Coachella Day 1: Buraka Som Sistema and Conor Oberst

Buraka Som Sistema
Buraka Som Sistema
Timothy Norris

Buraka Som Sistema

Gobi, 5:35 5:50 - 6:20

 

A sizeable crowd has gathered for Buraka Som Sistema in the Gobi tent, but the music hasn't started. Several men are running around the stage, chasing cables, jiggling things, playing music, stopping and starting again. The Portuguese band should have begun 15 minutes ago, but the audience doesn't mind. They take each false start as a cue to smash their palms together and chant like soccer hooligans: "Wegue! Wegue wegue wegue!" Soon enough, a swell of Kuduro percussion washes over us--a combination of sampled clatter, digitally triggered pads that DJ Riot is smacking with sticks, and a drum kit with a kick that'll blow a hole in your chest. MCs Kalaf and Conductor storm the stage and the tent becomes a heaving favela. Shirts go flying, arms too, and then the lithe-bodied Blaya arrives. She kicks, pops and spins like a capoeira fighter, and when she grabs the microphone, it's pure fire. Eight minutes later and the extended version of "Luanda/Lisboa" is over. It's cooling down outside, but all anyone here is interested in is heat. A highlife sample signals the start of the next song, an upbeat number bursting with bright overtones, all of which contrasts neatly against the opener's thumping menace. "Let's go to Africa," says Kalaf. "Are you familiar with Africa?" Bamako, Rio, Lisbon... Wherever we are, it sure ain't Indio.

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Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band

6:10 - 7:00

I leave intending to catch a bit of Conor Oberst's set with his newish Mystic Valley Band at the Outdoor Theatre. Instead, on that same stage, I discover a schizo gremlin wearing a gigantic black missionary's hat, lurching back and forth like a busted wind-up monkey toy. This is neither the somber, heartstring-tugging form of Bright Eyes nor the kit-smashing whirling dervish that fronted Desaparecidos. Nay, this is a different, possibly acid-addled beast, and this is certainly not the kind of spectacle that the people want to see. Someone tells me I missed a "fan" hurl a book at Oberst, catching him in his guts--an awful scenario, but oddly poetic. And buried as he is below three horizontal feet of floppy fabric, the bookish singer looks so damn small that I'm suddenly worrying over the size of the literature that hit him. Was it a thick pamphlet? A paperback? God forbid... a tome? At that moment, the golem speaks in a mumbly screech, evidently attempting to introduce the gang of hardworking musicians behind him. He calls them "The River City Mystic Mountain Band." Portugal: one; New York/Nebraska: zero.

-Chris Martins

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