Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Coachella Weekend Two Review

Photo Credit : Pitchfork







After over a week to let it all soak in, and to allow my core temperature drop down back to normal human levels (each day of Weekend Two was in excess of 100 degrees), it is time to reflect on one of the most unique and memorable music festival weekends of my life, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.

For perspective's sake, the size of Coachella feels somewhere between the now gargantuan and borderline unmanageable Lollapalooza and the distilled, compact Pitchfork Music Festival.  Sporting two "outdoor" stages and three "tent" stages, the grounds at the Empire Polo Club are easy to traverse, and one has no problem making it from performance to performance without missing much. The concert goers are a different breed at Coachella, a healthy mix of gnarly / sunburned / dirty campers, and high-fashion LA hipsters... with plenty of near-nudity from both sects.

As for the music... there was something for everyone at Coachella. The lineup boasted a seamless blend of rock, folk, rap, reggae, and electronic dance music (and everything in between). Young and old artists alike, from 17 year old French elecro-savant Madeon, to 64 year old reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, wooed and wowed the sweat covered and sun soaked crowd.  Here are couple highlights from each day, in this writer's humble opinion:

FRIDAY

Photo Credit : Debi Del Grande

Grouplove - LA's own Grouplove unleashed one of their characteristic high-energy, all-smiles sets, churning through most of their debut LP, Never Trust a Happy Song. The band exuded a refreshing delight as they played their hometown festival and seemed genuinely thrilled to be on stage. If you get a chance to see Grouplove, do it. They put out with unwavering consistency.

The Rapture - Luke Jenner and his impeccable, inimitable vocals led NYC based The Rapture through a howling set that sampled the disco meets post-punk band's back catalog ("House of Jealous Lovers") and excellent new material ("Sail Away," "How Deep is Your Love," and "In the Grace of Your Love"). The crowd was... enraptured.

SATURDAY

Photo Credit : NME

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - The self-titled debut LP of the former Oasis front-man has been a "grower" for this fella. With each spin, the record reveals itself to be solid from get-up to get-out, and the new tracks, especially "AKA... What a Life," translate very well live behind Noel's voice, which seems not to have aged one bit over the years (despite all the yelling at his brother Liam). After the choice new cuts were devoured by the adoring crowd, the set closed with Oasis gems "Little By Little" and "Don't Look Back in Anger." The sun was setting during the final moments of the set. What a life indeed.

Radiohead - Veteran Brit rockers Radiohead plowed through an aggressively dark set, complete with a towering wall of pulsating strobes and complex arrays of light panels. The newer material from 2011's King of Limbs ("Lotus Flower," "Bloom," and "Morning Mr. Magpie") comes off gloomy and heavy live, but the experienced quintet, accompanied on stage by Portishead drummer Clive Deamer and fueled by Thom Yorke's seemingly limitless on stage energy, pulled it all together for a memorable close to Day 2. And yes, "Karma Police" was awesome.

SUNDAY 

Photo Credit : Pitchfork

Real Estate - New Jersey's Real Estate played during the middle part of Sunday afternoon to a crowd of weary concert goers who were just getting going after two full days of steamy festival action. Playing perfectly to the fans gathered in the shade of the Gobi tent, the surf-rocky quintet threw down an excellent, easy-breezy set. The seven minute jam "All the Same" was particularly sublime.

Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre - As much as I wanted to check out Swedish EDM producer Avicii, how could I miss the much ballyhooed Snoop / Dre set complete with TuPac hologram? Figuring opportunities to "see" TuPac in the future would be more limited than chances to see Avicii (Tim Berg is, after all, actually alive), I went with the masses to close the weekend with the most epic of hip hop performances. The set was insane, complete with intricately moving video and structural elements that seemingly transformed the stage for each individual song. Snoop and Dre trotted out a litany of guests (including Kurupt, Warren G, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent, and Eminem) during their hit filled extravaganza. Then "TuPac" rose from the stage floor. I'm sure you've checked out the videos on YouTube by now, as I did before seeing the performance in person. It was different, and better, being there in person, feeling the undeniable buzz of the massive crowd around you, all reveling in the unique opportunity to hear and "see" a lost legend perform, for most, for the first and last time.

A friend asked me what I thought of Coachella a few days after I returned to Chicago. The answer came to me immediately. All in all, Coachella is like a twisted and more naked blend of Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. I'd return again and again...

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