By Amrit Singh & Brandon Stosuy
Our trek into Indio went so smoothly this year that we’ve both become paranoid about something going incredibly wrong at any moment, but so far we’ve made it through without broken bones or spirits. In fact, even though the day started with extreme lines and heat, once we passed the impressively green grass into the actual grounds and started watching bands (and people), the weather seemed to ease up incrementally: By the time we witnessed Paul McCartney nail classic after classic, we were freezing and felt vindicated by our decision to wear jeans. But there was much music before that.
From Sonic Youth’s The Eternal artwork and M. Ward’s recent championing and yesterday’s covering (“Bean Vine Blues #2′”), John Fahey’s in the midst of another revival. Like he had in the late ’90s and early ’00s. If he was alive, maybe we could expect him in Mojave tent one of these years.
Speaking of guitars, the Black Keys were solid (“Thickfreakness”), and folks went especially crazy whenever the songs mellowed out a bit (reminding us why, for all the dissing, Jack Johnson indeed nails that free ’n’ easy Coachella vibe), but Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney sounded a bit the thin in the great Indio outdoors. Through no fault of their own — it’s how the band’s built. If they’d been in the Gobi tent instead of the Coachella Stage, for instance, it would’ve been a different story. For now, it was impressive to see Auerbach’s yellow shirt match the yellow stage lights, until they turned blue.
We went from all those six strings to the electro-hop Portugal crew Buraka Som Sistema. They (well, the sound guy) initially had issues with a laptop cable, which had us flashing back to Peter Bjorn & John’s interminable sound issues at SXSW, but luckily it was quickly repaired, and the band jumped and danced (and booty danced), delivering the crowd into one of the day’s more straight-up fun sets.
Conor Oberst is all grown up, and sometimes bland because of it, but his band is impressively tight, and when he digs in the songs are sturdy (see “Souled Out!!!”). Plus, no matter what, he inspires frantic shouts of “Conor, I love you,” as if we were still witnessing the frantic Fevers And Mirrors days. Also, his 2009 Coachella hat rivaled Steve Malkmus’ Coachella 2008 hat.
If Sunday night is Coachella’s arty night (YYYs, MBV, the Cure), then Friday was its AARP hoedown. From 7:30 through to 1AM the desert air was filled with the sounds of rock elder statesmen Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, and Sir Paul McCartney. At 74-year-old Leonard Cohen remains one dashing man, performing a slew of fan favorites like “Bird On A Wire,” “Everybody Knows,” “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” and “Hallelujah,” in which he riled folks with an “I did not come to Coachella to fool you.” True, this is honest music, and he left it on the stage. Morrissey started things with a question: “May I serenade you?” Soon followed with another: “Are you standing uncomfortably?” At this point Moz should know he could ask his fans anything and the answer would be an emphatic “yes.” He lassoed and whipped the stage with his mic chord, dashed and emoted over “This Charming Man,” “Ask,” and a killer closer in “How Soon Is Now,” etc. But the big talk was over Morrissey’s issue with the smell in the night air. Rumor has it he nearly didn’t come out due to the odor of roasting meat, and he let the crowd know in so many words: “I can smell burning flesh and I hope to God it’s human,” later explaining a brief retreat from view by adding “The smell of burning animals is making me sick. I just couldn’t bear it.” (Tip: Avoid SXSW, sir.)
Interrupting the oldster vibe, youngster upstart Zach Condon and his Gulag Orkestar had the most pumped crowd of the day. Maybe it was the size of the Mojave tent, but people seemed especially rabid: Each time he picked up his horn they lost it. When he played “classics” like “Postcards From Italy” and “Scenic World,” they almost drowned him out with their singalong. His catalog is small, but you realize its strength in this sort of context, and his Realpeople re-arrangements are stunning, real(ly).
Then there was Macca. After his set at Highline Ballroom, we knew some of the beats: “Here Today” introduced with the epic applause line “I wrote this next song for my friend John”; a mix of new songs early, a steady slew of knockout Beatles classics to close it out, and on. However Highine was an hour, not three. Paul’s banter rambled more than the pithy wit he showed at Highline, but later any disorientation was explained and understood: this was, in fact, the 11th anniversary of Linda McCartney’s passing (“She loved the desert, she loved music, she loved rock ’n’ roll. She loved it all”). In other words, it stopped being a nostalgia show, and started feeling real. Not that “The Long And Winding Road,” “Something,,” “Blackbird” (on acoustic guitar), “Live & Let Die” (with fireworks), “Back In The USSR,” “Paperback Writer” (accompanied by Richard Prince-style nurse images), “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be” or any other Macca classic needed extra emotional heft to register, but there it was. The man has so many iconic songs, and he paraded them out one by one, as if putting the younger bands who performed earlier in their place. The 66 year old looks great, jumping between stringed instruments and piano, hopping around the stage, hamming it up between each song. He also sounds great. The use of synthesized strings and horns was questionable, but his band is super tight, even though a few of them have bad hair. And if the set started slowly, by the end you couldn’t help but be disoriented and in awe at the sheer depth of his classic catalogue. And over three hours, you knew he still had barely scratched the surface. Paul’s the man. There is no argument.
For those who wanted something more “now,” Genghis Tron offered an aggressively awesome, distinct counter to the nostalgia, the electro-grind trio’s beats bleeding through whenever McCartney paused. Though, true, their cover of Big Black’s “Bad Penny” taps a different remember-when vein…
The trek out was less smooth than McCartney: In the span of forty minutes we managed to jump a fence (and get jeans hooked), traipse through a huge puddle (and get shoes wet), and (try to) help a guy push his car out of out the sand. In other words: We finally had our comeuppance.
If you want more immediate updates, Amrit’s holding it down on Twitter through the weekend. For now, enjoy the photos. There are so many.