Coachella 2009: M.I.A., Superchunk, And So Much Sun
By Amrit Singh & Brandon Stosuy
The weather’s getting hotter by the day, but we refuse to cave: We arrived at the grounds when the sun was at its peak. Amrit’s given to wearing shorts at this point, but Brandon sticks by his Levi’s because pale white legs are no good in the Southern California desert, a land where men think nothing of attending festivals in speedos, you see more horrible back tattoos than anywhere else in the world, and dozens of ladies have clearly forgotten to wear pants. Yes, photos of these sorts of things to come. In the meantime, though, we saw more music. The bands always seem to wear more clothes than the crowds, especially in a year without Les Savy Fav.
Even though they create dusky sounds, as we’ve seen in the past, Liars have no problem owning afternoon festival stages. Saturday’s set at the tent-less Coachella Stage was no different, a shorn Angus Andrew going red in the face with a mix of some Drum’s Not Dead but mostly Liars, along with new songs involving murder and driving a biodiesel car before quitting your job and wandering in the forest. And his shimmy-shimmy dance moves have never been better. The trio was expanded by two additional players, but the band felt tighter and more locked into a zone, blowing between heavily percussive implosions and their straight-up punk anthems. These guys remain nonstop shape shifters and experimenters, and are always fun to watch.
Because we’re masochists, we decided to stay at the hottest of all stages for Drive-By Truckers, too. They were solid and sweaty and Southern, but somehow not all that exciting. Superchunk, on the other hand, performing at that same tent-free spot, pogoed through one of the best sets of the weekend. Really, when you toss around “Precision Auto,” “The Question Is How Fast,” “Throwing Things,” “Cool,” “Detroit Has A Skyline,” and close with “Slack Motherfucker,” you could be playing in 160 degree weather and it wouldn’t matter. People went crazy throughout — a dread-locked punk girl saw some 30-something dudes dancing, smiled, and joined them in a pogo pit — and the band reminded us why even if they don’t get the critical tongue bath of Pavement or other groups from that American indie era, they deserve to, and should. At one point Mac McCaughan joked that “sometimes I run out of guitar,” but it never sounded like it, and hearing new Leaves In The Gutter track “Learned to Surf” live, it doesn’t sound like he ever will. Kudos.
It was nice shifting from the baking sun of the Outdoor Theater to the Gobi tent to see the kurtas and headdresses of Tinariwen, where folks were just getting baked. The band’s Tishoumaren African gypsy blues drew an impressive crowd, continuing an extended crest for the band on the back of 2007’s excellent Aman Iman LP. Their brand of modal melodies (recalling the various devotional musics of the middle east and Asian subcontinent, although actually devoted to Malawiian independence), acoustic and electric instruments, and hand drums were a perfect fit for the desert heat.
TV On The Radio illustrated why it’s nice to have real horns, Macca. The sound was a bit off to the right of stage, but the mix was better when we changed position. The crowd they drew was impressive, and when they did that oldie (but still a best-y) “Staring At The Sun” as the sun went down, the Brooklyn guys felt like a real-life stadium-ready band. But nowhere near as visually arresting or engaging as M.I.A. (Sorry, Kyp’s beard). “Just ’cause I did the Grammys doesn’t mean I’ve gone all sold-out,” Maya said after opening her show singing at a podium, press conference style, with a troupe of glow-in-the-dark dancers in support. And just because she had a kid doesn’t mean she’s any less a rock star: Post maternity leave Maya was every bit as fierce as you remember, throwing horns to the crowd and caution to the side (“my mom said you would sue me if I hit you with these, but…”), dancing, and of course inviting the audience to swarm the main stage. So yeah, same M.I.A., now with 200% more applause for “Paper Planes.”
Maya’s main stage crowd was so large, we began wondering if the night’s true headliners The Killers could compete in terms of audience size. Or outfit ridiculousness. The Las Vegans won the crowd battle, at least for awhile: Opening with “Human” and following it with “Somebody Told Me,” the band gave their massive crowd what they would have stayed all night for, right off the bat. Brandon’s come a long way in vocal confidence and consistency, the band can actually play their instruments, and for those two songs, their arena-sized appeal was clear. So what does the rest of a Killers set look and sound like? Not sure, really. When the schlocky Vegas lounge rock of “Joy Ride” set in, we remembered how painful their non-hits (i.e. misses) could be, and realized it was time to capitalize on one of Coachella’s true treats: Gang Gang Dance in a tent.
At the Gobi, GGD performed the loudest set of the weekend — our ringing ears are proof — though it’s likely My Bloody Valentine will top them in the decibel department this evening. Earlier in the night TV On The Radio gave GGD a shout out, mentioning they’d be sticking around to see Gang Gang Dance later that night. Lizzi Bougatsos returned the favor, mentioning her band’s remix of “Stork & Owl.” The rest of her between-song banter was a mix of giggles, non sequiturs, and talk about exotic lands (and, this time, drinks with pink umbrellas). It was a great, tight performance, and the most fun was had watching a guy in a dress go absolutely rave-era crazy for “House Jam,” proving that the song really can exist on that level. The longtime Brooklyn noisemakers are indeed inching ever closer to that eclectic dance floor they mastered on Saint Dymphna, even if said dance floor will never be as big as M.I.A.’s.
Tonight promises YYYs, MBV, and the Cure later, and crushing triple-digit heat before. Join us on Twitter, and pass through these photos in the comfort of your air conditioned apartments, because you can.
And since pics don’t do it justice, here’s a glow-in-the-dark “Paper Planes.”