Words by: Forrest Reda
Coachella Music Festival :: 04.25-04.27 :: Empire Polo Field :: Indio, CA
Coachella was giant in 2008. The festival had bigger lights, bigger sound and promoter Goldenvoice took a chance and picked three headliners that didn't have the massive name value or reunion hype of years past. With stacks of quality performances and a multitude of exhilarating moments, Coachella, now eight years old, proved it is bigger than just the acts on the bill.
Coachella 2008 by Dave Vann
2008 is the year of the green festival. Coachella stepped up its efforts to be carbon neutral by once again providing incentive to carpool through the Carpoolchella "tickets for life" program (groups of four arriving with decorated cars were eligible to win tickets for life handed out by spotters in the parking lot) and the first annual "Coachella Express," which provided campers free transportation from downtown L.A. to the festival on Thursday afternoon through a partnership with Amtrak. Once people were inside the festival, they could trade-in ten empties for one bottle of water. While Coachella strives to avoid politics, The Energy Factory installation greeted people after they passed security with ways to conserve energy and use alternative fuels. You could also ride a stationary bicycle to recharge your phone.
Lots of people come to Coachella for the parties and the scene but the true spirit of the festival is art and music. This year there was a nice selection of new art exhibits and returning favorites like the twin Tesla coils and Do Lab, where sparks fly night and day. There were also a couple of great return bands and plenty of returning fans. Once again, the green grass of the polo grounds teemed with hipsters, hotties and hippies. There was also an infusion of moms and dads, and even a couple grandmas, likely due to the presence of "mature artists" like Roger Waters, Sharon Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Carbon/Silicon and Prince.
Friday :: 04.25
Coachella is not the place to see complete sets until the headliners get to the stage. It's a chance to see lots of bands, and it's a safe assumption that any hungry music fan could catch at least 15 acts a day. If that sounds like a lot, consider that there were 43 artists on Friday alone.
Coachella is like baseball – if you hit .333 percent of the bands you are an All-Star. That amounted to about 14 of the 43 bands on Friday. It was really hot on Friday afternoon, and festival traffic had severely sapped our buzz. The trick with Coachella is to arrive Thursday night, but that didn't happen and we sat in traffic on Friday and arrived just as Rogue Wave was wrapping up the opening Main Stage set of the festival. John Butler seemed to enjoy the California vibe of the festival and later told me that he was enjoying a holiday with his family. Butler said he views the festival not as an American festival but rather said, "It feels pretty Californian, and that's not necessarily American." Butler also said the greening of the festival circuit was "common sense taking place," and hopes it continues. I asked Butler what his favorite part about touring America was and he told me it was the audience. "That's why we come here, to play for people and they are very enthusiastic, passionate people."
Vampire Weekend :: Coachella 2008 by F. Reda
Slightly Stoopid made their Coachella debut with support from their fans and got things smoking on the Main Stage. The cover of Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings" absolutely electrified the crowd and Kyle McDonald dedicated the song to Kurt Cobain. While some in the crowd seemed, well, pissed that the band played the Nirvana song, claiming that Cobain would have hated Slightly Stoopid's "bro-rock," most jumped to the song and enjoyed the pitch-perfect rendition of an alt-90s classic.
After Slightly Stoopid, the Coachella marathon began. The next set you want to see begins 10 minutes before the set you are watching ends. You have to trust your decisions, and never look back. One of the quirks of Coachella is that the schedule guide isn't released until just before the festival. I've tried to plan my days out in advance before but I can never really choose the acts I want to see until I get the pocket-sized sched when I enter the festival grounds.
With this in mind I grabbed just a taste of "Thriller" bumping out of Busy P's Sahara Tent set before jetting off for the Outdoor Theater to witness Architecture in Helsinki wrap-up their set with "Heart It Races." The song was simply magnificent. The freaks from down-under deserve all the adoration bands like Dr. Dog give them. They are like a slightly weirder and more dressed down Arcade Fire.
Jack White - The Raconteurs :: Coachella 2008 by F. Reda
I hurried back to check The Breeders on the Main Stage, a band whose influence on girls that rock grows more apparent every year. It was nice to see Kim Deal back on stage with her sister.
It was time for Vampire Weekend. VW is one of the most hyped bands of the year, but when lead singer Ezra Koenig took the stage with dark sunglasses, an East Coast smirk, folded up pink corduroys and deck shoes without socks, I couldn't help but grin. Too often NYC buzz bands come out West and wilt in the heat, but Vampire Weekend's music fit right in with the desert oasis location. The band's shit-eating grins belied the confidence that their sunshine-speckled sailboat rock - equal parts Graceland and Stop Making Sense with just a pinch of solo John Lennon circa "Dear Yoko" - was perfect for the setting. Vampire Weekend received a great response and the band deserves its buzz.
I listened as long as I could before running back to the Coachella Stage for Tegan & Sara, who were making their second visit to the festival. Returning acts were a theme of the weekend and Tegan & Sara set a high standard. They shook off nerves with endearing stage banter and had a fun time doing it. Tegan & Sara rocked. They were super-cute, with haircuts that every emo boy at the festival lusted after. They are simply adorable and when they sang, "I'm not unfaithful, but I stray," I thought to myself that I would probably take her back if she sang that to me.
Guys and girls of every orientation want to take Tegan & Sarah home, but I left early to check out The National. I was just hitting my festival stride and The National set the pace. Lead singer Matt Berninger has what the old-timers call a radio voice and guitarist Scott Devendorf plays the music better than it sounds on record.
Glen Hansard - Swell Season :: Coachella 2008 by F. Reda
I left the Outdoor Theater a fan of The National and ready to rock out back at the Main Stage with The Raconteurs. Brendan Benson and Jack White together is alt-rock's wet dream. White with a traditional rock & roll band is as good as it gets, but the reason The Raconteurs blow minds live is that they play the blues. Keith Richards clearly gave White the "Pick of Destiny" but The Raconteurs work because of the group dynamic. Benson's wail bleeds into White's desperate screams. This is now, this is blues-rock for rock's sake, and even if Consoler's of the Lonely doesn't have another "Steady As She Goes," The Raconteurs remain one of the very best live acts to see in 2008.
I walked towards Goldfrapp in the packed Sahara Tent, stopping to check out Santogold at the Gobi Tent on the way. The crowds were showing major love to both females. Goldfrapp was elegant and her band laid down dark grooves as dusk turned to nightfall. The music was the change-up I needed before The Swell Season hit the stage.
If you don't know The Swell Season, it's the guy (Glen Hansard) and girl (Marketa Irglova) from the film Once. And if you didn't pay attention to movies in 2007, Once is the little indie film that won Best Song at the Oscars for "Falling Slowly." If you still can't place The Swell Season, it's The Frames with a girl on piano.
Hansard took the stage alone and belted out a few of his songs. The only difference between this and his busking days was the huge sound system that carried his music to every corner of the polo fields. Marketa eventually came out and the two played "Falling Slowly" and Hansard admitted that he felt like the song was a ball that he kicked over the fence in his backyard. But instead of landing in his neighbor's yard it had kept going and now all Hansard wanted was "my fucking ball back." He also mentioned The Frames' sound-and-sun plagued set from the previous year, telling the crowd that playing outside in the heat and sun is a dangerous combination for Irishmen. "We Irishmen live in a state of perpetual twilight. Put us in this weather and the results are not good. We wilt in the heat," he lamented. In the dark with his best girl, Hansard absolutely shined. He's an artist that can command the stage with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone.
The Verve :: Coachella 2008 by Dave Vann
The Verve was one of the most anticipated acts at Coachella and the venerable English band left it all on the stage, playing like it was 1995 all over again. The Verve started "Bittersweet Symphony" with a tone reminiscent of Pink Floyd and a dedication to Hunter S. Thompson. It was a touching tribute to someone who, despite writing a book entitled Polo is My Life, never made it to the polo grounds, but his spirit lives within this festival or wherever freaks gather. Richard Ashcroft's voice is still the best in Brit rock and "The Drug's Don't Work" and "Lucky Man" were Coachella moments enjoyed by fans dancing, blissful to have their favorite band back.
I took another lap across the festival to see Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. The grand lady of soul can still shake her tail-feather and sings like there's no tomorrow. She was getting in touch with her African roots on stage, showing the crowd how proud she is of her heritage and absolutely working it. Amy Winehouse has the voice down, but she won't be a true diva until she can shake it like Sharon.
Lot of people checked out The Black Lips and Fatboy Slim but I had been going basically non-stop all day and was ready to relax with Jack Johnson.
Since his first appearance at Coachella in 2002, Jack Johnson has become one of the biggest touring acts in the world, yet his demeanor is basically the same. One thing that has changed is the stage dressing. For Coachella, there were several screens arranged on the stage with tropical scenery and black and white live images of Johnson. He still mostly plays with his eyes closed but his already-good live show is better than ever with keyboardist Zach Gill (ALO) adding grooves and vocals to complement Adam Topol's drumming, Merlo's steady bass and Johnson's use of acoustic and electric guitar.
Jack Johnson :: Coachella 2008 by Dave Vann
The songs are the focal point of Johnson's set. The crowd sings along and there really isn't a better vibe than a warm night under the stars at a Jack Johnson show. A few songs from his new album were featured but the set was a deft mixture of his whole catalog. Johnson made his Coachella set extra special by inviting Matt Costa and Mason Jennings up for some songs, the highlight being Jennings leading everybody in a song that got full crowd participation and delivered a feel-good message about loving everybody the same, no matter what religion.
For the first time in six trips to the desert, I camped out at Coachella. It was part curiosity and party necessity, and I knew I had a nice place to stay on Sunday night, so the decision was made to rough it for the first two nights. The campground staff was helpful and friendly. The campground is clearly marked into rows with spaces marked on the grass for each tent. The inevitable drum circle went quite late, but we were tired enough to fall asleep quickly and the grass under our tent was soft and flat.
Continue reading for Saturday coverage...