The Coachella mainstage on Saturday night was a glory to behold, a spirit-lifting evening celebrating joy through technology, through contemplation and through celebration. In a single four hour chunk of time, the lucky masses at Coachella witnessed two-and-a-half humongous performances, two of which were nearly epochal.
The fans at Hot Chip were very excited and very happy. (All photos by Timothy Norris)
First, very nearly literally, there was Kraftwerk, without whom probably two dozen of Coachella's eleven dozen artists wouldn't exist. Without their experiments with computer pop in the 1970s, the new wave of the 1980s would have sounded shockingly different, techno wouldn't have evolved the way that it did, nor would have hip hop. Depeche Mode wouldn't have existed. Hot Chip, Datarock, Architecture in Helsinki, Fatboy Slim, Aphex Twin, Diplo, Sandra Collins would scarcely be possible. That said, Kraftwerk sounded tired. Sounded old. Sounded like exactly what it was: one original member (Ralf Hutter) onstage, the other, Florian Schneider, not. Where, exactly, he was is somewhat mysterious.
He apparently performed Kraftwerk's recent show in Minneapolis, but (ed. note: he apparently did not)was replaced by a younger gentleman with a stronger button finger for the Coachella performance.
Kraftwerk at Coachella: Guess which one is checking his email.
Which means that Kraftwerk is one member away from turning into the Blue Man Group.
But western pop music has so internalized Kraftwerk's ideas – you can hear their archetypal electro melodies in recent hits by Ciara, Mariah, and Snoop – that at Coachella 08, polyrhythms offer more fury and release than four-on-the-floor stomp. From M.I.A. to Santogold to DeVotchka to Yelle, the meter was wild and chaotic, and alongside such future-rhythms, Kraftwerk's unrelentingly minimal pound, 30 years after its birth, now sounds like an anachronism.
Beth Gibbons doubled: Somebody in fact does love her, i.e. everyone who saw Portishead last night.
But what do I know? It wasn't three hours earlier that I had said out loud about The Verve's 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 left to wander in the dark. Your roll sucks. Your party gets shut down because you didn't take care of your shit. Your feet hurt. Nobody loves you. It's true.
And what Portishead offered on this brilliantly programmed night was a depth. Those sounds that came out of Beth Gibbons voice? Timeless. When she pinches her throat, the notes barely squeeze out in that mystical way that Billie Holiday did it. It makes a sound that's half animal, half human. And Portishead's sounds! Geoff Barrow's deep production woke the worms beneath the polo field, and Adrian Utley's guitar screeched and moaned. Couple with masterful big-screen video production, Portishead sounded eternal, forever wounded, sorry, sad, devastated, alive.
Oh my god.
And Prince. I don't want to ruin Prince's show last night by writing about it. It was mystical, and I've seen Prince a few other times. Morris Day, the Time, “The Bird,” (which is the word, and always will be), Jerome and Morris dancing, Sheila E making a cameo for “Glamorous Life,” Prince wailing his ass off, delivering a deep, brooding version of “Little Red Corvette.” A cover of Radiohead's “Creep” and the Beatles' “Come Together.” It was amazing.