Words & Images by: Forrest Reda
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
04.27.07 - 04.29.07 :: Indio, CA
As Rage Against the Machine walked out to thunderous applause, tens of thousands of digital cameras and phones in the audience lit up like glowing stars at the 8th annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival. Anticipation hung over the crowd like a mist. The events of the long, hot, exhausting weekend seemed like a dream. As improbable as a Rage Against the Machine reunion seemed, the presence of Crowded House, Willie Nelson and The Lemonheads on the same bill seemed further evidence this was some kind of sleeping-pill-induced dream – too weird to be real, animated water cooler for the morning after.
Tom Morello - Nightwatchman
Rage Against the Machine's set wasn't just no-nonsense, hard-charged rock, delivered with sober venom by Tom Morello and Zach de la Rocha - from "Testify" to the double encore "Freedom" and "Killing in the Name Of" - it was a political rally, a non-violent display of power. Armed with pellet guns, the police were ready for anything. RATM's music was always revolutionary, but out there in the desert, as 60,000 young people sang along, the lyrics never packed as much power as they did on this warm California night where the crowd jumped up and down on the green grass of polo fields originally built for the wealthy. Whether you were Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American or any other color or creed, the call to action reverberated within and united people.
Zach de la Rocha railed against the last seven years of the Bush regime. "This current administration should be hung and tried and shot. But the challenges we face go beyond the current administration. It's not a system that changes every four years. It's a system we have to tear down, generation after generation," said de la Rocha, who changed the lyrics of "Killing in the Name Of" to indict those responsible for atrocities like Abu Ghraib. "Some of those who burn crosses are the same that hold office," added de la Rocha.
Putting RATM on at the end of the day could have resulted in a riot, but the heat and opening bands did their job of keeping things mellow. The only casualty was Crowded House singer Neil Finn's microphone, which was knocked over by a water bottle during "Don't Dream It's Over." It was a shame because the classic '80s song was sounding really good, but those are the breaks at a festival.
Despite being two acts before Rage, the crowd was already jockeying for position stage side during Crowded House. Manu Chao, the band immediately before RATM, had more luck. Their multilingual lyrics champion the disenfranchised and their rock leanings were less offensive to the rabid crowd than Crowded House's melodic set, which was more geared for the Australians skipping around the grass in the back of the audience.
Coachella was more crowded than ever this year. It's a different kind of festival because while many people camp, lots of others rent houses and stay at luxury hotels. It's a festival for people who don't like the festival experience. Coachella is actually three or four festivals combined into one. The Burning Man vibe was also more prevalent than in years past, with art installations and performers dotting the grounds. The dance tents were constantly packed, all day, every day, and the chance of two people experiencing the same acts over the course of the festival was practically nonexistent. There is something for everyone at Coachella, which makes it simultaneously delightful and maddening.
Willie Nelson's set featured the seminal "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys," a wonderful version of "Crazy" and hordes of country girls with sundresses and cowboy hats. Nelson is a ladies man and a family man, too, as his band featured his sons Micah on drums and Lukas on guitar.
Willie Nelson :: Coachella 2007
The Kaiser Chiefs also performed on Sunday, delivering an energized set including the bouncy tracks "Everyday I Love You Less and Less," "I Predict a Riot" and "Modern Way" from the band's 2004 album Employment, which resulted in a few thousand fans dancing frenetically to the new wave rock. The sun was still out and Ricky Wilson defied the temperature (an all black outfit) and gravity (climbing up the scaffolding). Wilson is a great frontman and the set was a nice leap forward for the Brits to penetrate the American market.
Air's set was an unfortunate step backwards for the French hipster-electronica duo. The music was great, but for reasons unknown, the band was more then 45 minutes late to the stage and their set lasted only three songs.
Ricky Wilson - Kaiser Chiefs
The Teddybears made a great impression and their Weezer tinged cover of Iggy Pop's "Punkrocker" caused smiles all around.
It might have just been the beautiful scenery and mass adoration, but the brief taste I got of Lily Allen's set in the Mojave tent was very strong and much improved over the performance I saw a few weeks earlier at the KCRW Sounds Eclectic Benefit. Another act I saw at the KCRW show, and couldn't wait to see again was Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Once again, the Mexican duo of acoustic-metal virtuosos absolutely killed it. The entirely instrumental set was a highlight, but the covers - Metallica's "Orion," Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and best of all, a sing-along version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" - were true festival highlights. If you are reading this and thinking, "How good can acoustic-metal be?" do yourself a favor and see this band. You will be amazed.
Arcade Fire's Saturday set was the best of a very good day of music. The sun had just gone down, and the band brimmed over with confidence as it delivered a few songs from Neon Bible and the very best from Funeral. Bathing the gushing crowd with anthem after anthem, it felt like the band and frontman Win Butler were coming back around for a victory lap after storming the country two years ago with the phenomenal success of their first album. Their live show is a little less manic but just as powerful as before. Régine Chassagne sparkles as Butler's muse and musical foil. Her contributions on keys, drums and accordion were brilliant, too.
Arcade Fire :: Coachella 2007
While the Arcade Fire were majestic, Tom Morello's solo acoustic set as The Nightwatchman was equally as powerful, and raised just as many hairs on my arm. Dedicating his set to "rebel girls and women," unions, farm workers and the audience, Morello channeled Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen with controlled rage. Songs like "One Man Revolution" and "The Road I Must Travel" are powerful protest songs in the vein of Dylan and Strummer (The Clash). When he invited Perry Farrell and The Coup's Boots Riley onstage for an "under-rehearsed" stab at Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," the packed tent erupted.
Farrell, Morello, Boots - Nightwatchman :: Coachella 2007
The Kings of Leon looked a little worse for wear and took a few songs to warm up but songs like "California Waiting," "The Bucket" and "On Call" are meant to be performed after too little sleep and too much drink. I won't begrudge them for living the life they are writing about. The good moments in their set outweighed the rough ones, and even though they caused me to miss !!! I wouldn't change anything about my decision to stay for their entire set.
Kings of Leon :: Coachella 2007
I was trapped up front by the masses after Kings of Leon but was happy to be so close for Arcade Fire. I was very thirsty and nearing exhaustion after Arcade Fire, so I pushed through the crowd coming in to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The fact that I saw RHCP at the Roxy a few months ago gave me the freedom to check out the end of Ozomatli's high-energy set and catch the start of LCD Soundsystem in the Sahara Tent. Yes, it's electronica, but it's live electronica with a huge band that rips. Sounds were exploding in my ears from everywhere. It was an experience I wasn't expecting, and that combined with the quality of the music made it special.
I did wander back to the main stage to catch The Frames' Glen Hansard sing "Give it Away" with the Chili Peppers, and the other songs I heard while waiting in the food line were great. It was nice to see Hansard with the Chili Peppers. Earlier in the day, the poor Irishman was subjected to a brutal 2:30 p.m. set, the hottest part of the day, and a slot opposite Fountains of Wayne who were good but turned up very loud, which caused some feedback issues. The loud/quiet/loud dynamic of The Frames rang true when Hansard sang "Pavement Tune":
The Frames :: Coachella 2007
I want my life to make more sense
I want my life to make amends
I want my life to make more sense to me
Hansard is about to get much more popular in the US as the indie film, Once, starring Hansard as an Irish street musician, was the recipient of an Audience Award at Sundance and will soon be released nationwide.
After The Frame's, I tried to escape the sun in the Mojave tent, but the crowd was spilling out the sides to catch The Fratellis' frenetic Scot-rock. From what I heard, the iTunes commercial is no fluke – the Fratellis are a fun band ready to challenge the Arctic Monkeys as melodic UK urchins on the rise Stateside.
The Black Keys :: Coachella 2007
To end Saturday night, I chose to be side stage at The Black Keys in the Mojave Tent instead of stuck in the crowd at Tiesto or The Good, The Bad & The Queen. The decision was easy. The Black Keys freaking wail, and side stage was the place to be as the duo of Dan Auerbach (gtr/vox) and Patrick Carney (drums) let the delta blues flow through them and blasted the tent with just enough noise and plenty of emotion, proving drums and guitar are all a band needs if it's done right.
Friday a six-car pileup in the carpool lane made a bunch of people, including me, late for the start of Coachella. I arrived in time to catch Amy Winehouse, her ten-piece band and her three-foot beehive mass of hair, which is nearly as impressive as her voice. Her lithe body doesn't appear capable of the soulful sounds that come out of her mouth, and I was entranced by her presence immediately. I can't wait to see her again, again and again.
Amy Winehouse :: Coachella 2007
I saw the end of Stephen Marley and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley as I made my way over to catch the end of the Artic Monkeys set. Stephen looks very much like his father... if Bob had been raised with money instead of in the Trenchtown slums. This isn't meant as a dig, it's just my observation, and Stephen sounds a lot like his dad, and has plenty of Rasta soul to do the songs justice. He is definitely the best representative of the Marley legacy. The Artic Monkeys seem like they are trying a little too hard to live down the hype, and from what I saw their performance was good, but they didn't quite connect with the audience.
I caught snippets of Peaches (crunchy digital grrlll power), Rufus Wainwright (melodramatic crooner) and Felix Da Housecat (eclectic electronica) while refueling and settled into the VIP area to catch a fulfilling set from the Jesus and Mary Chain, which after Amy Winehouse, was my favorite set of the day. As luck would have it, I missed Scarlett Johansson singing backup on "Just Like Honey" while I walked over to see Los Angeles madman/genius Busdriver kick some mad/activist rhymes in the Gobi Tent.
Gabriela Quintero - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
I caught a little bit of former Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton's weird and wonderful project, Peeping Tom, and some of Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker's solo set before settling into Interpol. It was my first experience with Interpol, and I definitely will go see them again. My NYC friends always rave about them, but the band didn't move me the way the Secret Machines do. However, the storytelling in the lyrics are apt descriptions of city life in the new millennium, and the bass player was sporting an amazing mustache. "Slow Hands" is a great song and even though I missed most of Sonic Youth's set, it was worth waiting for that song.
As much as I wanted to stay for Bjork or rock out with Gogol Bordello we called it a night, exhausted from the traffic and from staying out late the night before in Hollywood at the Viper Room for a Kings of Leon hosted Coachella kickoff party featuring The Shy's, a young band from the OC. The Shy's are the real deal, and they closed their set with a raucous cover of Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." Then we drank until 3 a.m., waiting for a rumored Kings of Leon set that never happened. Caleb and Nathan Followhill were in attendance, drinking near us, constantly chased by a bevy of models all around the club.
Coachella proved that it can go three days, and once again I'll be listening to the new artists I discovered there for the rest of the year. In years past, Coachella and Bonnaroo have gotten closer in style, but this year Coachella seemed to have an influx of the Burning Man scene combined as always with the best bands from all over the world. This year's festival also made me realize how cool the '90s were for music - many of the bands this year hailed from that era and their sets weren't nostalgia acts.
The best way to experience Coachella is to go without a game plan, prepared to ditch your friends to chase live music based on stranger's recommendations. It's kind of like taking a trip to a foreign country. The guidebooks are a great place to start but you're only going to get the inside information once you get there. Just make sure your phone is up to the task and wait until the sun goes down to drink!
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