The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has kicked off the summer music festival season. While nitpickers may point out that summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, those of us who experienced the 100-plus degree temperatures know better. This year, the eighth time it is being held, the event has expanded to three days. Many people wisely took advantage of the on-site camping, which was probably the smartest move for concert-goers who were attending more than one day, as the logistics were a nightmare.
Although I have read horror stories about traffic by those who started their journey too late, I had no problems getting to town about 11:45am. I hung out with some people I had met on the Coachella forum, who lived about two miles away. I headed over about 1:30pm and got into the lot off of Monroe and 52nd around 30 minutes later.
I was disheartened to see the parking lot empty of traveling vendors selling their wares, and very limited amounts of people partying. It couldn’t have solely been the heat, but I didn’t notice a heavy police/security presence so I’m not sure what the issue was. I will have to wait until some other event to pick up that t-shirt all the kids frying will be mesmerized by and the cryptic bumper sticker that only Spreadheads will understand.
Part of the reason might have been the huge lines to pick up tickets. There were a few booths with very long lines. I heard people complaining of having to wait almost three hours with no shade of any kind, just to pick up their tickets, and that doesn’t count the security check. Next year, and for anyone attending next weekend’s Stagecoach event at the same venue who haven’t purchased tickets yet, pay the $2.50 to print the tickets.
The last issue I have dealing with entering the facility is that on the event’s website it stated “NO Outside Food & Bev,” yet at the gate I discovered I was allowed to bring in unopened water bottles. Considering it was over 100 degrees, that information might have been important to pass on to the attendees. However, they were good enough to only be selling 16.9 fl. oz. bottles for $2 when they could have got more. There was also a promotion that encouraged people to bring back 10 empties in exchange for a full one, but some people dug through the trash and threw it around to fill their quota.
The festival had five stages of music, two large ones and three under large canopies. In between were all sorts of art projects, food stands, and information booths. Aside from the official Coachella vending tables, there was not much else to buy. While there were alcohol sales, $7 for a Heinken, the drinks could not be removed from the “Beer Garden.” In those areas people could see and hear through the metal fences, but as a grown up, it was disappointing. Plus, it only encourages attendees to get wasted before coming inside, particularly on long-lasting drugs.
The first act I caught was Terry Mullen at the Sahara tent, a DJ who was playing some driving beats and had a good visual display run by a team of people on computers. He had a small group up front feeling what he was doing, but most in the back just seemed to be taking in the shade, which was the greatest commodity of the day.
Moving on to the Mojave tent, The Noisettes were a rockin’ trio out of London led by bassist Shingai Shoniwa whose voice has a great melody to it. She sings rather than scream like other girls fronting similar groups. She easily could sing jazz standards if she chose. At the Gobi tent, the Comedians of Comedy started the day. It seemed like an odd choice, but Zach Galifianakis had the crowd laughing, especially when he went to the piano and offered up amusing thoughts as he plinked out a tune. At the Outdoor Theatre, apparently the creative team didn’t know “Kalahari,” bluegrass band, or “progressive acoustic” as they refer to themselves, Nickel Creek sounded great on one of their last remaining dates before they go on an indefinite hiatus.
Frequent Coachella performer Perry Farrell took the main stage with his new group Satellite Party, playing songs from their upcoming album. They combine the hard rock sounds of Jane’s Addiction and the world music explorations of Porno for Pyros and his solo album, most notably on “UltraPayloaded Satellite Party.” “Wish Upon A Dog Star” had a great funk bass groove to it. “Insanity Reigns” had a fast raggedness, a controlled chaos, that worked well. They even delivered a version of Jane’s Addiction “Stop” to the delight of many in the crowd. The band sounded good, especially Nuno Bettancourt who seems a capable guitarist to handle Farrell’s aural vision.
Unfortunately, what totally detracts is Perry’s wife, Etty. She is a “back-up singer,” but comes off a cross between a stripper and Linda McCartney. She looked a tad ridiculous running around trying to keep her breasts from falling out while she was dancing around, apparently unaware that her skimpy outfit is why her breasts were falling out while she was dancing around. She was a total buzz-kill.
Next up, was the simple beauty of the bluegrass/old time music of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. They wore matching rhinestone outfits and I walked in on them covering the Cashes’ “Jackson.” While an event like Coachella has a alternative music feel to it, it was refreshing to see the audience so into Welch. Among the songs they played were “Look At Miss Ohio” and “Elvis Presley Blues.”
On the same stage and with a very quick turnaround thanks to the small amount of equipment used by Welch, soul singer Amy Winehouse followed. She was backed with a horn section and two back-up singers that gave her music a reggae vibe at times. She asked if she could have a drink, sure to continue the gossip about her. When I could no longer take the two fat, sweaty guys rubbing against me, I made my way out of the tent to discover that Amy had been placed at too small of a stage. I had to fight my way through the throngs outside the tent because so may people packed the area.
Art was a big part of the events as well. In between there were a number of installations to view and appreciate. One art installation that captivated a great many people was a number of rows of lights on strings coming out from a center pole forming a sphere. They alternated color and different patterns. It was the best piece there. Other pieces included a long-winding tunnel of multicolored fabric where a small meditation circle was at the end, and a Chinese dragon made entirely of balloons that paraded through the crowd.
On a raised platform, a performance art/dance troupe pranced around to Middle Eastern-sounding music, dressed in odd tribal costumes. Part of their improvised routine involved shooting and spraying water into the crowd, which had to be a reason for their audience in the late afternoon.
One way to beat the heat was a tent called “Recharge and Relax.” They pumped the place full of air conditioning. There were free computers all over the place and they offered free charges to cell phones.
DJs played inside of a large jungle gym where colored gels were in sections on the top. As I passed by at one point I heard Tones on Tail’s “Go,” while later I caught old standards from the ‘30s or ‘40s, which drew me inside. The DJ appeared to have a Victrola mic’d up. I never got a good look at the gentleman because of the hat and feather boa he wore, but I believe it was David J from Bauhaus and Love and Rockets.
The Arctic Monkeys took the main stage while the sun was setting over the mountains and the temperature was perfect. The band was having a good time, and their energy infused the crowd, which was getting larger. More people were standing and squeezing together, a combination of the current act and the ones to come.
While Sunday’s Rage Against The Machine reunion has getting most of the buzz in the press, the reunion that created a great buzz on stage was the feedback-drenched, Reid Brothers, better known as Jesus and Mary Chain. They sounded fantastic playing many of their hits to the delight of the large crowd and certainly played one of the loudest shows of the day. Jim asked the crowd, “Are you having fun?” When he got an enthusiastic response, he came back with his trademark feistiness, “Well let's see what we can do about that!” Celebrities were spotted throughout Coachella, but none was more noticeable than Scarlett Johansson who joined JAMC on vocals for “Just Like Honey,” a fitting cameo as the song played during the end of Lost in Translation. The band performed a new song, which sounded good and is an encouraging sign they will continue past a reunion, and closed with “Reverence.”
Back over at the Sahara tent, Benny Benassi was spinning a great set and had the audience on its feet, including girls dressed like animals and a guy with the pacifier. It was another great visual show and there’s something about nighttime that adds to that music. Over in the Mojave tent, Peeping Tom put on a rockin’ hip-hop show if that was more your flava. The crowds there were dancing with their hands in the air.
Jarvis Cocker started late and played a shortened set due to equipment problems. To my surprise, a lot of people were still walking in at 9:20. Not campers, but people just arriving at the show. I know the $90 to $100 ticket prices were comparable to 2.5 hours at other concerts, but with all there was to offer it seemed surprising considering how much was missed.
I headed out early to beat the traffic, which was a good thing as I later read some people complaining that once the show closed, it took two hours just to make it to the freeway. If you can handle the logistical problems, the afternoon heat, and about 60,000 people in one place, some of whom have no idea how to clean up after themselves, Coachella is a great place to see bands you love and to discover new ones.