On the Coachella Express, there are a few distinct types of people: the media, who were invited to document the maiden voyage of the Amtrak line that departed L.A.’s Union Station last Thursday afternoon, bound for Indio and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and who wouldn’t leave the kids alone. Local L.A. news crews were doing their two-minute Coachella stories for the 11 o’clock news. A TV cameraman shot a group of hipsters while a clueless news reporter poked a mike in their faces and asked silly questions like, “Why are you going to Coachella? What are you hoping to find?” Answer, from an obviously disinterested dude: “Uh, music?” (Randall Roberts)
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Santogold, one of Coachellas highlights
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A Santogold dancer: Jerky, funky fun
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Prince, right before the UFO carried him away
Friday, April 25, 3:30 p.m., outside Empire Polo Field
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 titled, “What Band Are They Here 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 Corolla? Slightly Stoopid. No question about it. (Jeff Weiss)
Saturday, April 26, 7:40 p.m., Gobi tent
Yo! Majesty kept it in their shirts. It’s true — the Tampa-based, female-fronted answer to 2 Live Crew adroitly circumvented legal woes by neither rapping with their mams in the wind nor outwardly woman-handling any of the young, more lithe ladies of the audience. But what was lost in novelty and voyeuristic draw was more than made up for in sheer mike-wielding skills and a more family-friendly show — you know, the one with two hardcore black butches rapping about pouring Courvoisier down girls’ throats before they “fuck dat shit!” Truly, they showed versatility, and with a pair of windmilling B-girls behind them, Shunda K. and Jwl B. ripped into the meager but awed crowd under their tent. Meanwhile, young dudes of all stripes (some in board shorts, others in vintage Western gear, one wearing a Notorious B.I.G. shirt) absolutely lost their shit to Rilo Kiley as their girlfriends sat on the grass forcing looks of supreme boredom. (Chris Martins)
Saturday, April 26, 9:30 p.m., Coachella stage
What do I know? It wasn’t three hours earlier that I had said out loud, about The Verve’s semiblah set the night before, “Slow, brooding doesn’t really work at Coachella. People are here to celebrate. They don’t want to be bummed while they’re waiting to peak.” Then came Portishead, for whom slow, brooding became an act of defiance, the sound of looming danger drifting across the field, Saturday night turned sour. Because, as we all know, just as often as things go according to plan at Coachella, they don’t. The girl you’re chasing lands in someone else’s lap. You lose your goddamn cell phone and are immediately alone in the dark. Your roll sucks. Your feet hurt. Nobody loves you. It’s true. (RR)
Saturday, April 26, 11:30 p.m., VIP section
I ran into a guy I knew from high school standing in line for the restrooms in the VIP area. I hadn’t seen him in a decade but was about four glasses of $7 wine deep and feeling good. No reason not to be friendly; after all, I no longer harbored a grudge from that time in 11th grade when he tried to tell me that Magoo was a great rapper, a moment in which I knew that our friendship was well on its way to being up-jumps-the boogied.
“Hey, Vargas,” I greeted him. (Names have been changed to protect the insolent.)
“Hey, Weiss,” he responded with a dazed, bovine look on his face. “I’m so wasted.”
“No. I didn’t see him here. But I think I just saw Mischa Barton and I definitely saw Paris Hilton,” he said.
“I meant ... never mind. ... So have you seen anyone good today?”
“No, just some friends. We went to the Spin party. It was awesome.”
“I mean, like, bands. Have you seen any good music?”
“Ha ...,” he chuckled drunkenly, leaning in toward me and spewing hot, boozy breath all over me. “I don’t know anyone who’s playing. But they sound good from here!”
“You can’t hear anything from here.”
On my way out back to the main field, I saw Hilton herself tucked into the back of the VIP area, babbling to some tatted-up rock-star bozo, completely ignoring the mind-bending brilliance of Prince, who pretty much did everything people could have ever asked except make them pancakes in the morning. I mean, a psychedelic cover of “Creep,” “Come Together,” and ending with “Let’s Go Crazy.” Not to mention an appearance by Morris Day and the motherfucking Time. As de Tocqueville might have once said: really doe. And I’m sure de Tocqueville would’ve gotten a kick out of observing the cultural tourists like my old friend, here strictly for the party, walking around adrift, chain-smoking, trying to master the art of looking affected and disaffected all at the same time. (JW)
Sunday, April 27, 11:15 p.m., Sahara tent
In the tent at 11:15, just prior to Justice’s festival-closing Coachella appearance, we all had a little moment, courtesy of Neil Diamond. Chromeo had just finished cheesing up the place with their ’80s shtick and the stoners were arriving from the Roger Waters and Black Mountain gigs. Justice usually warm up the crowd with a rock mix to reinforce the notion that they’re as much a rock band as an electronic band, and tonight they moved from Supertramp to Judas Priest to what would have seemed to be a Led Zeppelin peak when the first few notes of Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” poured forth. The crowd, tight in the monstrous tent and more excited souls coming every moment, started to sing along, perhaps 5,000-strong:
Where it began, I can’t begin to know when
But then I know it’s growing strong
Oh, wasn’t the spring, wooo
And spring became the summer
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Who’d believe you’d come along?
Now, this is a Justice crowd, not a Neil Diamond crowd. These people are here to see two leathered-up Frenchmen rock balls on computers, not hear the songs of a leathered-up Canadian guy famous before most of this crowd were even born. And yet they sing along, nearly all of them: “Sweet Caroline! — DUN-DUN DUNNNN — good times never seemed so good.” It’s a little Justice trick, dropping the Neil: They did it at the Mayan a few months ago too. Something about the song, and the sentiment, and those dun-dun dunnnns. They turn us on. So we sing. (RR)