The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Coachella 2009: Part 1

Written by: Carl Johnson, Special to CC2K

CC2K's Carl Johnson braved the searing Indio desert to bring back this report from the 2009 Coachella Music Festival.

ImageEvery year I have the pleasure of knowing that 3 days of my life will be spent in the blistering Indio dessert, braving the heat and the dust, to attend the Coachella Valley Music and Art’s Festival. This little festival, which started in 1999, has become the festival that everyone in America tunes into. What started as a single day festival has now turned into a three-day event with people attending from all over the globe.

This year was being billed as the 10th year anniversary of the show. Many, including myself, were expecting special treats for this event. And while, yes, it is the “11th” year of the festival, it is only the 10th time this fest has taken place (after the performance in 1999 lost so much money they didn’t have one in 2000).

Upon initial line up announcements, there was a bunch of grumbling about the line up. It is this way every year so it should come as no surprise.

Sure the Paul McCartney/Morrissey billing on Friday was one to make almost anyone excited. Then you have The Cure/My Bloody Valentine/Throbbing Gristle top tier for Sunday. It was just the Saturday billing of The Killers/MIA(after Amy Winehouse was dropped) as the top two that gave the internet collective the chance to bitch.

Well that is the background, onto the festival.

Friday: Cage the Elephant, Molotov*, Los Campesinos!*, M.Ward*, The Black Keys*, White Lies*, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Franz Ferdinand*, Leonard Cohen*, Morrissey, Silversun Pickups*, Paul McCartney

On Friday I got to the grounds a little later than I wanted to. I forgot how long it takes to park and actually get from the lots to the gate. If you are driving expect almost an hour from getting off the freeway and onto the polo grounds. Don’t forget there is also a 15 or so minute walk from the back lots to the gate. Then when you get to the gate you have another 15-20 minutes of waiting to be searched and have your ticket scanned.

I missed Noah and the Whale, who I planned on seeing, and ended up in one of the tents for my first act of the day.

Cage the Elephant, from what I caught of them, is a basic garage rock band. The singer likes to yell during the songs. The yelling isn’t that of the hardcore variety, more that of the lo-fi variety. The singer made his way out into the audience for a song while other band members crowd surfed through the audience. It was a fun act to watch, but the music they were making was lacking.

It was from the tents to the side stage where I caught Molotov. I was only there for a few songs before I made my way back to the tents. Maybe I should have just stayed in the tent because Molotov was an abomination on stage. To give you the gist of this Mexican rap-rock band I will have you do a simple experiment: Turn on Limp Bizkit at full blast and then throw on Telemundo at full blast. That is, in essence, what you would have got being at the Outdoor Theatre at Coachella.

After two disappointing performances I knew the Welsh group Los Campsinos! was not going to be a let down. They are a rather large group in the same vein as Broken Social Scene, lots of long noisy songs with a ton of people playing different instruments.

Even with technical difficulties cutting the vocals in and out the group continued to go on. The male singer just started to scream so that everyone in the first few rows could hear.

Their music is bouncy and magical. Members of the group jumped onto the stage amps while two others were crowd surfing. Their set never got boring and left me wanting to see more of them.

I had some time to kill after Los Campsinos! and decided to check out M. Ward on the Outdoor Stage and The Black Keys on the Main Stage. I only caught a snippet from each group while eating my cold, $9 BBQ tri-tip sandwich.

I really was not feeling either group/band. Both were of the country rock and roll styles and is just something I am into. The Black Keys did “rock” more than M.Ward but it is not something I would ever pay to watch. Glad I caught both in some ways so I know who to skip later in the year.

I ended back in a tent to catch the performance of White Lies. I had been hearing a ton about this British group and have read the comparisons to Depeche Mode. I have caught a few of their leaked demos online and had them marked as someone I had to watch.

Well… it wasn’t anything spectacular.

They have the look and stage presence of Interpol. All of the members were dressed in similar looking suits. All of the members remained in stationary mannequin like positions. Never showing much emotion at all.

The songs, which all sounded the same, was more like the 2000’s watered down version of Depeche Mode. That is the only way you can compare the two.

I had planned on watching the whole set but decided to make my way back out to the Outdoor Stage to catch the main man from Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst, joined by his Mystic Valley Band

I am a huge fan of Bright Eyes, but just haven’t gotten into Conor’s side project. I am glad I caught the set because he is a performer. He lets his voice crackle and snap while straining on vocals. There is a ton of beauty in his voice and when he sings live you can hear his emotions brought out.

Jenny Lewis also stepped on stage and sang a song with Conor. It was a special performance for a group that may just do this one current tour before Bright Eyes comes back. If you were able to catch it feel lucky.

As the country rock faded out on the side stage the sounds of Franz Ferdinand were already floating over the grounds from the Main Stage. I made my way through the sea of people to catch a few songs by the Scots.

They happened to be just starting “Take Me Out” as I was just getting to the stage. I jumped and danced around like I did when I first heard the song in college. Sure the group has released some stinkers since that first album, but it was a great album.

If you were just looking to watch a group having a good time on stage, this was the place to be. I forgot just how many singles the group has had because I did recognize most of the 5 or so songs I watched.

It was fun, that simple.

It was time for recyclechella to get my free water after that set. If you have never been to Coachella they do this lovely give away where you bring 10 empty water bottles, they give you one sealed bottle. If you are buying water on the grounds it is $2 and on average you go through around 5 a day. It is something nice Goldenvoice does for the fans.

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I got my free bottle of water and made my way over to start standing around and waiting for Leonard Cohen.

All I knew walking over to the set was that he is classic, he is old, and he is someone I just had to add to the list of people I have seen in my life.

It was almost 20 minutes after the posted start time that the mid 70-year-old guitar player came onstage. I was already getting a little tired by this point and did not know I was in for long ballads.

It was interesting and I can see why he was so successful with his body of work that I caught. It was just really slow, and I needed something more upbeat or familiar. There were a ton of people really digging his voice, which sounded like one of an old man that has knocked back too many bottles of Scotch and smoked one too many cigarettes.

Maybe it is something I just didn’t get. I left prior to him finishing to catch the start of Morrissey.

Morrissey, in usual fashion, danced and waltzed around the stage while singing his extensive catalogue. It was a great mix of the old and new, with different takes on each song.

“Irish blood, English Heart” had a heavier guitar and more extensive solo section while “First of the Gang to Die” had Steven Patrick segmenting his vocals to switch up the chorus. It wasn’t just the songs that got the crowd going.

“The smell of burning animal flesh is killing me,” Moz proclaimed on stage.

I am glad I had already finished off the tri-tip by that point.

The set ended with a chilling rendition of “How Soon is Now”. I know Morrissey is NOT The Smiths, but Johnny Marr is never coming back so this is the best a Smiths fan can get.

Funniest thing I overheard during this song was a young girl to her mother, “Why is he covering that song on ‘Charmed’”.

My evening of music continued with another walk back to the Outdoor Theatre to catch the end of the Silver Lake band, Silversun Pickups.

They just released their second album and the songs off it sounded unpracticed. This band really makes slick sounding records, but when asked to replicate it live they always fail.

It’s not just the guitar and synth sounds that were off, but also the vocals of Brian Aubert were the worst. On record he is slightly to severely annoying with his vocals. Live it is just 100 times worse. If listening to him sing wasn’t bad enough the between song banter was even worse.

Ugh just a bloody waste of time.

It was back to the Main Stage to catch the Friday headliner, the former Beatle, Paul McCartney.

This was my second time getting to see the legend performing. A few years back Sir Paul played a free show inside of the Amoeba Records in Hollywood and I was able to get in to that.

The first hour of the Coachella set consisted mainly of songs from Wings, solo Paul, and Firemen songs. I could see people slowly leaving at the 30-minute mark wondering if he was just going to tease everyone.

At almost the hour mark on the dot Paul picked up the acoustic and started into “Blackbird”… and from then on it was Beatles classic after Beatles classic.

Paul, being a master musician, would switch off from Guitar to Piano to even the Ukulele. When he brought out the Ukulele he even presented a story about him teaching George Harrison a song that he wrote on it. As he was strumming along with the story he broke right into “Something”.

The magical evening continued as the audience learned that this specific Friday, the 17th, was also the passing of Paul’s first wife Linda. In dedication to her we were treated to the piano ballad “My Love”. It was hard not to be moved by this piece.

And from piece to peace, the John Lennon classic “Give Peace a Chance” made its way into Paul’s set. The young and old all chanted along with two fingers raised to the sky.

Sure this is a festival that encompasses all ages, creeds, religions and backgrounds, but in this moment everyone was one giant entity of love.

The set concluded with fireworks and stage pyrotechnics to a rendition of “Live and Let Die” and this wasn’t even the last song. As it ended the band moved into the classic “Hey Jude”.

The almost 2 hour set wasn’t enough for the fans as Paul made his way back on stage for not one but two more encores.

From “Birthday” to “Helter Skelter” the encores continued well past the midnight noise curfew. When he finally got to the vocals of “The End” everyone knew this really had to be it.

And it was.

My magical Friday ended with the 3 hour set performed by Paul and will leave me with another moment that only the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival can produce.

Check back on Monday for Carl's adventures on Saturday and Sunday of Coachella 2009!