Day Two of Coachella is like a second tour of duty: by now you know where the ATM is, where the good snacks are, and how to get in the checkpoint line that has the most gullible security guard. And parking is easier, because half the cars have been safely lodged in a campsite zone the night before. Still, it took us a couple hours to roll in, which meant I started Saturday already kind of hating myself, having missed the Henry Clay People and a slew of other talents. Then again, the people who had been here for hours were passing out from heat stroke.
Bomba Estereo on the main Coachella stage were playing the best midday Cumbia it might ever be my pleasure to hear. Though I wouldn’t have minded more of their psychedelic flourishes, singer Liliana Saumet’s enthusiasm was infectious and invigorating, and reminded me in no small part of Drew Denny’s exclamatory “yips!” in Big Whup.
But I found myself gravitating over to the Outdoor stage to catch Here We Go Magic. There’s something about a red Fender bass that just screams summer (maybe because it’s the same ruby red as the vintage low-riders that appear in Hollenbeck Park every June).
Once again, here was a band proving that moody vocals over bright chimey reverb compliment hot sunny days more than ice cream and sweaty nooners. A couple of the songs seemed a bit shaky: maybe the band was feeling a little nervous, or maybe there were sound issues, and it would be hard to beat Warpaint from basically the same slot the day before. But Here We Go Magic was making the summer spread before me like warm butter on toast—and it’s not even Easter yet!
I headed back to the press tent to prepare for some interviews, just in time to be VIP side when Gogol Bordello hit the stage. And this is where you, fair reader, and I will likely part. Because unlike you, I find Gogol Bordello to be the most overrated, unimaginative band to hit the big time since Phantom Planet. Have you ever seen Michel Basquiat in the seminal post-punk film Downtown 81 and wondered why a movie about graffiti and No Wave would feature three whole songs of Kid Creole and the Coconuts? Gogol Bordello is the exact same thing for the Kill Your Idols crowd. They’re a band that somehow conned their way into the No Wave platform through spectacular hucksterism, and history will leave them on the dust heap with the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
I’ll admit, their acoustic guitar and accordion did seem to fit the 4th of July atmosphere of mojitos on the green in the VIP area. And everyone else, from my fellow L.A. RECORD writers to the staff at the press tent to the bartenders, all loved this shit. But if you closed your eyes and couldn’t see all the leg kicks and moustaches, you’d basically be hearing ska punk with a little accordion, and I’ve heard better from the Red Elvises on the 3rd Street Promenade. I love gypsy music, love polka, love Klezmer, love punk, love international folk music, and even love ska, but the “Hey look I’m foreign!” shtick of Gogol Bordello is a scam to hide the fact that they have no artistry or ideas whatsoever aside from becoming actors and colluding with Les Claypool.
But maybe I’m a hypocrite, because I left Erykah Badu’s lovely set early to see a child actress and her boyfriend play country music, and I loved it! Part of me felt dragged towards Jenny and Johnny at the Mojave because of seeing Jenny Lewis in movies like The Wizard, and part of it was because she has the most gorgeous smile, dammit (I can’t help being white)!
But the main reason was that Johnny and Jenny’s 2010 CD, I’m Having Fun Now, was the type of album you want to like but feel like you just can’t get into, and I was hoping their live set would show me the way. Instead, I came away really respecting Jenny Lewis as a performer, but appreciated more the contributions from boy-toy Johnathan Rice (his song “We’re All Stuck Out in the Desert and We’re Gonna Die” was the anthem of the fucking WEEKEND), and slide guitarist Farmer Dave, who gave the whole shebang more of a country feel than any Jenny Lewis project I’d ever heard, including that tease she pulled with the Watson Twins. True, this wasn’t country, or even squarely alt-country, so much as it was indie rock with a twang. But the best-kept secret of country music is that it’s the musical genre that pays the least attention to its traditions: otherwise, we’d all be wearing Jimmy Rogers caps. And there were definitely times when Farmer Dave’s crazy slide and Lewis’s voice, which somehow echoed both Jessi Colter and the Divinyls chick, approached a haunting exuberance that was a thousand times more country than whatever Toby Keith video I saw while bowling last week.
Now, if you’ve never been to Coachella, you probably aren’t aware of how odd the teeming masses of people are. Columnist Albert Ching sees the positive in this, and I felt that, too—but when I again and again found myself surrounded by tens of thousands of people splayed out on blankets, going out of their minds on ecstasy, with glow sticks around their necks and LED lights strapped to the tips of their fingers, dancing HARD to rock bands I have only heard once in passing on KROQ, well, that’s a form of soul-sucking loneliness that’s hard to endure. That’s why all weekend for me had been a lead-up to see Wire.
I had seen the Buzzcocks live in recent years, and they were one of the best live bands I had EVER seen. And since Wire was even more agro and had even MORE of a snarl and was even MORE hip of a pivotal punk influence, I expected equal vivacity and icepick-to-the-heart bombast, with some Situationism and political-is-personal rage thrown in.
What I got instead was a gaggle of tired old men who seemed to go through the motions like pack animals, with only long-haired youngster Matt Simms on guitar to prod them into anything like the vivaciousness of “Three Girl Rhumba,” which they may or may not have played, since I was incapable of staying for the whole show.
Instead, I took a plate of delicious vegan thai noodles out in the direction of the Outdoor stage, where Big Audio Dynamite was playing. I am only roughly familiar with their oeuvre, and most of that is from hearing Big Audio Dynamite II as a kid, which wasn’t so good—basically Mick Jones sampling his old Clash material and writing songs about ravers that you couldn’t rave to. Well, fuck it, I should have been here instead of at Wire, because B.A.D. was G.O.O.D., even if I couldn’t really get close enough to see more than the big projection screens due to the dense throngs of folks captivated by this performance. I’ve gotta say, the Coachella video capturers were getting great angles, and the chemistry between Mick Jones and Don Letts was contagious even halfway down the polo field. Well played, old men.
There was a solid throng of glow-lit children stretched from the Outdoor stage to the Coachella stage, with no division, and I almost literally waded through them in semi-darkness in an attempt to see Animal Collective. I couldn’t see them, but I did hear them: a lot of the time they did in fact sound like prescient geniuses, though at other times they sounded exactly like the New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give.” And so I figured it was time to see the London Suede.
And I chose right. I remember these gentlemen from the nineties as being dandies in foppy glam wear, and though on the Mojave stage they dressed all in black (more or less looking EXACTLY like the Riverboat Gamblers had at SXSW, they still made up for it in triumphant poses and an excellent usage by singer Brett Anderson of the little monitor platform at stage center: maybe playing in a tent was “camp” enough, ha ha! Anderson is a handsome man—I’d tried and failed to be gay in my youth, but watching his face, which was lithe yet beefy, brown, and with veins popping, like well-marbled pork, I honestly felt like maybe I understood what I’d been missing with this whole dating-dudes thing.
And the energy just kept up! With the Animal Collective and Arcade Fire fans distracted by the main stage, we had a core of enthusiastic Brit-pop fans to adore and roar along for the ride, crowded but not too crowded. Was Suede now the best band of the weekend? Surely each song, from “Killing of a Flash Boy” to a fuck-me-gently rendition of “The Drowners,” was a classic, played better here than in most live footage I’d seen of any Suede era. And when they slowed things down for “The Asphalt World,” I was touched by the sentiment and the melodic bassline, yet also a bit amused by the lyrics about supplying a girl “with Ecstasy.” Has Brett Anderson looked out into a Coachella audience to see how unromantic Ecstasy use can be? I wonder if this is how all drug trends start—one day you’re floating around with slurred giggles drooling out of your mouth on a brand new pill, and the next day the frat boys are spiking their dates’ drinks with it. Arg.
My crew and I headed over to see Daedelus at the Gobi tent, but things were running behind schedule (shocker!) and Raphael Saadiq was on stage, which was AMAZING.
This cat can fucking dance, and he wears the same pants I got at a thriftstore and wore to Seventies day in 1993 (I’m talking serious Jack Nicklaus). He and his band were in final call, let’s-pull-out-the-crazy-on-stage-antics mode, so I didn’t see as much tight soul as I did wailing, audience-fluffing, and balloon dodging (a yellow balloon somehow followed him around the stage like a lost spherical puppy). But fuck it, another great set by another great artist! I’d almost completely forgotten that Gogol Bordello even existed.
And then Saadiq ended, and the buildup for Daedelus’ set began. Normally there’s not a lot to do to set up someone like Mr. Darlington—just let him plug his Monome into an iMac and you’re ready to bleep. But no, this time Daedelus had something special, and pretty soon we saw him wheel out three huge walls of crazy-looking mirror segments attached to little hydraulic motors. Theoretically this was called the “ARCHIMEDES” and he’d built it at his parents’ house or some such thing, but would it work?
Indeed it would!
Now, I’m not part of the Plug Research/Daedelus cult that some people fling themselves into madly, partially because D-Dog and I have a long personal history that involves USC, house fires, and dublab: I think of him less as a guy on stage and more as the dude I used to play Bust a Move with at TV Cafe in college while waiting for our $1.95 beans and rice. I just can’t idolize him, but I do adore him, and I loved seeing the thought processes crawl across his face as he strung all his disparate elements together via the Moneme into a mad genius concoction (my favorite sample being from Crystal Waters), the occasional incorrect Monome punch revealed by a bemused smile or a lick on his thumb. He even did something that could in lesser hands signal the death of the beat—a switch to waltz time, and back again, without losing one dancer! And let’s not forget the simple bravery of adding Bjork and Smashing Pumpkins into the mix.
It was such a great set that my crew stayed until the end of Coachella’s evening—a bitter mistake that meant hours stuck in the parking lot going nowhere, while we watched strangers walk to their cars with odd-looking balloons in their hands. Why would anyone buy a soggy plastic ball thingie with an LED light in the middle? Only later did we hear that Arcade Fire had dropped their balls into a gleeful crowd while we’d been looking at our reflections in Daedelus’s wall of wizardry. But who cares! We were just gleeful to have seen so many great artists and that we could catch up on some sleep for the long day ahead of us Sunday.