With no qualms at distancing itself from its hipster-heaven moniker‚ 2010's Coachella festival was nothing short of a hero-strewn oasis for the enlightened musical subculture. Personally unaware of how truly the antithesis of Bonnaroo this SoCal desert festival is‚ Friday found one not-to-be-named Green Mountain journalist woefully unprepared for the lack of inner-block brotherly love‚ and subsequently deferred from any much success in a first day outing. With faint murmurs of Yeasayer and Them Crooked Vultures heard amid out-stretched confusion‚ the only moment of relief came when LCD Soundsystem transcended all aforementioned miscalculations‚ creating a dance party that squashed any notions of this band's ill-perceived irony‚ and proved that James Murphy is fervently in control of the next step in music.
Let's try this again. Once accustomed to the perfume kits in the port-a-potties‚ and the lack of any other beer than Heineken for sale‚ the true puzzle presented at Coachella is debating which bands you're going to have to miss. Most acts here only play hour-long sets‚ and you're guaranteed at some point to have two bands you want to see playing at the same time. After catching the very last shoegazer chord from Beach House‚ the tent-stages all gave in to the throbbing vibrato of The Raveonettes. Embracing the pop-friendly side of electro-attack bands like Sonic Youth‚ The Raveonettes struck hard and owned the auditory dimension of the desert sun.
The XX did their best at transcending the massive area encompassed by the Outdoor Theatre Stage‚ but were so admirably delicate that the speaker towers could only respond with a troubling hiss behind the high-ends. The backbeat in "Night Time" managed to penetrate somewhat‚ but still instilled the notion that this U.K. trio is better suited for a far-more intimate setting. Dirty Projectors packed a late-day crowd into the Mojave Tent‚ and completely nailed all obscure rhythm changes in their post-rock‚ dream-drift repertoire.
As would be the case several times over throughout the weekend‚ the smaller Outdoor Theatre had a much larger crowd than the competing Main Stage. The overwhelmingly younger crowd mobbed the rare U.S. performance of Hot Chip and their percussive synth-assault‚ leaving only the older rock-intriguists to fill out the sparse main field for Faith No More. While still loud‚ tight‚ and emblazoned after a decade off‚ the time for Mike Patton's sarcastic blitzkrieg to control a festival-sized crowd is long in the past.
MGMT drew legions of half-naked sorority trainees‚ but their new slower songs had trouble maintaining the crowd's focus as compared to earlier dance-party incarnations of the band. Muse most-likely garnered the most undivided attention of the weekend‚ but their enormous light show and anthemic ditties still couldn't hide the insincerity that seems to bleed from their music. The Dead Weather‚ on the other hand‚ reached back into the hallowed halls of rock passion‚ and melted thunder at the Outdoor Theatre. The obnoxious throbbing of a drowning-loud Tiesto threatened to falter Team-Jack White during the stillness of "Will There Be Enough Water‚" but rather the warm-breeze blew harder‚ the crowd pushed up further‚ and the band presented their freshly-charred souls to all biters. Tiesto continued to consume the masses‚ leaving more than a handful of Coachella couples to express their physical love in the main field for all to see‚ and causing many to forget about the legendary Devo performance that was happening in the Mojave tent. D! E! V! O!
Deerhunter was able to slam their modern-psychedelia loud enough to fully feel the regret of late entry as they resonated over the ticket lines. Catching the last hits of a well-attended Matt & Kim‚ (despite their slot opposite De La Soul‚) the first question of the afternoon was whether Sunny Day Real Estate deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as the other 90's band reunions taking place this weekend. The answer: no.
Yo La Tengo crushed the main stage‚ proving why they never disappeared with the other lost indie bands. Jonsi showcased his new solo act that focuses more on driving beats‚ and it actually translated better to the daytime slot than his majestic Sigur Ros could have. Spoon sounded crisp on the big stage‚ yet have grown guilty of Tom Petty syndrome: performing their songs so well live that there's little excitement and no distinction from the album cuts. The Swedish production trio known as Miike Snow fell relatively flat‚ and while drawing a large crowd‚ failed to create any frenzy other than that of initial song recognition. Performing at the same time as both Spoon and Miike Snow‚ Infected Mushroom was a disastrous display of bad ideas gone even worse: a sloppy and painful merging of bad metal and simplistic dance beats.
There was a justifiable sense of relief when Phoenix took the stage‚ and with the Outdoor Theatre crowd packed deep into the pretzel vendors‚ the French foursome took control. Cycling through their hits with not only precision but enthusiasm‚ they created a collective sway that no other band was able to produce from the crowd all weekend.
Then came Pavement. For one not-to-be-named Green Mountain journalist‚ it manifested the same feeling as when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004: Something you've always wanted to happen‚ but in your heart you had a feeling might not ever occur‚ and when it finally goes down is far better than you could have ever imagined. They opened with "Silent Kit‚" closed with "Cut My Hair" and in between flowed through a set that was heavy on Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain‚ Crooked Rain material. They were unfathomably tight‚ joked between songs‚ Malkmus crushed his solos‚ and they looked like they were having the time of their lives. For a band that was known for its downer moments‚ there was nothing better for a true fan than seeing Spiral Stairs sing along to every Stephen Malkmus song.
While it seemed for many to be some inconceivable fantasy to have Pavement followed by Atoms for Peace‚ it did occur‚ and it did melt away any restraints of possible musical transcendence happening amongst thousands of L.A. introverts. Flea is most likely the only bassist who could make Thom Yorke's solo act have any balls live‚ and with Nigel Godrich on guitar‚ the end result is utter magic. Complex bass patterns weave with driving drum pulsations under trance-guitar chords bending into Yorke's surreal vocal melodies. It's a combination of all things good with both intelligent electronica and present day psychedelic sounds. Near the end of the set‚ Yorke performed several songs solo including Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place" and a new haunting‚ loop-heavy track‚ "Give Up the Ghost." After the set‚ the majority of concert-goers walked to the main stage in a heady silence‚ contemplating how Damon Albarn could ever compete with the performance his U.K. peer just laid out.
Despite this year's evolution of Gorillaz from a "virtual" band to a live one‚ and the massive multi-media production they present‚ their set never seemed to fully fall into place. It was rather awkwardly heavy on songs off the new album‚ Plastic Beach‚ and thus seemed to leave a lot of the older heavy-bumpers out of the set. Bobby Womack did manage to set it off during "Stylo" and De La Soul did rip it up on "Superfast Jellyfish" but a majority of the crowd was still unfamiliar with even the best of the new songs. The highlight of the set was easily the encore when De La Soul reemerged for "Feel Good Inc." Pounding through the modern-radio classic‚ the entire audience exploded for four minutes straight. Which made it all the more awkward when it was followed by the slow and depressing "Cloud of Unknowing‚" backed by video clips of archived naval disasters‚ and concluding with Albarn quickly jetting off the stage. There was no applause as 70‚000 cocked their heads at an angle expecting one more. But alas‚ the lights went up‚ and an incredible weekend of music was capped by a benign and empty exit. The farewell vibe seemed to be synonymous with the rest of the festival as reports trickled in of a 3-hour late Sly Stone finally taking to the stage mumbling about being kidnapped‚ and Richie Hawton performing his Plastikman set to new levels of obscurity.