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Your Coachella friends and neighbors, explained! (Saturday wrap-up)

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I had a phenomenal day at Coachella on Saturday, PopWatchers, one that’s going to be near impossible to top, today or at any time in the future. From the wake-up pop of Fountains of Wayne to the come-down buzz of the Rapture, I danced like a crazy fool in flip-flops for nearly 10 straight hours. And while I’m a little sad I missed the out-of-control Girl Talk set (where Paris Hilton was rumored to be among the 50 scantily-clad people dancing on a stage that was described to me as “where the Cobrasnake threw up”), I regret nothing. Not even the strange, spastic thing my arms started doing in the middle of the Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” I certainly don’t regret missing the reportedly awesome Kings of Leon, because 1) I enjoyed them plenty two months ago and 2) the Decemberists changed my life.

Yet amidst all that greatness, my biggest epiphany occurred, ironically, at the beginning of the set I was least excited to see: When the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage, it was as though the skies opened and God spoke directly to me. Although kind of not in the way that you’d think.

Read on, darling PopWatchers, for an explanation, plus: Arcade Fire! LCD Soundsystem! Black Keys! And reports from our celebrity and fashion correspondents! All that and more… after the jump!

So for all my enjoyment of this year’s festival, I’ve still spent an inordinate amount of time wandering around, staring at people, and trying to figure out what, exactly, is wrong with them. And I’m not just talking about the usual fascinations (people who can’t apply sunscreen properly, people dressed inappropriately for their body type, people who puke and just keep on walking) or the serial song-samplers (reports from Peter, Bjorn and John indicate the place pretty much emptied after they played “Young Folks”). No, this year I have been truly amazed at all the people, the thousands and thousands of people, who appear to have no abiding interest in the music at hand. Whether screaming nonsense to their buddies during Björk’s set, posing in their bikinis for photographers during the New Pornographers, or jostling past you to stand closer to the stage and then spending the entire set gabbing and blowing bubbles, these people have made the last two days in many ways a challenge for those of us who actually, you know, want to see bands. My question all along has been, Why would anyone put up with all of Coachella’s challenges– heat! sun! expensive food! traffic! tall guys in sombreros who stand right.in.front.of.you. at every.single.show!– if they weren’t intensely committed to the performances? I’m certain there are other places in the Palm Springs area where one could sun themselves while drinking to excess. And I’m certain the tickets to get into those places are not $100.

For me, this phenomenon really came to a head during the Arcade Fire’s set, an especially historically significant show, given that the Montreal collective’s appearance at Coachella 2005 launched them into stratospheric levels of indie rock fame. In my opinion, they more than rose to this occasion. I could tell because once again, the instant I heard the first few notes of “Keep the Car Running,” I was back in the field, skipping towards the stage, adrenaline rushing through my veins and forcing me to move, move, keep moving. I found an empty patch of grass off to the side, dropped my backpack for the first time all weekend, and, against my better judgment, did the dopey hippie dance I think I picked up at art school. Win et. al. surged into “Black Mirror,” and I kept flailing, and then I heard a pipe organ, and I knew it was time to get serious. From out of my cargo short pockets I pulled: Blackberry, cell phone, notebook, pen, pack of cigarettes, car keys, wallet, digital camera. I placed these things on the ground next to my backpack. And I lost all control. By the time “Wake Up” came along, my calves were burning from bouncing, my throat was dry from singing, and I could feel the sweat pooling in unfortunate places, but I didn’t care. I looked up on stage and Win and Richard and Régine were sweaty and looked exhausted, too, but Win took the microphone and plunged into the first rows of the crowd as his wife imped and grimaced for the cameras, and if they could continue, playing their guitars and keyboards and hurdy-gurdys like the fate of the free world rested in their hands, then the least I could do was go all spastic during “Power Out” and chime in on the “Hey!”s of “No Cars Go.” This was the very, very least I could do, to pay them back for all they were giving me. If the Decemberists were a spiritual awakening, this was transcendence.

But even as I was wigging out, a little part of my brain was looking around at my friends and neighbors on the grass. This is what I saw: Several couples taking digital pictures of themselves in various positions. Many people lying on their backs, staring at the sky. A variety of heated conversations involving cocktails and marijuana. Girls wandering aimlessly in packs, talking on their cell phones. Mostly, I saw people casually paying attention, if at all. There was mild clapping. There was the occasional wooo. But where the folks up front were jumping and pumping their fists in the air (and, according to Josh, being hosed down by security), by the time it got back to where I was– about even with the sound board– folks looked like they were waiting for a bus.

So, okay, I get it: You don’t have to like the Arcade Fire. You don’t even have to pay complete attention to the Arcade Fire. But if you want to chat, or fight, or make calls, or grope each other, isn’t there someplace else you can go, away from those of us who are trying to enjoy this? Why are you here?

(This is the part where God spoke to me.)

For after the Arcade Fire left me broken, jelly-legged and schvitzing in a field, it was time for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I had decided to stay for a couple songs– they were the headliners, after all, and it is my job to cover the headliners– so I used the set break to send off yesterday’s blog from the press tent. Just as I was emerging from VIP, a cheer rose from the crowd unlike any I’ve ever heard, a deep, needy, masculine cheer, and I looked up to see that 3/4 of the RHCP had taken the stage. They began a funky instrumental as I started walking back towards the mainstage, but I suddenly found my progress slowed almost to a stop by a phenomenon I was in no way prepared for: Every single person in the field was standing, riveted, staring at the stage. The kids who’d been dry humping on blankets were up. The stoned nappers were awake, pointing their spliffs towards the sky. A pack of girls ran past me to get closer, one of them tripping and sprawling on the ground in her haste; she got right up and kept on running. I looked back at the VIP section to see a sea of white faces beyond the fence, packed in like sardines, not a soul distracted or otherwise occupied. And as I took a slow lap of the grounds– as far back as the food court, as far east as the trance dome– the view didn’t change: The entire festival had come to a halt, anticipating the arrival of Anthony Kiedis. When he finally emerged and the band launched into “Can’t Stop,” I heard a crack above me and looked up to see a large man with a long white beard, who closed his eyes, sighed, and then said, with some resignation, “This, Whitney. This is why they are all here.”

I’ve never been impressed with the Chili Peppers live, but something about the Dave Grohl-esque mustache Kiedis is currently sporting must be acting as a kind of magical talisman to ward off his persistent intonation problems. And the songs themselves– “Dani California,” “Otherside” (which inspired a throaty groan of satisfaction from the men around me), “Higher Ground,” and my current fave, “Snow (Hey Oh)”– were rich and full, anchored by the thwacking of Flea’s bass lines. Even John Frusciante’s weird falsetto takes on Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” (seriously) were kind of pretty. I wandered to LCD Soundsystem (they sounded good, but I couldn’t fit into the tent and didn’t feel like shoving anyone), dropped in on Sparklehorse (poor little guys were playing to like 120 people), but kept getting pulled back to the mainstage. By the time they hit the high-school singalong of “Under the Bridge,” there was no fighting it anymore. The Chili Peppers had won. The beast was sated.

My last full show of the night was the Black Keys, who were mind-blowing, but I’m out of adjectives. I’ll just keep saying “mind-blowing.” It’s a two-man southern blues outfit from Ohio, similar to the White Stripes with none of the artistic pretension: Dan Auerbach slides, hammers, and nearly strangles his guitar to create the most mind-blowing sounds, while Patrick Carney creates entire mind-blowing worlds on his kit. They are my new indie-rock-boy crushes, and I wish you all could have been there to hear this show. The good news is that, post-Chili Peppers, everyone who was there to hear the show was there because they wanted to hear the show– not because they were saving a spot for something later or killing time until the headliners– which lead to the most mind-blowing cheering (per capita) I’d heard so far. There was a real feeling of cameraderie as we all bounced and bobbed our heads and hollered for more at this late-night hootenanny, which ended (too soon) with the stomp of “Have Love Will Travel,” and sent us all jukeing out into the night.

Whew. Is that enough for ya? It was certainly enough for me. I’m rather thankful it’s a slow Sunday today, all leading up to the reunion RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE OMG. Two thoughts on that: Having experienced the Chili Peppers’ fans, I’m a little worried about who Rage will bring out of the woodwork, but then again, the band I was most excited to see coming in here was Rage, so I’m not one to talk. And second, I’d better hurry and come up with more adjectives. I don’t think a blog consisting solely of F— YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME and WE DON’T NEED THE KEY WE’LL BREAK IN written over and over again will suffice.

LORI MAJEWSKI HAS STOPPED LOOKING AT FACIAL HAIR AND STARTED LOOKING AT TORSOS

“On the whole, both sexes were all about wearing as little clothing as possible. But every once in a while, there’d be a fun tee to give your eyes a rest from the seemingly unending sea of flesh. Four of our favorites:
Everything you like, I liked five years ago
Modern art makes me want to rock out
NKOTB: Summer Magic Tour ’90
Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger in a Huey Lewis and the News Tour ’85 tee”

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHERE THE FAMOUS PEOPLE ARE, ASK SHIRLEY HALPERIN

“Got the lowdown on the Scarlett – J&MC hook-up from a friend who was hanging out with her late last night. Scarlett was telling everyone (including Drew B.) that the guys “just called” her and asked if she would do it. They thought it would be a good fit with the whole Lost in Translation connection. She was also decribing how nervous she was just before she went on stage.

For Kings of Leon, Drew [with new beau Spike Jonze in tow] was standing on the side of the stage while [ex-bf] Fab [Moretti] was on the other. Drew also met Regina Spektor on sidestage and was gushing about her set earlier.”

Other sightings: Nicky Hilton. Paris Hilton. Tara Reid. Elijah Wood. (Not all in the same group.)

Unconfirmed star rumor of the day: Britney Spears. [Whittlz notes: I wouldn’t be surprised. Wigs are a popular fashion statement here.]