Thursday, May 11, 2006

coachella, day 2, part iii: at war with the elephant

Strange goings on by this time at the desert fest. The guest of honor was about to arrive. The ceremony--with apologies to all bloated drunken frontmen in the world--was about to begin. Madonna. Sweet mother of God, Madonna. Did you hear, she was going to be in the the dance tent. Oh. My. God. The dance tent. Close enough to touch, smell, taste if you can for a second set aside the 20-30,000 sweaty bodies all around you. Madonna. What will she do? What will she play? My god, I heard she arrived by helicopter, did you hear that too?

I didn't care. I was assigned to cover Mogwai, and I couldn't have been happier. My thoughts on Madonna are, perhaps, better left for another post, but I'm not a fan. Her set became this polarizing point of the whole weekend--"Are you going to see Madonna? Or Tool?" Carrie Brownstein asked during Sleater-Kinney's set (even though they weren't playing opposite eachother--though you can be sure those who were seeing one weren't seeing the other). It was a social barometer. My meter could be read at an decidedly low-pressure point with regards to Madge. And I wasn't alone.

It just seemed like it as I crossed the polo grounds. Sure, there were the light-stick adorned folks above who I saw walking by, but for the most part the grounds were deserted, like 1:30 pm deserted. At one point it seemed there were more empty water bottles on the ground that non-Madonna fans. I couldn't bear to think what that tent must've been like. And she hadn't even taken the stage yet.

Once I reached the Outdoor Theater I was a little worried for Mogwai. I'd seen them before so I knew they'd be okay, but would they draw the crowd they deserved? And, whatever crowd they drew, how would they react to being paired opposite Madonna? I mean, this is a band that once had t-shirts for their '99 T in the Park festival that simply read "Blur: Are Shite." They don't shy away from confrontation. Would they crank up their sound past their already face-melting levels and just try and bore a hole clear through the earth? Would they transform "Like a Virgin" into a death-metal anthem (like it isn't already)? My mind reeled.

Surprisingly, they didn't once address who was playing across the field or (it seemed) adjust their set in any way. Why would they, now that I think about it. It's not like you have any consciousness of anything else going on around you when Mogwai are playing. In fact, they didn't even announce their presence with authority (with apologies to Ebby Calvin), instead opting to open with the pensive and comparitively gentle "Hunted by a Freak."

But then someone kicked the doors open.

"Glasgow Mega-Snake," by Mogwai

I'd spent all day in the sun, two days in fact. That polo field, particularly on Sunday, was a hot, dry place. When Mogwai started with their business of building-toppling instrumental rock, I felt the first breeze I'd felt all day. I'm pretty sure they conjoured it with just the sheer physical force coming out of their amplifiers. In fact, I saw more than a few fans near me just raising their hands in front of them, arms outstretched, hoping to grab hold of the big sound slapping them about the head and shoulders. I'm pretty sure they did.

Three songs in they had a crowd. Four songs in and they unleashed the above song from "Mr. Beast," the most furious four minutes I've ever spent at a concert. I'm not sure if I've heard of a more appropriately named song as this sounded like Slayer scoring a monster movie, and the monster was 'the good guy.' Once the song ended (abruptly, like someone shutting a door in front of your face), more than a few people around me were just in disbelief, shaking their heads and screaming "Oh my God!" Mogwai was born for a stage like this where there are no walls to force their sound into itself, those three guitars can just climb out of their starters blocks and run as far as the wind can take them. Loud? Yes. But any louder than they would be ordinarily? Absolutely not. Madonna didn't matter, and neither did anything else. Cheers, Mogwai.

Conclusion coming soon, with a few scattered thoughts on Massive Attack and Tool...


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