off the vibe that he couldn't wait to get the whole thing over with. I left early to check out...
MP3: Of Montreal-"Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"
Silversun Pickups-Coachella Stage (5:10-6:00) (photo via Kevin Bronson)
I totally get why people hate on the Silversun Pickups. There's definitely something a little douchey about them. Now I don't actually know any of the Pickups but some of my good friends are really good friends with them and they swear that they're solid people. But still, they're a tad suspect in my book. Of course, the reasons are personal, being that one time I told Brian Aubert, the Pickups' lead singer that I'd seen them play the month previous and they'd blown the other bands off the stage. Instead of thanking me for the compliment, he rolled his eyes and vaguely mocked me. Granted, the other two bands were Voxtrot and the abysmal Elefant, not exactly the Stones and Led Zep. But still, judging from that one encounter, if he had been a Latin American pitcher, his nickname would've clearly been El Douche.
Plus, they're from LA and if I weren't from LA, I'd instinctively hate anything from here. Just on principle. Couple that with the fact that they sound eerily like the Smashing Pumpkins circa Melon Collie and you have a recipe for a critical punching bag. But I'll be damned if the Pickups didn't deliver an extraordinarily compelling live set. Seriously. They sounded great and road-testing from a long spring of touring with Snooze Patrol and OK Go Home. This isn't the sort of band I'm about to stake my reputation on and they might not even be as good as some of their die-hard fans want them to be, but they are much better than their negative Internet buzz would have you believe.
MP3: Silversun Pickups-"Lazy Eye"
Amy Winehouse-Gobi Tent (6:00-6:50)
Artists like Amy Winehouse make critics' arguments about being "derivative" seem utterly ridiculous. Because despite the fact that she might be one of the most un-original musicians in recent memory, she gets a critical free pass. The same people willing to sneer at bands like the Silversun Pickups seem ready to worship at the alter of Winehouse, despite the fact that she her whole style is a carbon copy of Lauryn Hill crossed with the Shangri-La's. The whole novelty is that she's a size 0, British Jewish white girl with a voice like a southern soul Diva. Not like I have a problem with it. Truth is the girl can sing. Live, her voice is as massive as on record. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song, regardless of how transparent an artist's influences are.
In that vein, I do like Winehouse. Back in Black is most definitely a good record (though not as great as it's been hailed in some quarters), and Winehouse's live show was decidedly impressive, if not a bit dull. Flanked by two back-up dancer/singers and a full live band, Winehouse glided through a solid, shockingly tasteful set that belied her tabloid reputation. There were no drunken meltdowns, no weird diatribes about her undying love for Perez Hilton, just a dozen or so songs performed in an elegant manner. Boo-urns.
MP3: Amy Winehouse-"Rehab"
Arctic Monkeys-Coachella Stage (6:25-7:15)When I first saw these kids, I compared their hype cycle to that of Howard Dean, predicting that the presidency/top of the rock heap was unlikely, but ultimately they'd probably end up with a nice plum gig running the DNC/being a succesful mid-sized venue band. While its still early in their careers, I'd say the analogy still fits. The hype remains unwarranted. The Monkeys have little charisma live and few guitar chops. Musically, their tunes seem unsure whether they want to be neo-punk rock or post-Libertines Brit guitar pop. They sell records alright, with their new record, Favourite Worst Nightmare debuting at #7 at the charts, but in truth, it's only a slightly better than average guitar pop record.
On the plus side, Alex Turner is a good lyricist with a strong unique voice. But still, their Coachella set was just fair, a few good songs, an equal number of mediocre ones. They might be a cut above the lot of the rest of the NME hype machine, but barely.
MP3: Arctic Monkeys-"Brainstorm"
The Jesus and Mary Chain-Coachella Stage (7:30-8:25)
I know I shouldn't have been as upset as I was, but there's something just so wrong about a seminal band like the Jesus and Mary Chain re-uniting for a Coachella performance, delivering an astoundingly good first 40 minutes and then ruining the whole thing by bringing a preening, out-of-her-league Scarlett Johannson on-stage. Don't believe the rumors. Not only can she not sing, loud screeching noises were distinctly audible during her brief backing vocals for "Just like Honey." As my friend told me later:"it was just a legendary moment in 'bad' Hollywood lore." She obviously must be fucking one of the Reid brothers. Kudos to you my friends.
Last year with Madonna's atrocious performance was the year when Coachella tipped, the moment when it stopped being "the" American music festival and just became another Los Angeles VIP clusterfuck, where actresses with no musical ability can delude themselves into thinking that they belong on-stage with one of the most legendary bands in music history. Swell. I'm hoping next year, the Smiths can re-unite and Cameron Diaz can handle backing vocals. Hang the DJ!
MP3: The Jesus and Mary Chain-"Just Like Honey"
El-P Mojave Tent (9:50-10:40)
El-P had the misfortune of playing against Sonic Youth and Interpol, so the Gobi tent wasn't as crowded as might it have been. But after checking out Interpol (hey, guess what the new songs sound a lot like Joy Division) and Sonic Youth (angular guitars and feedback, who knew?), I decided to stick to my bread and butter and check out El-Producto for what might be the 100th time I've seen him. As always, the man never disappoints, delivering a focused and fierce set, full of neo-Bomb Squad beats, dystopian imagery and sarcastic jabs at the Bush administration.
MP3: El-P "EMG"
Bjork-Coachella Stage (10:40-12:00)
After spending the last decade trying to figure out whether I loved or hated Bjork, I finally arrived at a conclusion after watching her transcendent headlining performance Friday night. The latter. You see, even during my most anti-Bjork phases, there was no denying her prodigious musical ability. But my god, the woman can be annoying. As Will Ferrel as Alex Trebek, so aptly put it "is she Icelandic or retarded?"
But after watching her live show (and watching her stretch the phrase "Hello Coachella" into 34 syllables, I've concluded that the ever-evolving Bjork is music's "Rain Man." She probably can't tie her Icelandic Walrus galoshes, but she's clearly tapped into a higher musical plane than the rest of us. Call her an idiot savant and you'd probably be right. But there's no denying that her critical adulation is deserved. Backed by a mini-orchestra, tunning through tracks from Homogenic, Post and her new record, Volta, Bjork, delivered a shockingly powerful (and obviously weird) performance, partially redeeming a sub-par opening day of the festival. And I wasn't alone. Judging from the crowd's enthusiastic reception, we all got Bjorked.
MP3: Bjork-"Earth Intruders"