Thursday, May 04, 2006

Coachella: Top Of the Pops (Day Two)

Here's the second installment of my Coachella "review," this time of Sunday. Again, I didn't have a digital camera with me, so all of these photos are either from somebody over at the Coachella Message Board, or from some other source I shouldn't be taking them from. Like I've said before: I never said I was professional.

Giant Drag
Started out the day with these guys. I'm not a huge fan of the former goth girl angst found on their album, but the set was fun to watch. Annie Hardy, the lead singer and guitarist, was delightfully quirky in between songs, muttering such totally controversial (!!) things as "When I was 8, my boyfriend broke my heart and my hymen, and this is a song I wrote for him." (sic) And then, there was...

The Dears
I was a big fan of No Cities Left - in 2002. It's strange that these guys are still playing songs from that album (although, apparently, there's a new one due in Canada). Anyway, hearing "Same Old Plot" was great, but otherwise this band, like many bands of the weekend, seemed over-confident in the virtuousity of the synth. It drowned out their greatest asset: lead singer Murray Lightborn's Morrissey-like beltings. Not entirely what I had hoped, but still, I suppose, good to see them. We then went and saw a series of bands/acts in short succession starting with...

Murs, here. Pretty good, really. Seemed like he had some good crowd interaction going on. His three songs, also, were all about women, including a "song about blue balls."

We caught a glimpse of Senegalese blind couple Amadou & Mariam here. Seemed like a a pretty good romp through traditional African music (i.e. a bunch of white people with fannypacks and no rhythm feigning an understanding of a culture far removed from their own), but we only stayed for two songs. Checking out last year's Dimance a Bamanko is reccomended.

Caught a little Mates Of State and Louie Vega next. Mates of State have some good songs from this year's Bring It Back, which they played to the numerous dancing indie girls in flowy skirts in the audience. We were some yards out, though. Louie Vega we only caught about half a song of, prompted by the Daft Punk song which mentions both him and Joey Beltram, also at the festival. We both think we saw some of Gabriel & Dresden while waiting for him. Whatever, though - I mean, it was house music.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
Tyranny Of Distance is one of my more returned-to albums of the past decade, but Ted Leo hasn't been so good to me as of late. I thought Shake the Streets was essentially just the sound of Leo spinning his wheels (with the exception of "Me & Mia," which, itself, is essentially a rehash of Leo's tried melodic formulas). That being said, seeing him was still fairly enjoyable. I got to hear him play, arguably, his flagship song, "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?", as well as "Me & Mia," so I was happy. At one point he played an A-chord a few times and sang "We're gonna celebrate," to lead into asking us if we also thought Daft Punk was "fucking awesome last night." (sic) Yes, yes I did, Ted Leo. Anyway, good to see him, if nothing else, but no, nothing amazing. He probably would be better seen in a smaller setting.

My friend enjoyed this band and, recently, their upcoming full-length It's Never Been Like That leaked on the good 'ol internet here and I liked what I heard, so we checked these guys out. They were pretty good. The performance wasn't particularly energetic, but the strength of their "dance-Strokes" tunes is undeniable. Apparently, this is Sofia Coppola's favorite band, and my friend said he thinks he saw her peering on from backstage. Celbrity sighteeng!!11111111 Anyway, it was enjoyable.

(stolen from Dave)
Jamie Lidell
Without question my second favorite performance of the weekend behind Daft Punk. Jamie is a British crooner who delivers with a vintage soul sort of style, for the unfamiliar. His album from last year, Multiply, is pretty awesome. However, his live performance is even better: mixing up insane beatboxing, vocal looping and manipulation, and singing over that, essentially, plus a bunch of stage theatrics (including costumes and crowd interaction) - it was just a spectacle. You MUST see this guy live if you get the chance. I only wish it could have been longer. So, we left that with huge, goofy grins on our faces, and went to...

Bloc Party
Silent Alarm was one of my favorite albums of this past year, and one of the factors informing that decision was undeniably their performance during last year's Coachella. Then, they played inside a relatively intimate tent with 5000+ people cheering them on only two to three months following the U.S. debut of their LP. The energy during the tent that night, both from the crowd and the band, was palpable, and frontman Kele Okereke even acknowledged that they were nervous (translation: excited) about playing such a large crowd at the time.

This year's performance, after being inundated with the sounds of "Helicopter" and "Banquet" for over a year, was a little less thrilling from a personal standpoint. Moreover, however, the band seemed much more tour-weary, and were, essentially, going through the motions. But, oh, new songs! They weren't very good. Of course, I will have to wait to hear the studio renditions to make a verdict, but the one lyric I remember was from a slow ballad, and mentioned "MTV taught me how to grow my hair long." (sic) Ech. Anyway, not really a highlight, and we were hungry so we went to eat 7 dollar slices of pizza.

Caught a glimpse of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after eating and hanging out in the film tent to cool down, which stopped working while we were inside. We were ridiculously far out from the teeming masses watching them, however, so we couldn't hear much, really, but looked fun. Apparently Karen O said something like, "This is the biggest fucking crowd we've ever fucking played to," and I wouldn't doubt she was telling the truth.

I've always thought this band's record was nothing to write home about - good, catchy tunes, but the same sort of anthemic, feel-good "adult" British rock that's been a trend for some time now. However, album aside, these guys completely blew me away with their live performance. It's possible, as my friend pointed out, that this was the largest U.S. crowd they'd played to yet, which is impressive considering Madonna was playing just next door, and a large crowd during her set, for any band, is impressive. Regardless of whether or not this was their biggest crowd, they played their hearts out, building huge swells around their soaring songs of love, urban ennui, and friendship. Really an amazing performance, and my hat's off to them for bringing the kind of grateful energy any band, up-and-coming or not, should bring to the stage every time.

Caught a glimpse of Madonna, but couldn't hear anything with 30,000 people cramming the tent and spilling out of its sides. Apparently she wasn't that special, and came on twenty minutes late. Anyway, we just wanted to say we had tried to get a glimpse.

We saw a little Mogwai at this point, who looked like they were absolutely amazing. As my friend said, "I wish I had gotten high and been in the first three rows. (sic)" And then:

Massive Attack
Compared to last year, Coachella was, generally, a lot less about showcasing bands who served as a pre-cursor to the newer acts playing alongside them - Massive Attack was one of this year's notable exceptions. Their influence on modern electronic, industrial, and trip-hop music is undeniable. That being said, this was a very, very cool set to witness. Bringing out Horace Andy and Elizabeth Frazier just added to the awesomeness. I sure wish Elizabeth had made an appearance last year with the Cocteau Twins instead of this (assuming she wouldn't have done both), but it was, still, undeniably awesome, and a great way for her to "make it up" to festivalgoers.

The only downside to this set was Massive Attack's inclusion in a long list of bands on both Saturday and Sunday who felt the need to bring up the Iraqi war. I, like most of the music obsessive crowd, am not very hot on the whole issue, either, but artists need to realize that, for the most part, they don't have the proper grace to write protest songs. Thankfully, Massive Attack did not display a whole song involving the war, only text on their LED display, but still. Anyway, this only detracted minorly.

Art Brut
So after Massive Attack, my friend and I, exhausted at this point, went to see the final act we planned to see for Coachella 2006: Art Brut. Admittedly, I've always been slightly resistant to Art Brut. I enjoyed them and their album, but felt they were, perhaps, more gimmick than substance. Their performance convinced me that they are, at the very least, almost completely singular, if only because of frontman Eddie Argos' cynnical accented musings.

Anyway, story: as we approached the tent they were playing in, it was obvious that the previous band, Dungen, had gone a little overtime, and by a little I mean a full 20 minutes. Never being a huge Dungen fan, I wasn't too excited to see the end of their set, and less excited to see that they had gone so far over. You see, at Coachella, bands are each allotted 50 minutes per set, and everything has to end by midnight, or Golden Voice (Coachella's curators) face a $2000.00 per minute fine toward Indio's noise curfew. I assumed Golden Voice would not pay for a band as fresh-faced and relatively "unimportant" as Art Brut to play beyond midnight, but I was wrong. Coming on a full twenty-five minutes after they were scheduled to start, Eddie announced that Golden Voice had allowed them to play a full 15 minutes after curfew. For those not too good at math (don't worry, neither am I), that's $30,000 Golden Voice was willing to shell out for Art Brut. Eddie was just as baffled by this, but what ensued was just fucking great.

Say what you will about their album, but this band was meant to play live. Tons of back-and-forth, banter, just general charm. Eddie skipped rope with his microphone cord, walked through the audience, threatened to strangle us if we don't each start a band, etc. Oh, and in possibly the best on-stage moment of Coachella, the band played two or three minutes longer than allowed, resulting in the stage manager literally screaming at the drummer, pulling at his leg attempting to get him to stop doing rolls and getting us to scream. It was a momentary embodiment of what Art Brut does best: lighthearted meta-rock, and a far better way to end Coachella than watching TOOL while crammed together with 30,000 sweaty dudes in black.

And so was Coachella 2006. I'm sure I'll be back again, time and place allowing. It was a sweaty, intense experience, and I recommend it as a Hajj of sorts for any underground/indie enthusiast.


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