Ah, Sunday, how I feared one day you’d come. Your presence means Coachella is nearly over, and that this magical desert Brigadoon will once again disappear into the mist for another long, lonely year. It also means that the big Rage Against the Machine show is tonight, and I have not yet decided whether I am going to remain studiously aloof and stand outside that fray, or if I’m going to let my inner 15 year old enjoy the slamming, fist-pumping pit action I never got in my teens (for reasons I’ll explain later). I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 hours to come up with a decision. If this is the last you hear of me, you’ll know what I went with.
Right now, though, it’s time to settle down on the cool grass and listen to some Willie Nelson– happy birthday, sir!– while I reflect upon my afternoon so far. After the jump, Kaiser Chiefs, Grizzly Bear, Explosions in the Sky, and why a Rodrigo y Gabriela (pictured) show should be mandatory for anyone who’s ever taken a guitar lesson.
Aw, Willie’s playing “Pancho and Lefty.” Is this song sad because Merle’s not here, or is this song just sad? “All the Federales say… they could’ve had him any day… they only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose…” That takes me back.
Also taking me back (nice segue, Whittlz!) was the sounds of The Feeling as Josh and I rolled in this afternoon: They were playing “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which for some reason at the time I kept thinking was a Thomas Dolby song, something which I now realize is patently untrue. Whatever. I really had to pee. Anyway, Feeling = cute, flirty little Beatles-esque thing that put a spring in my step as we crossed the field to Asian Village, or whatever we’re calling the food area that’s got rice-paper screens and bamboo around the tent. There, we snagged a little lunch during the hyper hip-hop of The Coup before shuffling next door to whirl with the dervishes of Grizzly Bear. As their wails disappeared into the sun, we could hear Explosions in the Sky starting their instrumental genius on the mainstage, and trekked back across to lounge in the shade.
Attention: Willie would like all you mothers out there to remember that allowing your children to grow up and become adults of the cattle-herding persuasion is just a bad call. A good call, however (damn, Whittlz!), would be to pick up an Explosions in the Sky CD at your earliest convenience, even if it’s just the soundtrack to the Friday Night Lights movie. Their hour-long set was uninterrupted by chatter, just waves of guitar effects washing over us, valleys of sweet silence that rose into crescendos, cresting and breaking over a surprisingly loud crowd…
My god, I love you, Willie Nelson. The man just literally sang, “I’m crazy… crazy for feelin’ so lonely…” then tossed out a perfect “Thank you very much” to the smattering of familiar applause. It’s like I’ve traveled back in time to 1983. I am in heaven right now.
After Explosions had collapsed on the stage, thanked us for coming, and sweetly expressed a hope that we’d come back someday, Josh and I headed for the non-Rage show I was most looking forward to this afternoon: Rodrigo y Gabriela, who missed SXSW due to a conflict at the U.S./Mexico border. (You might remember an interview I did with Apostle of Hustle’s Andy Whiteman, who wound up filling in.) I’d heard endless things about what these former thrash metal bandmates– one guy and one lady– could do with a classical guitar, and if I hadn’t overused the word “mind-blowing” yesterday, I’d use it again now. The Mexico City natives (since relocated to Dublin, Ireland) are a strictly instrumental duo, in which Rodrigo (he’s the guy) plays these amazing flamenco solos while Gabriela (she’s the lady) handles the steady background and tosses out devil horns; they both manage to pound a heavy rhythm line using their instruments and their feet… hell, I don’t know how they were making half the sounds they were making. Gabriela’s strumming technique is not to be believed; she cocks and flails her wrist and spins her fingers around the strings, thwacking them in a circular pattern. I’m sure I’m not doing a very good job of describing that; here’s a video that might help. I’m also probably not doing a very good job of describing their music, but for the record, even Rodrigo admitted “We have no f—ing clue what we play” in the middle of the show. They peppered their already-flavorful set with tidbits of metal songs– a little Metallica here, a little Rage there (IT’S JUST ANOTHER BOMBTRACK)– led the crowd in a singalong of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” and in the most stunning moment of the set, played an absolutely gorgeous version of “Stairway to Heaven,” weaving traditional sounds and nightclub jazz into the too-familiar solos and showing all of us in the crowd who have ever thought it was a good idea to play that song just because we’ve taken a few lessons that it is not, unless you can play it like that. Then Roderigo played slide with his beer, and I was sold. I glanced behind me– Josh and I were standing just inside the back of the packed tent– and realized that the audience was spilling 10, 15 rows behind us, craning their necks to see where this music was coming from. And, as I promised, we have in fact gotten better at clapping along.
Willie’s son Lukas is currently playing the fierce guitar blues of “Texas Flood.” I don’t know why I’m surprised, but he’s really, really good! He also looks kind of like a hipster! How amazing and odd and wonderful all at once!
Finally, before coming over here, we checked in with the Kaiser Chiefs, stayed long enough to hear “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” and “Ruby” and “Modern Way.” They were in good spirits and the crowd towards the front was merrily pogoing along, but I kind of think they’re a night-time band. You know. Better post-cocktail, when you and your chums are out on the town looking for a good time. Something about blinding sunlight wasn’t quite right for their dancey sound, and though frontman Ricky Wilson tried to get everyone “from the spider to the… onion things” to clap along, I think a number of people were just killing time until we got where we are now: Willie.
Willie is singing a song he wrote after a recent bout with illness called “Superman.” “I ain’t Superman,” goes the chorus, but I believe I shall respectfully disagree. Everyone out here– with the exception of the disinterested teens standing in front of me, pondering their scruffy hairstyles– is having a grand ol’ time. Once again, happy birthday, Mr. Nelson. Many very happy returns of the day.
And I shall return later, PopWatchers (how did you get so good at transitions, Whittlz??), if I survive the rage. I WANNA BE JACKIE ONASSIS I WANNA WEAR A PAIR OF DARK SUNGLASSES I WANNA BE JACKIE O O PLEASE DON’T DIEEEEEE…