Some memories from The Three-Letter Gang’s (Joe, Pat, Mia, Tom) trip to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, May 1 and 2, Indio, CA:
It was hot. The heat woke us up at 8:30 am both mornings, and that was just the beginning. Shade was precious to us, and one particular palm tree at our campsite will have a special place in my heart forever. Apparently the highs were 99° on Saturday and 103° on Sunday, but all we had to go on at the time was circumstantial evidence, like when we left a bag of sour Gummi worms in the car and later found that they had melted into a multicolored paste. It looked like a Tibetan sand painting.
They tried to kill us. They wouldn’t let us bring water into the grounds. Mostly the festival was free of cynical exploitation, but this was an egregious enough example. They would have still sold water; no one could have carried in enough water to last them throughout the day. And it was particularly bad since they ended up running out of water at some of the stands anyway. I started measuring value in terms of $2 bottles of water.
It was kickass awesome. Embarrassing as it is, I can’t remember the last rock concert I had gone to before Coachella. Aside from They Might Be Giants–at BORDERS BOOKS–in September or October 2002, it’s just been one-man/woman bands like Mirah and Doughty. But this put me right back in the mode of looking for concerts and just generally immersing myself in music. Partly it was revisiting the excitement of concerts, partly it was feeling like some kind of disaffected indie community, or as Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips described it, “one big Coachella thing.” Without further yammering, I present Tomemos’s Coachella 2004 Awards:
Best Set: Stellastarr*. They played my favorite songs from their album, along with just enough new songs (I think two) to keep it interesting, and all with an amazing amount of energy and fun. (Runners-Up: the Pixies, Dizzee Rascal, Radiohead.)
Best Surprise: Broken Social Scene (thanks, Bret). Joe described them as a “postmodern jam band,” and I think that’s a pretty good assessment. Despite the somewhat melancholy tone of some of their music, they were in high spirits, which culminated in the guitarist proposing to his girlfriend on stage (she said yes). (Runners-Up: the Thrills, [thanks, Julie], Sahara Hotnights.)
Most Likely Album Purchase: Pixies, “Doolittle.” How I don’t have this (with “Debaser” and “Wave of Mutilation” on it) I don’t know, particularly after being reminded that they’re a 100% classic band. (Runners-up: Broken Social Scene, “You Forgot It In People”; Radiohead, “Hail to the Thief”; Air, “Moon Safari”)
Best stage show: The Flaming Lips, who (apparently) are known for this kind of crazy shit. This one featured the lead singer walking across the crowd in a big plastic bubble (we were supposed to tell people that it came from space, as per a dream he had); huge balloons bouncing through the audience; people on the sidelines in animal costumes waving flashlights, along with two people in costumes that looked like big inflatable suns; the lead singer leading us in a “Stop Bush” chant while wearing Hulk hands; and a screen behind them featuring video of a topless woman doing Karate. With all that, they only had time to do about four songs, but one of those was “Yoshimi” and that made me happy. (Runner-up: Belle and Sebastian, who brought audience members onstage to play percussion for “Roy Walker”; Radiohead, who just had great lights)
Biggest Disappointment, Band’s Fault: …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, who played badly, without any kind of enthusiasm, and who made jokes that seemed to suggest they were looking down on their audience for something. The lead singer was missing for a couple songs, even, without explanation. They played as if they weren’t competing with a bunch of other bands for our attention.
Biggest Disappointment, Organizers’ Fault: Beck. Okay, Beck was a late addition, but still, couldn’t they have managed to put him somewhere other than the smallest tent? Like, say, the main stage? The crowd stretched way outside the tent; I was so far out I could scarcely see him on my tiptoes. I stayed for one song but unfortunately it wasn’t worth it; I envy Pat, who got to see the whole thing, though he had to deal with a lot of crazy-aggressive fans.
Best Bands Missed Due to Scheduling Conflicts:Stereolab (Pixies), the Rapture (Radiohead), Bright Eyes (Dizzee Rascal), Crystal Method (Flaming Lips), Le Tigre (The Cure).
Best Bands Missed Due to Exhaustion: Junior Senior, Kraftwerk.
Other Bands That Were Quite Good, I Just Haven’t Said Anything About Them Yet: Erase Errata, the first band I saw, who opened with the only song I know of theirs (“Marathon”; thanks, Drew); Death Cab for Cutie, who sounded great but who I had to leave to find dinner; Air, who I only caught the end of but they were great.
So this was an incredible weekend. And what’s worst is, judging from the bands who have played at Coachellas past (Queens of the Stone Age, Björk, the White Stripes), we might well be back next year. In the meantime: back to adulthood!