[Editor’s Note: While Coachella’s two weekend desert jammer has generated tons of photo and video for us to experience via remote, air-conditioned laptop stations, this year we wanted to enrich our point of view from a Commenter perspective. So we called on Stereogum comment section denizen/underscore enthusiast Michael_ to provide intrepid reports from his three days in Indio. This is his story.]
Last year, I broke my streak of five years and didn’t attend Coachella. The lasting impression that 2010’s edition left on me was a damaging one, defined by the now-infamous and unruly gatecrashing crowd which turned the lush Empire Polo Field and one of the most beautiful festivals in the world into a litter-heavy hipster Hell. Aside from battling way too many partygoers in neon war paint no matter where I went, even the little conveniences I had taken for granted were no longer there (most problematic, the shower lines on the campground were unbearably long to bother waiting through and I went three gross days without bathing or shaving after being covered day in and day out in sweat, dust and grime. A petty thing to complain about as I’m not high maintenance by any means, but a perk of Coachella for non-roughin’ it suburban types like myself is how they’ve managed to make the camping experience a joke by giving you all the amenities you have at home in festival campground form.) Coupled by last year’s lack of reunion acts and rare gets, I thought it might be a healthy decision to see how the following year played out before doing it all over again. In 2012, I returned to the polo field thanks to the promise of seeing three of my personal favorites reunite. And this time, I wisely booked a hotel…
Day 1, Friday
On paper, the Black Keys were the day’s headliners, but there was one last minute addition that ended up stealing the show and throwing the day completely off course: The weather. I’ve been going to Coachella since 2006, and not once have temperatures ever dipped below the high 80s during the day, with nights dipping into temps that might require a hoodie at most. Being slathered in sunscreen, covered in a film of sweat and in some cases, wearing next to nothing are something Coachellagoers expect as the norm environment in Indio over the three day period. As I raced off to the Gobi to catch Abe Vigoda just as the festival had kicked off however, I found myself battling against high winds and knew Mother Nature would be putting on a spectacular for Weekend 1’s crowd. By the time EMA took that same stage at 3:15pm, the temperature was in the low 70s at best, grey clouds ominously billowing behind Ms. Anderson and actually working to her benefit as her angsty, solemn songwriting fits much better in that context than when stuffed inside a hot, sticky tent with a couple hundred heat exhausted listeners (unlike Neon Indian later on the Outdoor Theatre whose brand of synth pop would have melted in nicely with layers of sunshine, but alas, it would not be.) Once I stepped outside the Gobi, things told a different story. I had actually bothered to check Weather.com leading up to the day and knew well enough that shorts were probably not a smart wardrobe decision while “bro” types who walked into the festival grounds oiled up shirtless with their female companions strutting around in neon bikinis could be seen running for cover as a dash of sprinkles and wind gusts blew non-stop throughout the polo field. The rain would be sporadic throughout the rest of the day, reappearing quite romantically just as Mazzy Star would take the stage, but as a lifetime New Englander, it was somewhat comical to see attendees donning winter coats and scarves as I joined The Hoff to catch Madness on the Outdoor Theatre’s sunset slot (note: There was no sunset.) Aside from the weather, Day 1 was best defined by its enormous offerings of huge reunions and rare acts. If you told me a year ago, I would be seeing Madness, Pulp, Mazzy Star and Refused in a span of six hours, I would have probably decked you for attempting to toy with my emotions. (Refused, by the way, were arguable the night’s true musical headliners and the day’s best set overall, followed closely behind by Death Grips’ high-impact, mosh pit-worthy debut filled with 15 ft. inflatable pills crowd surfing alongside a sea of young punks.) The only casualty of Day 1 was M83 who became an unfortunate victim of when poorly conceived set times and location bookings happen to good bands. Goldenvoice apparently didn’t get the memo that Anthony Gonzalez and company are kind of a very big deal right now thanks to a Victoria’s Secret commercial and cross-over appeal with the Skrillex crowd who probably don’t even know Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts exists (the best comment I heard en route was, “Wait, M83 is like, a band?!”) Yet, they still stuffed the French electronic makers inside the festival’s second smallest tent, the Mojave. This is an important lesson in learning to choose your battles wisely while attending a festival, my friends. As I found myself quickly being packed inside with little to no room to breathe, I made the wise decision to watch M83 from the outskirts so I could leave early for an ideal spot at Refused. This oddly enough is when things got ugly. As I watched the Mojave quickly swell over-capacity, it didn’t deter revelers adamant to get up close for “Midnight City.” Many went as far to jump barricades on the sides and force their way into space that didn’t exist. People were shoving their elbows against others jaws and at one point, I saw a heated argument go down when a group of chicks attempted to hop the divider only to be blocked away by an angry “bro” yelling there was no room. Do you think that stopped them? I kept my distance for three songs until myself and some strangers realized the set wouldn’t be enjoyable, collectively proclaimed M83’s crowd a microcosm for the worst and disrespectful type of people a festival of this size can offer and went about watching whatever was left of Explosions in the Sky. My faith in humanity was restored when not one, but two dudes during Refused apologized for blocking my line of site. The day ended with a post-midnight Horrors nightcap.
Day 2, Saturday
After a tiring marathon run of 12 straight hours of probably the best top to bottom daily lineup I’ve ever experienced at Coachella, I wasn’t too eager to get Day 2 rolling along right off the bat. That was no skin off my back really, as Saturday was for the most part a day stacked heavily with enormously popular and critically acclaimed soft-sided established artists (i.e. Radiohead, Bon Iver, The Shins, Feist) who I respect but probably wouldn’t otherwise go out of my way to see if they weren’t offered up via Coachella’s silver platter. That said, I made my way into the polo field just past 5pm to catch punk rock originals Buzzcocks in the Gobi tent, who I should add look old as dirt, had the most energy out of all the weekend’s veteran acts and had no issue connecting with a young audience who were more than willing to form a circle pit while enjoying their classics. That would be the day’s sole energy high, as the festival became quietly invested in careful listening practices just as the sun fell behind Jeff Mangum on the Outdoor Theatre. The Neutral Milk Hotel frontman’s rare performance was easily the weekend’s most beautiful and ideal for this stage setting for the mere fact it was one of the few moments during Coachella completely devoid of any theatrics. Mangum, in typical recluse fashion, requested no photography or video to be taken as he played while the two giant screens on each side the stage went black. For 50 minutes, it was just about Mangum’s music without having to worry about the person in front of you holding up their phone trying to Instagram the moment instead of actually appreciating and living in it. After fumbling my way through Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor marked a subtle transition of a nature more my speed. It was also during their sat I sadly realized many of the reunion / nostalgia bands whom I deemed “must-sees” and important throughout the course of the weekend (beginning with Madness, Pulp and Mazzy Star on Friday and carrying on here) were not held in the same respect through the eyes of my fellow Coachellagoers, as the Mojave tent’s crowd with ridiculously thin. Sucks for them, because GS!YBE’s dark, rumbling post-rock owned my heart on Day 2. Even Radiohead’s space-age stage show directly afterward wasn’t enough to steal the win that night. Then again, it was also the exact moment when a combination of sleep deprivation, my body still operating on Eastern Standard Time and nighttime temperatures again dipping into the 50s that had me caring a little less about what Thom Yorke was doing on the main stage and more focused on catching some z’s.
Day 3, Sunday
Coachella was feeling more like its normal self on Sunday with temperatures surpassing 80 degrees for the first time since its start. My day also got off to a sizzling start on the main stage with Santigold who stacked her singles at the very start, making it easy to justify leaving her set after spending a half hour baking under the Indio sky to be cooled down by Real Estate’s breezy seaside pop inside the shaded Gobi. Things again heated up soon after in a much different and disturbing way during Wild Flag’s sun soaked slot on the Outdoor Theatre however. Friends, allow me to share with you yet another pitfall to seeing a great band in a festival setting, and this one had nothing to do with the band immediately set to take the stage. Standing just several rows away from the front of the stage, it became apparent early on that barely anyone around me looked like typical Wild Flag listeners (whatever that may be) but rather, were a combo of dolled up young ladies (you know the type – They cut their way to the front of the stage linked by their hands, take more pictures of themselves inside the crowd than whomever is playing and have carefully plotted the day’s outfit – or lack thereof — months in advance) and “bros” (they’re everywhere!) trying very hard to get up front. Had Carrie Brownstein and her band mates managed to conquer a younger mainstream demographic with their brand of female-empowering punk rock?” I asked myself. While I could only hope, it turns out these kids were merely readying themselves for the following act, The Weeknd, and doing so with their sharp, manicured nails out. Aside from draining the energy out of a space that could have otherwise been preoccupied by people who actually wanted to see the indie rock supergroup, these kids were downright cutthroat in their bid to get the spot for Abel Tesfaye’s American debut. It’s not earth shattering that manners tend to go out the window in live music settings, but what completely killed it for me was when two chicks up front nearly came to blows over god knows what midway through Wild Flag’s set, prompting security to get involved and resolving the issue by sticking a non-partisan “bro” in between the two hellions. The lesson learned here is that, unlike Friday night’s M83 debacle, it isn’t always the band’s actual fans that can ruin the vibe, but rather those of whoever is waiting in the wings afterward. The ridiculous part is that once Wild Flag stepped off the stage, these people had to wait another 40 minutes until The Weeknd emerged. That’s either pure dedication, a poor use of time and / or what separates real music fans from fashionable ones (I’ll go with the latter for the mere fact that I watched these same people flee The Weeknd’s set as soon as Gotye and Justice’s appearances approached, cutting the massive Outdoor Theatre crowd well under half by end. The Weeknd, by the way, absolutely met all expectations in his highly anticipated Coachella debut with a sultry mix of all the best from last year’s mixtape trilogy.) From there, I wandered over to dance party U.S.A., otherwise known as Justice on the main stage. Did you know that Justice is more popular than Radiohead? They are if comparing both acts crowd size says anything. As a listener with punk, hardcore and indie-leaning tendencies, I personally don’t get this ongoing phenomenon and was worried for a bit that these wild ravers might not leave the main stage once Justice clocked out (possibly in hopes of snagging a good spot for Dr. Dre) and getting in the way of my beloved At the Drive-In reunion. Luckily, there was a mass exodus that made a bee line to Girl Talk and Calvin Harris, and I got my hassle-free At the Drive-In reunion with another small yet dedicated crowd in tow. The El Paso post-hardcore quintet (alongside Refused) had no problem taking my vote for Coachella’s top honors by sounding great on the large stage act and being fully energized despite what the week’s early warm up gigs had suggested. Wanting to end the weekend on a high note, I called it a Coachella as soon as ATDI made their way to the back and walked out of the polo field wondering if this was my last rodeo. Coachella has always to me been about the music and the music alone. This year, I was fortunate to experience three of the last reunions I’ve been holding out for all in one weekend with Refused, Mazzy Star and At the Drive-In. As Coachella’s core audience continues to get trendier, dancier and more Status Update-obsessed with the well running dry on bands worth flying across the country for, I don’t know how many more aces Goldenvoice has left up its sleeve. I’m not complaining – I just know where to choose my battles. Right now, the FYF and FFFF Fests are looking like two very formidable replacements to fill the void.