Thursday, May 04, 2006

coachella, day one: don't fight, it's better if you don't fight

Living in Los Angeles it's easy to forget the heat, particularly in April. Sure, it's been warm here, but there's springtime heat then there's desert heat, the kind of environmental terrorismthat crawls inside your clothes, gets in your lungs and crawls all over you. That's the kind of heat promised and delivered in the Coachella Valley, home to Indio, date shakes, golf, and, for some reason, the biggest music festival in the country.

Armed with about a quart of sunscreen and the biggest, silliest safari hat I could find i set out notebook in hand to cover the heap-big event, teamed with two other writers to help one of our editors blog the whole show, backwards and forwards.

The four of us divvied up the day and tried to accomodate each of our preferences (James Blunt was used punitively). The first few acts went by quickly. The Section Quartet did their thing, giving Radiohead and Zeppelin the string treatment, which I have to say was a pretty nice way to kick things off. It was certainly preferable to Head Automatica, a decent enough band that at times bore a fairly uncomfortable resemblence to Faith No More for my tastes. Yes, Faith No More. You just thought the '90s were over, but they're sneaking up on us too. Just wait until The Arcade Fire's next record comes out sporting some wicked slap-bass.

Anyway, the next act was Rob Dickinson, formerly of Catherine Wheel. Though Dickinson came to the Mojave Tent's stage with just an acoustic guitar at his side (and, it bears emphasis, no bandmates), he manipulated and looped that acoustic until he conjured some of that old 'Black Metallic' magic. You didn't think an old shoegazer was going to play a festival effectless, did you?

Next up was the Walkmen, and by now the heat was starting to take me out for a drink and ask about my family. I've liked a lot of what I've heard from these guys, so I was excited to check them out, but I've got to say...they let me down a little. The music was good, of course, even better than I would've expected with these little keyboard touches that reminded me of the Band (especially teamed with the nasally vocals), but there was something amiss. And, I have to say, I think that something was Hamilton Leithauser.

"The Rat," by The Walkmen

Hamilton. I get it. You're from New York. You're a sharp-dressed guy with an indie pedigree. This isn't your first time on a big ol' stage so you're not taking any shit from this little desert fest or anything tied with it. But behind you your band's laying down some pretty urgent stuff, especially on "The Rat," which unfortunately was the one time your pretty good-sized crowd started nodding their heads. Up until then it seemed like they were waiting for some cue to really get into you guys. Sure, it's hot, but do you think you can take the time to maybe spit out your gum, and, oh, maybe take your hands out of your pockets? Give us a little something. I know you can still bark those vocals out of you and do some damage to that larynx, but can you put your body into it? I'm old fashioned. Make me think this means something to you. By the way--snazzy suit.

After that my editor wanted me to meet him in the Mojave Tent to check out Wolfmother. I'd heard a few songs so I thought I had them sussed out as a solid '70s tribute band, even if they're one that somehow wound up on an episode of "The OC," rubbing skinny skunky shoulders with the likes of Keane and Death Cab. But I wasn't prepared for what was boiling over inside that tent:

It was like the last three decades never happened. Metal, hard rock, whatever you want to call it, was back, but not dressed up in this shrugging, "Yeah, well, you know, 'classic rock'" veneer of irony that I'd cut my teeth on in the early '90s. This was unapologetic rawk, for want of a better term.

It was Deep Purple. It was Blue Cheer. It was AC/DC and Sabbath all huddled together in Spicoli's van outside a Led Zeppelin concert, laughing and pushing against the walls, rocking it back and forth as the music gets louder and louder. Even Spicoli, high as he is, wants 'em to stop because it's starting to get scary, but it's no use. What are you gonna do now?

"Pyramid," by Wolfmother

If you're packed shoulder to shoulder in a sweaty tent while a thin Australian with Thin Lizzy's afro is twirling his microphone around him (!), bouncing around like he never knew it became ridiculous to do such things, you just scream as loud as you can, maybe throw some devil horns in the air. Leave your sense of irony at home, it's too hot today.

More day one lunacy tomorrow.


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