Saturday, April 14, 2012

Coachella 2012 Week One Day Two - Saturday April 14

Saturday of Coachella 2012 Week One was my favorite - launched by a fabulous undercard of garage, punk and UK acts, propelled  through the late afternoon/early evening by fantastic reunion sets from The Buzzcocks, Squeeze, and fIREHOSE, and the capped by a much better than expected performance from The Shins and a "for the ages" performance from Bon Iver, Saturday felt like an embarrassment of much so that Radiohead's relatively sedate headlining set felt more like a cool, chill wind down than the main event.

Here's a look at the acts I managed to catch on this excellent day.


1. Bon Iver - 9:30 to 10:20 - The Coachella Stage: Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm huge fan of today's top Yacht-rocker, and I had heard tremendous things from other friends who had seen Bon Iver recently...but even with those sky-high expectations, this show was shockingly, shockingly good. Better than I could have ever imagined.  Putting all those Justin Timberlake/Saturday Night Live parodies to rest, Justin Vernon and company took a page out of The National's playbook and turned songs that are mellow and reflective on record in to potent, explosive anthem's on stage.  It's hard to describe just how huge songs like Perth, Calgary, Blood Bank, Skinny Love, and The Wolves Pt 1 & 2 played live, but words like huge, epic, and massive are the only words that adequately describe the in person impact. Additionally, all those confusing twists and turns on the second album seemed to make far more sense, as it became clear the album was conceived as a live symphony, constantly evolving...and none of this was lost even though the set list was pepper with selections from the earlier records. An absolute powerhouse, was my favorite Coachella set since McCartney's 2009 show until Tupac Part Deux arrived a night later to soften Bon Iver's soft rock thunder.

Here's the set's closer, which gives a good sense of how much Vernon's 9-piece band is adding to the impact of Bon Iver's songs.


2. The Buzzcocks - 5;15 to 6:05 - The Gobi Tent: The Gobi seemed to be the epicenter of a greater percentage of the week's best sets than in past years, and this Gobi set from punk elder statesmen The Buzzcocks was the best Gobi set of 2012. Tearing through virtually every track from 1979's Singles Going Steady with rapid-fire efficiency and fantastic energy that belied the band's advancing years, this was one of my favorite punk sets of all catchy and funny as it was fiery.  It was my first time seeing the band, but others I know who have seen them on multiple occasions said it was as good as they've ever seen the band.  Lucky Week One Coachellans.

Here's the official Coachella video of Ever Fallen In Love!


3. Squeeze - 7:15 to 8:05 - The Mojave Tent: Rod and I got a great forward spot for this set after making the difficult call to skip Jeff Mangum outright, and at first, it felt like we had made a mistake. Opener Bang Bang hardly generated chills, and then after a very effective Take Me I'm Yours, the set really sloughed off for a span as the older band continued to warm up. But then, around the twenty minute mark, everything came together, and the final stretch of Goodbye Girl / Hourglass / Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) / Slap And Tickle / Tempted / Black Coffee In Bed was as good as any stretch I was lucky to witness all weekend outside of Snoop Dre or Bon Iver,  once again confirming my Coachella truism that the old timers almost never disappoint.

Here's a fan video of the slowed down version of Tempted.

4. Radiohead - 11:05 to 1:00 AM - The Coachella Stage: This was my third time seeing Radiohead, the first being their killer Grant Park, Chicago show back on the Amnesiac tour, the second being at the Hollywood Bowl during the In Rainbows tour.  Both shows were significantly better than this poorly paced effort. I've always felt the band's Achilles heal was sequencing...whether on album or on stage, they kinda suck at it, it's just tough to notice because so many of their songs are so good...but on this night, deciding to anchor around King Of Limbs with other songs that had a similar feel, those sequencing limitations really hurt, leading to a set with little sense of momentum. That complaint aside, this was still a show with stunning highlights...I liked their live take on a couple of KOL's numbers...Lotus Flower had a serious groove going, Magpie morphed into a much more assertive rocker, and Give Up The Ghost was every bit as haunting as when Thom whipped it out in his otherwise forgettable 2010 Coachella set with Atoms For Peace...but as with their Hollywood Bowl show, it was the In Rainbows tracks that played best.  Weird Fishes, 15 Steps, Reckoner, and especially set best Bodysnatchers all killed. Older tracks fared more unevenly...Karma Police, Lucky and Paranoid Android from OK Computer all came off well, but There There again failed to match it's on record power (had the same thought previous time I saw them), Idioteque, Pyramid Song and Everything In Their Right Place failed to match the impact  of previous performances, and why the band hasn't permanently dropped Hail To The Thief lamos Myxomatosis and The Gloaming from their concert setlists, I'll never know. But all and all, a very cool couple hours.  Set design was awesome, with hanging diamond projection screens that hovered and shifted over the bands head, and Thom offset the cold lighting design with dare I say, almost warm, even hammy banter. And as always, their live sound was phenomenal.

Here's Bodysnatchers.

5. St. Vincent - 7:45 to 8:35 - The Gobi Tent: Squeezed, literally and figuratively, between sets by Squeeze and The Shins, whom Rod had a strong interest in seeing, I only managed to take in two and half songs from this set, Actor's Marrow and then Cruel and the front half of Year Of The Tiger from Strange Mercy, but they were all winners. Annie Clark's voice is as clear and strong live as it is on record, and her off kilter, slightly spastic moves on the guitar were oddly entertaining as a counterbalance to her "heroin chic" model looks.  She has yet to nail down that home run album (though she seems to get closer with each release), but based on the little I caught this night, I don't think we're done hearing from her anytime soon...again, literally and figuratively, this girl has legs.

Here's Cruel.

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - 11:40 to 12:10 - The Gobi Tent: My favorite early morning set of the festival came by total surprise from this local LA act. Rod and I stepped in planning to catch just one number, and ended up staying the full set. Musically, they're hitting a strange niche, halfway between X-styled garage punk and very mainstream 80s hard  rock (especially that of Pat Benatar, for whom lead singer/major league beauty Devon Dunsmoor is a vocal dead ringer), but the stylistic combo works. The band, especially guitarist Kenny Wessell and bassist John Carlucci, displayed some serious, jam-oriented chops in the brief instrumental bridges, and as I've already suggested, Dunsmoor, a working fashion model, brings some monster heat in addition to her arena sized-voice.  They were on really early, so haven't found any fan-captured videos of this set...but Little Steven's a big fan, and if he's a fan, I'm a fan, too.  Their debut album should be dropping soon.

7. tUnE-yArDs - 4:50 to 5:35 - The Outdoor Theatre: Sometimes, it's better to come to Coachella less familiar with the acts. Because rarely have I been more disappointed by a show that was by any measure an excellent, excellent set. Unfortunately, my expectations for this show were too high, assuming it had set of the festival potential...and what Merrill Garbus delivered just wasn't quite that. On the positive side, it was a gentler show than I expected, Merrill coming of much sweeter in person than the "devil may care" impression she gives on record. It was also fascinating, initially, to watch how expertly she constructs these songs through a series of vocal and percussion loops, not to mention how all the guitar-ish sounds are generated through a tiny ukulele with a home-made duct tape pickup.  But with each passing number, the time spent building up front constructing the loops began to feel more like a drag on the set than a point of interest, and I hope with her next album and tour, she'll consider working some straight band, zero loop material into her performances, because my biggest gripe was that all the looping business kept Merrill from focusing on the one instrument in her arsenal that tops all others...her one-of-a-kind, androgynous voice...which sounded fine, but with her attention so divided, lacked the explosive impact it has on record.  Still, despite these misgivings, this was one of the most unique sets of the weekend.

Here's the official Coachella video of my favorite song of 2011...Bizness.

8. Suedehead - 12:20 to 12:50 - The Outdoor Theatre: Continuing the early Saturday bonanza of fabulous unknowns kicked of by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tijuana Panthers was UK's Suedehead, who seemed determined to invite any and every comparison to early, vintage Elvis Costello & The Attractions.  On a general note, one sensed in the sounds of the several younger UK acts at the fest that late 70s post-ska bar band rock in the vein of Costello and Graham Parker is on the verge of making a big comeback...and if it does, don't be surprised to see this enthusiastic live act leading the charge.

Here's the only fan video I could find of the set...a note, they sounded much better in person than the poor audio quality of this recording implies.

9. Spector - 12:30 to 1:15 - The Gobi Tent: Another early Saturday winner, Rod and I saw the last twenty-five minutes immediately following Suedehead and couldn't have been more entertained.  Fronted by a doughy lead singer with a hysterical, Jarvis Cocker like wit, delivering songs that were also Pulp-like, but with a bit more of a punkish punch, we enjoyed every surprise minute.

This is the only week one video I could find, but for those looking for more, there's tons of great week two videos up on youtube.

10. The Shins - 8:10 to 9:00 - The Coachella Stage: I'd heard all sorts of horror stories about how low energy James Mercer of the Shins could be live, but having never seen the band before, and liking most of their records, Rod and definitely wanted to check them out.  We swung over about ten minutes late after grabbing a couple tracks from St. Vincent, and I have to say, on this night, the band was excellent.  Yes, Mercer was hardly going crazy up there, but the band sounded awesome, and I loved the set list from the portion of the show I caught, which included Bait & Switch, The Rifle's Spiral and Port Of Morrow from the new album, St. Simon from Chutes Too Narrow, Phantom Limb and an epic Sleeping Lessons from Wincing The Night Away, and an unexpected and absolutely fantastic cover of Pink Floyd's Breathe.

Here's a portion of that Breathe cover.


11. We Were Promised Jet Packs - 1:20 to 2:05 - The Outdoor Theatre: Yet another early Saturday  treat, this moody act out of Scotland struck a UK-pop feel that fell somewhere between Frightened Rabbits' Celtic-tinged folk-rock and The Twilight Sad's rougher-hewn, more shoegazey variation of the same.  I wasn't blown away by their songs, but the extended instrumental passages of some their numbers definitely impressed. A young band that has the potential to become much bigger as they sharpen their songwriting.

Here's It's Thunder And It's Lightning, one of those longer numbers.

12. We Are Augustines - 1:45 to 2:25 - The Coachella Stage: Rod and I only took in one number from this New York trio that sounds a bit like a stripped-down variation of The Arcade Fire or Springsteen and The E Street Band, but we both were impressed with the band's passion.

This isn't the number we saw, but it's the only weekend 1 video I could find.

13. fIREHOSE - 4:00 to 4:50 - The Gobi Tent: Easily winning "the years have not been kind physically" award would be Mike Watt and Ed Crawford of late 80s/early 90s alt-punkers fIREHOSE.  But their grizzled appearance in no way carried over to the band's still jaw dropping musicianship.  Crawford handle the bulk of the vocals, and Watt seemed, and later confirmed in press, that he was more interested in hanging with his bud's than appealing to the nostalgia driven crowd, and thus spent 90% of the show facing drummer George Hurley rather than the audience, but in a way it actually enhanced the show, making those few moments when he did step forward to knock out some quick country-punk quip or frantic bass run all the more entertaining.  Crawford's voice was, like his face, a bit ragged, but like Refused the night before, the long layoff in no way seemed to be impacting the band's sharpness.  This wasn't quite on the level of the other great punk reunions of 2012, but still a very entertaining set.

Here's Honey Please!

14. The Black Lips - 2:15 to 3:00 - The Mojave Tent: The last time I saw the Black Lips and their raucous, sloppy, sometimes endearingly amateurish take on flower punk was at Coachella '08, in an 11 pm set on this same stage.  They were beyond drunk that night, as is often their M.O., but rather than going with it on that evening, I felt the musicianship had just taken to big a hit.  This year's 2 pm show was much better, at least musically.  I only saw the first three or four songs before heading over to Destroyer, but in that span managed to get in Raw Meat, Oh Katrina, and a knock-out rendition of Arabia Mountain's Family Tree. Rod stayed for the whole set, and didn't bond with it as much as I did in my shortened viewing, but true to Black Lips form, there was supposedly a Jim Morrison prank towards the end, with guitarist Cole Alexander deciding to drop trou and  strum a few chords with his own God-provided pick.

Not going to show that moment here, please accept this fan captured video of Oh Katrina in it's place.

15. Destroyer - 2:30 to 3:15 - The Outdoor Theatre: If there is one thing I've come to learn over the last five years attending this festival, it's that success on record is in no way a guarantee of success on stage. Some bands take their recorded material to a whole new level, some deliver it exactly as it sounds on album, and some artists are just better appreciated over the car stereo. For example, TV On The Radio, a great, great recording act, is a band I've always felt suffers on stage...they're lively, but I've never seen them come close to delivering their dense drone/funk sound live .  After this weekend's appearance, I'm going to add Dan Bejar's Destroyer to this list, for the exact opposite reason.  Destroyer came to the fest armed with material from what I felt was the second best album of 2012, Kaputt, and truth be told, the strength and beauty of the band's mellow, 80s flavored yacht rock came through just fine.  But Bejar's world weary persona, which can work so well on record, made the whole experience feel too static live, taking already mellow music and pulling the energy level down to the floor...if there was a more disinterested individual performer at Coachella, I didn't see him/her (though for full band apathy, no one touched Yuck). Goldenvoice didn't do the band any favors with this set time...a more intimate, late night setting in the Gobi or Mojave tent would have better matched the feel of the bands music...but the set list was awesome, hitting most of Kaputt's highlights (Chinatown, Blue Eyes, Suicide Demo For Kara Walker, Kaputt, Bay of Pigs), with one very nice sojourn into Rubies' territory for Painter In Your Pocket. Whenever Bejar stepped aside and the saxophone took over, this show took flight, but it wasn't enough to convince me I ever need to see Destroyer live again.

Here's a sample of Bejar's adrenalized performance in set opener Chinatown.

16. The Vaccines - 1:40 to 2:25 - The Gobi Tent: For an indie-rock band that goes out of their way lyrical to sound above-it-all and non-committal on record, this was a fiery, passionate performance. Only caught about fifteen minutes from 2:00 to 2:15 before hitting the Black Lips, but there's a good chance that had we seen more, I'd have the set ranked significantly higher.

Here's one of the Brit act's catchiest tunes, If You Wanna.

17. Tijuana Panthers - 11:25 to 11:55 - The Mojave Tent: A young garage act based out of the LA area, they were raw, but some of their songs were quite catchy. A much stronger opening act salvo for the day than either Friday or Sunday delivered, and worth checking out at future festivals if you schedule permits.

For some reason, most of the fan videos from this set got caught up in the dancers in the crowd. Here's one of them.

18. Godspeed You! Black Emporer - 10:00 to 11:00 - The Mojave Tent: This ranking is a personal one for me and based entirely upon scheduling circumstance, not caliber of performance. As with Friday, The 9 to 11 stretch Saturday evening was rife with tough conflicts, and on this night, I personally had to go with Bon Iver.  As such, I didn't arrive at Godspeed until they were already 30 plus minutes into their hour long set, and after the emotive powerhouse Bon Iver had just thrown down, I could not get myself to switch gears and dive in to an avant garde, unlit, orchestral post-rock experience.  Had I not had the schedule conflict, and been able to jump in on this from the beginning, I'm sure I, like many who did see the whole apocalyptic set, would have ranked it among my favorites of the entire weekend.

Anyway, here's a portion of Gathering Storm.


19. Manchester Orchestra - 5:55 to 6:45 - The Mojave Tent: I'm not sure it's fair to label this set a disappointment so much as one I just wasn't all that interested in seeing in the first place.  Though hard-rocking emo-glam of the My Chemical Romance variety can have its moments, it's never been one of my favorite genres, but Rod was a fan, and looking for something at little harder edged at this point in the day, so I tagged along, having already seen Andrew Bird before. The band played well and with solid energy, so I'm sure fans came away satisfied, but for me, not really in the mood to be there in the first place and relegated to the far back of the tent at this very crowded show, nothing in the 25 minutes or so we caught had much of an impact.

Here's a fan video of Shake It Out, which seems to have been shot from almost as far back as I was standing.

20. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 6:30 to 7:20 - The Coachella Stage: In the annals of Rock 'n' Roll, when one asks who's the most overrated act of all-time, one usually hears something like The Doors, or The Grateful Dead, but for my money, it's Oasis.  To my relief, Rod felt exactly the same way.  Still, with a fairly light 6-7 stretch in the schedule, we did see a bit of this show from the North Beer Garden as we wolfed down some food.  Wasn't terrible, but nothing so impressive as to change our overall meh opinion of either Oasis or the combative bros Gallagher.

Here's Don't Look Back In Anger.

21. Laura Marling - 6:30 to 7:20 - The Gobi Tent: Some artists just aren't meant for the competitive bloodbath that is today's summer festival circuit, and this years poster child for that truism is young British folkie and Mumford & Sons pal Laura Marling.  Marling has some really good songs, and a lot of slow, drab ones, but virtually none of them, good or bad, have much spring in their step.  This show, while competent in the opening ten or so minutes Rod and I caught, was in no way captivating.  From the  fairly rigid, wallflower demeanor of her backing band, to the way Marling chooses to sing up into a microphone raised several inches above her mouth...everything about this set felt small and not worth our attention.  Based upon similar reviews at Bonnaroo and other festivals this summer, it seems like Marling may have done some damage to her career in taking this ill-fitting gigs. For her sake, going forward, I hope she sticks to venues that put her in the best light, which in her case, are the intimate small clubs where an audience's attention can be solely focused on her.

Anyway, here's a snippet.

22. Keep Shelly In Athens - 12:05 to 12:40 - The Mojave Tent: I was kind of excited to check out this young shoegaze/trip-hop, slightly Portishead-y act going into the festival based on the quality of a couple of tracks I had heard on youtube...but for the most part, this set was an unengaging snooze.

Here's a small ambien-ic taste.

23. The Big Pink - 3:25 to 4:10 - The Mojave Tent: A Spin Doctors / Blues Traveller-type act for this generation (just like MGMT).  They had a few indelible songs in them, which they burned a few albums back, and now it's just painfully clear they'll never produce another track of that caliber the remainder of their careers.  Delivering a sloppy mish-mash of contemporary dance-rock and older classic Brit-rock influences, I was surprised, given how bad their most recent release was, that these guys were even asked back for a second appearance, but truth be told there's a couple of baffling returns to the festival every year.

Here's Stay Gold, or a tiny fraction of it anyway.


Saturday bands that got good to great buzz that I sadly missed.

Kasabian - by every indication, this hard-charging Brit-rockers killed it.
Flying Lotus
Miike Snow - missed them twice at Coachella now, hopefully third times the charm.

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