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Coachella: Friday Night (high)Lights

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Good morning, PopWatchers! It’s creeping up to a high of 103 degrees here in Palm Springs, California– and in a few short hours the music will be even hotter! Bam! You like that? Yeah! Hot! HOT!

Sorry. It’s the sunstroke. Yesterday was the first day of Coachella, and between the bands– including headliner Björk, pictured– the crowds, and the sight of hundreds of skinny hipster boys in short-shorts, I’m a little delirious. Maybe it was just an awkward acclimation period, but Friday didn’t deliver the punch I was hoping for, even if it did come through with the guest star. After the jump, I attempt to explain without getting sunscreen in my eyes. Which I did yesterday. Twice. I’m basically a toddler.

After yesterday’s blog, I packed up my computer and headed into the crowd for the Arctic Monkeys, a band that broke so huge last year they seemed destined for a sophomore slump more devastating than that which drove Rivers Cuomo to cover his windows with aluminum foil and stop having sex… but no! The Monkeys have returned with what is, by all accounts, a terrific record, and while the crowd at the mainstage seemed tentative at first– and largely male, dudes in bucket hats doing the white man’s overbite while holding inflatable guitars and cups of frozen lemonade– they worked themselves into a decent lather by the time “I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor” kicked into high gear. My general impression of the Monkeys was one of enjoyment– but if I wasn’t paying completely close attention, it was difficult to hear when one song ended and the next began. I had this problem with the Tokyo Police Club, too: These kids today, they find a backbeat they like and they stick with it. All the duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh rock ends up thrumming my brain into a corner where it goes fetal after a while. As my festival buddy Josh put it, we are living in an age of specialization. I guess. Sometimes I call it “living in an age where all the music sounds alike.”

Not helping this problem: The reunion of the Jesus and Mary Chain, an event I was hoping would mark the end of this unfortunately ongoing band-reunion trend until I noticed that Crowded House is on the schedule to play on Sunday. So hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over, cause it’s not, and there they were, the Jesus and Mary Chain, playing their special brand of Scottish new wave. (Does anybody still call it “new wave”?) We heard “Some Candy Talking,” we heard “Blues from a Gun,” we heard “Reverence.” We heard a new song that sounded like a combination of “Some Candy Talking,” “Blues from a Gun,” and “Reverence.” No one rioted, and the Reid brothers did not break out into fisticuffs on stage. In fact, Jim Reid barely spoke as the set went on, with the exception of asking us if we were having fun and then saying, “Well. We’ll see what we can do about that.” After a few more songs, certain members of my entourage were comparing his stage presence unfavorably to that of Thom Yorke.

AND THEN IT HAPPENED: Our tiny festival-going dreams came true. The rumors had been swirling all day: Scarlett Johansson would be singing with the Jesus and Mary Chain. What? ScarJo? Live on stage? Could it be true? Ah yes, PopWatchers, it was, and so she appeared, clad in a fedora and paisley go-go dress (um…) and murmuring backup on “Just Like Honey,” which the more trivia-oriented among you will recognize as “that one song from Lost in Translation.” Now, I know ScarJo is scheduled to release an album someday, but if her performance last night was any indication, it may not be a very energetic one. Perhaps I should be blaming the sound guys. Sound guys! The only thing we had to live for yesterday was ScarJo! Her microphone should have at least been on!

As the sun started to set, the grounds lit up like a Christmas tree Kiefer Sutherland knocked over in a drunken fit. They turned on the lightning field, and purple bolts shot across the sky in front of the geodesic trance dome; video projectors turned the VIP tent into an art installation instead of just a place for people to swig vodka-Red Bulls and not pay attention to the bands. In the distance, something spat fire, and the giant spider sculpture revealed a creepy red eye that I swear was following me. We set out across the field to the Outdoor Stage to catch Jarvis Cocker‘s set, blindly navigating the minefield of people who decided that the right place to lie down and take a nap was right in the middle of a field where thousands of people– blinded by the spitting fire and the spider’s eye and the stage lights– were trying to walk. The fact that I didn’t crush someone’s head like an underboiled Easter egg with my clumsy flip-flopped feet is a tiny miracle.

The terrifying walk of death was worth it, though, just to see the former Pulp frontman point out the geodesic trance dome and say, “I’ll be there with my top off later on.” [insert girls screaming.] “That’s a shriek of fear, isn’t it? That would be the correct response.”

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m woefully uninformed when it comes to Jarvis Cocker/Pulp, but what I saw last night has converted me and as soon as I return to civilization, I’m off to the record store. I loved his songs, with their particularly British mix of humor and painful truth (I should have the words to “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” tattooed on my forehead). He was gregarious and self-effacing and acknowledged his tendency to ramble which caused him to ramble more, and he introduced each and every one of his songs by name– always the fastest way to a concert reviewer’s heart. Unfortunately, he also started his set over 20 minutes late, essentially squandering the best time slot of the night, as everyone who’d wandered over because they had nothing better to do had to leave about three songs in to make it to Interpol. (There, they discovered Carlos D. has grown a mustache and taken to wearing bolo ties; Josh reports that the new stuff is good, albeit slightly more instrumental than before, and that Paul Banks sounds more nasally in person. Luckily, thanks to Chris Richardson, “nasally” is now a form of singing.)

Another side effect of Cocker’s tardiness: He made Sonic Youth late, too, and then when they finally took the stage, Kim was M.I.A., eventually materializing a couple minutes later with the excuse that the bouncers wouldn’t let her on stage, because she’s a girl. (??) And this was when I started getting annoyed. Of course Jarvis had apologized for his tardiness– at length, even– but Coachella is a delicately-timed system and dammit, Cocker, you forced me to cut my Sonic Youth experience short, in order to make it to Björk. And I don’t like being forced to leave Sonic Youth shows, PopWatchers, especially if they’re going to do crazy-awesome things like start the set with “Candle.” So here’s where the complex Coachella math comes into play: I saw Sonic Youth about five times last year, and I’ve never seen Björk. Björk was a headliner, Sonic Youth was not; Björk has a new album out, Sonic Youth’s is about a year old. You can see how the conclusion was forgone. I stayed for “Incinerate” and “Reena” and then sadly, slowly, picked my way back across the field to the big stage, and waited for the Icelandic fireworks to begin.

Björk! Way more fun than I expected it to be, actually. I’ve never succumbed to the charms of the former Sugarcube, and I don’t know any of her songs outside of “It’s Oh So Quiet.” Still, I enjoyed her recent SNL performance and felt comfortably in the know when she kicked off her set with “Earth Intruders.” Accompanied by her new best friends– those Polyphonic Spree-esque women with their trumpets and french horns– Björk took the stage clad in a giant wig vaguely reminiscent of some of Princess Amidala’s finer attire, and promptly took it off so as to more freely and interpretively dance. Surrounded by flags, her band evoked an advancing medieval army, and the brass-heavy drone turned songs like “All Is Full of Love” into ancient madrigals. If I had any sort of personal relationship with her music, I suspect I would have been entranced. From my post atop a picnic table in the increasingly-obnoxious VIP tent– where I will not go today, lest I punch someone’s lights out– I could hear the cheers from the front of the crowd washing across the desert, and I envied those people their joy.


Our intrepid famous-person spotter had a good day Friday, catching glimpses of Danny DeVito, Drew Barrymore (sharing a hug with Jenny Lewis backstage!), Jessica Alba and her squeeze Cash Warren, ScarJo (natch!), Adam Brody, Fabrizo Moretti, and Cameron Diaz. This last sighting was super exciting because, as Shirley wrote this morning, “It is entirely possible Cameron watched, or at least caught a glimpse of, Scarlett Johansson singing with J&MC (Cam was seen at Jarvis Cocker at 9:15). Or, maybe not, considering Scarlett stars in JT’s video and the song ‘Just Like Honey’ closed out Lost in Translation, where the blonde bimbo actress character was rumored to be inspired by Cameron.” Talk about your complex Coachella math, PopWatchers. My stars.