By now, youve probably already decided whether youre going to Coachella. Youre a big kid, and were not going to tell you what to do. And you already know plenty about the headliners (Coldplay, New Order, et al.). Instead, we thought wed introduce some of the smaller acts we like who might not be as familiar to you. Coachella 2005 is nutty-diverse, but the lineups unifying subtext would seem to be a celebration of cults. Youve got your Gram Rabbit (or Gwam Wabbit, as we know them), who called their album Music To Start a Cult To. Youve got captains of industry Nine Inch Nails (whom Coachellas organizers have been trying to snag for years). Youve 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 dont all agree on each bands overmastering genius, of course, but were 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 were 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 dont let her capricious contortions fool you. The stuff on her XL debut, Arular, is raw, unabashedly hardcore shit. In case you havent already heard, this ladys 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 youre Ringo/ . . . You wanna win a war?/Like PLO I dont surrendo.) But its the way she bludgeons genres (American hip-hop, Puerto Rican reggaeton, Bollywood beats) that makes her music feel as explosive as the environments shes survived.
Lina Lecaro The Raveonettes Saturday, April 30 Denmarks favorite garage duo are fiendishly noir very Sin City from blond singer Sharon Foos deadpan sex appeal to guitarist Sune Rose Wagners lyrics about love, hookers and shadowy rebellion. The bands 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.
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Solvej Schou Blackstar Sunday, May 1 This may be one of the least celebrated reunions at Coachella, but for underground hip-hop fans, its 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-hops 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 thats 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! Im betting their Coachella set will squelch any backlash. Like most of todays (and yesterdays) dance-punk idols, Bloc Party blend dense rock riffs with elastic disco hooks, and singer Kele Okerekes 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 bands effervescent chemistry makes each tune feel like a bash and everyones invited.
L.L. The Fiery Furnaces Sunday, May 1 These experimental popsters ripped open the bleeding heart of art rock and scrambled inside with 2004s critically adored Blueberry Boat. Their unstructured rhythms and synth melodies rise and fall with an epic quality, and Eleanor Friedbergers precise vocals mesh strangely, and beautifully, with her brother Matts layered swoops. Theyve got a Charlie and the Chocolate Factorystyle 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 doesnt 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 tribes set. L.L.
Zap Mama Saturday, April 30 To describe Zap Mamas 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 Mamas 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, youll understand. Katherine Chan The Arcade Fire Sunday, May 1 The Arcade Fire are like the Talking Heads reborn as Muppet Babies: Theyre almost too good, too cute, too smart in short, too perfect. Some people who havent seen the quirky Quebecers 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 its 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 KCRWs 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 theyll 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 Dans remake of Como Te Extraño Mi Amor. Lovely. (And dont 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 years 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 shes 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 isnt your average white rapper, biting off the black mans struggle and hijacking his music. Francis has his own struggles he doesnt need anyone elses. After inviting a friend to an A.A. meeting, he raps, Bring me to your hiding place, so I can face your vice grip/ Ill chisel every single monkey off your back with this ice pick. (Isnt 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.