Eminence Front and Hula Hoops: Having no choice, I’ll own being the guy who looks like Sting standing in the back of L.A. rock venues scribbling on fragments of actual paper. I don’t mind the work and only tourists take the actual cat before their faces as the for-reals-dawg Gordon Sumner of two decades ago. Thus does my faith in human intelligence dim a little every year at Coachella, the giant music and art festival held annually in remote and dusty Indio. It was my fourth time covering the event and first for L.A. RECORD, a publication I’m happy to report needs zero introduction among the rock cognoscenti swamped inside the variegated mass of bikers, geezers, ravekids, hucksters, b-boyz, flygirls, mainstream families and, yes, tourists; with every twentieth of the latter pointing a tentative digit at my face and mouthing “Aren’t you…” under the all-obliterating sonic uproar. Such hopeful gawkerati also spotted Paris Hilton in the crowd this year, along with Jared Leto, Alicia Silverstone, David Hasselhoff, Reese Witherspoon, Keenan Ivory Wayans and more sweating with the commonality at this Great American Rockshow. Bitsy, my driver and plus-one, has a pleasant form of celebrity as the bomb-ass chick whose hula-hoop workout on the roof of her building in the Hollywood flats draws hundreds of daily spectators, with necks craning from as far as the Roosevelt Hotel. Her hips and hoop carved us a path this past weekend through a mob made agreeable, even buttery, by some of the best music likely ever played in Riverside County.
Time Waits For One Man: The weather on Friday was excellent, so Felix Da Housecat’s set at the Sahara was packed to overflow with ravers and my driver drew the first of many crowds with her hooping. At the big stage, the Airborne Toxic Event disappointed, seeming to wilt a bit in their dark clothes, but the Black Keys turned in a rousing gutbucket-rock set done in the grand manner, channeling the first-wave festival eminences like Deep Purple and the Who. Going next, Franz Ferdinand hit the mark completely, turning in a polished and ferocious performance that rocked many a skeptical veteran of the Glaswegians’ mainstage outings in previous years. The crowd at mainstage next came to grips with Morrissey, with the celebrated (if tubby) romantic opening for headliner Paul McCartney. Alas, we were far away at the Gobi (throwing down to heroic dancefloor sets by Bug and Peanut Butter Wolf) when Moz threw his celebrated bitchfit, storming offstage in the middle of his performance, his still-fetching nose sickened by the smell of frying burgers. Leaving a whirling Bitsy with our cool-as-fuck campmates, I met my friend Kirsten at the Do Lab’s rocking misting station, and we dallied at Silversun Pickups’ triumphant star turn on the Outdoor Stage. I’ve followed these local prodigies from their earliest appearences and they laid into the audience with new songs off Swoon, a long-awaited sophomore album fitting punky rhythms, sheets of decorative noise and an adroit four-fingered salute to Iron Butterfly into the band’s established sound. Guitarist Brian Auber bitched wittily about the Cute Beatle, as the rest of Friday night began shutting down and we drifted to the mainstage for the Act We’ve Known For All These Years.
Anon roared the profound nonsense of “Jet” and a spry and slender sexagenarian named Sir Paul McCartney went on a 33-song stomp though one of the premier music catalogs of the twentieth century. The set incorporated songs by John and George along with a few surprises and a long trawl through his 1970s and ‘80s Wings albums. From the square of way upfront where we stood, it looked like a big chunk of Macca’s present-day fanbase is composed of tender-looking indie-pop kids and these imps were as blown away as any of the hard-bitten journos who raved of Friday’s finale. Like the peachfuzztone young ‘uns prostrate before Roger Waters at last year’s festival, they’d come to see someone (correctly) regarded as one of the Immortals and a still-vibrant presence in their own rock ‘n’ roll lives. Sir Paul outlasted everything else on the lot, going on almost an hour past the 1 AM closing. Looking at beginnings of the second-highest take in festival history, organizers wisely decided the $1000-a-minute the city of Indio charges for after-curfew music was the merest bagatelle.
We Are the Night: The hour was well advanced by the time we made it out to the Polo Grounds on for Saturday’s bop-til-you-drop. Drive-By Truckers were shivering to a bravura conclusion with a cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” at the Outdoor as Michael Franti & Spearhead (who were playing late-night desert gatherings of Burners just a few years back) were vibing tribally from the big stage. Passing the Mojave stage on our way to dance to the Bloody Beetroots DJ set at the Sahara, I saw a tiny Henry Rollins deep within, belaboring a milling fringe of onlookers like the village atheist. As the sun went down, longtime Coachella vets Thievery Corporation did a rousing beat-heavy set on the mainstage, heavy with their patented thundering harmonics and bracing agitprop. I left the din with a lovely campmate named Kat to check out Booker T. & the DBTs, with members of Drive-By Truckers backing organist Booker T. Jones, venerable anchor of 1960s soul giant Stax Records, in a welter of raw Dixie funk. Our by-then swollen party skipped Turbonegro and passed on M.I.A. for the dance-dance immolation incinerating the Sahara for the rest of the night. I heard about the Killers’ less-than-adequate mainstage turn at soured secondhand and felt glad to have trusted my social instincts, as first mash-up kings Crookers then a DJ set by the Chemical Brothers then a balls-out performance by MSTRKRFT slammed beats into a writhing mob of friendlies, with Chem Bros. lifting an already bliss-dosed, e-sodden, candy-flipped-out mob into the stratosphere with a robot-chant of “Some chemicals are good/Some chemicals are bad.” True dat, but the bad were mainly rotten vibes emitted by a pushy wedge of aristos pitching random helots out of the way a few feet from my group. Online sources credit Paris Hilton and her entourage with the brief disturbance, but from what I saw, the culprits could’ve been any clutch of overdressed Hollywood Boulevard shitheels. It was just like a night in the L.A. underground, minus the sketchy nabes and a chance of being mugged.
Feedback Apocalypse: We’d raged hard the night before and the sun was well along its path before Bitsy and I struck camp Sunday afternoon and loaded out for the festival. Staying since Thursday night at a campground by the Salton Sea with a group of sexy party-hardy Burners had the great advantage of dead calm at night, broken every few hours by the symphonic Doppler roar of a Union Pacific freight train high-balling by. Jointly feeling heat exhaustion and sleep deprivation while singly spacing out from individualized drug intake, we tootled the three-dozen miles to Indio on an overheated engine, arriving just in time to miss Perry Ferrell’s now-traditional Sunday DJ slot at the Sahara. We got our groove on briefly with Plump DJs, before gliding past hundreds of exhausted attendees for whom a hooping hottie and some mutant looking like Sting held no interest. We flopped happily far up front at mainstage as lengthening shadows set the mood for My Bloody Valentine. Management was handing out earplugs at the gate and small wonder, since toward the end of “You Made Me Realise,” guitarists Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher (the latter impassive as a Xanax-bombed soccer mom) loosed a gorgeous fifteen-minute-plus feedback annihilation that was easily the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in decades of doting on amplified music. I can’t imagine how the Horrors could hear even themselves going off at the Gobi many hundreds of yards away. It was less a solo than a hideous (and hideously effective) evocation of nightmare; a compressed and aestheticized variation on the opening bombardment at the Somme, another historic din that produced few actual causalties. The crowd, thus blitzed and shit-hammered, was easy mop-up for the Cure, since even the dirgiest of their album tracks sound like 1910 Fruitgum Company by comparison. Bitsy was limp with exhaustion, but these Byronic proto-goths are her favorite-ever band and she was soon slicing circles through the audience with her hoop. I let her decide when she’d had enough and escorted her out when she did, leaving the headliners to what observers described as a power-trawl through B-sides and obscurities that went on until approximately 1:30 a.m. when organizers pulled the plug and the band did two more numbers in the dark. About 70 minutes later, I was standing in front of my crib in Boyle Heights, watching Bitsy’s taillights fade up the street. On my desk was a notice that the cheerful folks at the Lugo Station post office had my ticket to Burning Man 2009. Bon temps roulez, motherfuckos.