Sunday, May 1, 2011

Coachella 2011 report: Day 1

Coachella has now officially cemented its place as my favorite (and I think the best) music festival in the country. This was my 6th year attending and looking back it definitely has to be my favorite (2008 is a close second). If you've never been I can't stress enough how much you should if you're at all into the festival thing. Get your tickets early, because it will sell out super fast. It only took 6 days this year and probably will take even less next.

Now in it's second year of using a car-camping system with ins/outs between the festival and camping, as well as making the only ticket available a 3-day pass, it has now attained the all-inclusive festival experience it was lacking in previous years. The stunning setting combined with the top-notch booking spanning just about every genre (still could use more quality hip-hop though) and sprinkled in with beautiful is to me paradise. If you haven't been you really must experience it at least once if you are at all a fan of these types of experiences. Be forewarned though you will need to get tickets early, it sold out in a week this year when tickets went on sale after the lineup was released. 2011 has been the year of the quick music festival sell-out, I would be stunned if Lollapalooza doesn't sell out (lineup comes out tomorrow, look for Young Man on the lineup!) and Bonnaroo most likely will as well. Despite the sell-out this year though Coachella did a fantastic job of dealing with the crowds this year, which got totally out-of-hand last year with some 15,000 people sneaking in or using duplicate tickets. Last year Coachella took 2 steps forward and one back. This year they didn't take any back, and like I said before Coachella officially put itself at the front of the pack of US festivals.

Even though the festival happens Friday through Sunday the journey really begins on Thursday, with travel from Nashville Los Angeles (thank you southwest for the direct flight and 2 free bags, clutch for camping gear) then the drive down to Indio, CA. And a journey it is, meeting old friends and new as we formed the biggest Coachella camping group since I have been going to the festival and finally headed into the camping area. Waiting in line and checking in was a bitch but it could have been worse I guess, took a solid 3 hours to make it to our designated camping zone. After setting up it was basically 5am when we got to sleep, and so began a theme for the weekend of short rests between long days. At 9:30am it's rise and shine, even a good shade setup doesn't keep the heat out. Then you can kind of nap in the shade or the car for a bit, but by noon we were itching to head in and get things started.

Walking in early on the first day early is a unique experience, seeing the grounds clean and empty before they get trampled and trashed by tens of thousands of people. Friday was the perfect weather day, warm but never unbearably hot. First thing we wanted to check out was Tokimonsta, an awesome electronic artist on Flying Lotus' label I had seen at SXSW earlier the year. Her set was a lot of fun and a great way to start the weekend, dipping into samples ranging from Jimi Hendrix to TV on the Radio mixed with laid-back electronic beats. The Sahara tent looked awesome this year, with help from the Creator's Project. Great way to start the weekend.


Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears was next, a blues band I knew little about but had been reccomended by a friend. It was a fun show to check for a while, definitely had some James Brown vibes but it wasn't enough to make me miss !!! who was to play during the latter half of their set. We chilled in the back for a little while and headed over to the Outdoor Theater to meet up with some friends and go see !!!


If you don't know about the music/antics of !!! (pronounced chk chk chk) I highly recommend you check them out, a great dance rock band in the vein of LCD Soundsystem but more kooky. The lead signer Nic Offer is a wild character with some of the best dance moves ever. Not in terms of grace or composure but just for pure the inspiration to get down and groovy. This was my 5th time seeing them and they have yet to disappoint, everyone in the crowd was dancing around despite the intense sun beating down on us. You must check out their records and show if it ever comes around you, so much fun.



After the !!! show we needed a slight breather, we wandered around the grounds for a bit to get some food and check out some of the sights. Next on my itinerary was Omar-Rodriguez Lopez of the Mars Volta and At the Drive-in fame. I used to be a huge At the Drive-in fan, a lesser one of Mars Volta but I do really like their first album even still. Seeing this show was interesting as it turns out Cedric Bixler was part of his group, a member of both bands with Omar. It was so tragic when At the Drive-In broke up, they were definitely one of my favorite hardcore bands ever, and this show was in some ways a painful reminder of how much I missed them. The show was at turns brooding, hard, and psychedelic but they just didn't capture the magic that was At the Drive-In or much less the Mars Volta. Still glad I saw them though.


It's kind of unfortunate I had to witness a Skrillex set twice this year, dude is just not a good DJ but his popularity is sky-high. I swear I could do about 80% of the stuff he does "live" and I'm not a talented DJ by a long shot and his song selection was obvious (sorry Warp 1.9 was played out several years ago, much less in 2011). The tent was crowded and hot as fuck but really I was there to see Odd Future next, and give them another shot after the SXSW fiasco I had witnessed 4 weeks earlier.

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. OFWGKTA. Perhaps the most random acronym to have caught on so quick as if late. The stage was set, albeit a bit late and perhaps a tad big (why they were put in the Sahara dance tent remains a mystery to me), but Coachella could have been a ground-breaking show for Odd Future. They've been tearing up the independent rap-scene lately, and they've got a (potentially) long career ahead of them considering not a one of them is even 18 yet. And to be honest maybe that's the problem here, their immaturity shows and not in a good way. The show started out with a bang, "swag" and "golf wang"chants abound as they launched into "Sandwitches." The momentum was quickly lost though as the group struggled to get their rhythm going, it was hard to distuguish who was rapping at times especially when backing tracks could be heard so clearly. I'm sorry but I just can't take any rap show seriously that uses the vocal tracks of the raps played over the live rapping. I don't care who you are, it's just never going to work. We stayed for about half the show and decided to go check out the last half of Cee-Lo's show.



This was probably the most disastrous run of Coachella, as Cee-Lo was a whole different kind of train wreck. Despite showing up 25 minutes into his set he had not even started yet. He did take the stage soon after we got there, claiming that his flight ran late and he had just arrived. I'm sad to say the show couldn't ever really get off the ground from there, he seemed pissed and complained about his early set time. Seems his travel should have been handled a bit better, he knew when he was supposed to play. Of course he still sounded great, but you could tell he wasn't bringing his A game. It got so bad that they even cut his microphone off at the end, which definitely did not go over well as he left the stage while the band continued to play. At least I got to hear him play one of my favorite tracks off his new album:



After Cee-Lo on the mainstage was Lauryn Hill, we scooted up to get a good spot for we had never seen her before. Obviously the woman is a near legend, her work with the Fugees and on her Miseducation album coupled with the mystique of her being so out of the spotlight this decade. I was very curious about what her set would be like, I'd heard both glowing and completely dismissive reviews of her performances, blaming lateness and weird song restructuring as one of the main problems. I will say though I really enjoyed her set, although with the insanely large band up there with her (I think about 18 people!) sometimes I couldn't help but feel they were there to distract from the fact that her voice has taken a tumble in recent years. Granted she was at such a high level back in the day, but the reworking of her songs often sped them up and didn't allow her to vocalize them as maybe they should have been. Still though I enjoyed the vibe, hearing some of her classic tunes was pretty amazing even if they didn't sound as I remembered them.



Next on our list was Sleigh Bells but we had a little time to kill so we walked by one of the tents on the way and checked out Kele, an artist I had never heard of before or at least so I thought. I came to find out afterward that he was the lead singer of Bloc Party, which makes sense but I definitley didn't put together at the time. His vocals were sharp and he sounded really good with his band, soulful rock and roll emanated from the stage and even though I knew none of his work (as a solo artist at least) I was drawn in. Props to Kele, I need to grab his solo album soon. We stayed for a good chunk before we headed to the adjacent tent for Sleigh Bells.



And what a noise fest they were. If you don't know Sleigh Bells I wouldn't be too surprised, because while they've become really popular over the past couple of years (they played Coachella last year too) they still only have one album of material to speak of. A doozy of a record that is, Treats is a whirlwind of sonic ear-fucking with intense, distorted guitar sounds accompanied by poppy vocal stylings. The final product is unique and definitely not for everyone, especially in the live setting, but I was totally enthralled by their show. It was better than their last at Coachella IMO, granted I was way more familiar with their material at this point but I think they were also better at playing it as well.



Next up in the same tent was Cut Copy, and as soon as Sleigh Bells ended we didn't hesitate to move up in the tent and stake out a great spot. GOOD DECISION! Cut Copy fucking killed it. It is hard to put into words how good their show is, the energy and sheer joy through out the crowd was absolutely sensational. Every song was a hit, people were jumping up and down going bonkers and the energy was nearly unmatched all weekend. Check video below for an example. I was sad to have to leave even one song early but we had a date with the Chemical Brothers.



So I won this ebay charity auction that ended just a few days prior to Coachella that included 2 VIP tickets and a chance to meet the Chemical Brothers. I had been eying it for a while and in the closing moments I sniped it for a relatively reasonable price, about what VIP tickets normally go for. And being that it was a charity auction to help out disaster relief in Japan made it all the more gratifying. I can honestly say this experience certified this as my favorite Coachella day ever.

We met up with the label head of Astralwerks who was to have us taken backstage to the Chemical Brothers trailer. I was slightly nervous at the prospect but Glenn made us feel comfortable off the bat, super cool guy. Once both the Chemical brothers had arrived (they're not really brothers) we made our way inside their trailer. They offered us a drink and their whole crew was really accommodating, conversation flowed nicely and we riffed on how much we disliked the Kings of Leon. Seems they were a sore spot for both of us, their crew were described by the Chemical Brothers' as one of the least accommodating they had ever had to work with, definitely a poor representation of Nashville hospitality. And remember these guys have been touring since the 90's, so they've dealt with A LOT of different artists and their respective crews. All in all it was amazing experience, we hung out for half an hour or so and they were cool enough to grant us a photo-op before we went on our way.


At this point we were totally on cloud nine, especially considering we still had some great music to see. We were able to check out a little of the Aquabats which was a great moment of ska-infused nostalgia, but it was a bit hard to focus at the time. I was really pumped about seeing Nosaj Thing next, so after a couple of songs we made our way over to the small Gobi tent to rendevous with our friends.

And Nosaj Thing rocked it, definitely met my expectation which I had raised pretty high after watching some live videos of the guy. His down-tempo vibe really fit my mood and he used a great collection of original music with samples woven into the mix. It was in the vein of Flying Lotus' performance last year, not quite as epic but a very similiar vibe. I particularly enjoyed his mix of Portishead's Wandering Star. A great lead-in for the main act of the night.




What else is there for me to say about the Chemical Brothers at this point? Having seen them play one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen only 3 weeks prior I knew what to expect, and meeting them just moments before cemented my belief of them being some of the best/coolest musicians on the planet. Their show is nothing less than art, it takes you on a journey and everything is crafted from beginning to end. The only thing that kept this show from being quite as epic as their Ultra show was they had to cut it short due to the asshole Kings of Leon crew and the imposed curfew, which luckily they were allowed to break a little. It was unfortunate they had to start about 30 minutes late, and maybe this caused some people to leave early or not stick around for the whole thing. But those who did were handsomely rewarded.

The Chemical Brothers really have tapped into something. They inspire both dedication and joy in their followers. Long-time followers were well prepared and new believers were made as they launched through a collection of tunes spanning many ranges of emotion. At turna joyous, beautiful, intense, awe-inspiring and even at times bordering on frightening, their music careened throughout their brilliant career while back-dropped by some of the best visuals I'd ever seen. So good in fact I've been inspired myself to cut together a full-length video of their set from all the fan videos out there on youtube. Hopefully they do not mind, it is their content but here it is presented directly from the fans' point of view. It's also an excuse for me to relive the experience again, something I hope to be doing for a long time. Check out the first part here, and see also the dedication of some of the audience members who set out to glow the place up. You'll see what I mean:


If you want to check out my of the videos visit my youtube page, and go ahead and subscribe while you're at it. Overall it was a mind-blowing way to end likely my favorite day at Coachella ever, and if you made it this far through this long entry then hopefully you've begun to understand why someone like me would spend so much time at these type of events and even want to create on of his own one day. Hopefully soon that will be a reality and not just a dream. For now though I will continue to experience and write, and the other day recaps should come a bit quicker because there was just so much to say about this one. And it wouldn't have been half as special without the Chemical Brothers as a part of it, so big thanks and love to them. Go get their new album Further NOW if you don't have it. Spectacular.







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