Parties or performances? We've come to the unfortunate conclusion that you really can't have it both ways when it comes to the merciless monster that is Coachella weekend. Every year we've managed to hit a couple soirees before attacking the field around sunset, but things were different for the 2010 gathering, and we're not even talking about the disorganization, the sucky wifi, the inconvenient offsite ticket pick-ups for VIPs and press, the band cancelations or the new ferris wheel.
There were more bands we wanted to see than in recent years, but there were also more parties to choose from, many of which involved out of the way treks into Palm Springs during the day or lonely drives down dark and isolated desert roads at 2 in the morning and beyond (if you stayed thru the last acts at the fest, you weren't getting outta there any earlier).
Corporate sponsors hopped the festival fete band-wagon as always, but this year they were competing more against each than the event itself. Lacoste, Armani Exchange, Blackberry, Belvedere Vodka (Music Loves Fashion) and hipster mag stalwarts including Filter, Urb, Vice (at a strip club called Cougars!) and Anthem mags all offered refuge from the sweaty crowds and endless walking. Mags may be dying, but if the party scene is any indication, they're still having fun.
You can read all about the bashes -well, the ones we made it to anyway- in this week's Nightranger (Coachella edition). For now, here's a run-down of what we actually made it into the fest to see. Were these acts worth leaving the groovy DJs, flowing libations, free food and poolside peep shows provided by the above shindigs? Yes and no.
Corinne Bailey Rae provided a tepid start for our Saturday. The English singer-song writer, best known for her cutesy hit, "Put Your Records On" was kind of a strange choice for Coachella, and her uneven set, featuring a lot of dark but sultry stuff off her new one, The Sea, (written following the death of her husband) failed to hold its own amidst the livelier, louder happenings going on outside of her tent. And despite her inspired cover of Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera" as closing number, it's hard to have a "whatever will be will be" attitude when there is so much to see and do.
MGMT's sophomore album might have been a disappointment for some, but we think it's a definite grower. Well, put it this way, it grew on us during the four-hour drive into Coachella Friday night. So by the time we hit the pit to take the pic here, we were ready from some feel-good psychedelic nuggets (and yes, we're referencing the Rhino retro homage box sets). "Electric Feel" and "Time To Pretend" got the biggest reactions of course (and yes, it was a travesty that they didn't do "Kids") but the new stuff worked in this environment. The dancing fools around us were feeling it even when they weren't recognizing it, and we don't think it was just because they screamed hearty "whoo-hoos" when singer Andrew VanWyngarden asked the crowd, "Who's on drugs here?"
We hear DEVO pulled out all the hits later in their closing performance Saturday night but, having a party to get to, we only stayed for the first three songs (what photogs are allowed to shoot of each act). These included two newer cuts and the infantile but fun "Peek-A-Boo." They looked great in their weird little masks and had lots of energy, but Coachella is not the place for a 30 year old band to be trying out new too much material, guys. Definitely not opening with it. "Freedom Of Choice," (a fitting anthem for the weekend) should have kicked off the set, period.
The Strokes' Julian Casablancas wasn't exactly engaged at his LA solo gigs a few months ago, so we didn't have a lot of hope that his set would be anything to get too excited about. But we changed our minds as we approached him - in bright red pants(!)- tackling "Hard To Explain" (our favorite song off of Is This It). There may have been some cracks in the croon, but he was goin' for it, so they came off charming. Jules was, dare we say it, in a good mood, even complimenting the crowd that we looked good and smelled good (okay that second one may have been sarcasm). A lesser known Stroke cut "I'll Try Anything Once" and the "awesomely inappropriate" "I Wish It Was Christmas Today" were also highlights.
A pungent cloud enveloped the area to the left of the stage where we watched Spoon (courtesy of some dude in an Indian headdress puffing a "peace" pipe) so our take on the Texas band may have been contact high-enhanced, but the band definitely held its own on Coachella's big stage, diving into its atmospheric, subtly soulful indie rock and serving up familiar ones like "I Turn My Camera On" and "The Way We Get By" with a loose yet assured potency. Members of White Rabbits and Deerhunter even joined late into the set, but many missed it to catch the rise of Phoenix on the outdoor stage across the field.
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One of our favorite stomps at Coachella came courtesy of Little Boots aka Brit babe Victoria Hesketh. She and her band made it out of the UK, but the volcanic ash cloud in Iceland (which saw some bands forced to cancel the fest) kept her costume and crew stranded there. She even tweeted about needing a dress for her set the day before. She ended up going dressless (and pantless as this picture shows), but her performance wasn't sparse. She got the crowd bouncing and chanting and -even after three days of endless walking- stomping like crazy. The performance might see the band garner a mainstream breakthrough here in the US. Good thing too, as she won't be returning to Britain anytime soon. "...we can't get home," she told the crowd near the middle of the show Saturday. "Anyone have a place we can stay?"
All photos in this post by Lina Lecaro.