Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coachella 2012 Week One Day Three - Sunday April 15

Compared to the two days that had just transpired, Sunday was, as I told a friend, weak sauce.

Over-stocked with electronic acts, who took over significant portions of the day in the Mojave and Gobi along with the Sahara, not to mention Justice's and Girl Talk's Coachella Stage and Outdoor Theatre appearances, the rock 'n' roll segment of Coachella 2012 effectively ended at 6:55 with the conclusion of The Hives excellent set save for the exception of At The Drive-In's pre-Dre burst, and a few scattered soft-indie shows (Gotye, Beirut, Florence & The Machine).

Worse, three of the days top performers...Santigold, Seun Kuti, and Wild Beasts...we're all scheduled head to head in "pick one of the three fashion," and other acts I had hoped would deliver top flight sets didn't quite hit the mark (Wild Flag, Fitz & The Tantrums, Florence).

A couple endearing surprises...First Aid Kid was an absolute charmer, Lissie, now backed by a full band, was much more engaging than when I saw her opening for Ray LaMontagne a year ago, and The Weekend delivered a solid if unspectacular set, but overall, one of the weakest day's in the five years I've attended...not as bad as the over-progged Muse headlining Saturday 2010, which is easily my least favorite Coachella day of all time, but not far off pace.

At least until Snoop and Dre.  That changed everything.

Here's a look at the Sunday acts I was able to see.


1. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dog - 10:35 to Festival End - The Coachella Stage: The undeniable "biggest moment" of the festival.  Though I knew I would catch this set, I hadn't built up expectations for it like I had some other shows on the lineup, but the moment Snoop and Dre took the stage in a slight cheesy Golden Globes MC like Manner, and those beats started flying, I, along with what seemed like every other individual left on the fields, was hooked. Honestly, I've never seen the Coachella crowd so uniformly anchored around one performance, like they were here...not even for Prince or McCartney...and of those three sets, this was the one that had providing a straight up good time most on it's mind.  This was a party rap set for the history books...great before the parade of all-stars came on...with a sharp live band and wonderful, projection-oriented set design full of vibrant colors...but then something epic when they did...Whiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, later Eminem, and then, of course, the moment everyone has been talking about...Tupac.  I had heard the rumors, but I have to admit to being completely duped the first few moments the hologram came on...rising out of the floor with its head lowered, I actually thought it was a shirtless Kanye for a few seconds before coming to grips with what I was actually seeing.  The hologram looked remarkably believable from my fairly distant vantage point...drifting right or left a few times and emitting a soft, white glow, but otherwise seeming very natural and solid  And when Snoop joined in for a rap duet, well, there's been a lot of opinions expressed on this matter,  but I found the whole thing hugely entertaining.  Glad I was lucky enough to catch this new technology the first time act before it becomes a cliche concert gimmick in the years to come.  Anyway, while not my top purely musical set of the weekend (I'd have to give Bon Iver, Buzzcocks, Refused, The Rapture and Death Grips a higher nod in that department), this was without question my favorite set overall, and ranks right up there the greatest performances to ever grace the polo fields.

Here's the full week one show.


2. The Hives - 6:05 to 6:55 - The Coachella Stage: I missed the opening ten minutes of this set catching the end of Wild Flag, but caught the rest, and it was just great, hammy fun.  For those who haven't seen The Hives before, it's a comedy routine as much as a rock 'n' roll show, with lead singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist pulling out all sorts of crowd interaction tricks and killing as much time ranting like a Bapist preacher as the band does playing...but Almqvist's theatrics work perfectly for this band, elevating a very energetic but hardly memorable song catalog (save for '08 garage masterpiece Tick Tick Boom, with which they closed, and a few earlier classics).  For sheer fun, this was the second most entertaining set of the weekend after Dr. Dre and Snoop. 

Here's Tick Tick Boom.

3. First Aid Kit - 2:15 to 3:00 - The Mojave Tent: After Death Grips, I would probably rank First Aid Kit's set as the biggest breakout performance of the festival...but the two acts couldn't have been more perfectly aligned polar opposites.  Where Death Grips was all testosterone and violence and brutal imagery, this set was all gentle feminine sweetness and charm.  Two cute as a button, chipmunk-voiced Swedish sisters (one a dead ringer for Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) and a able drummer decked out in flower-power garb and delivering their earnest take on classic folk and Americana.  I missed the first half of the show catching Metronomy and Band of Skulls, but walked in just as they were starting one of my favorites, Emmylou, which they delivered beautifully, and from there the set just continued to get better, concluding with the joyous King Of The World...which very well may open next year's Coachella starters mix. I hope every 16 year old girl at the fest that weekend got a chance to see this set...there was something very empowering about what these very young women pulled off.

Here's Emmylou.

4. Wild Beasts - 3:25 to 4:10 - The Mojave Tent: 3 pm Sunday was in my opinion the festival's second worst clusterfuck after the Black Keys/M83/Explosions In The Sky logjam on Friday night.  As with that Friday Night scenario, there was no win-win option here, so I opted for Wild Beasts, who I felt were the more accomplished album act of last three years over Santigold, and squeezed in a few minutes of Greg Ginn and Seun Kuti before the start.  Sound was an issue throughout this set...sometimes excellent, sometimes awful...but the jazzy flow and 80s textures of the bands smooth but sensual songs play far better than I expected them to live.  Surprisingly, it's bassist and second lead vocalist Tom Flemming, with his deep baritone, who makes the more charismatic impression live over the far more unique and idiosyncratic Hayden Thorpe, who sang wonderfully, but just wasn't quite as strong a presence...and boy does he look a lot like Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe when he shaves and dons his specs. But in the end, what really helped this set differentiate itself is in a weekend that saw a lot of excellent performers doing their best to enliven mediocre songs (Fitz & The Tantrums, The Hive, Wild Flag, Florence & The Machine's, Band of Skulls, and Justice all come immediately to mind, and that's just Sunday) Wild Beasts were working with some genuinely great material to start with, and it was the strength of their song craft that ultimately shone through.  None one song stood high above the others, though Hooting & Howling's brilliant opening 90 seconds had every bit the pull it does on record, and Flemming's spastic singing on Two Dancers was also memorable.

Here's the official Coachella coverage of Hooting & Howling.

5. Thundercat - 5:20 to 5:55 - The Gobi Tent: I can't claim to be a huge fan of these ridiculously talented bassists debut album, finding it too soft and mushy for my tastes in a 1970s Jean Luc Ponte jazz/fusion sort of way, but the ten or so minutes I caught of this set before heading over to Wild Flag were a gas.  Felt like I was in the presence of some monster musicians, and the outlandish costumes, right out of a P-Funk show, only helped to amp the cool groove of the show.

Here's one of his mellower numbers.

6. Company Flow - 8:20 to 9:10 - The Gobi Tent: Up against uber-popular DJ acts Girl Talk and Justice and fan favorite indie act Beirut, this El-P fronted mid-90s experimental rap act...reunited for the express purpose of revisiting tracks from their highly influential debut Funcrusher Plus...had no chance of drawing a large crowd, but the 300 or so acolytes who crowded the front of the stage brought as much energy and enthusiasm for the rap trio as most full capacity crowds.  Spinning wickedly eerie beat and highly literate raps, this was an artier, more intimate rap warm-up for the juggernaut that was to fall two hours later.

Here's a couple of tracks.

7. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - 3:10 to 3:55 - The Outdoor Theatre: I only caught the long opening number before heading over to the Mojave for Wild Beasts, but from what I saw, this set was exactly what one would expect...excellent afro-pop, delivered with great energy from the son and aged original band of the genre's master of masters, and perfectly scheduled mid-afternoon on the warmest, sunniest day of the festival. A different kind of dance fest from what was going down in the Sahara, this was one of the festival's most joyous shows.

Here's a sample!

8. Housse De Racket - 12:55 to 1:30 - The Gobi Tent: This drums and guitar duo sounds a lot more like countrymen Phoenix on record...but in person they brought the "racket" like American stars The White Stripes, transforming several of their dance-oriented tunes into thundering rockers in what was easily the best of Sunday's pre-2pm sets.

Here's a good example of the set's heavier guitar lean.


9. Greg Ginn And The Royal We - 3:00 to 3:45 - The Gobi Tent:  I've probably got this show rated 100 spots higher than anyone else, for what the Black Flag's original guitarist brought here was nothing less than a classic, old school experimental rock intentional room-clearer reminiscent of 70s efforts like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp's No Pussy Footing or Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Playing to track while manning two instruments simultaneously, his guitar and a theremin, one of which I am assuming was the "Royal We," as Ginn was alone on stage, Ginn pounded out one crunchy oddball groove to the next in front of the smallest crowd I have ever seen at a Coachella show.  Even heard rumors the tent was completely empty later in the set after I had moved on to see Wild Beasts.  The interesting thing though, is the music wasn't that difficult, just avant-garde and from another age.  Had this festival been stage in 1974, my guess is the proggier audience of that era would have eaten this stuff up, and in all honesty, of the twenty or so albums I picked up during the weekend from the festival's lower billed acts, I like Greg's the best.  So breathe easier, Greg, it wasn't a complete waste of may have played for stretches of your set to an audience of zero, but know at least one passer-by bought and has enjoyed your merch.

Here's a long sample of the prog-slaught.

10. The Weeknd - 6:55 to 7:45 - The Outdoor Theatre: Prior to the festival, a lot of fans were pinning this set as most likely to be a train wreck.  This was the edgy, mysterious R&B artist's first ever show in the states, and rumors of Goldenvoice's concerns over the acts reliability ran rampant.  Fans sensed the potential for another Sly Stone / Ariel Pink-styled meltdown, but the show they ultimately got couldn't have been more professional.  I can't say I loved this show...the band's energy wasn't particular high, and so much of what makes this act's music so interesting is best processed in the most intimate of settings, which The Outdoor Theatre definitely is not...but the band sounded fine, and I loved the closing acoustic version of House Of Balloons' Wicked Game.

Here's the full show.

11. Florence & The Machine - 9:45 to 10:35 - The Outdoor Theatre: If push came to shove, I would still claim Florence's mid-afternoon 2010 Gobi set as my favorite show of that year's festival. Having just broken in the states, young and eager, she threw her out-sized voice and personality into her killer debut album Lungs' best songs with everything she had. It wasn't the most professional of performances...Florence can be quick to fall off key live...but it was overpowering nonetheless.  Unfortunately, a lot has changed for Florence over the last two years, and much of it not for the better.  Having toured relentlessly and now approaching Whitney Houston/Madonna-esque diva status, she's stopped consistently singing out, saving her pipes for a few select moments each show like the road-hardened veteran she now is.  Worse, she's at present committed to performing the far less interesting songs from her disappointing sophomore effort Ceremonials. Combined with a more bloated, stain glass window stage design, and backup singers to stay in harmony with that further prevented Flo from singing out, this show, though still highly entertaining in spots, lacked the fire, spontaneity, momentum and sheer vocal explosion that made that 2010 set so extraordinary. Of the individual songs, Dog Days proved the ever reliable crowd pleaser, but her closing performance of Cermonials's No Light No Light was the night's standout, the one number that matched the peaks of her previous Coachella performance. Let's all hope album number three sees Florence returning to the level of song quality and variety that made Lungs one of 2009's best albums, because a near-future headlining spot seems almost inevitable.

Here's a fan captured video of that closing number.

12. Fitz & The Tantrums - 4:45 to 5:35 - The Coachella Stage: Caught most of this set, and it brought the booty-shaking fun as any good midday retro-soul set should, but having sat through some other genuinely transcendent Soul/Funk/R&B knockouts at Coachella in recent years...most notably Gary Clark Jr this year, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears and some wonderful snippets of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu in '11, Gil Scott Heron in '10, and especially Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings crusher in ' was hard not to feel a touch underwhelmed by this slightly cheesier, Hall & Oates-y act.

Here's L.O.V.

13. At The Drive In - 9:10 to 10:00 - The Coachella Stage: I've never been a huge fan of this band specifically, or the rap-rock genre as a whole, but I've got to admit, I caught the opening twenty minutes of this set, and rather enjoyed it.  Good energy, some solid riffage, and great snark from lead singer Cedric Bixler mocking some of the Hollywood hipster stars cushing in the VIP section by name.  Fans of the band I spoke to later felt the band was sort of mailing it in, and didn't seem like they wanted to be there, but I didn't sense that at all.

But I'll let you be the judge. Here's the full show.

14. Fanfarlo - 12:00 to 12:35 - The Gobi Tent: I wasn't expecting much from this UK indie-pop act, whose latest release, Rooms Filled With Light, sits on Metacritic with a composite score in the low 60s, but they were actually quite good.  Boasting a rich, contemporary sound best described as a 50/50 cross between the Arcade Fire's orchestrated anthems and Beirut's twee, Balkanized pop, the band sounded very well-rehearsed, and lead singer Simon Balthazar had an impressive croony voice.

A nice, warm, ebullient set to kick off the's the only fan capture video of their Coachella performances I could find.

15. Lissie - 12:50 to 1:30 - The Outdoor Theatre: Another pleasant surprise! I had seen Lissie once before, opening for Ray LaMontagne at the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater in a solo-acoustic show.  She wasn't bad that night (to be honest, she was better than La Montagne), but what I saw that night didn't lead me to believe she would make much of an impression at Coachella.  But this was an entirely different affair.  Backed by a full band this time out, she came on like a younger, slightly less raspy Lucinda Williams, and her opening few numbers before I skittered off to catch some of Housse de Racket, packed some real punch. Sleepy Ray should take notes.

Here's a fan video that captures the spirit of the show.

16. Sleeper Agent - 12:00 to 12:30 - The Outdoor Theatre: Up-and-coming Cage The Elephant pals Sleeper Agent and their energetic, overstuffed pop-rock ditties were a fine way to open the Outdoor Theatre on day three. Nothing spectacular, but a very lively, at times infectiously catchy show.

Here's Bottomed Out.

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