I hate lines. They're somewhere in the lower rungs of my own personal inferno along with club kids in fedoras, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the abstract concept of valet parking. Unfortunately, entering Coachella brings me into contact with three of those four food groups as quite often, while waiting in the Bataan Death march-like line to get in, you wind up next to a car full of trust-funders in fedoras maligning the Andruw Jones acquisition (seriously, you give the guy $40 million and he shows up to camp looking like Pop-N-Fresh?). It's times like this, I like to play a game creatively entitled, "What Band Are They Hear to See." As for the fedora fedayeen, I'd bet even money they were there to see Diplo. Or maybe Spank Rock. The guy strutting to the right of our car wearing a scarf in 100 degree weather? Vampire Weekend. The shirtless frat brahs tossing around a football? Jack Johnson. The girls to the left of us who wrote "Licking Windows all the Way to Coachella," on the exterior of their Toyota Carolla. Slightly Stoopid. No questions asked.
But the lines. Good lord the lines. Two hours trying to leave, one trying to enter. An interminable snarl of scalpers hawking tickets and t-shirts, hazy beat-up brown dust, beads of sweat slipping slowly down your spine, dull heat-stroke headache, Lawrence of Arabia thirst, and that gnashed teeth silence where you ruminate on the simple fact that after nearly a decade of doing this, no one has been able to figure out how to get cars in and out of the Empire Polo Grounds faster than than 250 feet per hour. And all this while the palm trees tauntingly sway in the breeze, laughing, calmly, coolly, reminding you of all the wonderful things waiting to be seen. That is if you ever get in--chump.
But eventually you do and once you get over the jarring reality that Coachella's demographics skew towards Hotchickswithdouchebags: The Festival, there is a whole new world waiting for you behind the gates. It's like the movie Aladdin. But hotter, with better music and fewer pervy Disney animator sex jokes. That said: here are some thoughts on day one. I apologize in advance for the lack of mention of the Raconteurs, The National, Sharon Jones who all killed it, and the general inchoateness of my thoughts, but let's be real, it's Saturday afternoon, I still need to get my daily pre-Coachella breakfast at Billy Reed's (a California Omelette: avocado, artichoke, swiss cheese and tomato, coffee, orange juice, a side of fruit and a bagel with cream cheese) and if you think I'm missing Hot Chip later tonight you're sadly mistaken. Besides, the LA Weekly blog team has already filled in the blanks for me at Play, so go read our other coverage there.
Cut Copy: Gobi Tent 5:15-6:05
Cut Copy have been around since those fabled days when the Rapture first taught the hipsters something Bruce Dickinson knew long-ago: one can never have enough cowbell. Along the way, they've become one of the biggest names in dance-punk. In all honestly, I don't listen to all much dance-punk because if I'm going to invest my time into a genre of music, I'd like to know what it means beforehand. Truth is, I'm pretty sure the signifier is a just a vague shorthand for talking about bands that cop to an affinity for 80s New Wave keyboards and a love of Joy Division. Sure enough, as you'd expect from a band named "Cut Copy," there's a highly derivative element to their sound. This is not to say they are bad. Though at times during their set it felt like I was listening to the soundtrack for the adaptation of a bad Jay McIerney novel, Cut Copy's music is fun, danceable and unpretentious. I attribute this to the inherent affability of the Australian people. Indeed, it's almost impossible to dislike a nation that introduced us to Foster's, koalas and the phrase, "throw some more shrimp on the barbie." We still haven't forgiven you for the Vines though.
Vampire Weekend: Outdoor Theatre (5:40-6:30 p.m.)
I like Vampire Weekend. I really do. I've written about them twice prior and they'd probably be one of my favorite new bands of 2008 if there wasn't a part of me that didn't find them slightly contemptible. The thing is, I like their music and really that's all that should matter. VW write catchy three-minute pop rock songs as well as anyone, Ezra Koenig has an interesting, strong voice and their drummer is a beast (no Weezy). Their aesthetic is practically utopian. They sound like the last two months of college, that slim window after daylight savings and before summer break when Spring spreads out across campus in an emerald wave and all you want to do is splay yourself in front of a pool and scope out Sorority girls in string bikinis. This in and of itself is a great thing.
My problem is that Vampire Weekend seem like the type of kids I would've never wanted to have hung out with, the kids that were dorky in high school and are now furiously trying to overcompensate, the sort that would correct you for mispronouncing a word. Live, this sort of arrogance can't help but come through. Koenig wears pink shorts and those MTV 80s sunglasses and delivers rambling asides in a flat, affected monotone. Vampire Weekend can fill up a small room impressively, but at Coachella they just weren't ready for prime time, with their sound weak and slightly tinny. It was polite, it was fine, it was well-mannered, but it wasn't great. And there's something inherently off-putting about watching a thousand dizzy sorority girls sing along to "Blake's Got a New Face," touching their noses and thanking the gods of plastic surgery. But hey, this was VW's first festival ever and hopefully one day they'll evolve beyond making anthems for the Facebook set (which they do admirably). Besides, Koenig had a pretty fine-looking girl under his arm while wandering around the VIP later that night. I stand corrected indeed.
Aesop Rock: Gobi Tent (8:20-9:10 p.m.)
Ace Rock has it down to a science at this point. Nearly 10 years in the rap world, his fan base is secure, his live show is consistently good, the set list is as deep as almost anyone in hip-hop. You know what you're getting. So if I was initially a little jaded at the beginning of his set, it's because I've seen the dude nearly a dozen times over the last decade, three alone on the None Shall Pass tour. So the most resonant thing about his set for me might not have even been his music. Instead, it was staring at the crowd go absolutely nuts to every song, rapping along with every word, losing themselves inside Aesop's brilliant, byzantine rants. It felt gratifying in a way, as to lamely quote Swingers: the Def Jukies are all growns up. Morever, it was tough not to interpret the roaring response as an unspoken reminder that it is possible to have a successful and lengthy career in hip-hop without making any concessions to the commercial realm, or catering to the lowest common denominator. And if that doesn't seem so unorthodox to you, even Ghost made "Tush" and let's not even discuss, "Birthday Girl." As for the cuts from None Shall Pass, they sounded great live. DJ Big Wiz delivered an impressive display of turntablism, and Rob Sonic looks more like Jonah Hill in Superbad with every passing day. By the time, "Daylight" predictably concluded his set, Aesop had once again re-iterated his case for being not just one of the most consistent and best artists in in indie hip-hop, but in music itself.
Jack Johnson: Coachella Stage (10:45-12:00)
Analogies dimly deduced while sprawling exhausted on the grass watching Jack Johnson put the audience to sleep at 11:17 p.m. Friday night:
Jack Johnson=American Eagle (Plain, durable, dull)
Ben Harper=J. Crew (every now and then you find something nice, but on principle it's best to stay away).
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Dave Matthews=Abercrombie & Fitch. (Popular with college kids in the late 90s, but by now anyone with a shred of sense has decided it's time to get a new look.)
G. Love & Special Sauce=Hollister. (I have heard both of these names 7,323 times yet for the life of me I couldn't pick out a G. Love song nor a Hollister shirt for the life of me.)
Rogue Wave=Urban Outfitters. (Didn't you guys used to be cool?).