Coachella Redux: Bands! Booze! More!

Saturday April 30

The show in Denver went well, and we scrambled to leave afterwards, the drive to Coachella being upwards of 20 hours. The bus doors finally closed around 2:30 a.m. or so (I think I may have already been tucked into my bunk for the night) and we rode on. I awoke the next morning and sat around a bit but returned to my bunk to watch some amazingly horrible movies. Example: The Core. We finally rolled in to Indio, California, around 7:30 p.m. and headed over to the festival grounds.

We missed seeing our friends in Rilo Kiley perform, but we found them almost immediately at the artist trailers. The grounds of Coachella are sprawling, confusing, but I learned last year that if you stay put in the artist-only areas it's far easier to navigate. Plus they have golf-carts to take you everywhere! Anyway, the artist trailers are like a little neighborhood block with individual patios and white picket fences, very cute, and are a welcome place to hang out. After a quick perusal of the evening's lineup I headed over to see a bit of Fantomas and then a few songs of the Spoon set.

Fantomas: Wow. They were incredible. The drum kit made a complete circle and included all sorts of percussive toys and noisemakers, from metal plates and pieces, to a gong, to unidentifiables that simply made interesting sounds. Watching from sidestage gave me an excellent view of the drummer, but it was difficult to see anyone else on stage. I stuck around for five songs and then dashed over to Spoon, where the side of the stage was full, so I went out into the crowd. Britt and company played some hits that I was hoping to hear: They sounded great, but the nature of Coachella is to sample a bit of everything. I decided to return backstage to sample the beverage selection, and that's where I remained until festival staff started removing empty tubs, and the evening drew to a close. I had hotel "lobby call" at 9 a.m. the next morning, for sound check . . . so I skipped the after-parties to get a few hours rest.

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Sunday May 1

Lobby call for sound check. Ugh. An early band call is just brutal—but it is always good for us to do a souncheck. Playing outdoors can be quite difficult—for us, for our sound guy. You never know what will divert the sound, how it will echo up into the sky, what kinds of winds will pick up, so we do it. This morning is actually really pleasant. Last year Coachella featured the kind of heat that I've never encountered before or since! Today seems mild in comparison.

Sound check was sound check, until the doors opened for the festival and we hadn't yet played a note. We decided to rush through a song for levels, and as soon as the kids out on the empty field heard, they began running—running—over to our stage. It was the strangest sight! They ran with the kind of vigorous intensity that people usually use to run away horror-movie-style. But they were running towards us and whipping out cameras by the handful. We finished up quickly and I walked over to the production trailer, where I picked up a van to take me on the 20 minute ride back to our hotel for some much-needed rest.

I returned to the Coachella grounds a few hours later, around 4 p.m., where bright glare of daylight revealed all the trucks, vans, carts that are needed to keep everyone moving. Even then, it's tricky to find someone to give you a ride, but, with the heat, and our set hours away, I find it better to thumb down one of the golf carts hurtling past. First things first, I rushed over, , along with a few thousand others, to see M.I.A. play. Despite my "credentials"—i.e., the plastic "artist" bracelet on my wrist—I couldn't get in to the backstage area. And when I ventured out in to the crowd, it was impossible to get anywhere close to the tent. I found a spot where I could see M.I.A. as a tiny spot on stage, but soon a man with a multicolored mohawk and a woman with an enormous neon green hat decided that right in front of me was the best place for them! I could see more of M.I.A.'s hype-woman (haha, how cool is that?!) than her, and the sound from outside of the tent was washy and unclear, so I stuck around for a few songs, tried to get backstage again, and then gave up. What I could hear was OK. Yes, the samples sounded like the record, there seemed to be a dynamic show going on—people were definitely into it—but I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to catch an M.I.A. show.

I had a few hours to kill, then. I strolled around the grounds a bit, running into friends here and there. I stopped in to see a bit of Beans, which was pretty great. I had never heard them before—two DJs/sound manipulators, vocalist with a very distinctive style. Wandering around a bit more I heard, from afar, some Fiery Furnaces, some Tegan and Sarah. My next destination was Gang of Four, so I headed in that direction.

I watched Gang of Four for a few songs, behind a chain link fence far far away from the stage, and they were great, but my main concern for the day was this: securing a spot for Arcade Fire. I am probably one of the few who had, up until this point, not heard them. I had a weird demo that was circulating around Saddle Creek, and that itself was OK. But the uproar, the madness surrounding Arcade Fire—this I had to see for myself. So I skipped out on Gang of Four (apologies to the old guard) and went over to see the Arcade Fire (heralding the new guard?) where I sat on stage, just behind some of our own equipment that we'd be using later on in the evening.

About Arcade Fire, I can say this: The hype is very well deserved. They killed it. They closed down the festival—how could anyone follow their exuberance, energy, the collective spirit that so obviously drives their music? They do have a slightly gimmicky thing going on, where they faux-fight, sparring with violin bows, holding guitars and cymbals to the heads and throats of bandmates. Well—they mostly faux-fight. One Fiery Arcadian yelled over for a band aid part way through the set; his fingers were bloodied. The audience was incredible, upturned faces beaming with joy, clapping over their heads and cheering for more. There was even a bit of a dance party sidestage, as friends from Rilo Kiley and the Blood Brothers shimmied along. Being sidestage, the quality of the sound, the mix, is usually so totally off, but they were all playing so hard that I could actually hear things like the crash of an unmiked cymbal. Oh, and of course, when motorcycle helmets were donned and two of them started climbing scaffolding the crowd went wild as did we. I am so glad I was able to see their whole set, up close. It was the highlight of the festival for me.

Post-Arcade Fire I went to the catering tent for some dinner, and then set about to relax and prepare for my two sets, Faint and Bright Eyes. I was sad to miss Blood Brothers and Black Star, who were playing at the exact same time as us, but that's how it goes. Our sets were ok. The sound onstage was off, in-ear monitors failed a bit, and the wind pushed and pulled at us and our instruments. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't the best performance ever, but hopefully it translated to the crowd and helped end the long, hot day on a good note.

Last year, after the shows were over and our gear was packed up, I remember wandering from after-party to after-party. This year, we made our own. It was nice to finally spend some time with friends and it was kind of a relief for the day to finally be over with. I took one last golf cart ride around and then we boarded the bus for a short night's stay back at our hotel. This morning, we are readying to leave for San Francisco. Conor's going to perform on Jay Leno tonight, solo, so the rest of us are headed north for a day off. I'm looking forward to San Francisco; it's one of my favorite cities to play and, for a day off, I know that there'll be good food and friends to catch up with. It would have been interesting to check out the Leno set, but I'll see others, and can watch the show cozied up somewhere else.

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