Words by: Jorge Barriere | Images by: Dave Vann
Coachella Music and Arts Festival :: 04.17.09 - 04.19.09 :: Empire Polo Grounds :: Indio, California
Coachella Music and Arts Festival super-promoters, Goldenvoice, certainly outdid themselves in 2009 with their tenth edition of the festival, bringing legendary acts like former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, The Cure and The Killers, as well as up-and-coming, mind-blowing bands such as TV on the Radio, thenewno2 and Gang Gang Dance, to the oasis in the Southern California desert that is the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California. With tens of thousands of hipsters, scenesters, bikini bunnies, rock geeks and everyone in between participating in what was an epic weekend, the 2009 music festival season saw a grand kick-off last weekend.
The palm tree paradise of the polo field saw attendance figures in the 160,000 range, the second highest attendance figure in the festival's history (the highest being in 2007 when 186,000 revelers watched Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, DJ Tiesto, and Björk play the fest). In an economic climate of tight wallets and a sagging music industry, the numbers are a telling tale that the future of live music looks bright. The high ticket sales could also be indicative of a desire for people to escape the everyday stress of such a bleak economy.
Music aside, the art curators of the festival stepped up the massive, psych-tastic and interactive art exhibits by adding a bit of a Burning Man vibe to the grassy landscape, with exhibits like Gerard Minakawa's 90-foot tall "Bamboo Starscraper," the Flaming Lotus Girls' "Serpent Mother" and Christian Ristow's "Hand of Man," a large, glove-controlled, semi-truck sized mechanical hand tossing junked cars all weekend. Throughout my three days in the polo fields, I often wondered if this could be the setting to a modern Alice In Wonderland tale, with little adventures and amusing "rabbit holes" entertaining the masses throughout every corner of the 78-acre festival grounds.
The Do Lab and the popular Lucent Dossier Experience were in full effect as they took over the epicenter of the polo fields, showering beat junkies, both young and old, with water guns while wearing freakish gypsy rags and makeup. With a massive stage constructed by trashed loading pallets, and being in the center of the festival's action, the Do Lab was a common pit stop between stages for those looking for a refreshing splash of water or the thump of killer DJs on the ones and twos throughout the weekend.
The weather forecast called for a cooler weekend this year, largely due to the festival occurring some days earlier than in years past, a smart move on the promoter's part to ease the heat on those of us with less experience in desert climates. With a case of water in the trunk of my car, I arrived in Indio with my fiancé the evening prior to the festivities to rest before taking part in one of the world's hippest music festivals.
Friday | 04.17.09
For many, the anticipation of arriving in Indio, amongst the drove of Carpoolchella convoys and cars bearing Mexican or Canadian flags, is an exhilarating one. Some show up in costume, some in their tiniest bikinis/Speedos, and some in their favorite concert t-shirts. However, all show up with eager smiles, a kind attitude and ears hungry for live music. Making my way through what seemed like the largest parking lot known to man, I could feel the thump of Switch on stage, kicking off the Sahara tent. I've attended the last four Coachella Festivals and just as I expected, the lines at the gates were slightly slow but the fairly relaxed security and relatively cool 80-degree weather had festival early birds pouring into the Polo Grounds, eager to satiate their thirst with an ice cold beer or soju cocktail, while others made directly for El Gran Silencio or any of the other party-starting bands kicking off this year's fest.
|The Airborne Toxic Event :: Coachella 2009|
In my initial tour of the grounds, I happened to catch some of the hypnotic beat bolero of Brazilian DJ Gui Boratto. Coachella is often a balancing act, trying to catch at least part of one set but realizing you're missing another set on the other side of the field. After making my way through the Do Lab to the main stage, aka the Coachella Stage, it was time for a little Heineken mixed with a little We Are Scientists. Although, WAS is primarily Keith Murray and Chris Cain, recently they've added keyboardist-guitarist Max Hart and drummer Adam Aaronson, whom some may remember from former Star Trak Records band The High Speed Scene. With its current personnel, this jammin' quartet created an energetic, driving potion of danceable rawk. Wrapping up their set with their hit "The Great Escape," they set the stage for the Airborne Toxic Event, who went on just after a brief stage change and for me, a slice of the famous Coachella "Spicy Pie" (that's pepperoni, sausage and jalapeno pizza).
I caught the opening tunes from the Airborne Toxic Event, whose clenched fist ballad "Sometime Around Midnight" proved to be the best soundtrack to my walk to go catch Molotov, whose bombastic and youthful energy had the crowd literally hopping. They're a band that reminds me of a cross between Primus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but in Spanish. With "Puto" as their closing number, they certainly left the best for last, and provided one of the first crowd-pleasing moments of the day.
Since I was already on that side of the field, I shuffled my way through the crowd to catch Los Campesinos! in the Gobi Tent. I must confess, being of Latin-American descent, I once thought Los Campesinos! was a Latin rock act, until the weeks leading up to the festival when I was going through my routine of checking out bands unknown to me. Turns out they're from Cardiff, Wales! Who would've thunk!?! In Spanish, 'los campesinos' means "the rednecks," but there was certainly nothing redneck about their set and the crowd's overwhelming enthusiasm. It's been my experience that the Gobi Tent was reserved for the quieter, more intimate artists, especially since it's the smallest stage of the festival. Los Campesinos! could have easily played any other stage with their bombastic electro funk.
|Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band :: Coachella 2009|
I had just enough time to hit up the Sahara Tent to see Felix da Housecat for a few minutes before heading to see The Black Keys. As we arrived at the already steamy Sahara Tent, my fiancé, Pam, who's a fan of Felix, commented on the pop-worthiness of his tracks, a nice contrast to some of the more industrial, heavy beats normally thumping from that corner of the field.
Arriving back at the main stage, before The Black Keys, I had a chance to grab Heineken #2 and settled in just in time to hear lead singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach carelessly wail a bluesy guitar riff that set the stage for one of the most impressive sets of the weekend. With two beers in me and the temperature rising, the blues-infused aural swagger of the Keys had me bobbing my head and looking for a cigarette. I've quit smoking (for the most part) but I certainly felt like a modern Marlboro man, with Pumas instead of cowboy boots.
By this time, the crowds coming from the main gates were massive, arriving in waves much like a Florida beach during a hurricane. In the spirit of seeing as many bands as possible, I ran out to the Sahara Tent to catch the closing number of The Ting Tings. Just as I suspected, it was the jump rope anthem "That's Not My Name" that had everyone in the tent singing along to every word. Prior to seeing Paul McCartney later that evening, The Ting Tings were leading one of the biggest sing-alongs I'd ever seen. Such a cool song!
|Leonard Cohen :: Coachella 2009|
Again, jetting back to the main stage via the Outdoor Theater, I happened to catch a little of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. There is something to be said about great weather and an inimitable power pop band that just makes you feel good. I was glad to catch them before I snagged a patch of grass in preparation for Franz Ferdinand, who went on to get the now impressively large crowd on their feet and dancing to "Ulysses," "No You Girls" and, of course, the anthemic classic "Take Me Out."
With the sun setting, it was time to slow things down and witness the genius that is Leonard Cohen, whose set proved to be a nice break from the knock-down, crash cymbals and distorted guitars of these "younger" bands. After closing his set with a tear-jerking rendition of his masterpiece "Hallelujah" just as the sun went down, I felt oddly complete and content and re-energized to finish the evening with a little Morrissey, Silversun Pickups and Paul McCartney. All I could think was, "Is this a dream?!"
It was rumored that Moz's set would turn into a Smiths reunion, so there were a few disappointed fans but most were blown away by one of my personal favorite songs of all time, "How Soon Is Now." Can you believe he turns 50 in a month?! I could tell some of the lyrics were changed to reflect his age but his command of the stage showed no signs of aging. Moz can most definitely rock the socks off fans, both young and old!
|Morrissey :: Coachella 2009|
It was tough leaving Morrissey to catch a little of Silversun Pickups but that's usually how the ball bounces at Coachella. You miss something in hopes you're going to catch something even better! Although Silversun Pickups and Morrissey are in a different league, this was my first time seeing the Pickups live, and yes, they rocked! With new album, Swoon, having dropped the week prior to Coachella, most of their set was packed full of new material still unfamiliar to me, but I can tell they've stepped it up and are headed toward iconic status. Feel free to quote me on that!
As the Coachella stage geared up for Sir Paul McCartney, I too geared up for Sir Paul, with an ice-cold beer and the company of a few friends. It was surreal to believe I was about to watch a Beatle perform on one of my favorite stages in live music. With Leonard Cohen, Morrissey and Paul McCartney performing within a few hours of each other, the crowd seemed just a bit older than I'm used to, but McCartney appeals to everyone. I can remember being ten-years-old stealing my dad's Beatles tapes to listen to "Drive My Car" and "Yesterday," among others, and boy did I relive my youthful kleptomaniac moments during a perfect evening in Indio, CA. The set list was deep with classics like "Eleanor Rigby," "Let It Be," "A Day In The Life," "Paperback Writer," "Back in the USSR" and many songs new to me, which nonetheless had me mumbling lyrics I didn't even know. His set was scheduled to end at midnight but the encores were plenty and he played well past 1 a.m. I guess if you've been knighted curfews are merely suggestions.
|Paul McCartney :: Coachella 2009|
Continue reading for Saturday coverage of Coachella 2009...