Thursday, June 25, 2009

Coachella 2009 Review - Saturday Day Two

Saturday, sadly, was from a pure performance standpoint my least favorite day in the two years I have attended Coachella.

There probably were a number of great performances this day, but if so, I missed most of them. I guess, that’s the way it goes at these super fests…with all the multiple stages, at best you’re going to catch one-fourth of the overall action, and that’s if you never stop to eat or hit the port-o-potties. Sometimes, in retrospect, you’re going to chose wrong.

That said, no Coachella day is a complete disappointment. Here’s my rundown on Day Two.

Saturday’s Best Shows
1) Bob Mould
2) TV on the Radio
3) Michael Franti and Spearhead
4) Gang Gang Dance
5) Blitzen Trapper/Drive-By Truckers

Saturday’s Weakest Shows
1) M.I.A.
2) Fleet Foxes

Cloud Cult

After a nice breakfast with Craig and Diane, Nancy and I headed out early to make a full day of it. With the Killers headlining instead of McCartney, security lines early were non-existent. Grabbed a quick drink, and then headed over to Outdoor Theater for Cloud Cult.

They had a nice, string-oriented Arcade Fire-styled sound, and a unique stage gimmick where a painter that travels with them paints a picture as the band performs, but other than that, two months removed, not much else memorable about this set.

Bob Mould Band

As would happen Sunday with Okkervil River, one of the day’s very best sets was turned in really early, and in what would be a very clear trend for the entire festival, the most veteran acts routinely put most of the younger acts to shame, turning in many of the festivals strongest sets.

And this Gobi set was just fabulous, a no frills, hard-charging romp through a number of the best and most accessible songs from his solo, Husker Du, and Sugar canons. The Sugar songs, in particular, really impressed, and throughout, Mould seemed to be having the time of his life.

Joss Stone

In truth, Joss Stone deserves a little credit. She was clearly this year’s Jack Johnson, the artist indie fans/blogerratti most felt the need to bash in their pre-fest posts…but you can’t go wrong with a Motown feel, and ably supported by a fine set of back-up singers, the last two songs I caught from this set were really cooking. Nancy had skipped out of Mould earlier to catch more of this set and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Drive By-Truckers

This was my worst conflict of the day, DBTs and Blitzen Trapper going on almost simultaneously. Only caught first four songs from this set, including my favorite track off their latest, the Mike Cooley-led 3 Dimes Down…but was too far back and too involved in hooking up with Craig and Diane, who had just arrived, to really get a clear impression. Craig stuck around while I headed over to Blitzen and the girl’s to Paolo Nutini, and said the rest of the set was pretty great. Really wish I could have stuck this one out.

Blitzen Trapper

Caught the last four songs. First two I caught, the dark folk ballad, Black River Killer, and a lively send up of one of the uptempo numbers from Furr (Gold for Bread I think), came off so well I thought this might end up my favorite set of day.

But then they killed the mood with a drawn out rendition of psychedelic murk-rocker U-Luv which ate up most of their remaining time. So mixed bag here, but Black River came off so great they still make the best of list on strength of that performance alone.

Paolo Nutini

Hooked back up with the others at the Beer Tent between main stage and Outdoor Theater and angled towards Main Stage to catch tail end of Paolo Nutini. I know nothing about this guy, but he was roaring through a fantastic, lively cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s I Want To Take You Higher that made me want to learn more.

This also established another clear trend for the weekend. It seemed like every time I walked away from a so-so set, I’d catch the tail end of a set by some Latin Band I’d never heard of absolutely kicking ass.

Michael Franti & Spearhead

We stayed in the beer garden to chill for next hour…tried to catch some of Superchunk, but that awful Heineken Dance Tent was making such a racket, we could not hear them at all (Coachella needs to think seriously about losing/moving/quieting down this Dance Tent and the Do-Lab. When noise bleed comes from another act, that’s one thing, but when an act you’d like to hear is being drowned out by some two-bit local DJ, it’s a problem.)

Anyway, we moved to the other side of the Garden and caught the back-half of a wonderfully engaging set by Michael Franti & Spearhead. I’m not too familiar with his music, but the packed crowd was thoroughly enjoying themselves. A real late afternoon crowd pleaser.


Scrambled over to the outdoor as soon as Spearhead ended to grab a couple of songs from Calexico before my two most anticipated acts of the day, TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes, took the stage. Got real lucky on personal level, in that they hit my favorite song of theirs, Man Made Lake off their latest release, in first two tracks. They nailed it, but couldn’t stay for more…we were all locked in on catching…

TV on the Radio

Like the Hold Steady on Friday, and Okkervil River, who would perform Sunday, I consider this band one of the truly elite recording artists of the last half decade. Unlike those artists, TV on the Radio’s highly produced sound strikes me as next to impossible to recreate live…and based on this show at least, that proved that to be true.

But they still kicked ass.

Notching up the volume on the bass and a brass section to a ridiculous level, their show was almost as poorly mixed as A Place To Bury Stranger’s the night before. But here, it totally worked. The band focused exclusively on their uptempo material, energetically diving into to spirited versions of Dancing Chose, Crying, Wolf Like Me, Red Dress, et. al., burying the crowd in wave after wave of relentless pulsing bass. You could barely hear the voices, you could barely hear the guitar, but there was just enough to stay with the songs, and the energy of this set, particularly during an amazing rendition of Wolf, was intoxicating.

Fleet Foxes

From full-on sonic annihilation to the gentlest of sounds with only seconds between sets, we raced over to Fleet Foxes at the Outdoor.

Area was already packed, so weren’t able to get too close. I’m a huge fan of their self-titled debut (less so of the Sun Giant EP), and thought going in that this had all the makings of one of the weekend’s top highlights, but a portentous comment by a friend I had run into earlier in the day at Mould would prove to be true. “I’m not so sure,” he said. “They’re good, but they’re awfully young.”

And that pretty much sums up the feel of this set.

They took the stage, and those voices, their calling card, sounded great. But like Vampire Weekend the year before, they were clearly overwhelmed by the size of the moment, and seem to still be working on their performing chops.

In short…they seemed terrified.

Brutal noise bleed from Thievery Corporation over on the main stage did little to help, and their set list sucked, spending the full opening ten minutes on inferior (i.e. non-Myknos) Sun Giant tracks before hitting anything from Fleet Foxes.

Mercifully, at least for them, they scampered off stage a full ten minutes early, though at the time I was enraged as hell that they had skipped out with time to spare before playing Blue Ridge Mountains, my favorite of all their tracks.

They put out a great record in 2008, but on stage, this band has some serious toughening up to do.

Thievery Corporation

Caught last ten minutes of this set. Just another propulsive Latin band kicking ass at the same time that an indie-darling of mine had just let me down.

Band of Horses

Only caught a few minutes here, sounded fine, though I’m not a huge fan. They can be pretty, but aside from Funeral, St. Augustine, Detlef Schrempf and one or two others, I think most of their songs are pretty pedestrian.


For two years running, my vote for worst set of entire festival.

Many will disagree with me, especially after she bailed out the fest after Winehouse went AWOL, but I hope it's a while before Coachella brings her back.

And I like her albums. I think she’s a true original, very in touch with the movement, and a smart conceptualist, but as a live performer, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

On stage, she’s an absolute non-talent…can’t sing, can’t really dance, doesn’t play anything, doesn’t have that likeable of a persona…so take away the neon, the dancers, the buckets, the agit-prop video background, the Stalinist Podium, and the third world rebel posturing, what are left with…someone who couldn’t hold the stage on a musical level for five seconds paired against just about any other performer at the festival.

Craig said it best about half way through the set when I asked if he wanted to skip over to catch then end of the Chemical Brothers. His replay, “I can,t. This has completely sucked the life out of me.”

Jenny Lewis

Case in point on my M.I.A. rant, only caught one song in this set, but it was a great one…solo acoustic guitar rendition of Silver Lining. Let’s see M.I.A. pull off something as basic but difficult as this.

The Killers

Not a huge fan, but do really like three or four of their tracks…didn’t stick around long enough to here any of them, but have to say…these guys were doing everything they could to live up to their headliner billing.

No embarrassment here, they acquitted themselves decently enough, but as McCartney proved the night before, the best weapon for a headlining stint is a seriously deep catalog of great songs.
That, these boys don’t got.

Gang Gang Dance

Final hour of Saturday pitted a number of intriguing acts against the Killers. Atmosphere with their mellow groove oriented rap was going at the Outdoor, Mastodon was tearing it up at the Mohave, and MSTRKRFT was holding down the Sahara, but I chose to go with these guys and was glad I did.

Just a luke-warm fan of their debut album, the material played great in the Gobi, where their mellow, trance dance tunes just kinda flowed and blended in a soothing, engaging wind down way. Rumor Kip Malone of TV on the Radio was in attendance, but didn’t see him, and with that, it was back to the hotel, day two officially complete (though did hear Killer’s All These Things I’ve Done and Jenny Was a Friend of Mine walking out).

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