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Puttin' the Hella in Coachella 

A festivalgoer’s diary

Wednesday, May 3 2006
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SATURDAY, 11:23 A.M.

Sporting a backpack stocked with sunblock, I arrive, consult a pocket-sized map and wander like a lost freshman. The grassy expanse of the Empire Polo Field bears an eerie similarity to the quad of my high school, complete with a circle of dudes wearing hemp necklaces and playing hacky sack.

As the crowds pour in from the dusty parking lots, already something seems a little off. Despite the fact that most attendees are at least partially naked, or in bikini tops, no one seems to be talking to each other. The throngs consist equally of mainstream college kids and awkward emo scenesters, with a tiny smattering of sun-shy goths. But even within the groups, conversation appears to be minimal. I take out my notebook and jot the hypothesis, “too indie to talk?”

click to flip through (4) Makin’ corn ears for the camera. (Photo by Mark Hunter)
  • Makin’ corn ears for the camera. (Photo by Mark Hunter)
     
 

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SATURDAY, 2:08 P.M.

I catch some of Hybrid’s techno set in the dance tent, and if it were, say, dark out and I were, say, drunk, this would be awesome. But it’s very much daylight, and I’m woefully sober. At this point, the thought of a nice buzz rouses conflict in me. First off, the line just to get IDs checked is so goddamn long, it resembles a CGI battle scene from Lord of the Rings. And once checked, there is a separate, also very lengthy line for libations.I exploit my “Press” wristband to enter the less-populous VIP oasis. I throw down a 10-spot for a weak cocktail, but the alcohol makes only a fleeting pit stop in my brain before immediately sweating out into vapor. Dammit.

SATURDAY, 3:19 P.M.

I trot to the Mojave tent to get a good spot for Wolfmother. C-list television stars Danny Masterson and Chris Hardwickare hanging out in the exclusive backstage viewing area as the Australian trio storm the stage and blast through an ape-shit set of vintage rawk, wrapping it up with their organist pinned to the floor under his toppled keyboard.

SATURDAY, 6:14 P.M.

At the main stage, Kanye West is pissing people off by the thousands. He’s late, and a man behind me mutters impatiently, “Kanye, you are messing up my schedule.” I bail, apologetically elbowing my way through the thick swarm of Kanye-anticipators to see My Morning Jacket, who impressively churn out tracks off Z, their latest offering.

SATURDAY, 6:27 P.M.

Reluctantly, I tear myself away from My Morning Jacket to witness Kanye, who is casually dressed in a T-shirt and accompanied by a full string section. His packed, overwhelmingly Caucasian audience stutters along to hits “Gold Digger” and “Jesus Walks” before thinning as Sigur Rós takes the stage at dusk to deliver their premature lullabies.

SATURDAY, 8:25 P.M.

Forced to flip the finger to Franz Ferdinand and Eagles of Death Metal, I haul ass for a good view of Cat Power in the Mojave tent. Backed by a string quartet, pedal steel guitar and a full band, she delivers sweet, humble and goofy croonings off of her latest release, The Greatest. Any sun damage from attending Coachella is now officially worth it.

SATURDAY, 10:57 P.M.

Depeche Mode headlines the first night, peppering their new material with old standbys from the Violator era. The visual effects on the huge screens around them appear to be generated on a Video Toaster, and I watch from a distance, waiting in line for pizza.

SATURDAY, 11:57 P.M.

The midnight curfew nigh, I catch just enough of the Rakes to leave impressed, then literally run over to see electronica duo Daft Punk in bizarro metal space helmets, poised atop an illuminated pyramid, hypnotize the dance tent with heavy techno. Another sprint yields a stolen moment of She Wants Revenge as their lead singer, wearing an open, billowy shirt, engages in a shamefully entertaining and unwitting parody of his own revivalist genre.

SUNDAY, 12:24 A.M.

I am sprawled, limbs akimbo on the lawn, too tired to continue walking. A friend snaps a picture as a concerned passerby asks, “Is that chick all right?”

Lights dim for the evening, and my Coachella comrade Jonah and I head to our friend’s hotel to take full advantage of an awaiting Jacuzzi. Roomless ourselves and not wanting to wake our pal’s suitemates, Jonah and I decide that we will sleep on lounge chairs poolside, using our damp beach towels as blankets. This lasts approximately half an hour, until we see the sun rising, cave in, and knock softly on the door to crash on the carpet.

SUNDAY, 12:24 P.M.

Day Two starts with swollen feet and a blistering temperature of 94 degrees. Giant Drag suffers through synthesizer malfunctions on the second stage with comedic aplomb. Apparently, there was a Coachella Keyboard Curse: I heard that both Phoenix and Metric’s synths went out too, and Imogen Heap’s tipped over three times.

SUNDAY, 2:58 P.M.

The most prevalent Coachella fashion fads appear to be grass clippings stuck to a sticky naked back, and sunburns.

SUNDAY, 3:08 P.M.

I head to the main stage to watch Matisyahu. In an Army-green ball cap and full Hasidic beard, he’s the spitting image of Project Runway’s Santino Rice. He raps with passion, while someone behind me pleads, “Play that song that I know!,” referring to radio hit “Youth.”

SUNDAY, 4:47 P.M.

Braving a ridiculous queue for the bathrooms, I overhear someone aptly dub them “sweat-a-potties.”

SUNDAY, 6:37 P.M.

Gnarls Barkley packs the Gobi tent. The air is perfumed with weed clouds. Fronted by Cee-Lo and sidekick Danger Mouse, the 14-piece band comes onstage in full Wizard of Oz costumes, including hairpieces and greasepaint. I’m sweaty and enraptured as Cee-Lo warbles tunes from the new ?St. Elsewhere album in his bizarrely feminine but deeply soulful falsetto. At the first beats of their colossally successful single “Crazy,” the crowd simply loses it and becomes one thumping mass.

SUNDAY, ?7:25 P.M.

Having just seen them at the Troubadour, I’m prepared to resent the main-stage Yeah Yeah Yeahs experience, but am somewhat surprised that the larger venue and increased volume actually befit them. Karen O delivers her usual howls and stomps, as I drink something from a coconut.

SUNDAY, 7:47 P.M.

Any film footage you have ever witnessed of animal stampedes will suffice as a visual correlate to the thundering procession of humans heading to the dance tent to see Madonna. As fans chuck glowsticks into the dangerously large crowd, I think to myself, “Someone’s gonna get beaned in the head with one of those.” A moment later, I am beaned in the head with one of those.

Madonna comes onstage nearly a half hour late, looking freakishly muscular in a skintight black leotard. After some cordial hellos and choreography that is equal parts porn and calisthenics, she wheezes a few tracks off her new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, but then notices a pool of water on the stage and thunders into the mike, ”DO NOT THROW WATER ON MY STAGE, MOTHERFUCKERS!” The crowd turns scared and sullen. Madonna performs a total of six songs, including “Ray of Light” and “Everybody,” then disappears offstage with nary a goodbye. It is exactly as I had expected: theatrically craptastic.

SUNDAY, 10:15 P.M.

Back on the main stage, Massive Attack revisits tracks off of Mezzanine, their pulsing mood music making for the perfect mint on my festival pillow. But then Tool thunders on, harshing my mellow. I duck out mid-set for the trek to the car. Joining the slow post-Coachella procession home, I turn off the radio and enjoy some overdue silence.

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