Coachella 2005: The Year of the Cult

By now, you’ve probably already decided whether you’re going to Coachella. You’re a big kid, and we’re not going to tell you what to do. And you already know plenty about the headliners (Coldplay, New Order, et al.). Instead, we thought we’d introduce some of the smaller acts we like who might not be as familiar to you. Coachella 2005 is nutty-diverse, but the lineup’s unifying subtext would seem to be a celebration of cults. You’ve got your Gram Rabbit (or Gwam Wabbit, as we know them), who called their album Music To Start a Cult To. You’ve got captains of industry Nine Inch Nails (whom Coachella’s organizers have been trying to snag for years). You’ve got your Weezer, the ultimate contemporary cult band. Even de facto cult leaders Gang of Four will appear alongside some of their younger devotees. We don’t all agree on each band’s overmastering genius, of course, but we’re confident that these supporting acts could make the difference for Coachella-goers between a decent concert experience and something genuinely bizarre. Lock and load, kids — we’re going in!

— Kate Sullivan M.I.A. Sunday, May 1 Doe-eyed Sri Lankan/British rapper Maya Arulpragasam (a.k.a. M.I.A.) may chant like an ADD-addled child and boogie like a hybrid of Neneh Cherry and Nina Hagen, but don’t let her capricious contortions fool you. The stuff on her XL debut, Arular, is raw, unabashedly hardcore shit. In case you haven’t already heard, this lady’s led quite the life: a child refugee with a revolutionary father, she became a successful U.K. painter, and finally — after Peaches turned her on to a 505 sequencer — a rap maven. Her lyrics are often grim, sometimes a little shocking. (“Quit beating me like you’re Ringo/ . . . You wanna win a war?/Like PLO I don’t surrendo.”) But it’s the way she bludgeons genres (American hip-hop, Puerto Rican reggaeton, Bollywood beats) that makes her music feel as explosive as the environments she’s survived.

— Lina Lecaro The Raveonettes Saturday, April 30 Denmark’s favorite garage duo are fiendishly noir — very Sin City — from blond singer Sharon Foo’s deadpan sex appeal to guitarist Sune Rose Wagner’s lyrics about love, hookers and shadowy rebellion. The band’s 2003 major-label debut, Chain Gang of Love, pumped out rhythms in B-flat major; the forthcoming Pretty in Black swaps trademark distortion for harmony-sharpened songs that are black, white and pop all over. (These Velvet Underground love children sport Mo Tucker on skins on one track.) Crack a Carlsberg and grab the sucker next to you — this is a soundtrack for seduction, Scandi-style.

— Solvej Schou Blackstar Sunday, May 1 This may be one of the least celebrated reunions at Coachella, but for underground hip-hop fans, it’s the most crucial. Both Talib Kweli and Mos Def have built careers as solo artists with critical and underground acclaim, but these Brooklyn-born MCs — and high school cronies — first started rhyming together during hip-hop’s decadent glory days in the mid-’80s. (Their ’98 debut, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Blackstar, attained mass acclaim on the NYC underground scene, and minor commercial success.) Heavily soul-influenced, sociopolitically aware and lyrically dense, their chilled-out jams (“Brown Skin Lady,” “Definition”) are perfect smoke-a-blunt feel-good hip-hop — and that’s good!

— Jacqueline Whatley Bloc Party Saturday, April 30 These superhyped Brits are bound to command one of the largest crowds on Saturday, but, like the Strokes before them, their challenge at Coachella will be living up to their recent magazine covers, and answering the naysayers’ cries: recycled Gang of Four! multiracial Franz Ferdinand! I’m betting their Coachella set will squelch any backlash. Like most of today’s (and yesterday’s) dance-punk idols, Bloc Party blend dense rock riffs with elastic disco hooks, and singer Kele Okereke’s vocals come off at once detached and genuinely soulful. (Their U.S. full-length debut, Silent Alarm, proves the Jam-ish hit “Banquet” was no fluke.) The dynamics here might be familiar, but the band’s effervescent chemistry makes each tune feel like a bash — and everyone’s invited.

— L.L. The Fiery Furnaces Sunday, May 1 These experimental popsters ripped open the bleeding heart of art rock and scrambled inside with 2004’s critically adored Blueberry Boat. Their unstructured rhythms and synth melodies rise and fall with an epic quality, and Eleanor Friedberger’s precise vocals mesh strangely, and beautifully, with her brother Matt’s layered swoops. They’ve got a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–style sense of the bizarre, with songs full of tinkling sound wisps, clattering guitar, bluesy humor and conceptual verbosity, plus moments of Tommy-like rock-opera ambition. —S.S. Kasabian Sunday, May 1 The romance between indie rock and dance music doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, but Britpopsters Kasabian are determined to take the affair in a slightly more shagadelic direction. Put it this way: While mining the ’80s and early ’90s may be old hat, these scruffy boys borrow mostly from Oasis and Happy Mondays — two Britpop groups more obsessed with flower-power whimsy than new-wave melancholia. Druggies should save the E for the techno tent and bust the shrooms for this tribe’s set. — L.L.

Zap Mama Saturday, April 30 To describe Zap Mama’s leader is a mouthful: Marie Dualne is Congo-born, Belgium-bred, Pygmy-trained and soul-influenced — and in her all-female group, those influences meld with exquisite savor. Five years in the making, Zap Mama’s new Ancestry in Progress mixes traditional African vocals with contemporary rap and R&B through collaborations with kindred souls Erykah Badu, Common and Talib Kweli (see Blackstar blurb). Intricate melodies engage contemporary beats in dialogue, playfully interweaving with lyrical themes that speak to common denominators in all of us. As Dualne puts it, “If your ears are open, you’ll understand.” — Katherine Chan The Arcade Fire Sunday, May 1 The Arcade Fire are like the Talking Heads reborn as Muppet Babies: They’re almost too good, too cute, too smart — in short, too perfect. Some people who haven’t seen the quirky Quebec’ers in concert dismiss their layered strings, percussion, accordion and Kafkaesque lyrics as nerdy art-school cacophony. Catch them live and you get it: This is how these people rock, and it’s adorably refreshing. Kurt Weill would love their haunting melodies, Tom Waits probably admires their rich dynamics, and David Byrne is such a fan, he jumped onstage with them a few months ago to sing “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” This is the group that should have opened for U2. — Tony Pierce Café Tacuba Saturday, April 30 If you were at KCRW’s recent benefit at the Universal Amphitheater, you were witness to the mighty Mexican power of Café Tacuba — but these chilangos (from the northern suburbs of Mexico City) have been rockin’ since the early ’90s. Led by little Rubén Albarrán, guitarist Joselo Rangel, bassist brother Quique Rangel and keyboardist Emanuel De Real, Café are incredibly versatile, playing string-laden traditional music on songs like “Ojalá Que Llueva Café” and ska-punk on “La Ingrata.” But they’ll also rock the shit out of you with electrified numbers like “No Controles.” They surprised many at Coachella ’03, serenading a beautiful sunset with my favorite song, Leo Dan’s remake of “Como Te Extraño Mi Amor.” Lovely. (And don’t miss their synchronized four-man dance at the end of the set!) — Ben Quiñones Gram Rabbit Sunday, May 1 Facing the desert-rock void left by Coachella mascots/veterans Queens of the Stone Age, the lesser-known but no less brazen Gram Rabbit jump to the ready with trippy hippie country-rock new wave. (The Joshua Tree group are getting props as the only officially “local” band at Coachella this year.) One of many memorable ladies gracing the stage at this year’s fest, front woman Jesika Von Rabbit flaunts seductive vocal stylings that are both heady and, well, hoppy — jumping around in tone, pitch and tempo. (Sometimes she’s just plain wild.) In the flesh, G.R.’s hybrid of organic and synthetic soundscapes has a smoldering, theatrical flair. Expect their spacy jams to be extra warped and wonderful on their home turf. — L.L. Sage Francis Saturday, April 30 Sage Francis isn’t your average white rapper, biting off the black man’s struggle and hijacking his music. Francis has his own struggles — he doesn’t need anyone else’s. After inviting a friend to an A.A. meeting, he raps, “Bring me to your hiding place, so I can face your vice grip/ I’ll chisel every single monkey off your back with this ice pick.” (Isn’t that nice?) Francis can also be crassly funny. (“I am womanizer/hear me whore!”) Notorious for bootlegging his own CDs and selling them on his sold-out “Fuck Clear Channel” tour, Sage has justly earned a cult following — not just for doing it without the help of Dr. Dre and MTV, but also for staying genuinely hardcore. After his set, be prepared to say, “Snow who?” — T.P.

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