Greetings and salutations, PopWatchers, from the middle of a grassy polo field in the heart of the desert outside Indio, California, where the 8th annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is well underway. It’s about 5pm, and yours truly is camped out on a grassy knoll in what passes for shade around here, waiting for the appearance of buzz band Silversun Pickups (pictured) on the mainstage and trying to calm down after watching Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party destroy small pieces of my childhood.
My trusty laptop—still dusty from SXSW—and I will be here all weekend, blogging twice a day; check in around this time for the afternoon’s events, and look for a recap of the previous night each morning. (That’s Pacific time. Don’t set your watch by it.) I’ll also try and slap some photos up on our Flickr page, if I ever get any decent shots.
So far, Day 1 has provided plenty of driving, parking, and sweating in a tent to the punky sounds of the Noisettes and Tokyo Police Club. After the jump, I towel off my keyboard to break down the action.
How to explain Coachella—or what my friend Josh is currently calling “an expansive carnival wonderland of fun”—to those of you who’ve never been? It’s part street fair, part art project, part political protest, part miracle of irrigation (my parents’ lawn should be so green), and oh yeah, there’s some rock shows here, too. On five stages over what is now three days, the best and brightest of today’s music scene gather together to play in 100-degree weather for large crowds of increasingly sunburned people. Amazingly, it’s quite a bit of fun. The bands range from top-notch (tomorrow it will be possible to see Fountains of Wayne, the New Pornographers, the Decemberists, Kings of Leon, and Arcade Fire, in that order) to quizzical (who are Flosstradamus, exactly?), but there’s always something for everybody. (Oops, I just lost Josh, who’s wandered off to catch some Of Montreal.)
No sense in trying to come up with a plan of action—you can highlight your schedule and schedule your highlights all you want, but the chaos of getting here and getting around is gonna throw a wrench into your cute little plans no matter what you do. Josh and I rolled out of our Palm Springs condo (tennis rackets available in the lobby, unless Boggle is more your speed!) around 1pm in order to travel the 25 miles out here in time for the 2:30 Noisettes show; by 2:20 we were awkwardly piloting my rental car against the flow of massive pedestrian traffic by the campground, having missed not one but two parking lots after an assortment of 17 year olds in sun hats nonchalantly waved us past. We made it up the dirt road, around the horsey doo-doo, through the bag check line, and across the field just in time to hear Shingai Shoniwa purr into the first few bars of “Count of Montecristo,” her lime green tights glowing through the muggy dimness of the Mojave tent. I’ve advocated for this band on PopWatch before, but I cannot emphasize enough how, even if you’re not itching to buy the album, they are something to see live. Spitting, flailing, posing, and wailing, Shoniwa is a force of nature, the lightning bolt on her bass strap clearly not an affectation. Also not an affectation: The stubborn need for sweaty, shirtless young men to stand literally right in front of me, should I stupidly leave any breathing room between my nose and the scalps of the next row. These young men are committed to this behavior. I cannot thank them enough for reminding me that I am old.
After the snarl and thump of the Noisettes came Tokyo Police Club, those adorable teenage wonders from Toronto (old… I am old) who arrived with an EP under 20 minutes in length but somehow managed to hold down a good 45 minutes of stage time. (I skipped Gillian Welch and Nickel Creek for this, but I’ll blog ‘em both good at Stagecoach next weekend.) They were the first Canadians of the fest, and the flags were out in force for their bite-sized, keyboard-driven tunes, and maybe it’s because Canadians are just so damn nice, but everyone was more than happy to clap along when asked. Note to bands: We suck at clapping along right now. Please do not ask us to. Maybe by Sunday, we’ll be ready to clap along. For the time being, however, it appears we will only speed up and throw you off.
The Tokyo sound isn’t crushingly original—sometimes their rhythms seem to be carbon copies of Bloc Party songs—but it’s certainly vigorous, and there were times I worried that keyboardist Graham Wright might snap his tambourine right in half, so furiously was he committing to that thing. Wright’s an adorable creature, all Ira Glass specs and A/V club physique, and there’s something about him that I think perfectly encapsulates where the kids are at these days. You don’t have to be cool to be in a band these days. You just have to be, to paraphrase Reality Bites, a human being, with deep feelings, who feels things, deeply. I’ll never question the passion of the Tokyo boys, nor will I question their fans, who desperately sang along with “Nature of the Experiment”’s every word. There’s a line in “Your English” that sums it up pretty well: “You don’t need to change / Your future is with us.”
The Silversun Pickups are now in front of me, live and in the flesh after a bunch of TV exposure on stuff like The O.C.. They’re the only band (besides Sunday headliners Rage Against the Machine) that a number of my friends told me I had to see, and I understand why—they’ve got a great Pixies/Smashing Pumpkins thing going on, which is giving me an exceedingly pleasant flashback to the Lollapaloozas I never attended as a child because my parents wouldn’t let me. Lead singer Brian Aubert has an admirably self-deprecating cockiness—he just thanked Björk, Interpol, the Arctic Monkeys, and the Jesus and Mary Chain for closing his show, and implored us all to stick around for those “up-and-comers”—and from here in my ever-increasing shade, their sound manages to simultaneously be calming and invigorating. I wish I was closer. I’d take pictures. But then I’d have to touch sweaty people. OMG, how can I already be sick of touching sweaty people. It’s only Day 1.
A Daily Rundown of Some Things Worth Counting
Technical Difficulties: 2 (Noisettes, broken string; Tokyo Police Club, beach ball stuck in lighting rig)
Girls Carrying Cute Animal Backpacks: 2 (ladybug; turtle)
Girls Wearing Nothing But Bikinis: 1 (blue string)
Unfortunate Tattoos: too many
Threadless T-Shirts Either Josh or I Own: 1 (“Pandamonium”)
Medical-Grade Sunburns: 0… so far.