Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coachella 2011 - Sunday Day Three Review

Sunday was probably the weakest day of Coachella 2011, bogged down by a lackluster three hour scheduling block in the late afternoon.  But boosted by a fantastic opening three hours and a memorable evening set from PJ Harvey, this closing day still delivered an abundance of great live music.

Here's how I'd rank the Sunday offerings I was lucky enough to see.


1. PJ Harvey - 9:45 - 10:35 The Outdoor Theater: Just a fantastic near the end of the festival set.

The exhausted crowds had begun to thin, and a cold wind had kicked up something fierce by the time PJ took the stage, but the chilly vibe proved a perfect match for this quietly mesmerizing show.  Stepping out clutching an autoharp, and adorned in a white gown with large feathers woven into her hair, PJ was a perfect visualization of one of latest release Let England Shake's dominant themes - a people's eternal marriage to their native lands.  The rest of the band, dressed in British regalia, re-enforced that album's other dominant theme, war, straight down to the bloody severed hands attached to the drummer's sticks.

Starting with Let England Shake and The Words That Maketh Murder, PJ proceeded calmly through seven of England's tracks and four others, most of the rest culled from mid-90s release To Bring You My Love (C'mon, Billy, To Bring You My Love, Meet Ze Monsta).  Hardly moving save to change instruments, she was nonetheless a commanding stage presence from start to finish, and the new songs couldn't have sounded or flowed from one to the next better.

Here's an excellent fan captured double hit of The Words That Maketh Murder and C'mon Billy.


2. Delorean - 2:00 -2:45 The Gobi Tent: I knew next to nothing about this contemporary House/Electronica act out of Spain going into this set, other than that their debut album, Subiza, had just squeaked in on the backside of Pitchfork's Top 50 in 2010 list.  Since then, I've given the album several spins, and...it's just okay.  But on this day, passing through for the opening twenty minutes, something about their swirling, soaring sound really took hold.  Maybe it was their drummer, who outside of the drummer for Foals, was the best I saw all weekend.  Whatever it was, I loved the intoxicating mix of processed vocals and samples combined with live rhythm section these guys were laying down in this early afternoon set.

Here's Grow.

3. High Contrast - 5:00 - 6:00 The Oasis Dome: For 2011, Coachella added a six stage, a tiny dome sponsored by Pure Filth, just for niche DJ and drums & bass acts.  I spent very little time there, but based on another recommendation from my assistant editor/up-and-coming DJ Kenneth, I decided to give this Scandinavian artist who works almost exclusively with his own proprietary samples a try.  What a lucky break for me.  Aided by a measured, savvy hype man who knew just when to interject and when to take a break and let the music speak for itself, High Contrast had the dance crowd totally revved up from the moment he kicked off his set.  Probably the best crowd response to any set I saw over the weekend save for Cut//Copy.  But it was the music that floored me most...really cool, really sophisticated with a lot of art rock flavors...almost as if Radiohead decided to make Kid A or In Rainbows as a dance album.  I don't go to a lot of DJ shows, so take my praise with a grain of salt, but this was my favorite DJ set ever.

Here's a brief video of the show's opening moments.

4. OFF! - 3:05 - 3:30 The Gobi Tent: Yep, you're reading that right...just twenty five minutes.  But when you are OFF!, the punk supergroup composed of grizzled L.A. veterans and fronted by former Black Flag/Circle Jerks lead singer Keith Morris, twenty-five minutes is all you need.  Playing almost all sixteen tracks from their debut full length First Four EPs, the set was one ferocious sixty second blast after another, with Morris providing far and away the best stage banter of the weekend in between.  Selling the band as really not that different from the gaggle of indie acts on the bill, "just a slightly different flavor," he broke into tears introducing one song, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, a heartfelt eulogy for the deceased punker, one of Morris's best friends, and was all class in another instance when one rowdy fan shouted out "Fuck Duran Duran!," to which Morris replied along the lines of "I have to respectfully disagree with you there, Duran Duran rules."  A very brief but highly charged, thoroughly engaging set.

Here's one of several fan videos on youtube that caught the Jeffrey Lee Pierce performance.  It's not the best visually, with the band lost in silhouette, but it's the only video that captured Keith's introduction to the song, which really conveys the vibe of the whole set.

5. Trentmoller - 7:10 - 8:00 The Mojave Tent:  Another band I knew next to nothing about going in, other than having caught the grandiose concert video the Coachella website was promoting the week before the lineup was announced.  Only had time for the opening fifteen minutes before heading over to indulge some personal childhood nostalgia with Duran Duran, but the portion I caught totally worked.  Delivering a instrumental post rock variation on Explosion In The Sky's soft/loud dynamic, but with more of a Euro Disco veneer, the band started out performing behind a maroon slash-ribbon screen, which descended near the end of the first song.  It was a thoroughly impressive show of musicianship and composition, full of shifts, builds and left-field instrumentation, and I wish had been able to stay for the complete set, which many ranked as the best of the festival.

Here's one of the number's that I missed.

6. Phosphorescent - 12:15 - 12:45 The Mojave Tent: It's sets like these that keep me foregoing sleep and coming back every day the moment the gates open.  Judging by lead singer Mathew Houck's bed head and torn black tank top, I had gotten up this morning far earlier than he when the band took the stage (if he had slept the night before at all), but in no way was early morning grog apparent in the act's delightful performance.  Spinning a brand of witty country rock that echoes strongly of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo-era Gram Parsons fronted Byrds, with all the tunes coming from latest release Here's To Taking It Easy, this was as welcoming and easy going a set as the day produced.  Might have benefited from replacing one of the many ballads on the set list with something more uptempo like I Don't Care If There's Cursing...but why quibble.  The band's renditions of It's Hard To Be Humble (When You're From Alabama), Nothing Was Stolen, and Mermaid Parade were beyond reproach.

Here's Mermaid Parade.

7. Twin Shadow - 1:10 - 1:55 The Mojave Tent: Wow, is this guy someone to watch. What a live performer. The press often refers to him as "the black Morrissey," but the dance rock artist he reminded me of most was Prince, and any artist that can remind anyone of live Prince has to be taken seriously.   I only had a few minutes for the start of his set before breaking off for another show (Menomena), but once again, as with The Tallest Man On Earth the day before, the Coachella god's smile down upon me as the band took the stage a full ten minutes early.   Managed to catch four songs before splitting, of which When We're Dancing was the definite highlight.  But again, watch out for this guy in the years to come, he is a serious live talent.

Here's a admittedly glitchy snippet of When We're Dancing.  The audio problems are with the recording, not the set.

8. Lightning Bolt - 7:50 - 8:35 The Gobi Tent:  There are few bands in existence more deserving of the disclaimer "NOT FOR EVERYONE" than this positively assaulting, racket-raising drums and base duo out of Providence, Rhode Island.  But what can seem ear trashing on record can often play vibrantly alive on stage, and that was definitely the case here.  Donning a "Leatherface" mask with his microphone jammed fully into his mouth underneath, drummer Brian Chippendale and his partner, bassist Brian Gibson put on one of the most horrifying, but also most electrifying, sets of the weekend. 

Here's an awesome fan captured video of the last song of their set.

9. Menomena - 1:20 - 2:00 The Outdoor Theatre: I'm a huge fan of this band and their hard-cutting, sample pastiche style...but what's invigorating on record can be challenging to pull off live...challenging, but not impossible.  Performing without recently departed founder Brent Knopf, the set consisted entirely of Justin Harris and Danny Seim compositions, and for the most part, it was the hard-charging Harris material...The Pelican, TAOS...that shined, though Seim's Dirty Cartoons was a definite highlight. Other numbers, while still solid, found the band struggling a touch to pull-off all the rapid fire instrumental changes and herky-jerky rhythms that hit so effortlessly on record, but the peaks of this show (especially TAOS) were as good as any all weekend.

Unfortunately, good fan videos of the best numbers of this set are in short supply, so here's Weird instead of one of those highlights.


10. Kanye West - 10:30 - Festival End - The Main Stage: Kanye West's headlining set was a mixed bag.  I missed opener Dark Fantasy, in which Kanye rode a crane onto the stage, while closing out PJ Harvey, but was able to get over soon after.  Dwarfed by a massive Roman Bas Relief background, Kanye engaged the audience with virtually no support.  Two sequencer DJs stood deep to the left, Justin Vernon stepped out to add backing vocals on a few tracks, and the toga'd dancers from the Power video made a couple of appearances.  That was it.  Otherwise it was just Kanye rapping to track.  Given how strong his recent recorded material has been, that was often enough.  Power brought the whole crowd to a frenzy, a two song interlude in the middle of the set honoring his mother had a lot of heartfelt punch, and Vernon's backing vocals at the end of Monster, a change-up substituted for Nicky Minaj's legendary rap on the recorded version of the song, were genuinely haunting.  But other portions of the set really suffered from the lack of live backing and West's limitations as an MC, particular a poorly executed greatest hits medley two-thirds of the way through the show.  Wish I could have stayed for the final few tracks, but with about four songs left, I hit my exhaustion wall and headed for the exit...which leads to a general point.  I was far from the only attendee bailing due to exhaustion...I think the approach the festival took on Friday night, closing the mainstage with a DJ, and having the headliner play the set before, should become the Sunday night standard.  Give your final headliner a chance to deliver the goods without the audience worrying about the drive home, and then let a great DJ act close things out for the die hards who want to see things through to the very end.

Here's the official video of the first half of his set.

11. Chromeo - 8:35 - 9:20 The Outdoor Theatre: I can't say I paid close attention to this set, but as I referenced in my favorite moments list in page one of this festival review, for a few minutes the schedule broke so they were the only band playing, you could hear them everywhere on the grounds, and it felt like every single person in attendance got caught up in the band's infectious brand of techno/disco cheese.

Here's a montage of moments from the show.

12. Good Old War - 11:30 - Noon The Outdoor Theatre: Simon & Garfunkel harmonies and acoustic pop reigned supreme during this young Pennsylvania act's delightful little opening set.  Vocals sounded great, and another of my favorite moments of the festival came at the close of this set, when lead singer Keith Goodwin brought out his music loving father to sing backup on the band's final number.

Here's a snippet of That's Some Dream.

13. Duran Duran - 7:25 - 8:25 The Main Stage: While not my favorite performance of the day, Duran Duran acquitted themselves quite well, rolling through an hour long set of most of their MTV hits and several songs from 2010s solid comeback effort All You Need Is Now, and no band seemed more genuinely honored or excited to be included on the festival bill.  The first two-thirds of the set was solid, not exceptional, but the band's tremendous enthusiasm help keep things moving, and then the show suddenly kicked into high gear with fantastic back-to-back performances of Girls On Film and a heartfelt multimedia tribute to recently deceased James Bond Composer John Berry, anchored around the song he co-wrote with the band, A View To A Kill.

Here's the Bond medley.

14. City And Colour - 3:35 - 4:25 The Outdoor Theatre: Following OFF!'s blistering set moments earlier, no show could have been more perfectly counter programmed than this mid-afternoon cooldown from Canadian alt-country act City And Colour.  The music, spare and primarily acoustic, was easy to take in, and lead singer Dallas Green's voice, a gorgeous Jeff/Tim Buckley-flavored instrument, sent a chill up my spine...easily one of the most striking voices on display the entire weekend.

Here's a fan-captured vid of Sleeping Sickness.

15. Jack's Mannequin - 2:30 - 3:20 The Main Stage: Though not too familiar with this veteran, LA-based bar band act's piano-anchored material, this show proved to be an agreeable and highly animated set.

Here's the song Racing Thoughts.

16. Ellie Goulding - 5:00 - 5:40 The Gobi Tent: The better of two young, mainstreamy female Brits on Sunday's bill with classic pop and soul leanings, Goulding displayed a greater stylistic range and a much stronger voice (think Adele/Florence) in what I caught of her set than peer Eliza Doolittle.

Here's Animal.

Here's Animal.

17. Eliza Doolittle - Noon - 12:40 The Gobi Tent: Okay, full confession here.  I was taken far more by the looks than the songs of this young, petite, very cute Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen wannabe, but after watching fifteen minutes of her set, felt at least a modicum of future success due to video exposure seems all but assured.

Here's her cover of Kanye West's Runaway.

18. The Strokes - 8:55 - 10:00 The Main Stage: Can't say I was huge fan of The Strokes set.  Julian Casablancas was clearly drunk, and while that actually was a net positive, leading to some funny stage banter and not affecting his performance much, I've always seen the band as a present day Cars...owners of some great material, but a band that does little more than deliver acceptable versions of their songs live.

Thus, this show was a real peak and valley affair, with the fate of each moment completely tied to the quality of each song...their best songs (Last Night, Take It Or Leave It, Machu Picu, and especially Two Kinds Of Happiness) played great, the rest of their material played flat.  So all and all, not a bad show, and the black and white lighting effect that was employed throughout was a cool touch, but I can't see myself ever feeling the need to see them live again.  For me, this will always be a band built for the stereo, not the stage.

Here's the last few songs of their set.


19. Best Coast - 6:05 - 6:55 The Outdoor Theatre: I was never a huge fan of their debut album, liking a couple of tracks but finding the rest of the band's sugary/summery surf-pop melodies somewhat unengaging, but I came away even less impressed with the band live. Their sound was poor, and their music is just so rote.  The most unappealingly amateurish show I've seen at Coachella since catching Vivian Girls two years prior.

Here's Boyfriend.

20. Death From Above 1979 - 6:10 - 7:00 The Main Stage: An hour of my life I'd like to have back. I'm actually a big fan of this reunited Canadian drum & bass duo's lone release, 2004's Your A Women, I'm A Machine, but live the limitations of Sebastien Grainger's voice, coupled with the band's monolithic sound, led to a set that wore out its welcome by the ten minute mark. Worst scheduling choice of the festival...Goldenvoice always likes to put a lively ass-kicker on the Main Stage in the 6:00 pm slot to amp up the evening arrivals, but The National, who had already played the Outdoor Theatre sunset slot in 2008, and who will go on to be judged a vastly superior band when all is said and done, should have either been given this slot or Duran Durans's, with DFA 1979 moved to The Mojave or the Outdoor Theatre.

Here's their opening number.

21. Angus And Julia Stone - 3:50 - 4:35 The Gobi Tent: After Miguel, this Delaney & Bonnie-styled brother and sister hippie folk act out of Australia may have been the lamest band I caught all weekend, and I love Delaney & Bonnie...so it wasn't genre or influences that was turning me off here, but rather straight up quality.  Just a dud of a set from a couple of minor league talents.  There's a reason the All Music Guide hasn't bothered to write a review of their last three releases...surprised they were put on the bill at all, and even more surprised they were given a later time slot than way stronger acts like Phosphorescent, Menomena, and Twin Shadow...the Aussie contingent in the audience this day must have been huge.

Here's For You.


I also caught tiny portions of fun, MEN, CSS, Whiz Khalifia, Jack Beats, Jimmy Eat World, and Health during that weak 3:00 - 6:00 pm run, but none of these acts made enough of an impression, either positive or negative, to warrant comment.

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