We're tempted to tell you about Jim Morrison and the really interesting remixes of their old catalog featured on the soundtrack to the new documentary People Are Strange. This is because we spent a few hours listening to it trapped in traffic trying to get to the parking lot so we could get to spend another long while stuck among a mob of angry villagers who were attempting to access the venue.
But then we got in (late) and the music was good, even if tempers were frazzled and the fields were way crowded. Here are some Wins and Fails:
WIN: The Specials playing the old hits. The youngs dancing. The olds being all emotional. Terry Hall being all punk rock and calling part of the crowd ugly. The bandmembers getting paid at last for their enormous influence (they brought Jamaica to Orange County, after all).
FAIL: The Specials just playing the old hits and not moving the ball forward, like the absent Jerry Dammer wanted to. Hopefully they won't end up playing casinos and festivals after this redemption tour.
WIN: Passion Pit and their falsetto jams. Two chords in and all the youngs that were checking out The Specials ("Wow, this is where No Doubt comes from!") rushed to the Outdoor Theatre to pay homage to Passion Pit. A replay of last year's massive reaction to Silversun Pickups.
WIN: Gil Scott-Heron bringing in the jazz to the Gobi tent. He roamed through his catalog like the pro he is, and the crowd was with him 100%. He's survived it all and commands the stage with a real living presence and a link to the old soul/blues tradition. Felt like watching Skip James in those '60s blues and folk revival festivals, except Skip James was never sandwiched between Dillinger Escape Plan and La Roux.
WIN: Lucero's country surprise. Don't be fooled by the "alt.country" albatross around Lucero's neck. This is country rock of the best vintage, as they showed by turning the Mojave tent into an awesome honky tonk by the sheer force of their energy and material. All that was missing was the Jack.
FAIL: The ravers getting all gropey and gross. What happens when you invite 75,000 people to your rave? I guess we'll find out in 9 months. (One of our team, a hardened reporter with years of experience with douchey crowds was so skeeved by the rave scene at Coachella this year she almost had a panic attack.)
WIN: Them Crooked Vultures' main stage set. People were describing it as "religion." Finally Homme and Grohl's gamble paid off--draft an actual Zeppelin and corral in some of that legendary mojo. John Paul Jones anchored the whole thing with authority and his untouchable aura (he even tuned the bass halfway through a jam--class act all around).
FAIL: Echo & The Bunnymen, La Roux, Grizzly Bear, all awesome acts that cater to a discerning crowd, scheduled at the very same time. Why didn't they move one of them to compete with Tiesto (spelling? where does the umlaut go?), so we'd have options?
WIN: Ceu turning the Gobi tent into a chill Brazilian lounge, in a good way. Brazil produces so many strong musical exports that it's easy to miss the really special ones. Ceu is really special--ask your musician friend.
WIN: Fever Ray
FAIL: Fever Ray's dark set design. Not "dark" as in "Goth"-- "dark" as in "can't see shit." It's a longitudinal tent in the desert, people. Plan accordingly.
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WIN: deadmau5 and his Daft-Punk-molesting-Mickey-Mouse-in-a-Kubrik-Bear-factory thing. Also, mad popular. Many, many of the youngs ditched old uncle Jay-Z and his doll-like wife for the electronantics of deadmau5 at the Sahara.
WIN: John Lydon presents PiL. After a mostly dull show at Club Nokia last week, Lydon found a venue to match his ego. His vocal in pop hit "Rise" was blistering in a real, soulful way. Never write Johnny Rotten off.
WIN: Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" and his general willingness to be a super-trouper, even with a dodgy throat. He was in a "let's put on a show" mood, and he gave the audience their money's worth in a big-Vegas way (a lot of hip hop acts revere Sinatra, Hova very much included). His ode to New York was a real showstopper, even with an Alicia Keys stand-in. Also, he namechecked Yeassayer and other Brooklyn bands. (The Yeassayer guys are probably sampling that shoutout right now and making it their answering machine message).
FAIL: Jay-Z's set was also uneven and embarrassingly pandering. He's a bright guy (a very bright guy), but here he was just trying to hit all the bases and please everyone. Also, WTF with the karaoke to Oasis' "Wonderwall"? (We get it, it was a joke at Glastonbury because a Gallagher dissed him. But karaoke? To please the overwhelmingly white crowd with a car stereo jam? Hova please!). Beyonce also karaoked to "Forever Young," the sappy '80s hit, with Jay-Z interjecting Fugees-level "woah"s. Beyonce sure is pretty and she can hold a note or five. But if she's not gonna do "Put a Ring on It," we'd rather have 5 more minutes of "Big Pimpin'" with Jay-Z in full voice. Next year?