Monday, April 2, 2012

McQ's Coachella 2012 Preview - Saturday Day Two

Saturday's Rap & Soul acts added 04/06/2012

Saturday of Coachella 2012 is a bloodbath, so overstocked with exceptional contemporary artists, rare older bands, and top-notch up-and-coming indie acts that it feels like a deliberate attempt on Goldenvoice's part to justify the purchases of passes to both weekends instead of just one. Anyone attending just one weekend this year will end up missing more "must see" shows Saturday than they will see.

But whatever path you end up choosing, Saturday has the potential to be one of the greatest single days in Coachella history, albeit, also one of the mellowest, especially in the evening hours, where I suspect Jeff Mangum, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Bon Iver, The Shins, Fiest, Flying Lotus, and Radiohead will all get their turns at bat.

So to help you plot your Saturday course wisely, here's a quick look at each of Saturday's main artists.

1) Jeff Mangum - Mangum, the founder of the Elephant-6 pop collective that produced the likes of Of Montreal and The Apples In Stereo, and also lead singer/principal songwriter for the legendary 90s indie act Neutral Milk Hotel, has recently returned to performing after nearly a decade spent avoiding the stage. Expect a mostly solo acoustic set at sunset on the Outdoor Theater loaded with songs from Neutral Milk Hotel's cherished 1998 release In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.  This show may prove too monolithic for those unfamiliar with Neutral Milk Hotel's music, but this is a very special get, and I encourage everyone in attendance to make time for a least a portion of this set.

2) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Like Friday's Explosions In The Sky, GY!BE is one of the last decade's most important instrumental post-rock acts. Godspeed has a more classical/orchestral take on the genre, and it will be interesting to see if they are given longer than the typical 50 minutes, as the band's songs tend to run over the twenty minute mark.  They have been performing very regularly as of late, but otherwise my feelings towards this act are the same as they are towards other acts in this section...this is another  special get, and I highly recommended making time for a least a portion of this set.  If they are in a tent, try to get there a touch before the start, as this is likely to be a very crowded show.

3) Squeeze - The most classic-rock minded, least new wave of Britain's original new wave artists, this playful 80s act delivers a brand of clever, literate pop highly indebted to The Beatles and other 60s pop acts of their ilk.  Hopefully  performing early-to-mid afternoon in one of the tents, expect a quick, lively jaunt through their greatest hits.  This has the chance to be a thoroughly charming set.

4) The Buzzcocks - One of the UK's original punk acts, rating just below The Clash and Sex Pistols in terms of significance from that era, The Buzzcocks delivered the poppiest brand of punk of the three, full of hooks and snarling, humorous lyrics worthy of Ray Davies.  Hoping against hope that Goldenvoice finds an open spot in the schedule for them, cause this is an act you will have scant chance to see again. Another near must I expect to see performing during the day and would only consider passing up if scheduled against contemporary acts Tune-Yards or Destroyer.

5) fIREHOSE - Don't let the name fool you, this is basically The Minutemen, reformed with new guitarist Ed Crawford after original guitarist D. Boon's tragic death in 1987.  A fine band in their own right that produced a couple of near classic albums, don't expect to hear any Minutemen tracks, but as the bands had almost identical styles, that Minutemen spirit will live on.  This is the first time the band has performed since the once again, a very special, rare get. Expect a blitzkrieg set of over twenty songs.

6) Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Oasis's principal songwriter returns to Coachella with his own band this time, but expect either an early evening or stage closing set composed as much from Oasis standards as original High Flying Birds material.  Not a show I'm personally excited about, but given how mellow Saturday night projects to be, could be a welcome change of pace.

For a Spotify! playist profiling Saturday's Reunions and Past Masters, click here!

1) Bon Iver - You know you've crossed over to the mainstream when Justin Timberlake starts parodying you on Saturday Night Live, but I hope the public's embrace of Bon Iver doesn't dissuade more cynical hipster types from seeing this set, because Bon Iver's Justin Vernon may be the most significant pop artist of the moment, and the surest bet for a great set at the entire festival.  Ever since breaking through with his raw, spare debut For Emma, Forever Ago, the best album of 2008, Vernon has been everywhere, leaving a relentless trail of excellence in his wake.  In addition to his lush 2011 self-titled follow up, which was Pitchfork's album of the year, he was a big collaborator on Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Anais Mitchell's wonderful Hadestown, The National's High Violet, Volcano Choir's Unmap, and Gayngs 80s R&B kitsch exploration Relayted.  On top of that, the nine-piece act he is presently traveling with is simply killing it live.  I haven't seen him yet myself, but many good friends I trust emphatically all have, and say his recent shows rank among the best concert experiences they have ever witnessed. So, one caveat, if you are one of the few unfamiliar with Bon Iver, this is an exceptionally mellow, soft rock act, but as long as that idea in itself isn't a turn off, be sure to attend and let the washes of lush beauty roll over your body.  Expect massive crowds at a mainstage set just before headliner Radiohead, and I highly recommend viewing from the left side of the stage, to minimize any sound bleed that may be floating over from the outdoor theater.  This is my personal number one must see for the entire weekend.

2) Tune-Yards - Another 2011 critical darling, this indie-act destroyed at last year's Pitchfork Festival and may be the freshest artist out there right now.  Fronted by the unbelievably unique Merrill Garbus, a white woman with an androgynous voice that ranges from the gentlest of feminine coos to explosive roars that sound like a raging male Rastafarian, there has never, ever been a voice like hers before.  Couple that voice with a highly adventurous, in-your-face, everything-but-the-kitchen sink indie sound that draws from Afro-pop, reggae, electronica, classic avant-gardists like Captain Beefheart, and folk legends like Woodie Guthrie, and you've got the makings for a definite best set of the entire weekend contender. Expect a mid-afternoon set in one of the tents, and get there a few minutes early, her show will be packed.  If you check out one artist you haven't heard of before in this year's line-up, it should be Tune-Yards.

3) Radiohead - What can I say, arguably one of the 10-15 greatest rock acts ever, and unarguably the most significant and consistently excellent act of the last twenty years, Radiohead is the holy grail of Coachella acts. On top of that, they are the best sounding live act ever...and pairing their obsession with live acoustics with the Coachella mainstage, the best sounding outdoor venue I've ever heard is a recipe for sonic bliss.  For those that haven't seen them before, they are hardly the most gregarious of bands, tending to get lost in their music rather than inviting interaction with the crowd, but it doesn't matter, because their songs and their sonic creativity are off the charts. Expect a moody, lower key set emphasizing songs from their latest minimalist release The King of  Limbs, and their most romantic effort, 2007's In Rainbows, with a smattering of earlier classics that best connect with the general mood of those other two albums. I may skip a portion just because I've seen them so many times already and there are bound to be some nasty conflicts, but I'm hoping against hope to be freed to see the entire set. And if you haven't seen them yet, unless you just hate arty prog rock, you'd be crazy to opt for anyone else.

For a Spotify! playlist profiling these Saturday Sure Things, click here.

1) The Black Lips - One of the ultimate carefree band of our times, The Black Lips cater in charmingly snotty, primitive "Animals like" garage rock delivered with punkish abandon under the influence of significant amounts of alcohol.  Capable of pulling just about any prank on stage, from the riotous to the urinary, how good they are on a given night depends largely on how far gone their motor skills are.  If they hit a still coherent inebriated sweet spot, this has the potential to be one of the weekend's best sets.  But they can and do sometimes cross the line into total alcohol impairment, so their sets can also turn out to be a colossal waste of time (Though rumor is they've been scaling back on the drinking recently).  Don't be surprised if Paul Tollett schedules against instinct this year and has them play early in the day before they can get a significant buzz going, a strategy that delivered miracles in 2010 when they performed with King Kahn in their gospel side project The Almighty Defenders.  Either way, their latest album Arabia Mountain is arguably their best collection of songs to date, so the set list should be fun. Not a top priority for me having seen them multiple times before, but still a show I'm hoping to have a chance to catch.

2) The Shins - The Shins have given us many moments of indie pop magic over the last decade, but what was once a group is now really a solo performing vehicle for lead singer/songwriter James Mercer, as he fired the rest of the original act some years back.  With Mercer a bit of a wallflower on stage, the band has usually been better on record than stage, so the chances of this being a fairly lackluster set are high. That said, they have knocked it out of the park live on occasion, and their set list should be great, most likely including older tracks Saint Simon, Phantom Limb, and Wincing The Night Away in addition to latest release Port Of Morrow's strongest tracks Bait & Switch and Simple Song, so definitely worth giving the band a shot.  Just, as with most of these question mark acts, have a clear backup plan ready to go if Mercer's having another off night.

For a Spotify! playlist profiling these Saturday Question Mark Acts, click here!

1) Destroyer - Led by Canadian Dan Bejar, whose probably better known as a key member of power pop outfit The New Pornographers, Destroyer has always been, to me at least, the most interesting of the New Pornographer offshoots (Neko Case and AC Newman's solo outings being the others), dabbling in long, highly literate talk-sing ruminations that feel like the in vitro love child of Highway 61-era Bob Dylan and Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie.  The band hit critical pay dirt in 2011 by changing up their sound, diving head first into the year's late 70s/early 80s R&B kitsch movement, and coming out with a sonically wonderful little gem entitled second favorite album of last year.  Having not seen the band before, I have concerns about how well Bejar's talk-sing vocal style will play live, but can't wait to hear the band recreates Kaputt's mellow/smooth textures. If you were ever a fan of Roxy Music's Avalon, this is a must see.  Look for an afternoon tent set, possibly early as Goldenvoice seeks to eliminate conflicts with other critical darlings like Tune-Yards and St. Vincent.

2) Bon Iver - see Saturday's Sure Things above.

3) Tune-Yards - again, see Saturday's Sure Things above.

4) St. Vincent - The primary performance vehicle for Sufjan Stevens backup singer and one-time Polyphonic Spree member Annie Clark, St. Vincent has earned raves for each of its three releases, especially hardest rocking latest effort Strange Mercy, which landed 5th or 6th in the final 2011 collective critic poll.  A unique artist with a gorgeous choral voice and an unyielding drive to combine her love of old-time Disney songs with "gnarly" punkish guitar, her orchestral style is very hit and miss for me, but every album has produced three or four knockout songs, and she's a captivating performer live.  I have no idea where they will end up scheduling her, but look for a set that leans heaviest on Strange Mercy, but pulls favorites from all three albums. Definitely worth checking out.

5) Flying Lotus - One of the most influential DJ artists of the last half decade, Flying Lotus's Robbie Coltrane (yes, he's a direct relative of John) brings a very unusual and eclectic sensibility to the turntable, focused more on crafting collages of pure sound and mood as often as creating anything linear or dance-worthy.  As I have clearly stated before, I am not a DJ guy when it comes to live shows, but this is one artist for which a make an happy exception.  Expect a late night set in one of the smaller tents wedged around Radiohead featuring lots of mind-warping, jazzy numbers from 2010's Cosmogramma.  And don't be surprised if Thom Yorke and/or Thundercat joins him on stage as they have done before in LA before.

6) Feist - One of Canadian collective Broken Social Scene's key initial female members, Feist broke through  huge with her '07 solo album The Reminder and its I-Pod plugged hit 1,2,3,4. Last year's Metals didn't fare quite as well critically, but was still positively received. Expect a very mellow, torch song flavored set early evening on The Outdoor Theater, but fans, don't get your hopes up for 1,2,3,4...she hasn't been performing it on her present tour.

7) Laura Marling - Super young, monster-voiced British folkie who plies her trade deeply rooted in the Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention tradition, Marling has already released three well-received albums despite still being younger than most American college seniors.  Personally, I enjoyed her debut, was bored silly by her sophomore effort, and am intrigued by her latest releases Joni Mitchell-ish turn.  If you're looking for some tradition, female fronted acoustic folk, Marling, along with Sunday's First Aid Kit, is your best bet.

8) SBTRKT - London drums & bass artist Aaron Jerome dabbles in a merge of many contemporary electronic styles that ends up sounding much like 70s disco-flavored jazz fusion (very similar in vein also to the music of Sunday's Thundercat).  I like his latest album, and frequent vocal contributor Sampha, who will hopefully be joining Jerome on stage, has an excellent voice, but looking at the day's lineup, I struggle to see how Goldenvoice will create a schedule window where SBTRKT would be my priority act.

For a Spotify! playlist highlighting Saturday's Critical Darlings, click here!

1) Andrew Bird - One of the more original singer-songwriter types of the last decade, Bird combines an almost traditional, James Taylor-ish vibe with a number of clever quirks that cause his initially accessible music to feel more and more unique with repeated listens.  A exceptionally clever lyricist given to explorations of nontraditional subject matter, a classically trained violinist, and a phenomenal whistler, Bird is  even better live than on record, where the dynamics of watching him loop vocals and change instruments every eight measures add a lot of visual dynamics to his relatively mellow catalog.  On the flip side though, and I'm just calling it as I hear,  his recent release Break It Yourself is a bit of a dud, lacking anything close to the typical two-to-four home run tracks that have adorned his previous three records, so based on his most recent material, which will most likely make up the majority of his Coachella set, it's hard to give Bird an enthusiast plug on such a loaded festival day, though in an individual concert setting, he's an artist still well worth seeking out.

2) Miike Snow - A performance outlet for famed Britney Spears, Madonna, Kylie Minogue production team Bloodshy & Avant, which pairs them with vocalist Andrew Wyatt, Miike Snow traffics in the catchiest brand of synth-pop.  The critics aren't big fans, but some of the group's hooks are irresistible. Making their second appearance (first was in 2010), they are a huge fan favorite...expect massive crowds, most likely on an evening set on the outdoor or in the Mojave.

3) Kaiser Chiefs - A key band in the Mid-Aught's British Mod-Punk revival that also included Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads, Kaiser Chiefs last two releases, including 2012's Start The Revolution Without Me, haven't been up to snuff with earlier releases Employment and Off With Their Heads, but they remain a crack live outfit armed with a number of excellent, simultaneously rocking and hook-ridden songs...definitely worth checking out if you haven't already OD'd on the large number of Brit-rock/Punk/Garage Rock offerings in this year's lineup. I have no idea where they will be scheduled, but for the band's sake, an early day set would work to their favor...they'll get crushed going up against the likely evening heavyweights.

4) The Big Pink - In all honesty, possibly the worst booking in the entire lineup...a flash in the pan Brit Rock/MGMT-style band that played a few years back on the strength of their hits Dominoes and Velvet and that have done nothing noteworthy since, at least nothing meriting a return trip to Indio.  They're still playing Dominoes and Velvet in all their recent shows, so if your schedule breaks, I'm not saying it's a complete waste of time to give them a few minutes, but otherwise, this is one of the easiest non-Sahara skips of the weekend.

For a Spotify! playlist of Saturday's Returning Fan Favorites, click here!

1) A$AP Rocky - One of the bigger new names to emerge in rap in 2011, this promising New York-bred 23-year-old rapper's music actually has a displaced vibe, feeling more of a piece with the traditions of Southern rap.  Lyrically, he's as amoral as past acts such as Clipse and Ghostface Killah, but his dreamy, murky beats, most ably created by rising production star Clams Casino, are first rate...right on the cutting edge of contemporary rap.  Hard to say where he'll be placed, but an afternoon mainstage performance ala Whiz Kalifia and Lupe Fiasco in recent years isn't out of the question.

2) Gary Clark Jr. - Filling the Bluesman/Gunslinger slot that Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears owned in 2011 is fellow Austin, TX denizen Gary Clark Jr.  He's just starting to pick up steam as a recording artists, but his explosive guitar chops, often likened to venerated deceased masters Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, are nothing short of extraordinary.  Simply put, Clark Jr. may be the best guitarist in the entire lineup.  Expect an early afternoon set hitting a wide range of soul, blues, and rock 'n' roll feels highlighted by some face-melting solos.

3) Azealia Banks - Another young breakout rap star who hit it huge this last year with single 212, Banks combines some of the performance flair of Nicki Minaj with the genre-hopping dexterity of fellow Coachella 2012 performer Santigold. It will be interesting to see how she fills her set, having only released a few singles to date, but she does have a debut album coming out later in the year.

4) Childish Gambino - The musical alter-ego of NBC hit Community actor Donald Glover, don't let the actor who raps tag prevent you from checking this set out.  If anything, Glover's acting chops add range, heart, and lyrical adventurousness to an often thematically stagnant genre, and his 2011 release Camp was one of the year's finest rap albums. Expect a wide range of feels to this set, but anchored in the gentler, lusher sounds of peers Drake, Kid Cudi, and Kanye West.

Up next for Saturday - Saturday's Little Guys, but first we hop over to take a look at Sunday's bigger draws. 

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