Wednesday, April 18, 2012


2012 Week One was my fifth consecutive Coachella, so I'm reaching a point where memories of the different events start to blur into each other, but on a whole, these would be my general comparative impressions.

2012 boasted the best collectiion of headliner performances I've seen since the 2008 double whammy of Prince/Roger Waters.  The Black Keys were excellent if a bit monochromatic, Radiohead up-and-down but jaw droppingly good in their best moments, and Snoop, Dre, Enimen, Whiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, and yes, that Tupac Shakur hologram were just an event - not the weekend's top musical highlight (that distinction belongs to Bon Iver), but without question a show for the ages rating right there with the best the festival has ever offered.

Logistically, this was as good as the festival has ever been...all those kinks they hit in 2010 now seem a distant memory, and a brilliant ergonomic decision to break the day parking lot up into fenced-off units of 200-300 cars worked wonders at cutting down bottle-necking and speeding up the exit process...I stayed all three nights to the end and it never took me more than 5 minutes to get out of the lot and free and clear of traffic.  Additionally, from a stage management standpoint, very few delays...Justice had some technical difficulties, and Bon Iver was 10 minutes late, but otherwise, every set started on time...even Snoop and Dre.

Of course, one of the things people will remember most about 2012 week one was the weather.  While I'm sure nothing compared to what our brethren at Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza have been through, Friday brought rain, cold, and most significantly, some brutal winds to the festival grounds.  Several of the fests major artworks didn't go up until Sunday as a result, and some midday Friday artists, especially Yuck, Neon Indian, James and Jimmy Cliff had to bring it under some very tough conditions (which James and Jimmy Cliff were able to do impressively, Yuck and Neon Indian not so much), and Radiohead's Saturday night crowd was seriously dampened by the cold.

Which brings us finally, to the music.

As always there were a number of great sets, with two genuinely exceptional sets from Bon Iver and Snoop & Dre that top anything I saw in 2010 or 2011, and fantastic performances from a surprising number of the weekend's many reunion acts...but top to bottom, I'd have to say 2012 had less of a wow factor than any other Coachella's I've attended.

To start, the under-undercard is much, much weaker this year, with only Saturday's gem of an 11-2 stretch ranking with the awesomeness Goldenvoice has compiled in these time periods the previous two years.

And many of 2011's top critical darlings (Destroyer, Wild Flag, Tune-Yards, Yuck, Laura Marling, Florence & The Machine) while not bad, came nowhere near meeting or exceeding expectations the way the likes of Foals, Elbow, Robyn, Cut Copy, Black Joe Lewis, PJ Harvey, Phosphorescent, Twin Shadow and others did last year.

The more I think about it, the harder it is to deny, that taken a pure music performance perspective...2012 is probably the weakest of the five Coachella's I've attended.

But it was still freakin' awesome.

Here quickly are brush strokes on my favorite sets and songs of the festival...then we'll get into each day in specific later this week.

McQ's Top Coachella Sets of 2012 Weekend 1

1a. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dog - No other way to describe it, this was an event...will go down as one of the legendary Coachella sets...right there with Daft Punk, Prince, Portishead, McCartney.
1b. Bon Iver - Shockingly, shockingly good - the best set I've seen from a purely musical perspective since McCartney in 2009. Justin Timberlake's Saturday Night Live impression couldn't have been farther from the truth Saturday night...this was emotionally potent music delivered with overwhelming force and power. Weekend two-ers, think long and hard about skipping this one. A tour-de-force.
3. The Buzzcocks - Reunion, older acts are going to dominate this best sets lists, and Sex Pistols/Clash brothers in arms were the best of the bunch.  A riotous, blazing set...I think the played almost everything off of Singles Going Steady.
4. Refused - Tremendous emotion, humility and graciousness from this band, not things you'd associate with a 90s hardcore punk outfit.  Incredible how tight they were after such a long layoff.
5. The Rapture - No other way to put it, a "rapturous" set. This New York dance punk act was just on.
6. Death Grips - You don't need to see all of this assaulting Rap-Punk act's set, a little goes a long way, but this was without question "the breakout set" of this year's festival.
7. The Saturday Undercard - The artists that make up Saturday's 11-2 stretch are just a collective joy.  Heavy on the brit-rock side, favorites were the super sexy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Elvis-Costello-like Suedehead, Pulp-like Spector, Frightened Rabbits-y We Were Promised, Jetpacks, the passionate We Are Augustines, and the excellent garage act The Vaccines.  Weekend two-ers control your partying...this is one of 2012s best stretches.
9. The Hives - For humorous chatter between songs, Pulp and Spector came close, but otherwise, no one is in the ball park of this reliably fantastic live act.
10. Jimmy Cliff - The reggae master had the irony of performing his sun-drenched hits during the worst weather of the festival.  He couldn't entirely pull the crowd out of their frozen, shivering state, but he did his damnedest, and his 69 year old voice has lost none of its appeal.  This one should be even better in the sun on week two.
11. Gary Clark, Jr. - Austin-based guitar virtuoso delivered this year's top blues set.  Not as much fun as last year's Black Joe Lewis romp, but some incredible pyrotechnics.
12. WU LYF - They need to get some stronger songs, but the charisma and arena-sized potential for this unusual Manchester act are highly evident.  Opener was phenomenal.
13. Squeeze - They took a bit of time to warm up, but final 25 minutes of this set were pure joy.
14. First Aid Kit - The most charming set of the entire weekend, a pair of Swedish sisters delivering gorgeous folk and alt-country ballads.
15. EMA - Intensity, cooler-than-shit sonics, and tons of charisma from this Goth leaning singer-songwriter whose edginess reminds a lot of PJ Harvey.
16. Radiohead.

McQ's Top Individual Tracks Of Coachella 2012 Week One

1. Vomit - Girls - A remarkable song on record as well, I lucked into catching this closer to Girls set after leaving Death Grips a few minutes early.  As on record, the transitions from slow, intense brooder to bristling  jam, to "reaching for the heavens" Great Gig In The Sky-styled gospel blowout were extraordinary...Death Grips was one of the weeks most impacting sets, but I urge everyone attending Week Two to try to catch the last fifteen minutes of Girls set to take this number in.
2. The Wolves Part 1 & 2 - Bon Iver - The youtube video on the Coachella website does a pretty decent job of conveying the force with which this closing number hit.  The most emotionally powerful song of the festival.
3. Common People - Pulp - It was Common People, nothing else needs to be said.
4. LYF - WU LYF - Intoxicating, slow-building opener to one of the weekend's best sets.
5. The tUne-YaRdS Construction Method - While no one song rated among my top festival favs, watching Merril build these songs out of the most miniscule of parts was fascinating - if only it hadn't pulled her attention away from her voice.

For a more detailed breakdown of each day and rankings of each day's sets, click on the links below.

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