I hear the drive Down I-10 to the Empire Polo Field took two hours to cover ten miles. I got here in 15 minutes down the back of Palm Desert on 111 and that included a stop for ice. It’s my 8th Coachella Music Festival in 9 years. It’s hard not to be a bit braggy. After all, if I’m not, I won’t fit in with everyone here trying to out-vintage-shirt everyone else, and bringing back jumpers and high-waist shorts, and ignoring the advice of everyone to please wear a shirt if you are someone who normally wears a shirt. All I have is my experience over these weekend raver wannabes. I’ve seen Prince here, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Bjork, Tool and Rage Against the Machine. I ditched Radiohead to see Devo, I saw Band of Skulls play their first ever US set at like one in the afternoon and I’ve waited 50 minutes of a 55 minute set for Kanye West to show up. I love this festival. Austin has its city limits, but the diversity at this festival and the fact that it can go past midnight and the beautiful soft fuzzy lawn (that is not sitting atop cow manure in case it rains) makes this the center point of the entire festival calendar. This year I blew the early presale and so ended up having to buy my tickets from a scalper. Wow did that suck. But that just means I’m going to have to enjoy this weekend that much more. The thoughts below are collected from my and my wife’s first day (Mrs. Bears or @PaymentsLawyer as she is known).
Day One begins later than intended simply because there wasn’t really anyone worth hurrying over for. Also the food at Coachella is nothing special (ACL certainly has that over them) so its best to eat lunch before you go so you are only spending a ridiculous amount of money on one meal that’s more than likely pretty bad for you.
1:40. Car parked and start the walk to the gate. This year seems longer than ever before. Also it’s really hot. Not ACL in August hot but pretty awful and not much cloud cover or breeze. By the time we reach the gate, I have totally forgotten where we are parked. That will make 1 am interesting. Also I think I just lost a few pounds. Last year we clocked the walk as a mile and a quarter. Feels longer this year. And seriously why is it that I’m the guy whose bag has every nook and cranny searched and yet invariably I will sit next to 30 people today all smoking pot. They even try to tell me I can’t bring in my iPad. But luckily another entrance guard intervened. Upon entering the actual lawn we were told they were out of schedules. How is that even possible? The show is sold out, you know how many people will be here. Print out that many and hand them out to each person as they come in…
2:20 finally make it to our first act, r&b singer ZZ WARD who has a monster set of lungs and can play a mean harmonica. Her band is tight too and really rocks out more than on the recordings. She’s early in the day but I don’t expect that to be true next time she plays here.
2:50 MS MR plays the big stage stage. Honestly I don’t remember too much of this, I think I was suffering from heatstroke.
4:00 GROUPLOVE. You know this band from commercials. They sort of sound like Architecture in Helsinki overrun by Animal Collective. The guy sings in a girl voice. Also there is a girl in the group who seems to have no other purposes other than to sing during chorus verses. This was a fun set and I think it convinced me to buy an album by them, so that’s the first artist victory of the day.
4:55 Quickly made our way over to the highlight of the day, HAIM, a band so clearly educated by the music of the seventies and early eighties they sound fresher than almost every other band here simply by not sounding like they are from the now. These sisters sing in perfect harmony, and they proved in this set they have the live chops on their instruments to really stick around. They only have one album but their set sounds like a greatest hits show as everyone here knows every word and screams in excitement three notes into the song. Also, as if to prove a point, they rip through a killer cover of the Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac scorcher “Oh Well.” Fleetwood Mac is doing an arena tour this fall, I can’t think of a better opening act.
5:50 Head over to KATE NASH under the Gobi tent, which is the first time we’re out of the sun since we’ve gotten here. I don’t know why Kate seems to want to distance herself from the quirky piano pop of her first album, the reason she has this fanbase. She dwells on songs from her new album which sound like dull versions of riot grrl material mixed with fifties choruses, I don’t know, it’s fine but it is lacking in wit. Even her old material, when she deigns to play it, gets revved up and overpowered by all these guitars. The sound mix overpowering this small tent doesn’t help either. We bail in search of food and our hearing.
6:30 Caught a bit of Neko Case as we peruse the food court and eat. I don’t know anything about this band which honesty I’ve spent 20 years thinking was one person. I now intend to check them out. Great sound for a festival outdoor stage. Melody, harmony, variance, the complete opposite of what we just left.
6:40 Back on the big stage ELLIE GOULDING begins her set. She runs through her best, which is easy because she only has two albums. I think this is probably the wrong venue and wrong time slot for her (she needs to be at night and a little more intimate) but she sounds fantastic and the crowd tries their best to dance despite the exhaustion of the day and the sun. Halfway through the set, the sun disappears behind the mountains and palm trees and breeze begins. When Ellie goes into “Lights” the entire crowd jumps to its feet and becomes a dance floor.
7:55 We stay in place and just wait for the next main stage act, one of our favourites, CHROMEO, who enter to their own bombastic theme music. Equal parts Michael Jackson, Prince and Daryl Hall and John Oats, this duo is a blast live (I think this our 4th time seeing them) and it is nice to see them graduate to the main stage. With keyboards set atop ‘leg’ stands and blistering guitar solos, they have a little something for everyone. They preview a few new tracks from their upcoming album, which sounds amazing, but the highlight is a quick tease of a cover of TuPac’s “California” redone as “Coachella.”
8:45 We’ve been looking forward to THE REPLACEMENTS reunion since the lineup was announced. Unfortunately, they decide to open with 10 straight pre-1985 songs (i.e. before they had made it) and I only recognize 2 of them because they are on the collection I bought a few months ago to prepare and keep up with my wife. She is not happy. ‘That’s so like Paul Westerberg’ she says, ‘to completely ignore the songs that made them popular and just focus on all the punk stuff.’ They were dicks when she saw them 20 years ago and it looks like they are keeping that up. This is a good thing though because it saves us our biggest conflict and we can leave early and head over to…
9:20 BRYAN FERRY who sounds amazing and has phenomenal supporting band that pays homage to Roxy Music while still having their own identity. Ferry doesn’t disappoint in song selection either playing his own hits like “Kiss And Tell,” “Slave to Love,” and “Avalon,” as well as Roxy standards like “Virginia Plain, “Love Is A Drug” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” It was a travesty that there were so few people there.
10:40 The same can be said about THE CULT, but they at least have the excuse of being against the OUTKAST reunion. But Ian Astbury still sounds amazing and the band is sharp, delivering a phenomenal greatest hits set featuring “Rain,” “Spiritwalker,” “Sweet Soul Sisters” and “Wild Flower.” I wish I still had the energy to headbang (this is about as metal as I’m going to get this weekend outside of Motohead) but the small crowd seemed to really appreciate the change of pace on the day.
11:25 After hearing my favourite “She Sells Sanctuary” we head out, ‘cause we have to be back by 12:50 the next morning and figure we can listen to OutKast as our exit music. However, the mix is terrible and just sounds like low rumble and shouting. So yes, we’re the ones who missed the OutKast reunion although I overheard this morning at my Fairfield Inn breakfast from several attendees they were pretty bad. And I got 8 hours of sleep. On to day two.