Words by: Courtaney Wilson | Images by: Steven 'Walt' Walter
Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival :: 04.15.11-04.17.11 :: Empire Polo Club :: Indio, CA
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Friday, April 15
Arriving to the Polo Fields for Coachella 2011 was as awe-inspiring and nostalgic as I had hoped. With last year’s performances from Florence and the Machine, Thom Yorke, and DJ Z Trip still dancing through my mind, I had high hopes for this year’s festival. The venue appeared smoother and more collected this time - the parking was less of a hassle, the arm bracelets slimmed down the lines, and even the porta-potties were constantly stocked with nice smelling hand sanitizer. The flair was there, with the Cauac Twins blasting manmade lightning into the sky, standing out as a jaw-dropping sight. The tents and main stages created an L-shaped fence around the perimeter, with various user-friendly adventures in between, including the Do LaB in all of its sprinkler glory offering a pleasant respite to the blasting temperatures.
With the short sets (45 minutes or less) and close stage proximity, the festival was a music sampling of sorts. My first stop was The Morning Benders, who were a must-see on my list. Despite a rough go with some sound issues, it was hard not to feel like a high school girl crushing over frontman Chris Chu. His melodic voice and endearing smile captured my heart. I would give them another chance in a smaller venue, somewhere where “Excuses” would reverberate and the audience would feel more intimately engaged.
Pains of Being Pure at Heart was my next stop. There was a lot of hype to this band and their performance lived up to it. They were one of the stronger new bands of the day, ranging in sound from heavy to sweet.
Next stop was WarPaint and this rock-n-roll girl band gave a memorable performance. Effortlessly stylish and sexy, these girls rocked it hard, then brought it near and dear to your heart with “Undertow.” From there, I was off to Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, which took memorable to a whole new level. “Menopause Man” is a constant on my playlist and I was eager to see whether the frontman lived up to those lyrics. Where The Morning Benders took their sound issues in stride, Ariel Pink had a progressively fascinating meltdown, and at one point, he worried the crowd that he might light himself on fire with the lighter he held. The show was a spectacle, to say the least.
Lauren Hill brought back the beat, with strong support from friends and her fellow artists (incredible drummer) onstage. She gave her audience what they wanted: A ride down memory lane. She kept engaged with the crowd, standing front and center in a blue and white striped flowing dress. She did one of the best jobs of translating her melodic, slow tempo songs into something a bit more upbeat, catchy and Coachella friendly.
I caught a snippet of Sleigh Bells and I have to be honest, this was the biggest kick in the pants of the festival. When I arrived, they were rocking it. Alexis Krauss was adorned in a Michael Jordan inspired jersey, replacing “Bells” for “Bulls.” And like Jordan, her performance was MVP worthy. The audience was so captivated by their energy that the second you stepped near the tent you felt their electricity pulling you in. They have quickly moved into my MUST-SEE list.
The sun had long set, but the night began with Cut Copy, who infused dance-your-face-off energy into a packed tent on Friday night. Lights and music stole the show and the festival with a build-up like you've never felt, even from the most seasoned DJs. The connection between band and audience left every person feeling like we were one. This was a mind-blowing, 'jumping in sync' performance. Do yourself a favor and check them out. Oh, and bring a pair of dancing shoes.
Crystal Castles was the perfect complement to Cut Copy. Although set in a much bigger venue at the Outdoor Stage, one was equally captivated. There wasn't an audience member who could take their eyes off of this performance. Alice Glass scaled the stage, slinking around while pounding out her voice. It was sexy and eerie all at the same time.
Next it was Gayngs, a mishmash of 20 or so of indie’s best musicians collected on one stage. “Gaudy Side of Town” set the tone of the show with every performer perfectly complementing and contributing. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver was incredible and captivating as per usual, and he brought some excitement with a rumor about joining Kanye during in his Sunday's finale.
Saturday, April 16
Saturday's lineup was promising. Exhausted from the Cut Copy/Crystal Castles Friday night dance party, I was eager to be entertained. I immediately made my way to the Gobi Tent and was instantly charmed by the vocals of The Tallest Man on Earth. Quite the contrary, frontman Kristian Matsson is relatively small, but his voice certainly stands above the largest of men. His Dylan-esque sound and ragged lyrics were surprisingly soothing. A must-see performer, especially in a smaller venue.
After a disappointing show at the SF Fillmore this past February, I was eager to give Radio Dept a second shot. While the performance was improved, they were lacking the needed oomph to win the crowd's heart. However, the keyboardist brought his A-game and was the star of the group. I've heard that they put on good shows, but I've yet to be impressed.
You would be hard pressed to find a single person in the packed Gobi Tent that didn't dance their ass off during the incredible performance by Yelle. This French band hosts an incredibly gorgeous cast, including front-girl Julie Budet. With a stylish, partially shaved 'do, this rail thin beauty was adorned in a red cheetah print catsuit. With a tiny French lesson and incredible crowd interaction, it was apparent that Yelle was a favorite among festival goers.
An inspiring set by the large and unique Broken Social Scene brought the Coachella Stage alive. An incredible performance of “Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl” sent chills down my spine. They are truly a must-see band, never fading with age, and always putting on an incredible show.
Fresh off the stardom and notoriety of “Little Lion Man,” Mumford & Sons came to perform. Their humble demeanor was welcoming to the enormous crowd, and it was apparent that they didn't take this honor for granted for a single moment. They perfectly mixed beautiful ballads and 'kick up your heels' dance songs. Their perfectly played performance of “Little Lion Man” solidified this popular group as one of this year’s favorites.
A quick detour to the Outside Stage brought mystique and entertainment when Empire of the Sun performed. Adorned in costumes that ranged from a swordfish to armored warriors, this band was anything but short on performance mojo. But, the stage might have been misjudged since only those with a good view were able to fully appreciate what was happening onstage. From what I saw, I will definitely check them out again.
Arcade Fire, as expected, completely rocked the night. Their stage presence is unparalleled, with band mates regularly changing instruments and completely owning the entire floor. Despite a four-song slowdown, their hits, such as “We Used to Wait,” had the entire audience fist pumping and singing along. Their finale, complete with a balloon dump from the top of the stage, included an incredible rendition of “Mountains (Beyond Mountains),” belted out by the ever-sweet yet incredibly salty Regine Chassagne - one of the best moments of the festival.
Sunday, April 17
CSS brought the heat to a windy day in the desert. Singer Luísa Hanae Matsushita spent ample time crowd surfing and igniting the intensely hot Mojave Tent.
Best Coast brought a soft feel to an otherwise edgy face. Frontgirl Bethany Consentino began the show by reaching out to a younger generation and inspiring them to take a walk in her shoes. In an earnest voice, she told them that she made her Coachella debut at 18, only to find herself onstage again at 24. That honest sentiment echoed her whole performance and especially her lyrics, which were a perfect representation of the band: visceral yet endearing.
Trentemoller put on a fiesty performance at the Mojave Tent. Accompanied by a talented band, this DJ commanded your attention. He is a master of the slow build and took the crowd along with him on an incredible ride.
I've been eager to hear The Strokes for some time. Although leader Julian Casablancas was a bit off-putting with his snide comments, but his performance made up in energy and personality what he lacked in his crowd interaction. And the ever stylish Nikolai Fraiture wasn't to be forgotten. This band was perfectly in sync, and with incredible hits like “Hard to Explain,” The Strokes gave new definition to the idea of perfectly cool rock ‘n’ roll.
The finale had promise with Kanye West, who has recorded with some of the biggest and most talented musicians in the business. The stage production was incredible - white ballerinas danced throughout the stage and Kanye made a commanding entrance, rising out of the crowd. Yet, Kanye himself seemed to be the death of his show. Despite an incredible performance by Justin Vernon, it felt like a missed opportunity that he couldn't get past his ego and really share the stage. It was abundantly clear that Kanye wanted all of the attention on himself, even taking a five-minute break to tell the fans how much he needed this performance. All in all though, few walked out early, but that likely could be attributed to not wanting the festival to end more than Kanye's actual performance.
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