The Coachella Diaries, Part Two

Joseph Kleinschmidt

After chatting with Jake Luck of Gayngs and Leisure Birds about Coachella, I’ve decided he accurately described the festival experience. He mentioned feeling like a zombie, seeing band after band from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. This is not to say my time at Coachella was a chore. The thirty plus hours of music felt like it went by faster than Cee Lo Green’s twenty-minute half-assed set. (Apparently, he arrived late into his timeslot without having a sound check. I missed it, but I imagine “F— You” put on a whole new meaning for fans singing along.) I guess I just mean I felt I reached a zombie trance as my attention span would drift from stage to stage. Then again, I’m glad I didn’t revert into mindlessly watching Jimmy Eat World or fun. for more than thirty seconds. My sister did. Her name will not be mentioned in order to protect her identity.

I neglected to describe in Part One Robyn’s stellar performance that preceded my account of the Chemical Brothers show. Fans sang along while the symmetrical Devo-like band played back up synthesizer and drums. Also, I didn’t mention Gayngs’ midnight Coachella debut, which I think should launch their national following. I have more on that here.

Anyway, my Saturday started with seeing part of Trampled by Turtles raucous main stage show in the early afternoon. For playing at 1 p.m., the band melted faces, causing break out dance circles. Well, face melting as you can get with banjos, fiddles, and mandolins. They prove that this can even be a lot. Back to the bluegrass dancing—I keep going back to these hipsters dressed in Native American regalia, but it really bothered me. Anyway, a group with a feather requirement danced in the hot midday sun to Turtles’ set. I admit I didn’t Turtles’ entire set. I plan on seeing them at the Animal Arena for Spring Jam next Thursday, the 28th. After first article—my profile on Cults, I was intent on seeing the duo perform.

Speaking of requirements, Cults had a hair requirement goin’ on. Every member—excluding the drummer—had shoulder length metal band hair. I pictured “Go Outside” and “You Know What I Mean” to make great afternoon pieces, the simple melodies with reverb in the backdrop, diffusing into the hot air. I was slightly off. I didn’t anticipate the band’s lack of experience. The indie credibility of blogs can’t help some sound mishaps they had early on. I felt the guitars’ fuzz gave a harsh, challenging sound to otherwise simple hooks of the glockenspiel heard on recordings. There’s something they can’t mess with live: Madeline Follin’s brilliant voice. No amount of fuzz covered the true prowess of her innocent vocals. “Stay hydrated,” she said from the stage. “Stay high,” said the bassist. More on Cults here.

Next in the Gobi tent after Cults, the Tallest Man on Earth performed to smitten girls and boys. Kristian Matsson delivered the folk all by his lonesome, save for his acoustic guitar. His talent on guitar and distinct voice do bring Bob Dylan comparisons up, but that suggests he mimicks or worse, parodies Dylan. Neither is the case. Still, lovelorn fans I spotted on camera might disagree, but every Tallest Man song sounds pretty similar. This is not to say it’s a bad song he’s playing; the flannel wearing Swede can perform. His talent caused me to stay his entire set—and I don’t even find him particularly attractive. The guitar helps, though.

Both the Radio Dept. and Glasser played the Gobi tent afterwards, so I stayed again for these bands. I felt the light-hearted, dreamy pop of the Radio Dept. might not have captivated the crowd as much as Glasser’s intensity, but the shoe-gazers still held strong. With a veil covering her entire face and dress, Cameron Mesirowof Glasser belted songs “Home” and “Apply” while constantly shifting the transparent coverall. Her original recordings came from GarageBand, an Apple program, but the ferocity of the discordant and percussive songs can’t all be captured within a download. Something wild and unpredictable pervades a live performance of Glasser—a guy ran up to me during one song to yell at me, “Where is she from? I need to find out where she’s from!”

Back to the main stage for me, I set out to watch Broken Social Scene and Bright Eyes. Both bands gave compelling sets, both with special niches within the indie rock universe. Since I don’t have anything particular to say about either (or any unique insight), I want to revisit the New Pornographers’ brilliant sun-setting concert. Anyway, the other two bands dominated the main stage while the Pornographers rocked out the slightly smaller outdoor stage. Neko Case and company played “All the Old Showstoppers” and “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” to the masses. The band name might suggest otherwise, but the quality duets of Case and Carl Newman convey unity, something familial. 

The big dilemma of the festival: Big Audio Dynamite or Wire. Mick Jones’ legendary status signaled a clear superiority to the art-punk of Wire, even though I was engrossed in Pink Flag and 154 in high school. Obsessed also with the Clash, I needed to see Jones in B.A.D. I listened to part of the set before leaving to find a good spot for Animal Collective, then eventually Arcade Fire. But, B.A.D. opened with “Medicine Show,” performing some “classics” within their catalog dating back to the 1980s. Unfortunately, Mick Jones’ post-Clash project receives apostrophes because they were never commercially successful. How could Jones top the Clash, anyway? That wasn’t the point of the set; the mood was cheerful and bright like Jones’ other project, Carbon/Silicon. His singing hasn’t changed really; it might just be missing the desperation the Clash brought.

Animal Collective’s set included giant floating cubes with psychedelic images of the band members in an LSD-esque camera filter above the main stage. If that wasn’t weird enough, the group never stopped in between songs, performed a set largely of new material, and alienated casual listeners unfamiliar with the experimental rockers. “Summertime Clothes” and “Brother Sport” held me over, but the reverb covered much of the vocals, obscuring words. If anything, the mysterious group developed anticipation within the crowd for Arcade Fire.

I first listened to Arcade Fire in high school, in the back of a car. Something so perfect and fitting makes the band a quintessential young band to me. They’ve matured, Win Butler’s now 31 (this was his birthday), but they still focus on “kids” and “children” and “the suburbs” within their lyrics. Maybe I felt like I was revisiting the past, the grandeur and glory that Arcade Fire conjure up so well. The Canada band defines something simultaneously ugly and beautiful about childhood that I can only vaguely describe. “City With No Children” echoes painful glimpses of the future while “Wake Up” exudes a euphoric opus. In this context, I experienced the band’s set like no other artist at Coachella. Butler was completely sincere in his stage presence and transitions between songs. He remarked on the band’s own past, saying how unbelievable it was to be headlining after Animal Collective. The crowd “woke up” with the band’s own genuine chacter. And, with their last song before the three-encore set, “Wake Up.” Beach balls toppled the crowd with the first chords of their anthem, awakening nostalgia in the crowd. At least, it did for me.