Let’s start here: There were a lot more people at Coachella on Saturday, PopWatchers. And after standing in line to have my bag rummaged through (and my granola bar confiscated), then hoofing it across the field to try and take pictures of MGMT only to find myself thwarted by a poorly-organized security gate and dozens of sweaty, immovable bodies– “Why don’t you [expletive] photographers just share pictures so you don’t have to [expletive] bother us?” one boy asked me, as I tried to squeeze past him into the photo pit– it became abundantly clear that this was no longer Jack Johnson’s music festival. Over the course of the day, I saw four men being perp-walked in handcuffs, three flashings, two people vigorously dry-humping, and one woman hysterically attempting to enter VIP through the exit, which resulted in her being thrown to the ground and hog-tied by several security guards as she screamed bloody murder.
The catalyst for all this madness? Well, Prince, I’d assume, though the chaos began hours before his headlining set, and frequently seemed more related to booze/drugs/stupidity than the presence of the Purple One. And so what we learned yesterday is the importance of finding a personal oasis in the melting (literally) pot that is Coachella. Some may drown the pain in the dance tents, others may spread out a blanket and furtively smoke pot; me, I got my much-needed endorphin high yesterday courtesy of Rilo Kiley and “Portions for Foxes.” And then I rushed over to catch M.I.A. in the big tent and found so many civilians crammed into the sidestage that I couldn’t get to the photo pit, and this time I didn’t stick around to try. After the jump, all that and more including St. Vincent, Steven Malkmus and the Jicks, Death Cab, Kraftwerk, Portishead, and the one song you’d never expect to be played at a Prince show.
I was pretty pissed after the MGMT incident that started my day, and so Josh and I stood off to the side and watched children dressed in the fashions of decades that came and went before they were born act out while I quietly steamed and waited for the band to play “Time to Pretend,” which was the reason I bought that album in the first place. Then Josh wanted a veggie corn dog. As he munched, we listened to the cacophany of Brazilian hip hoppers Bonde Do Role– whose sound I will equate to the foreign-language street fights outside my old apartment in Queens, combined with the bass thump of a thousand souped-up cars in the East Village on a hot summer day– before moving to the Outdoor Stage for grownup time with Steven Malkmus and the Jicks. Now with 100% more Janet Weiss, the former Pavement frontman thundered through material off his jammy, proggy new album Real Emotional Trash, and cracked wise on the heat. “Indio in April equals Stockton, California in July,” he suggested. “Equals Portland in 2021,” chimed in Mike Clark. Though I’m certain I’d enjoy their sound more if I was a 38 year old white male who really liked Pavement, it was still wonderful to be surrounded by adults (some with toddlers) while watching my girl Janet pound away, black bangs flying in the burning breeze.
It was far easier to access St. Vincent’s show in the tiny Gobi tent, but for sheer musical artistry, this was the place to be. Annie Clark– the Polyphonic Spree guitarist who performs solo as St. Vincent, but has picked up a violinist, extra guitarist, and a drummer since I last saw her– emerged in white sunglasses and a very Palm Springs hat before shedding both to coax all manner of sounds out of her guitar and hypnotize us all with her wide, wide eyes. The Feist comparisons she keeps getting, I think, are off the mark– these songs are soundscapes, looped and tinkered with, jam-packed with odd noises. She whistled, she turned her voice into a horn section, she moved from angular rock into retro jazz, taking a stop at Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” on the way.
Over on the mainstage, one of the members of Cafe Tacvba was wearing what looked to be a chicken mask; once their set of broad radio rock (sung in Spanish) was done, we commandeered a picnic table and settled in for Death Cab. Ben Gibbard and co. opened with “The New Year,” and continued through a very pleasant set of Death Cab songs, in a very Death Cabbie manner. At one point Ben joked about stepping out on the platforms that had mysteriously appeared in front of the stage that morning, but he did it politely. “I think that’s Prince’s area,” he said. “Somebody in a purple suit would go, ‘Hey man. That’s for Prince only.'” And then he did not step out on the plaforms. There’s not a lot of drama or hyperactivity with this band, in other words. It was a Death Cab show. You either like Death Cab– in which case all the songs are terrific unless they are called “Someday You Will Be Loved,” which you hate because it is just such a song only a boy could write– or you don’t. Luckily, I fall into the former category. Narrow Stairs in stores May 13!
To complete my “Music Enjoyed By White Thirtysomethings Who Have At Some Point Most Likely Spent A Lot Of Time In Brooklyn” rock block, I abandoned Death Cab as they were bah-baaah-ing into “Sound of Settling,” and journeyed towards the blacklights of Rilo Kiley, where the photo pit was crammed with middle-aged photogs clamoring for a nice shot of Jenny Lewis’, um, let’s go with “gams.” She was happy to oblige, using “The Moneymaker” to shake hers like the pro she is. Blake Sennett’s guitar solos seemed a little loud and a little shaky last night, but the frontlady was in fine voice, the loungy “I Never” dripping with honey and the depressing “Does He Love You?” dripping with regret, despite one oddly-timed shot from a t-shirt cannon. (Songs about marital infidelity and the ensuing emotional torment? Perhaps not the time for t-shirt cannons.) And when my Show of the Day™ got to “Portions for Foxes,” the sun had set behind the hills, and I had at last found my bliss.
Bliss was what I needed to survive the Sahara Tent and M.I.A., which is where every single person at Coachella seemed to be, creating a similar bottleneck to the MGMT one from earlier, and some scary moments out in the house as the sardined crowd waited and waited and waited for things to get started. Josh reports that Hot Chip was just as much of a mob scene; it’s a shame they still don’t have a better system worked out for crowd control in these tents, cause someone’s gonna get hurt. I tried to get into the pit, I failed, I got sort of bounced out and shoved around towards the backstage area, where I stood until the show kicked off and demonstrated exactly why it should have been on the mainstage instead of certain other bands. (Sorry, Death Cab.) Dressed in a multicolored getup that wouldn’t have looked out of place in my elementary school’s production of The Firebird, the Sri Lankan superstar was a blast to watch, even from the back, and politely obliged me by playing “Boys” and “Galang” right off the bat so I could leave and go see the end of Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk are robots. You get the idea.
And then it was time for the eagerly-awaited Portishead set, on hiatus no more. We talked a little about musical blind spots yesterday, with the Verve; here we find another one of mine. (What can I say? As a child I veered between “happy” and “angry” with not a lot of room for “mopey.”) But even with the usual crop of disrespectful, immature scenesters swirling about my picnic table, I found myself standing there, entranced by the variations in Beth Gibbons’ voice, and fixated on her face, projected wide in black and white behind the band. It was somewhere around “Glory Box” that I really got sucked in– something in the way she sang, “This is the beginning of forever”– and then her high, keening soprano on “Wandering Star” left me just a little bit breathless. I was so in love with Portishead at this moment, in fact, that it made perfect sense when that shrieking crazy woman got arrested right next to where I was standing, and totally broke the spell, which I never got back. Yet another reminder of just how hard it is to listen to music at this music festival sometimes.
But no time for complaining! His name is Prince! You may not professionally photograph him! But you may get funky! Because he is Prince! A mere 30 minutes late, the Artist Formerly Known as an Unpronounceable Symbol hit the stage after a slow synth/string build, and immediately had the place going nuts. I am fairly certain he said “How’s it going?” shortly after taking the stage, but for some reason the sound had been turned waaaaaay down– attempts at minimizing the hour-long curfew violation, perhaps?– and quite honestly everything else Prince said after that was a muddled mess for me. Not that it mattered. Here is, as I wrote it down, the set list:
Jungle Love (w/ Morris Day) / Glamorous Life (w/ Sheila E) / 1999 / I Feel For You (w/out Chaka Khan) / Little Red Corvette (smooth jazz version) / Musicology / Cream (is he still allowed to play that one? how is it any better than “Darling Nikki”?) / U Got the Look / Another Lover Holen Yo Head / Creep (Radiohead cover) / Angel (random but gorgeous Sarah McLachlan cover performed by Ledisi so Prince could change clothes, and which was sung along with whole-heartedly by everyone around me, almost against our wills) / Come Together (Beatles cover in which he had us all chant “War… no more”) / ENCORE BREAK / Purple Rain / Let’s Go Crazy
Does that work for you? It certainly worked for me. I’m hoping my coworker Chris Willman will write a more in-depth report on this show for you guys (being as he is our resident Prince expert), but having never seen the little guitar god in person, I was satisfied. It was a bit like standing half a mile away from a Prince cover band at times, but I was still satisfied. Hell, I danced with strangers on top of a picnic table, and spent most of “Let’s Go Crazy” high-fiving my friend Chip. That’s fun. Was it worth $4.8 million, the figure organizers Goldenvoice reportedly paid to get him to show up? I’m not sure about that. Although if other reports are true, Prince was willing to use some of that cash to defray the fines for said curfew violation, which I have been told range somewhere between $2000 and $10,000 a minute. Multiply that times 60, and you will see why he is Prince: because he can afford anything.
All right! It is noon here in the desert, and we plan on venturing out to the polo grounds around 3 to see the Shout Out Louds. Wake up early tomorrow to read my report on them and all the final day action– including Roger Waters, Justice, and My Morning Jacket, INSERT BIG HEART HERE– and see a gallery of the photos I’ve been taking in the pits all weekend. My photos are generally more concise than my writing, FYI.