The Coachella Music and Arts Festival
For Sarah Hammill’s column on attending Coachella for the first time, click here.
As the final screeches of Rage Against the Machine’s set ripped across Sunday night’s Indio skyline and thousands of fans began the trek back to wherever they came from, Coachella 2007 officially wound to an end. Certainly the Rage reunion will go down in the annals of rock history, but for the many who weren’t Rage fans, Coachella ’07-more so than ever before-was truly about the lesser-known bands. From Tilly and the Wall, Amy Winehouse, and Of Montreal straight through to Blonde Redhead and The Gotan Project, the smaller stages were loaded with present and future indie rock heavyweights. Below you will find a breakdown of the biggest and the best.
Rage Against the Machine
When the 50-foot telescreen on Coachella’s Mainstage focused in on the silhouette of Zack de la Rocha backstage, twenty thousand fists shot into the air. And as de la Rocha stepped out to meet his crowd, he bore the face of a weathered leader ready to prove that even seven years away from the stage hadn’t muted his anger. Rage’s set, which closed out the final day of Coachella, plowed through all the staples of their discography, from opener “Testify” to “Bulls on Parade” and “People of the Sun.” Seeing de la Rocha finally back on stage brought to life every album that had been coated with dust in his absence. The climax of the night was inarguably “Wake Up,” which broke down into a political sermon as de la Rocha screamed with a raised fist that the Bush administration was guilty of war crimes and, like all war criminals, deserved to be executed. “This system that changes every four years will always lapse into the same self-destruction,” he railed, before concluding with a series of screams that sounded roughly like “wake up.” When it seemed things couldn’t get any wilder, Rage launched into “Killing in the Name,” the equivalent of throwing a match into a powder keg. Few things compare to seeing an enraged legion of people with middle fingers raised, all screaming “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” It was a fitting end to the return of the most polemic, incensed band alive.
Whirling onstage in a bespotted turban, Bjrk effectively kicked off her 2007 world tour with as much as a bang as any fringe pop idol could ever hope to. Within a few minutes of her first song, the Icelandic pixie ditched the turban, revealing a Wonder Woman-meets-caveman princess costume and eliciting cheers from her audience. She smartly mixed longtime hits like “Hunter” with new experimentations like the Timbaland collaboration “Innocence.” But one had to wonder if an artist with as a big a reputation for daring weirdness as Bjrk could have disappointed her admirers, even if her Coachella appearance consisted of decorating Christmas trees with baked hams. To her credit, Bjrk performed her unique art masterfully, with a talented back-up band of day-glo robed Nordic musicians to supplement her chips and squeals.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Following Arcade Fire’s performance at the main stage would have been a daunting task for any band, but when you’ve been around as long as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, showmanship is a second language. With their bottomless discography, there is no predicting a Chili Peppers set list, but then again, there’s hardly a wrong turn to be made.
The Chili Peppers performed a smart combination of the necessary classics like “Give It Away,” and their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” as well as selections from the latest release, Stadium Arcadium,, like “She’s Only 18,” with its grooving, care-free bass line courtesy of Flea, and an impressive rendition of “Snow (Hey Oh).” Yet it was “Under the Bridge” that provided the climax of the show. Anthony Kiedis’s lyrics intimately brought the crowd into the depths of his former heroin addiction, as if they were right there alongside him under that bridge.
No one turns bubblegum pop on its head quite like Britain’s Lily Allen. The raven-haired spitfire combines adolescent sentiments with a wicked smart delivery, making for a lethal cocktail of infectious pop. Case in point: The cute-as-a-button songstress took the stage in a dainty white sundress and, after forgetting a few of her lyrics, apologized in a Mary Poppins-esque voice before proceeding. “This next one’s about small penises,” she said before launching into a hilariously raunchy ditty. And throughout the show, Allen punctuated her lyrics with quick drags off a cigarette perched in her left hand. With her single “Smile” climbing the charts and a personality as big as her vocal chops, Allen looks poised to take the American pop world by storm.
It was only two years ago that the young and precocious members of Arcade Fire found themselves at their first Coachella. Stuck with a side-stage performance, they had a mediocre timeslot, a barely readable name on the bill, and an audience that put the headliners to shame.
This time around, the band took the Mainstage armed with new material from Neon Bible, adding some extra heat to Saturday’s 115-degree weather. New tracks, such as the opening rendition of “Keep the Car Running” and “Black Mirror,” breathed life into the sun-sweltered crowds, while sing-a-longs like “Wake Up,” with its high-flying, wordless chorus, soared even higher as the Fire faced the setting sun. It’s safe to say that this band has made a habit of stealing thunder from Coachella headliners.
Although one might not immediately associate The Decemberists with dance parties, the band proved its versatility during their sunset show with an extended take on “The Perfect Crime No. 2.” Frontman Colin Meloy asked the crowd to spread out to allow a circle for a dance contest-and when The Decemberists ask you to make a dance circle, you’d better do it. The band likely impressed even those unfamiliar with their epic, melancholy ballads. For the “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” which tells the story of a whale swallowing an entire ship of unfortunate souls, Meloy had the audience contribute the sound effect of thousands of people screaming in agony. The result echoed across the polo grounds, much to the amusement of those listening.
The New Pornographers
Music snob favorites though they might be, The New Pornographers showed remarkable humility on stage – at one point conceding to the overpowering volume of the nearby Travis show and asking their audience to sing along to “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” The group sounded tight, despite having Kathryn Calder sub in for the always stellar Neko Case. They also won the audience’s hearts from the get-go by appearing before a screen depicting the band’s new album cover. “We’re not going to play anything from it,” explained Carl Newman. The crowd cheered and the band launched into “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” one of the standout tracks of The New Pornographer’s well-received 2005 album.
With 100-plus temperatures and no tents to block the sun on the festival’s two largest stages, the Coachella afternoon is a beast. But there was no stronger a woman to slay the Saturday heat streak than Miss Regina Spektor. With her skirt blowing in the warm breeze and her painted red lips lighting up the Mainstage’s two video screens, Spektor played her 50-minute set with all the grace of a true lady, covering all the crowd favorites, including “On the Radio” and “Samson and Delilah.” But it was the lyrics to “Fidelity” that rang most true-“I hear in my mind all of this music /And it breaks my heart /And it breaks my heart : “-setting the tone for a perfect Coachella afternoon.
Damien Rice fans got a bit of a bum deal late Sunday night, but it wasn’t for Rice’s lack of trying. Air-the band just before Rice’s set-started 35 minutes late. As a result, Rice himself was delayed by about 15 minutes, leaving him enough time to play just six songs. But, oh, were they worth the wait. The set was an accelerated trip through his career, beginning with “The Professor and La Fille Danse,” followed by “Volcano.” And while Rice does all emotions well, it’s anger he does best, rendering “Woman Like a Man” and “Coconut Skins” the evening’s highlights. The only thing absent was Rice’s cohort, Lisa Hannigan. Though Rice actually pulled Hannigan’s higher-pitched parts, her feminine lilt was sorely missed.
Just knowing that a flamboyant pop jester like Mika shared Coachella’s main stage with the likes of Willie Nelson and The Roots is amusing enough. Mika’s half-hour performance may have won him some new fans among those who had previously only known the singer for his breakout hit “Grace Kelly.” Bouncing around stage in garishly festooned army pants-perhaps an actualization of Life in Cartoon Motion, the name of his debut album-Mika grinned and winked and reminded concertgoers that Coachella is indeed an event for everyone.
And check out complete photographic coverage in the below slideshow of other shows the Indy caught, including Rufus Wainwright, Interpol, Peter, Bjorn and John, Explosions in the Sky, The Kaiser Chiefs and Willie Nelson.