Last year at Coachella, I got to the festival at the crack of noon, stayed there until closing time, and drank about five Red Bulls for every ounce of water I consumed. This was not
wise, especially considering the scorching heat--in fact, this foolishness landed me in the ER, dehydrated as the California desert earth itself, with an IV drip in my arm. (See my oh-so-sexy, oh-so-MySpacey photo at right.) So this year I decided to pace myself, and take it easy.
Well, relatively easy...
Instead of beginning my early afternoon sweltering in direct sunlight watching some baby band that'll probably play a comfortably air-conditioned L.A. club next week, I started my day at BPM
magazine's afternoon party--a bash I specifically chose to attend over all others because of its smurf
theme. I envisioned blog copy that would practically write itself, with the word "smurf" used in place of every other adjective, verb, and noun: "So I smurfed over to the smurf party, where I had a totally smurftastic time getting smurfed out of my smurf."
Well, when I arrived--and it wasn't a coincidence that I arrived wearing a royal blue dress that looked like it'd been snatched from Smurfette herself's closet--I was delighted to see an array of smurfy-blue Hpnotiq cocktails, smurfy-blue potato salad, etc. But there was one thing missing: the actual smurfs.
Nowhere did I see Papa Smurf, Hefty Smurf, Brainy Smurf, Baker Smurf...damn, I didn't even see Gargamel or Azrael, anywhere
. Turned out there'd been some licensing snafu that had prevented BPM
magazine from using the characters. Smurf!
So I smurfed my way out of there (not before sucking down a couple neon-blue alco-popsicles, though) and headed to the festival grounds. After being dropped off by my pal on the baking asphalt of some random corner in Indio, I started schlepping around aimlessly looking for the press entrance, and rapidly became so dehydrated that I feared another ER visit was looming in my near future.
But then some kindly cops took pity on me and let me hop into their city-appointed golf cart, and I got a police escort all the way to will call. These cops truly were Indio's finest.
This turned to be quite the "Cannonball" run, as with the policemen's assistance I was thankfully able to make it inside the festival just in time to hear the opening duh-dum-dum-duh-dum bassline of that signature Breeders hit. There on the main stage were the Breeders' Deal twins, Kim and Kelley, and while they weren't looking quite as svelte as they were in their heyday
(these Deals had become a little supersized, so to speak), they were still supercool rawk chicks. Seeing them co-croon "Cannonball," "Saints," and a cover of the Beatles' "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" made me long for that glorious pre-Lilith, pre-Britney '90s era when so many completely awesome rock chicks ruled--like Hole, Elastica, Veruca Salt, all those riot grrrl bands, and of course Kim and Kelley. Nope, they just don't make them like the real Deals anymore.
Next up, I continued my long Coachella weekend with Vampire Weekend. The Ivy League indie darlings were rockin' their prep-school-cool look, dressed more like they were about to spend a day boating in Martha's Vineyard than playing a desert rockfest. (Singer Ezra Koenig was wearing pink Bermuda shorts
, for instance.) Fashion choices like that would get lesser bands run out of Indio on a rail, but VW were warmly welcomed by the hipster masses, as the band's Afro-tinged pop was the perfect soundtrack for a sunny day. "This is the first festival we've ever played, " Ezra announced. "Thanks for being so nice to us." Yes, those Vampire boys are polite bunch. They learned themselves some good manners at that fancy finishing school of theirs.
Next, in the Gobi Tent, was Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, the agitating U.K. spoken word/electro duo most famous for their rant against mainstream British youth culture, "Thou Shalt Always Kill." This time Scroobius dedicated a chunk of his set to a rant against mainstream British singer-songwriter James Blunt, rambling on and on about how horrible he is and concluding, amusingly, with: "If you're complaining about [underwhelming Friday headliner] Jack Johnson being at Coachella, just remember you could have had James Blunt instead!" Well, Scroob had a point there...
In the adjacent (and extremely packed) Mojave Tent, disco nymph Allison Goldfrapp (the Bernadette Peters of glamtronica) hit the stage with her eponymous band, while the likes of supermodel Agyness Deyn and American Idol season 1 runner-up Ryan Starr watched from the wings. A goddess rocking a batwing-sleeved,
Mrs. Roper-ish orange caftan and headful of crazy/kinky electric-socketed ringlets, and backed by a fleet of white-robed musicians on angelic harps, Allison brought a little bit of sexy electro heaven to the desert. Meanwhile Brooklyn emcee Santogold, aka "the American M.I.A.," was a goddess of a whole other variety, working the crowd in the Gobi Tent like a real pro, like Salt and/or Pepa back in da day. She p-pushed it real good.
As compelling as Goldfrapp and Santogold were, concertgoers still started streaming out of their respective tents, as if they were on fire, right around the time when Jack White and his Raconteurs took the main stage. I still found it disconcerting to see Jack White
a) not wearing red, b) playing with a bassist, and c) playing with an actual good drummer...but it was clear how much he enjoyed the chance to jam with the Detroit buddies that comprise his side-project/supergroup. At times it did get a little too
jammy--there's something to be said for the White Stripes' very different minimalist approach--but Jack was a fascinating enough frontman to hold the audience's attention no matter how wanky the onstage action got.
Speaking of fascinating frontmen, Jack White ain't got nothing on Richard Ashcroft. Richard was next on the main stage, back with his old band the Verve, and I freely admit I had high hopes for the Verve reunion. The Verve was in fact the only Coachella 2008 band I was truly psyched to see, so much so that when I did a man-on-the-street-style interview at Coachella and was asked what my top three bands were this year, without missing a beat my answer was: "The Verve, the Verve, and the Verve." But the Verve's comeback show actually surpassed my expectations.
This was THE show of the day, and it might be THE show of the entire festival. Saturday headliner Prince is probably the only Coachella artist this year who could top this event. It was so gobsmacking that throughout the set, my cell phone was nearly short-circuiting from the force of multiple texts from my fellow festival-going friends--all sending me real-time messages filled with gleeful expletives and the letters "O," M," and "G," precisely in that order.
In a way, the Verve's set made it seem like it was 1998 all over again (the year when the Verve disbanded at their bittersweet-symphonic peak): Richard was as fabulously Skeletor-skinny and fiery-eyed and hippie-barefooted and black-clad and chain-smoking as ever, and his bandmates tore into classics like "Space And Time," "Life's An Ocean," "Lucky Man," "The Drugs Don't Work," and "Sonnet" with a passion that made it seem like they'd been chomping at the bit to play these tunes for the last 10 dormant years. It certainly seemed like the fanatics in the crowd, who were practically weeping openly, had been dying to hear these songs live again for the last decade. "Thank you to all the hardcore fans who came down today," Richard said.
"And thanks for sticking around for 10 years for us."
But as much as a nostalgia-fest as this show was for the Verve diehards, it was amazing how completely valid and relevant and fresh the Verve seemed--the kids in the crowd, who were probably still playing with dolls or sitting in diapers when the Verve broke up, seemed as impressed as the old-school followers. Even the Verve's one new song was amazing. "Most bands when they reform, they don't make any new music--but that's what this band's about!" Richard emphasized. Does this mean a new Verve album is in the works? Please, gawd, let it be so.
As "Bittersweet Symphony" (the best-written song ever, according to Coldplay's Chris Martin) majestically swept across the field, I could imagine the next main-stage artist, the aforementioned Scroobius Pip-ridiculed Jack Johnson, standing in the wings, quaking in his flip-flops. How on earth was he going to follow this
magnificence? You know, I didn't even stick around to find out. The Spin
afterparty (with DJs Perry Farrell and Guns & Bombs) beckoned, as did the hot tub back at my hotel...and truly, the Verve had ruined me for all other bands for the rest of the day.
I'm sure I'll emerge from my post-Verve comedown coma by tomorrow, so come back later for my Saturday report. And check out the live webcast and highlights after the festival exclusively in the AT&T blue room
April 25-27. For more info on Coachella, click here
for the official site.
All live photos by Mike Orlosky. For more of his Coachella pics, click here.