Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coachella 2009 finale...

Ah, the home stretch, at last. Threads of an overwhelming theme are becoming more clear, as we wait in the tent for hometown (almost) heroes X. Hard to believe it’s been 30 plus years since they burst out of Los Angeles, providing an American answer to the British answer to the original punk explosion. X was a signpost band in their time, heralding a fusion, if not fission, of Chuck Berry licks and ragged male/female country harmonies with the oomph of a punk rhythm section, creating a sound that helped kick fill in the gap between punk and hardcore…Being a few years before the ‘college rock’ indie scene of the mid ‘80’s, they are sometimes unjustly overlooked…but their championing of roots and punk music has left a mark…
They’ve been touring recently with a reunited original lineup, and let the diehards pick today’s setlist on their website, so you know it will be weighted hard towards the first four albums.

video

As their set progressed, it was just too good to leave, even having seen them countless times…X at their peak is a joy to behold. Another huge conflict ensued, missing the Kills entirely, (saw them last fall…great), and clipping the top of Paul Weller’s set on the outdoor stage.

We finally got down to see Mr. Weller, holding court with his particular brand of soul.heavy rock. He was in good form, passionate and in tune with his band, locked in with a set heavy on his lastest, but dipping into the Jam songbook for a rousing version of ‘Eton Rifles’…

Another highlight was the title track from ‘Wildwood’, heralding another fine Coachella sunset. He seemed to succumb to a touch of the Morrissey, complaining about the short set time...Is it an English thing? Surely these guys have played the festival circuit in the UK /Europe… Why would smelling barbeque or truncated sets be a great mystery?
Ah well, Weller certainly had the last laugh, bringing out former Smiths guitar hero Johnny Marr for a rough but right run through of ‘A Town Called Malice’, electrifying the outdoor stage audience. Interestingly, in all the post festival coverage, I found no mention of this…Truly fascinating, in that the Morrissey/Marr combine have allegedly left $5M on the table, refusing a Smiths reunion for the last few years…and up pops Mr. Marr at the end of the festival…cheeky.

Finally, the moment I was waiting for arrived…on the main stage, under the stars, louder than Hell could be, the one and only My Bloody Valentine…Now was the time when it became clear why they were handing out earplugs (insistently) at the gates of entry, earlier in the day.
I think I drooled sufficiently enough about last year’s comeback gig, certainly the finest show I saw all last year, so I’ll spare you for the most part, save to note semantic differences. As they’ve yet to put out an album since ‘Loveless’ in 1991, the set list was pretty similar…encompassing pretty much that and tracks from 1988’s ‘Isn’t Anything’, with a few treats thrown in…The big difference was the sound, clear as a bell (relative term), even amidst the feedback fireworks. The main stage allowed the sound to grow, and have more depth and clarity, as opposed to the concrete bunker that was the Santa Monica Civic Aud, where it was claustrophobic and overwhelming, (in a good way).
The band was given a hero’s welcome, and seemed to glow in the attention, culminating w/the de riguer noisebomb of ‘You Made Me Realize’, clocking in near the 20 minute mark, and scarring generations of festival goers…hee hee…

And for dessert, just to put a final exclamation point on the proceedings, Public Enemy presented, in it’s entirety, “A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”...a wonderful bookend to their run through this classic at last year's Pitchfork Festival in July...
Although lacking the special love of original DJ/noise technician Terminator X, Chuck D & Flavor Flav were more than capable of holding down the fort, and it being the Flavor's 50th birthday, he took occasion to stage dive multiple times. All hail to the audience, who forgave the rookie for going in feet first with a running start, and still caught him. And loved him. Chuck was moved to observe after the first attempt, "Hey, give my boy back now..."
It did not in any way break up the flow of the proceedings...P.E. gave an airtight rendition of the songs, strengthening them in some cases, and turning over Terminator X's showcase to his successor, DJ Lord, who acquitted himself admirably.
Flavor, whom over the years has become an amazing cartoon character, fell back into place in the group where he won his fame, rousing the crowd with his spotlight, 'Cold Lampin' w/Flavor', dexterously working the rhymes and imposing his own unique dynamic shift on the group.
As always though, the show belonged to Chuck D. Chuck dropped a nugget of trivia at the top, observing that a mixing error in fact reversed the intended running order of sides one and two...and throughout the night, he was in fine bark, on point with observations about the beauty of our last election, but not to drop our guard, and to continue to think and question.


Dragging ourselves across that field one final time w/Flavor Flav's exhortations ringing in our ears, we joined the many streaming for the exits...P.E. turned out to be an intense and a perfect capper for a weekend stuffed to the brim w/memories...what's interesting to remember that as solid an operation as this is now, the roots are humble...promoter Goldenvoice literally put together to put on the shows that no one else would do...
If there was an overarching theme, it seemed to be 'look how far we've come, and from what'. 'Don't forget the past and look forward to the future'...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Coachella 2009, day three-part one...

Day 3, or: bringing it all back home...
as we approach the fields, adrenaline starts to kick off the bleariness that’s all pervasive at this point…the last day at last…the ‘march of death’ factor is starting to kick in, but as soon as the first band kicks in, it will dissipate…

On paper, in terms of raw depth, this looked to be the best day of the festival, and it was with baited breath that we made that long walk across the grass to the tents to begin...









Back to the ‘tent strategy’, as temps once again soared into triple digits, starting off the day with Vivian Girls, Brooklyn based girl rockers who’ve apparently got a love ‘em or hate ‘em relationship with the general blogosphere, but out here, on purely musical terms, they’re a winner. Blasted through too many tunes to count in their 45 minute slot, short brutish tunes swelling w/energy. Had some issues with a drifting bass drum that refused to stay anchored, but the ladies kept rocking. Looking forward to their new record, they certainly captured the magic of the first on stage.









Had just missed seeing No Age a few months back, and was tickled to have a makeup
opportunity so soon. Two dudes who make one hell of a lot of noise, the tunes from their album ‘Nouns’ sprung to life onstage, and they backed it up by thrashing the life out of them, despite the heat. A wicked sense of humor was unveiled a few songs in, when in between songs, the drummer mewled, “I can’t stand the smell of burning flesh”, yet another tip of the hat to our man Morrissey. And if ever there was a seal of approval, standing right next to the stage the entire set, bobbing his head & grinning at the noise, was Mr. Bob Mould.
It felt like a passing of the torch…














Next up, the highest compliment I can pay Will Scheff and Okkervil River is that I was there baking at the main stage, pressed against a burning steel rail, transfixed for the entire set. The crowd wasn’t huge, but the band settled in, bashing out tunes from their most recent gambits, 'Stage Names' and 'Stand Ins', including a great version of "Plus Ones" (below), and Scheff's passion drew the crowd in slowly.

High point, ironically, was a slow song, usually a kiss of death in the heat, but ‘Girl In Port’ won the day, elevating the end with a great band jam and trumpet solo. Just a few songs in, my sunscreen evaporated, and I could feel the burn set in, but I did not move…By the end, a fairly sizable crowd had gathered, and it was one of the magical sets of the weekend.







Passed on Lupe Fiasco, having seen him before, took a gander @ Lykke Li, (great soundtrack for food break), and checked in w/Perry Farrell, apparently celebrating his birthday by doing Perry’s greatest hits with an electro rock band and stage dancers…It was total Perry; if you’re down, it was on…

Mid day food break is where we'll leave it...
When we come back, finally, the conclusion!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

aleks, we hardly knew ya...

Ah, as if we needed another lesson in embracing change...latest on the news front is that Aleks from Los Campesinos! has decided to pursue a higher path...returning to that which she calls her studies...

Good on her!
For us, not so much...

Just in case this got lost in the shuffle that was the day one Coachella recap, here it is again...

(Aleks would be brunette keyboard/vocals on the left)

Good news is: she's kicking out the jams on one last jaunt across the US, capped off with some time in sunny CA in august, so we'll get to do proper goodbyes!

Go Aleks!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Coachella 2009, day 2-part two

(ah sweet barrel cactus, holder of water, nemesis of the drunk...)

day 2, part two:
Riding high off the energy of AFP’s fantastic finish, it was on to the next infusion of Scottish goodness, the highly touted Glasvegas. When we got to the tent, there was an announcement that they cancelled;( someone was hospitalized...don't know the details, but i was really looking forward to them...) Better luck next time they're stateside, i guess...


And now, with the schedule suddenly clear & the sun on the downswing, it was time to camp at the outdoors stage...


The one and only Calexico, (go Tucson!), did a great job on the outdoor stage at sunset, really memorable, with a harder edge than their atmospheric records. One of the day's highlights was their amazing cover of the Minutemen's punk classic "Corona", reimagined for mariachi horns…brilliant and moving tribute to the late D. Boon, another founding father of what they once called 'college rock'. One only wonders what he would have made of this festival...
Like an audible recharging station, Calexico worked it's magic on the lawn full of sprawled bodies, their sonic bearings being perfect for this desert oasis. Sidenote: i first discovered Indio, CA as a pitstop on the endless I10 coming back to cali from Tucson, ironically. Never would have imagined at that time just how much i'd be back...

Next set was a little more problematic...Perhaps one of the more anticpated sets of the weekend, the Fleet Foxes came in riding a wave of good will on what was one of the best reviewed albums of last year, (that rarest of records that easily bridged generations of rock fans), but they were given a severe reality check in the festival setting. They fought the good fight against the Thievery Corp over on the main stage, but continually they found themselves on the wrong side of the old boom.bap, as it were...

Band of Horses
put up a stronger fight for the couple of songs i caught, their ringing sound cutting into the early evening…but like Leonard Cohen on Friday, the call was made to cut it short to get pole position for M.I.A.,(p.s. avoid this link if you suffer seizures...), a late addition to cover for Amy Winehouse on the main stage, and one with just as checkered a Coachella history. Her first appearance was tentative but revelatory...last year in the Sahara was apparently a drunken trainwreck...so it was hold your breath & let's see time...

MIA hit the stage full of energy, and got off to a flying start, despite intermittent air horn blasts from her friendly neighborhood dj. Things bogged down when she felt a pronouncement coming on, and any straying from the tunes caused the bottom to drop out of the energy level. She seems to have sunk a good chunk of her new found earnings back into the act...one of the finer stage sets seen all weekend, but that alone was not enough to save the proceedings. A schizophrenic mood settled over the crowd, which finally gave it up when she broke out 'Paper Planes', her unlikely summer hit that mined a Clash sample over gunshot samples, and managed to bring up a kajillion people on stage to do their thang, (which mostly consisted of cavorting drunkenly, at least those who weren't filming each others moment in the spotlight...)
The set staggered to a close, as did we...

After such a full rich day, when faced with the prospect of Las Vegas' own The Killers repping the main stage, it was time to pull what is lovingly referred to as 'The Coldplay Option'...(i.e. pulling the plug in order to ensure a non.packed shuttle back, and find oneself reclining in a hot tub counting stars as your peers crawled in...), as opposed to say, watching the Killers....

Forward ho, and live to fight another day...