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COACHELLA ’08: Sunday, When Pigs Fly

Lyndsey Parker
Maximum Performance

Every year at Coachella, I hit the festival as ambitiously as Alex P. Keaton, wholly intending to check out 15 bands a day, study every art installation, shop at all the merch booths, swing by every hot after-party, etc. But by Sunday bleary Sunday, all I want to do is sprawl across a beanbag chair with a misting fan in one hand and a fish taco in the other. And that's precisely what I did for much of Sunday afternoon, at the Indie 103.1FM party that was held at a posh, waterslide-equipped McMansion just outside the perimeter of the festival grounds. But eventually I pried myself off the beanbag and made my way over to the Mojave Tent, for the 4pm set by retro Welsh songbird Duffy.

Duffy is currently the biggest thing in the Britain since sliced crumpets, but here in America, where her debut album doesn't come out until May, she's still relegated to daytime sidestage status. A sassy lass with a sizeable bouffant and Spectorian '60s sound, it's perhaps unavoidable that this girl gets compared to last year's Coachella buzz Brit, Amy Winehouse--but that is unfair to Duffy, as it sets her up for failure. Sonically, Duffy is similar to Amy, with her raspy girl-group vocals, but in every other way she's Amy's polar opposite--sort of the Good Witch to Amy's Bad Witch, if you will. Duffy is doll-faced, blonde, tattoo-free, relatively sober, and in possession of all her teeth, plus she looks like she occasionally eats solid food and she smiles a lot. She also seems to favor acid-washed denim maternity dresses (please, someone fire this chick's stylist, pronto) over Amy's beater tank tops, miniscule jean shorts, and filthy ballet flats.

All this makes Duffy very un-Amy-like, but unfortunately it sort of makes her uninteresting, too. Duffy's definitely got the goods, vocally--she's a real powerhouse--and despite her lack of fashion sense she's a real looker too, in a Marianne Faithfullian/Dusty Springfieldian sort of way. But Duffy has a ways to go when it comes to perfecting her live show. Coachella was Duffy's first festival experience, and she was noticeably nervous at first, particularly when plagued with various technical difficulties. Thankfully she did gain confidence as she went along, but then just as she hit her stride with the saucy single "Mercy," she ended her brief set a full 20 minutes before her advertised end time. Oh well. At least she showed up to this gig, and which is more than can be said for Amy lately.

Next up were reunited shoegazer veterans Swervedriver, although at a hot desert concert like this I might want to use the term "sandalgazer" instead. Now, Coachella Sunday wasn't very crowded--I've in fact never seen the festival so undersold, so almost ghost-townishly empty--and this was great for fans like me who could saunter right up to the stage without so much as even jostling another person. But for Swervedriver, this lack of attendance must have been frustrating: The Mojave Tent wasn't even half-full to see their first U.S. performance since 1999.

Swervedriver did their workmanlike best, and the people who were inside the tent were clearly diehard fans, singing along to every word of old classics like "How Does It Feel To Look Like Candy"--but Swervedriver's set sadly never really gained momentum.

Next in the Mojave Tent was Jason Pearce's Spiritualized, stripping back from their usual cosmic cacophony (well, they still had a string quartet and three choir singers, but that's pretty stripped-back by Spiritualized standards) for one of their "Acoustic Mainline" performances. This could have been great in the right setting--i.e., a quiet theater where people could sit and actually give the rapt attention that this amazing band deserves--

but it was just a bad, bad idea to stage a performance like this at an outdoor festival, where over-amped noise from three neighboring stages drowned out all the lovely string-laden nuances of the group's music. Sound problems also marred the set's first three songs, robbing them of their delicately drugged-out beauty and testing the patience of all the fans struggling to hear genius Jason's music over the din of U.K. electro-rockers Does It Offend You, Yeah? over in the Gobi Tent.

Eventually I buckled and couldn't resist tiptoeing away from Spiritualized's sit-down affair to check out DIOYY?'s Gobi Tent dance par-tay. Luckily they were beyond awesome, and I consequently totally got my groove back.

I then checked out Sean Penn--yes, THE Sean Penn--on the main stage, where he spent 15 or so pre-My Morning Jacket minutes discussing his "Dirty Hands Caravan," a biodiesel cross-country bus trip leaving for New Orleans the day after Coachella. Sean was presumably at Coachella to recruit 300 youth for this politically awareness-propagating junket, but unfortunately his appearance didn't generate much enthusiasm. It seemed like the audience just wanted less talk and more rock.

Only at a festival like Coachella could an Oscar-winning actor be the opening act for Kentucky indie-rockers My Morning Jacket. But I decided to pass on those bearded everymen in favor of the second-stage concert by the glamorously gothy Love & Rockets, another one of Coachella 2008's reunion acts. Sure, this reunion wasn't quite as cool as when the three members of Love & Rockets' previous band, Bauhaus, played Coachella in 2005--after all, that show had probably THE best opener in Coachella history, when Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy descended upside-down from the rafters dressed as a vampire bat.

But Love & Rockets were still one of the highlights of this year's Coachella weekend, batsuit or no batsuit. Guitarist Daniel Ash was ridiculously rock-starrish, looking like Mystery from The Pick-Up Artist in a plumed leather hat, ruffled tuxedo shirt, and a pair of bug-eyed shades so gigantic even Bono wouldn't wear them. And bassist David J, probably the coolest over-50 artrocker this side of David Bowie, looked exactly as he did even in his Bauhaus days, a wan and ashen specter with an almost translucently blonde Caesar crop-cut and owlish spectacles.

Love & Rockets cranked out an extremely enthusiastically received set that included 120 Minutes-heyday classics like "Haunted (When The Minutes Drag)," "No New Tale To Tell," "American Dream," "Mirror People, "Holiday On The Moon" (dedicated to Roger Waters, who was about to perform all of Dark Side Of The Moon on the main stage), and "Kundalini Express" (dedicated to Roger's late Pink Floyd bandmate, Syd Barrett). But the real Rockets ride was the final number, "Ying And Yang The Flowerpot Man":

Out pranced three merrymakers dressed as Love & Rockets' old space-alien alter-ego band, the Bubblemen, and an onstage pillow-fight quickly ensued. Yes, a pillow fight--how rock 'n' roll is that? As L&R and the Bubblemen left the stage, they tossed their shredded pillows into the audience, and fans spent the next half-hour continuing the pillow-pounding action on the field, as well as collecting stray plumes as souvenirs.

Bubblemen costumes and bags of feathers made for fabulous entertainment, of course, but that was nothing compared to what went down during Roger Waters' set. However, I will admit that at first I was disappointed by the Pink Floyd man's solo show. First of all, he was supposed to be performing Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety, but then he performed songs like "Wish You Were Here," "Mother," and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Um, was I losing my dang mind, or were those songs NOT on Dark Side Of The Moon? Also, I'd heard rumors there would be puppets at this show. And if there's anything cooler than an onstage pillow fight, it's puppets. But I saw no puppets. I wanted puppets, damn it. Where were the freakin' puppets?

Anyway, my first dilemma (Dark Side tracklist confusion) was solved when Roger announced there'd be a short intermission followed by the proper Dark Side portion of the show, which apparently hadn't even started yet. Phew. And my second problem (an appalling dearth of puppets) was solved when an even cooler prop emerged during Roger's performance of "Animals": an enormous, inflatable pig emblazoned with the phrases "Don't be led to the slaughter," "Fear builds walls," and (most notably) the single word "Obama" with a checked ballot box next to it.

Roger didn't say anything political at this point, instead letting the pig do all the talking. Roger just glanced up at the hog in the heavens above him and chuckled, "That's my pig."

I do wonder, though: Was Roger making a political statement here that Barack Obama will only be elected president when pigs fly? Hmmm...

After the brief aforementioned intermission, Roger returned, a Chernobyl-strength smoke machine was powered up and aimed smack at the crowd, and the real show began. It was time to bring Coachella over to the Dark Side. Suddenly I didn't miss the puppets anymore. This was some pretty cool, history-making stuff here. And the gigantic blast of hair-singing, face-melting pyro during the show was great for keeping the late-evening desert chill at bay. Thanks, Roger!

However, concurrently over in the Sahara Tent, French robot-rockers Justice were making Floyd-resistant (read: younger) punters D.A.N.C.E. all over the Coachella field. Now, as bad an idea as it was for Spiritualized's acoustic show to be booked between two loud electric stages, the decision to book Justice and the similarly electro-rockin' Chromeo in the distant Sahara Tent was pure scheduling genius. This way the 17-year-old club kids could party far away from their Waters-watching parents. Well, as someone who--both in terms of chronological age and musical taste--falls somewhere between the two demographics (aging classic rockers and teenaged indie-dance hipsters), I felt the need to do Justice some justice and watch them as well. So I hightailed it to the other side of the field and soon Justice's galvanizing set had me kicking off my sand-crusted sandals and dancing all over the grass--despite the fact that my feet were so jacked up from the past three days, I'll probably have to wear corrective orthopedic shoes until Coachella 2009.

Justice's hi-NRG set (the highlight of which, for me, was the "We Are Your Friends" mashup with the Klaxons' "Atlantis To Interzone") was the perfect end to Coachella 2008, because it gave me the espresso-like energy burst I needed to crank out one more Coachella blog at 3am, when all I really wanted to do was sit in a hot tub and not emerge until I was as pruney as those famous Indio Valley dates. So thank you, Justice, for making my job that much easier. Not to mention that much more enjoyable.

And so, after weeks and weeks of pre-festival rumor-following, schedule-making, self-tanner-applying, etc., Coachella 2008 is already over. But festival  highlights can still be seen exclusively in the AT&T blue room, so all is not lost. And for more info on Coachella (because it's never too early to start following rumors about Coachella 2009), click here for the official site.

All live photos (except Swervedriver and Love & Rockets) by Mike Orlosky. For more of his Coachella pics, click here.

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