They come from 17 countries on five continents, the musicians of Coachella 2009, though the majority are, as always, natives of two: Europe and North America. Four decades of music are represented: The 1960s first delivered us Paul McCartney, Booker T. and Leonard Cohen. From the 1970s came Throbbing Gristle and Paul Weller, and from the ’80s, Morrissey, the Cure, Public Enemy, Henry Rollins and Bob Mould. The 1990s produced Roni Size, My Bloody Valentine and Crystal Method among others, and the rest of the 122 acts, including Amy Winehouse, Los Campesinos and, joy of joys, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, were born in the ’00s.
That total is down from 129 acts last year, and if the recession has resulted in seven fewer invitations to the Big Dance, the marquee names are still pretty marquee, though hardly dazzling. Which is to say: Once again, there is no Smiths reunion, nor is Pavement reconvening, U2 is not coming down from the mountain, nor are John Lennon and George Harrison resurrecting for a Beatles jam session (though George’s son Dhani will perform as part of his band thenewno2). My Bloody Valentine is back, but that’s already old (still awesome) news.
The Cure will be wonderful, but not nearly as wonderful as they were at the Troubadour in December. Leonard Cohen deserves a cathedral be built on the polo grounds just for his show, lest he get his suit dusty. Show the man some respect; he wrote “Hallelujah,” and shouldn’t have to stoop to playing Coachella when he’s much better fitted for the Orpheum or the Disney. Of course David Bowie isn’t doing Ziggy Stardust, as one rumor had it, because Bowie doesn’t kowtow, and that would be silly.
Our hope is that there will be a March surprise to augment the Saturday-night lineup, and not just because the Killers aren’t substantive enough to support that amazing underbill all by themselves (Winehouse, TV on the Radio, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Hercules and Love Affair, Calexico, Gang Gang Dance), but also because Thievery Corporation is listed as a co-headliner, which reveals something unflattering about the state of dance music in 2009. (As in: If that’s all the celebratory muscle we can muster on the Saturday-night kickoff to America’s festival season, well, these are sour times indeed.) The Killers we could care less about, honestly (we prefer the Kills); we’re holding out hope that an addition to the top of the Saturday bill will arrive. (Why settle for the Killers when Axl will probably be mowing his lawn that day?)
Friday night’s Paul McCartney headlining slot has been the subject of much online grumbling, the tacit suggestion being that, well, Macca hasn’t released a truly brilliant album since Back to the Egg (we’re kidding — since McCartney II), that Coachella has never been about Adult Contemporary music, and that the former Beatle doesn’t really matter all that much to the kids of today — other than those brilliant Beatles songs. My main problem with modern-day McCartney is that he suffers from the same frustrating malady that afflicts his Brit-invasion peer Ray Davies. Notwithstanding that Davies is the consistently better songwriter, neither has the slightest sense of what his best songs even are, so each fills his sets with middling lowest-common-denominator stuff. (Don’t give the people what they want, give the people what they need.) Which is to say: If McCartney stormed out there and kicked out the entirety of Ram, or remixed/reimagined a bunch of his Beatles/Wings stuff with Flood and Fireman-esque sampling à la the recent Beatles Love remix project, that would be interesting. But that’s never going to happen. Let’s hope he doesn’t trot out “Band on the Run,” “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Blackbird” (I’ll take “Martha My Dear” and “Rocky Raccoon” instead).
Coachella, of course, has always been about the undercard, and the Oz Wizards behind the velvet curtain at Goldenvoice, a more mysterious jury than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, have constructed a solid three days of both sure things and surprises. Amy Winehouse will by far be the most anticipated hour of the weekend, for all the wrong reasons but also because her 2007 Coachella appearance established her Stateside, and we’re all rooting for her musical (and personal) recovery. Plus, we like a good story.
There’s K’naan, from Mogadishu, Somalia, who was raised in a district that during the country’s early-1990s civil war was called “The Lake of Blood,” and managed to flee the country with his family the day that the government of Siad Barre collapsed. In a weird non sequitur, his new album features guest appearances by Chubb Rock and Kirk Hammett (of Metallica). There’s the glorious guitar sounds of Tinawiren, a band of Tuareg players from Saharan Africa whose songs of independence have absolutely nothing to do with Indie rock and everything to do with the freedom of a people (and whose tangle of guitars could wring the penciled little necks of Vampire Weekend).
There’s Brazilian minimalist Gui Burrato, whose sparse, hypnotic techno will set many an intellectual e-tard free. And there’s Fucked Up, from the Klondike, the only hardcore band brave enough to sneak both a flute solo and a bongo solo into a 20-minute punk song and not sound like total tools.
And on and on. At least 18 L.A. artists are represented, for which Goldenvoice should be commended. They include aforementioned Ariel Pink, a Coachella Cinderella story if there ever was one; No Age from downtown; and the Silversun Pickups, who will perform two days after their highly anticipated sophomore full-length debut hits the stores. The Airborne Toxic Event will, we predict, continue its worldwide ascent. Shepard Fairey will sing songs from his forthcoming country album. (That’s a joke. We’re not sure what the iconic artist, who was interviewed by Charlie Rose for his TV show recently, will be doing.) Elsewhere on the map, the Vivian Girls will slay the people who care about real punk and not fake punk. Girl Talk will incite a dance riot. And Throbbing Gristle, the band that nearly single-handedly created the industrial-music movement of the 1980s, will reconvene to continue one of the most blistering and incendiary art projects of the past half-century. Not too shabby. Let’s see how all that pans out.