Friday, May 30, 2008

Review: Coachella 2008

It's about time I posted my coachella review. General laziness, fussing over my writing, and a trip to Denver and Salt Lake City to see The Cure really got in the way of a timely post.

Every year, I go through a Coachella process:

Initial excitement over rumored appearances that will never happen > Buy tickets right when they go on sale even if the line-up isn't announced > Feel disappointed when rumored acts don't materialize > Praise choice of headliners but exclaim that line-up for non-headliners is less-than-stellar > Threaten that I might not do this again and/or that the festival has finally jumped the shark > Excitement in the week leading up to the festival > Have a great time at the festival, wonder what all the complaining was about/how they will top it next year.

Complicated, right? I should just rest assured that the folks at Goldenvoice will go a good job like they always do. And this year was no exception. Sure, I have some quibbles: Jack Johnson isn't headliner material, Roger Waters is a hippie dinosaur and doesn't fit at Coachella, etc., but overall, the festival was a huge success. On with the review.

First up on the Coachella Stage (for us anyway; we can't be bothered to get to the field earlier than the first band we want to see) was The Breeders, whose live show always seems like it's on the verge of breakdown. I don't mean that in a bad way. There's something shambolic, messy, and fun about the way they play. We were treated to a bunch of songs from throughout their career including highlights "Overglazed" (my favorite song on Mountain Battles), "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and "Iris."

Following all of the Breeders fun, we made our way to the Mojave Tent for Goldfrapp. We were a bit early and caught the last bit of Mum's set. I saw them once, years ago, and wasn't a big fan of their cute plinky-plonky glitchy electronic folk. So not much has changed.

There was a good energy in the tent by the time Goldfrapp took the stage and initial technical difficulties seemed to be resolved pretty quickly. I was a bit worried about how the new songs would fit into the live set with the old stuff, but it was all beautiful and flowed amazingly. "Little Bird," with its drawn-out psychedelic ending was particularly good. An almost country-stomp version of "Ooh La La" (with slide guitar!) really pleased the crowd. The set closed with an extended "Strict Machine" which left me wanting more. I really hope they come back and tour the US in the fall as rumored.

Our last band for the day was The Verve. I never really thought I'd get to see them after their break-ups in the 90s and when their reunion was announced, I thought there was no way they'd make it to the US. I was happy to be proven wrong. The Verve played a really solid set that entirely surpassed my expectations. Even the two new songs were pretty decent. I wish I could have heard something older than "This Is Music" but that's a minor complaint.

I started Saturday with The Teenagers in the Mojave Tent. I didn't know them at all but I thought they were fun and I may need to investigate them further. I then made my way to the Gobi Tent to see 120 Days. When I arrived Carbon/Silicon were still playing which meant that something, somewhere had gone wrong and they were playing past their scheduled end time.

120 Days finally came on after what appeared to be some technical issues (which seems to happen a lot in the tents). The band played a short set of mostly new songs until they had the plug pulled to get the stage back on time. Nice. Carbon/Silicon ran late but you didn't see anybody pulling the plug on them, probably because one of them is a deity from most-overrated-band-ever The Clash. Oh well.

I then had a very long wait for Kraftwerk in which I caught bits of a few bands. Bonde do Role was really, really bad. I don't understand the hype at all. It sounded like a bunch of shrieking women, basically. No thanks. Kate Nash was next. I'd seen the video for "Foundations" and found it really charming. Live, though, she came off as a bit too precious, banging on her keyboard in a too-prim dress and singing quiet songs that went on too long. Maybe it was just the wrong venue. In any case, I was compelled to leave a couple songs into her set. I stopped in for a bit of Erol Alkan after that but his set was ending just as I got there.

It was time to stake out a spot for Kraftwerk, Portishead, and Prince. This triumvirate was easily the biggest draw of the festival for me so I was a bit anxious for a good spot. Kraftwerk were amazing, as expected. Some songs were a bit changed up from the last time I saw them (Coachella 2004) and the setlist was changed up a bit as well. It seemed like they'd shortened the songs so they could play more of them which I thought was a great idea. It would be hard to pick a favorite moment, but "The Man Machine" and "Autobahn" both gave me goosebumps. It's a bit hard not to be overwhelmed by songs that are basically the template for everything that came afterward.

Then Portishead came on and completely tore it up. I can safely say it was one of the best performances I've ever seen in eight years of Coachella. They just absolutely nailed it. This was not just a nostalgia fest. Sure, they did a lot of old stuff (from Dummy, particularly) but they did new songs too and the whole lot of it was ferocious , intense, uncompromising, and beautiful. They were projecting the band on huge screens behind and beside the stage and it was very effective in setting a visual mood for the show. I was utterly floored.

Following that, there was a long and excitement-deflating wait for Prince. When he finally came out, he gave the spotlight to Morris Day for "Jungle Love" and "The Bird" and then to Sheila E who did "The Glamorous Life." He then took the stage for early songs like "1999," "Little Red Corvette," "I Feel For U," (done in the style of the far superior Chaka Khan version) and "Controversy." I thought this boded well for his show, but things went downhill quickly. The band was soon playing extended instrumental funk jams, newer songs, and, oh sweet Jesus, Radiohead and Sarah McLachlan covers. The thing is, his show was technically good but it was far too clean and Vegas-y to me, and left me feeling nothing. We left early and heard the Radiohead and Sarah McLachlan covers on the way to the car.

We started Sunday late with Love And Rockets. I'd seen their warm-up show at The Glasshouse earlier in the week. That set had been fraught with technical issues and the band seemed a bit sloppy. Not so at Coachella. There, they played the same set (minus a pointless Clash cover) but much more tight and with more energy. On top of it all, The Bubblemen made an appearance during the final song for a pillow fight. Fun!

My friends wanted to see Roger Waters and I wanted to dance so we parted ways and I made my way to the Sahara Tent to catch Simian Mobile Disco. I've been a fan of their album for a while and really liked the way they did it. The songs were changed up a bit and the crowd were really into it.

Chromeo came next. I'd sampled bits of their songs and found that the songs sounded fun but that they were essentially regurgitating Zapp without adding anything new. I felt the same way after seeing them live. It's a novelty at best. Some of the neon-clad hipster kids seemed to be enjoying their set, but it was clear that everybody was just biding time until Justice came on.

I've spent the last year hating on Justice. I've called them "the aural equivalent of ADHD," I've said that their songs lack, you know, any sort of song structure, I openly loathe "D. A. N. C. E." and really dislike their record. So, why was I there? A) The alternative was Roger Waters, B) I really wanted to dance, and C) my roomie had been playing "DVNO" quite a bit and I found I actually liked it. I enjoyed their show immensely. Maybe I don't hate the current trend in dance music as much as I thought, or maybe it was just the right place at the right time for me. Something about being in a tent full of people who are dancing and having fun can certainly help you see the light. I'm not sure if I'll run out and buy the album though. Something tells me this experience will be enough.

So that was it. Coachella 2008 was easily among the best. Now it's time for me to start the process for 2009! I'd like to suggest that they start work on getting Roxy Music to headline.

Portishead performing "We Carry On" at Coachella. Jaw-droppingly good, basically:

No comments: