OK, I think I have a pretty good workers' compensation case on my hands here. Because I don't know if my tinnitus will ever fully fade after witnessing My Bloody Valentine's high-decibel Coachella Sunday set. My bloody eardrums!
The reclusive, reunited shoegaze band (or should I say sandal-gaze, since they were playing an outdoor festival in this case) is famous for playing at face-melting, hallucination-inducing, bowel-quaking volumes, but I foolishly assumed that in an open-air setting, MBV's din would be diminished. Wrong. The moment their first cacophonous note squalled across Indio's Empire Polo Field, I was frantically reaching for my earplugs--the first time I'd had to do so all weekend long. Then I pushed those foam plugs into my ear canals so far and so forcefully, they practically came out my nose.
Understandably, no band played in the same timeslot on the neighboring Outdoor Stage for the duration of MBV's cranked-to-1100 set, as any competing performer would have been completely drowned out. And while I was bummed that U.K. buzz bands Late Of The Pier and the Horrors were respectively playing at the same time in the more distant Sahara and Mojave tents (though I probably wasn't as bummed as, you know, Late Of The Pier and the Horrors themselves), I honestly could have watched LOTP way over on the other side of the field and still heard MBV. Yes, they were that loud. And that awesome.
This truly was an epic event--in fact, some random woman ran up to me in the middle of MBV's set with such enthusiasm that I initially assumed she was a long-lost friend, but she merely screamed, "EPIC!!!" in my face and then scurried closer to the stage to have what was left of her eardrums blasted into chalkdust. And many other fans, who'd been waiting for this moment since rumors of MBV playing Coachella 2008 first circulated, seemed equally excited. And equally willing to risk permanent deafness. I was among these people, spending the next trance-like hour alternately gazing at frontgod Kevin Shields, guitar goddess Bilinda Butcher, the wiggly audiovisuals on the jumbotrons, and the starry desert sky (but, ironically, never at my shoes/sandals), while waves and waves of white noise washed over me. This was as good as Coachella gets, people.
My Bloody Valentine's set ended with a bloody preposterous 10-minute finale that consisted entirely of just shrieking guitars, which continued even as Public Enemy finally hit the nearby Outdoor Stage at their scheduled time--thus creating an unexpected and surprisingly enjoyable MBV/PE mashup. (Flavor Flav rapping over a Kevin Shields racket? Amazing!) Flavor then announced, once all the MBV commotion had finally died down to a faintly shimmering hum, that tonight Public Enemy would be playing their classic album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
In its entirety. Track for track. Start to finish. For the first time in 16 years. Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod.
Believe the hype: This was THE best show I saw during all three days of Coachella (and I never expected to be typing that). First, it a welcome reminder that Flavor Flav is the "greatest hype man in the game" (as pointed out by Chuck D), and not just some trainwrecky Celebreality TV star. Flav stagedove twice, he brought his baby son Karma out onstage, and he had the crowd eating out of his blinged-out hand. Second, PE's music still sounded so fresh, so relevant--if only today's hip-hop artists sounded like this. It's no wonder Chuck D told the audience, "The record business is OVER." It's because no rappers today are making music as important as It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
Earlier in the day, androgynous chamber-pop divo (that's a male diva, I think) Antony and his string-laden band the Johnsons did their best to deliver a stunning performance on the Outdoor Stage (usually not too difficult a task, given the Mercury Prize-winning U.K. singer's incredibly emotive, Bryan Ferry-esque voice and arresting stage presence). But multiple technical difficulties--and the sad fact that a daytime set in the blindingly bright sun was hardly the appropriate venue for Antony's dark, torchy cabaret music--marred the performance, which frustratingly ended 15 minutes early. And yet, the ever-so-charming Antony kept smiling.
Over on the main stage, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gave an eye-catching performance--literally, as they played in front of an Outer Limits-style giant eyeball while fans in the front tossed an eyeball-beachball to and fro. Adding to the visual appeal was the YYYs' always dressed-to-impress (and dressed-to-excess) frontwoman Karen O, all gussied up in a chainmail go-go dress and Superwoman blue tights. (On a side note, how do women like Karen O, Bilinda Butcher, and Dita Von Teese--the latter of whom was spotted backstage in adorable cupcake-pink party frock, not a hair out of place nor a bit of her makeup melted--manage to stay looking so cool in the heat? I was personally a sweaty, sunscreen-streaked hot mess within 10 minutes of stepping foot on the festival grounds.)
One of most dynamic lead singers currently working in all of rock 'n' roll, Karen's characteristically unhinged performance added some much-needed muscle to the new and unfamiliar songs from the YYYs' flabby third album It's Blitz!, although the highlight of the band's set came when they covered "Human Fly" by the recently departed Lux Interior and the Cramps.
Back over on the Outdoor Stage, former Jam/Style Council leader Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, drew a disappointingly small but non-disappointingly rabid crowd, and he was also somehow able to look quite cool with his moussed silver shag and pinstriped trousers, despite the fact that it was nearly 100 degrees in the shade.
The coolness factor was upped considerably when Weller was joined onstage by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, but of course by then I'd already hightailed it across the field to catch a couple pre-MBV Late Of The Pier songs and so I totally missed this Anglophile's-dream duet. D'oh!
Wrapping up the festival were veteran Coachella headliners the Cure (another side note: WHY did they play the same time as Throbbing Gristle??? Who books this thing???), who made the same mistake they made when they played Coachella in 2004: Frontloading their set with a bunch of new or later-period songs that, frankly, only the most diehard, deep-catalog Cure fans had any interest in hearing. It almost made me wonder if the Coachella bookers put Robert Smith up to this, as some sort of crowd-control strategy, advising him to deliberately drive people off the field and into their cars at an early hour so that the festival would wrap up before Indio's midnight curfew.
Well, if that was the case, it sure backfired. Eventually the band picked up steam, playing more hits, hits, hits--"Inbetween Days," "Shake Dog Shake," "Pictures Of You," "Lullabye," "Love Song," "100 Years," "Just Like Heaven," etc.--and then it seemed Robert just didn't want to leave. Coming out for his second encore, already well past the midnight hour, he announced, "They say we can only play one song. Are we f**k." He then proceeded to do what he did in 2004: play and play and play, until the plug was literally pulled.
The house lights came on after "Three Imaginary Boys" and "Fire In Cairo," then the actual sound was cut off and the jumbotrons went black. (Funny...Coachella authorities didn't do that to Paul McCartney when he ran past curfew on Friday night.) But the Cure kept chugging along, and the fans just ran closer to the stage so they could hear semi-unplugged-by-default versions of "Boys Don't Cry" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train."
I've heard rumors that Coachella bands that run over curfew must pay anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 for every additional post-midnight minute. I'm not sure if this is true, but the chance to extend the final day of Coachella by another 40 minutes? Now, that was priceless.
All concert photos by Mike Orlosky. For more of Mike's Sunday Coachella pics, click HERE.