Desert Music Festival Offered Hot Tunes and Cooler Temperatures
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Blessed be the person who decided to push up this year’s Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. For the 2009 go-around, attendees were graced with not only a more solid lineup, but cooler, downright bearable temperatures for the usual scorcher of a three-day party in the desert. That’s not to say that pre-sundown breezes were all that ‘09 had to offer. On hand for the event were some of music’s most prolific (Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen), promising (Los Campesinos!, Lykke Li), and party-happy (Girl Talk, M.I.A.) performers - all housed within 78 acres over the span of fewer than 72 hours. Below you’ll find a rundown of what we caught, as well as pictures aplenty of all the on-and off-stage action. Hang onto your hats, folks, because year 10 was a wild, wild ride.
Friday, April 17
Unsurprisingly, the sold-out first day of the fest packed the strongest punch of the weekend. Early on, Mexico City’s Molotov drew an impressive crowd to the Outdoor Theatre with their high energy mix of rap and power metal. Sure, most of it was in Spanish, but I’m pretty confident I got the gist (including something that sounded like the Beastie Boys doing “Baby Got Back” en Espa±ol). The Airborne Toxic Event brought their signature brand of affected hipster rock to the mainstage around 4 p.m. with songs like “Papillon,” but more than made up for it with some serious string work (two violinist and a cello) and infectious energy. But the afternoon’s hands-down highlight came by way of the youngsters in Los Campesinos! After packing the tiny-by-comparison Gobi tent, the Wales-based seven-piece launched into “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” and quickly captured some serious attention. Between frontman Gareth Campesinos’s repeated puffs on a neon orange inhaler and the back-and-forth vocals of “This Is How You Spell ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics,’” the set was pure youthful genius.
While M. Ward struggled with sound troubles early on in his stint (most of “Sad, Sad Song” sadly got played sans speakers) The Black Keys powered through a slew of bluesy rock-outs to a smoke-happy mainstage audience. Late afternoon saw The Ting Tings‘ frontwoman Katie White yelping her way through building numbers like “We Walk” and “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” and Beirut going all gypsy orchestral on tracks off of the recent March of the Zapotec EP and 2007’s The Flying Club Cup. But it was the frenetic sounds of Crystal Castles that stole the evening slot. Castles’ lady member, Alice Glass, spent her time onstage scaling the tent’s scaffolding and wailing on a vocoder against some seriously high-octane 8-bit synths for songs like “Alice Practice” and “Xxzxcuzx Me” - in other words, pure whacked out dance-y heaven. Come sundown, mash-up maestro Girl Talk and his bevy of backup dancers filled the Sahara tent with samples ranging from Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” without losing his indie cred (and finished his set by crowd surfing via inflatable boat). And a 74-year-young Leonard Cohen showed up sporting a fedora and a full band for a beautifully orchestrated collection of tunes (including “Everybody Knows” and “Hallelujah”) at the Outdoor Theatre.
Still, the sounds (and fireworks) that rang out during Paul McCartney‘s night-ending set were unmatchable. Sure, the sentimentality might have been cranked up a notch, what with Friday being the anniversary of Linda’s passing, but songs like “Paperback Writer,” “Hey Jude,” and “Get Back” functioned near-perfectly on their own. Dressed in a crisp white shirt and black suspenders, the former Beatle wailed on his Rickenbacker, gave his crowd about 50 “woo hoos,” and played for well over two hours.
The highlight: “The Long and Winding Road” and “My Love,” both dedicated to his late wife. “She loved the dessert and she loved music - she loved rock ‘n’ roll,” he said of Linda before launching into the latter. Needless to say, I’m confident there were more than a few moist eyes in the house by the start of the first chorus.
What happened next was either a laughable disaster or a genius showcase, depending on whom you talk to. Fresh off last year’s catastrophic (and riot-inducing) Sahara Tent showing, hip-hopper M.I.A. took to the mainstage for a political rap sermon of sorts. Behind a podium and donning a military official’s hat and a pair of skintight acid wash jeans, the pintsized Sri Lankan started things of with “World Town” and called on her deejay to deliver one of about 200 blaring air horn samples. What followed was a bevy of hits (“Boyz,” “Bird Flu,” “Galang”), plenty of glow-in-the-dark dancers, a few laser gun noises, and a near-mutiny when she decided to invite fans onstage. The whole performer-versus-charging-fans-versus-security-guards debacle shaved about 20 minutes off of her actual stage time, but ended with nearly 100 audience members posing, mugging, and shaking what their mommas gave them for a crowd of thousands. Conclusion: a narrow win for both M.I.A. and those who stuck it out.