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Coachella Day 1 – April 20, 2012 – The Evening

Well, I have to admit the main reason I broke this up was sheer exhaustion last night.  There’s just so much to say and describe!  It may take me a few days, but I will get it all out there.  And, I also would like to just say thank you to each of your for taking time to read my thoughts.  I had a very cool jump  in page views yesterday and it’s both motivating and scary to think there are actually people out there reading my ramblings.

So a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has stopped by in the past couple days.

Here goes with my evening Day 1

After Dawes I finally decided it had cooled enough to head to the Outdoor Stage.  I really couldn’t miss it, since it was Madness, a band I loved going back to the early 80’s and that I’d never seen.  By the time I’d arrived, I missed the opening couple numbers.  But still arrived in time to hear them burst into “My Girl” followed by “The Sun and the Rain” then “Taller than you are” with a great bit played by the horns of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys.

They were very tight and seasoned pros at working the crowd.  The banter by Suggs focused on how much money they’d lost in Las Vegas on their stop there a couple nights before.  Basically, it was everything you’d hope for from a Madness show….and it only took me 30 years to see one!

They did one song I’m not as familiar with, but judging from other recent set lists I think that it was “Ironshirt.  Then they reeled off a string of familiar songs and the hits….”Bed and Breakfast Man”, “Forever Young” (Dedicated to Suggs daughter in the crowd), “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers”…the inevitable “Our House”  (why is it that the biggest hits are often not the most interesting song by a band?)….”It must be Love” and then they wrapped with “Madness” and “Night Boat to Cairo”.

It was brilliant to sit there as the sun finally set and hear songs I’ve listed to for 30 years played by a crack band of musicians.  One of my top five sets of the whole weekend.  I had a brilliant time.

It was a short jaunt to the Main Stage where Pulp was just underway.  I’d seen Pulp the night before in Pomona (That review is still to come), and even though I missed the first couple songs they were just as epic the second night in a row.

Prior to seeing them, I really had no idea just how brilliant a frontman Jarvis Cocker is.  The standout cuts of the set for me were “Disco 2000”, “Sorted for E’s & Wizz” (Including a 4-20 joke about the smoke on stage”, “This is Hardcore” (which just had a awesome, creepy vibe), “Sunrise” (not as epic as the night before, but still amazing) and of course “Common People” which prompted a nice sing along.

This band is nearly criminally unknown in the US.  Mostly due to lack of touring.  The last time they played this area was 1996….But, they are in the same league with Oasis and Blur from the 90’s Brit Invasion era.  I can’t really compare line ups of the band, but I will say that this band was awesome and I really hope that it’s not the last time they come here and perform.

I could only find a full show of the Coachella clips that weren’t crowds shot and shaky…so, here’s a better clip of them from the Brit Awards:

So, that’s a pretty fine run of three bands….Dawes, Madness and Pulp.  A heck of nice roll….would it continue?

I wasn’t really interested in the Black Keys….I like a lot of blues, but their stuff has never really moved me.  So, I decided to head back to the Mojave tent and hear The Rapture and M-83.  Apparently I missed John Fogery guesting with the Black Keys on “The Weight”….but, I’ve seen John a few times and overall I think I made the right decision.  (Face it, you’re always going to miss stuff at a festival, so you just can’t let it bother you much.  If it’s meant to be for you, it’ll happen…otherwise, just enjoy what you do pick and the choices you make.)

I’d seen them on the web stream the week before and they were danceable, tight and had the whole Mojave Tent rocking.  They finished with a triple shot of “Echoes”, “Sail Away” and “How Deep is you Love”….which I found sort amusing since those are all titles of songs by other artists that I like (Pink Floyd, Randy Newman and Bee Gees)…but, all of the songs played were original songs by the Rapture.

Love the music guys….But, maybe you should spend a little more time on the whole song-naming-thing…

M-83 had a big buzz prior to the show and I decided they would be a good way to wrap up my night.  They drew a huge crowd and while I’m not knowledgable enough about their catalog to quote a set list….it rocked.  They reminded me a bit of Hot Chip who I saw at Glastonbury.  Very danceable and fun electronic based music.

Well, I did know Midnight City, as it’s been pretty hard to miss.  I don’t see any good clips of it from the festival, so here’s one from last week filed at the Music Box in Hollywood.

There was so much to choose from, I was sad to have missed Arctic Monkeys (too hot), Jimmy Cliff (did hear “The Harder they come” from a distance), Mazzy Star (the web stream just didn’t impress me), Explosions in the Sky (conflicted with M-83) and The Sheepdogs (also too hot).  But, I really felt even with the heat I got a lot of music stuff into a single day on Friday.

I let the crowd disperse from M-83 and headed to the ADA booth to try and get a ride back to the shuttle to not have to make the insanely long walk that they had created for the hotel shuttles.  Sadly, no one was there at that moment, so I ended up striking out and taking the better part of a hour to get to my shuttle….all the while I got to listen to Swedish House Mafia….honestly, without the lasers and the screens….it’s not that great to listen to…especially when you’re hobbling along over a mile on bad knees you’ve already been walking on for 14 hours.  Really, it was the only blemish on an otherwise nearly perfect day.

I think I finally made it back to my room around 2am and got to fall into bed to try and prepare for day 2.

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Coachella Day 1 – April 20, 2012 – The Afternoon

Well, now that I’ve spent some time on my best act, I guess I’d better start in on the rest of my weekend.

I’d gotten to my hotel late on Thursday night, and of course even though I’d called, my reservation was messed up.  I realize that I’d booked the days at different times…but seriously Red Roof Inn…how hard is it to merge a couple reservations under the same name and credit card.  Fairly impossible it seems.  So, they “upgraded” me to a king room, but I’d have to check out the next day and check back in.

So I started my day hauling my bags to the office and storing them with the knowledge I’d have to drag them to my room sometime in the early hours when I returned from the festival.  (of course even better was later on when I also had to go though all the paperwork for a second time to check back in at 1:30am…before I could drag them to my room.)

Thankfully the shuttle stop at the Tennis Garden was much more organized.  There was no wait and I was right onto a bus headed to the festival…and air conditioned bus, the last AC I’d get to feel for about 14 hours.  Did I mention it was over 100 already?  Yeah, hot as hell hot….over 100 and climbing.

Once off the bus we shuffled along the cattle chute fences to swipe our pass and then cross the street to a set of stations where we were searched.  From there it was a long walk through the campgrounds to reach….another search to get into the festival.  That was one of the few issues I have with the way things were set up.  The two searches were a pain and overkill…they should really consider if there is a better way to handle this.  (As well as the shuttle locations themselves which will be a later topic).

The wait at the gate was a bit long-ish and it took me about another half hour to get inside.  From there I picked up my prepaid locker key, stored some of my extra stuff (a change of t-shirt and a couple things I didn’t want to lug around all day), then I went to ADA booth.  Due to my bad knees, I’d asked my Dr to write a note to allow me (if possible) into an ADA seating area.  They were extremely nice and helpful there, giving me a wristband to allow me a seat when available.  They ended up being available at every stage I tried and each platform was staffed by very nice folks.  This was a huge win for the festival…they really made it possible for an old guy like me with bad knees to still have a great experience on site and enjoy the show.  Not sure how’d I’ve have handled it if I had to stand all day.

At this point in the heat I realized I’d need to make some on the fly decisions.  I wanted to see The Sheepdogs, but they were at the Outdoor Stage and there was no way I was going to cook in the mid-day sun out there.  I adjusted my sights and headed to the Mojave Tent for honeyhoney.  I had their EP and had heard some good buzz about them from weekend 1.  They didn’t disappoint.

Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe have an appealing sort of alt-country sound that went down very well on a hot desert afternoon.  Suzanne plays both fiddle and banjo and has a terrific voice.  I’m not completely familiar with their catalog but stand out songs that I did know were “Little Toy Gun”, “I don’t mind” and “Ohio” (Not the Neil Young song.)

This is a version with just the two of them of their “Ohio”:

They wrapped after about 40 minutes and decided to randomly stay in the shade and watch the next band Givers on that stage.  (Plus, it kept me out of the sun).

Givers had a nice “poppy” sound and proved to be from Louisiana (and I’ve since learned, recently cover on the Glee, which explains the reaction a lot of kids had to the song “Up,Up,Up”).  They had a nice breezy song that made me think of Two Door Cinema Club or maybe even a bit of Phoenix, bot who I saw at Glastonbury in 2010.  It’s prefect mid afternoon festival music.

I headed to the record store tent after their set and happened to run into them doing a signing.  Impulsively, I bought their disc and had them sign it.  I chatted with the lead singer and he was genuinely nice and seemed really happy that I’d seen their set and liked it.  He said basically that was why they were there and hearing that made him happy that people were listening.  They all looked so young and eager, which is another reason I love to see the bands in the  smaller print on the festival poster.  They are so happy and thrilled to be there and really appreciate the folks who take time to hear them.  It was nice chance to talk to a performer up close and I was happy that I bought the disc and chatted with them.

Here’s a taste of Givers:

I took a break for some food, but not too much in the heat.  A small pizza and I spent some time chatting with a random group of college kids out from Boston for the show.  The food areas are a great place to chill in the shade and meet interesting people to talk about what you’ve seen or are excited about seeing later.  It was a nice break and after filling my empty water bottle I headed to Dawes, one of my must-see bands of the festival.

Dawes had caught my ear and intrigued me with their connection with Jackson Browne.  They remind me of a young Eagles or Poco type band.  As faithful to the West Coast LA sound band as I think you can find these days.  Their set was short, but really well done.  They hit the highlights that I’d hoped for and also did a nice cover of “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down” as a tribute to Levon Helm’s passing the day before.

These are two songs from Weekend one that were also standouts of the set that I saw:

When Dawes finished it was finally sunset.  I’d survived the first afternoon of blazing heat and dust.  The cool evening was fast approaching and I had much more to see.  But, that will have to wait until my next post when I stagger into the Outdoor Stage for Madness and then see Pulp for a second time in two nights!  I will try to have that all written up soon!

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Coachella – The Head and The Heart – Saturday, April 21, 2012 – Mojave Tent

I have so much to write that I just have to start somewhere.  So, now that I’m home I think I’ll start with my biggest surprise and best set of the whole weekend.  The Head and the Heart are a Seattle band who play sort of folkie pop with a lot of harmony.  They were on my radar for the show and I’d even bought their disc and added it to my iPod.

But, I wasn’t prepped for just how good they would be live.

Driving home today I was doing a lot of thinking about why I go to concerts and what drives me and makes me care about seeing live music so much.

I’ve decided that a big part of it is that element of chance…that moment when all the pieces fall into place, the hair raises on the back of your neck and you hear something etherial that only exists for that moment in time.  Sure, you can buy a recording.  But, it will never quite have the same mystery and randomness as hearing something so perfect live and right there in front of you.  I’ll admit that music can actually move me to tears on the right occasion.  It’s something that’s not predictable or genre specific.  It’s just a feeling, one that is near impossible to define as I try to write about it tonight.

One of the cool things about attending a festival is that you increase the chances for that sort of moment.  And, on the mid afternoon of the second day of the festival one of those moments clicked for me.

The Head and the Heart played for less an hour and only ten songs.  But, from the very start of “Cats and Dogs” which segued into “Coeur D’Alene” they had me hooked.  They have a wonderful blend of voices, and any band with such tight harmonies is usually a winner in  my book.  I liked the instrumentation and arrangements, they were tight and locked in right out of the gate.  I respect that in a band and appreciate it no matter what style or genre they might play.

Next up was “Lost in my Mind” followed by a new song whose title was not mentioned (Maybe “gone are the days”?  That was at least one of the lyrics.)

From there they moved to “Winter Song” giving violinist/singer Charity Rose Thielen an opportunity to shine on vocals.  As on their CD  they followed with “Sounds Like Hallelujah”.  “When I fall asleep” from their iTunes sessions was followed by “Heaven go easy on me”.  Next to last was “Down in the Valley” which is the place that I really felt it all totally come together for me.  I wasn’t thinking anymore about how hot it was, how many shots I had left on my camera or who I might go see next.  The blend of soulful voices and sparse instruments before me was locked in and too beautiful to not just listen until they were done.

The last song was “Rivers and Roads”….it’s simple lyrics that I’ll put here can’t really convey the depth and feeling that was evident in the forceful delivery by the band.

a year from now we’ll all be gone
all our friends will move away
and they’re going to better places
but our friends will be gone awaynothing is as it has been
and i miss your face like hell
and i guess it’s just as well
but i miss your face like hellbeen talking bout the way things change
and my family lives in a different state
and if you don’t know what to make of this
then we will not relate
so if you don’t know what to make of this
then we will not relaterivers and roads
rivers and roads
rivers ’til i reach you

The repeated a cappella  chorus  of “rivers and roads” washed over the crowd and was sung with a ton of unspoken context that you just can’t easily define and print onto a page…you just have to hear it.  Honestly, this was one of those songs that looks a bit trite when written out in front of you, but it just comes alive when performed.

It was perfectly done out there in that field in Indio.

I walked to the record signing tent after the set and I had a chance to chat with the band.  I told them just how great it sounded.  Josiah (one of the lead signers) shook my hand, introduced himself and said that they “felt it too”.  It’s a bit of a blur, but one of them said that it was their best set in a long time.  True or not, it was really gratifying to hear that from them.  Since this whole “live music” thing for me is really about connecting with something that is fleeting, it was good to know that (at least sometimes) it’s not just in my head, but is part of an experience that’s even shared by the folks performing and creating on the stage.

So yeah….I guess that you could say I liked their set….a lot.

Here’s a live version of “Rivers and Roads” from last year’s SXSW.

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Coachella – Some overall thoughts

Where do I start?…

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Palm Desert. Not a great hotel (more on that later), but it has a shower and AC along with a comfortable enough bed that I can get some rest before I return to work and civilization tomorrow.

Now I’m faced with a blank page (because calling it a blank screen just doesn’t flow the same way.)

I have a million thoughts, mostly good…a couple bad…but all of it a massive swirl that I’m still processing.

Let’s start with some basic advice for all festivals:

Whatever you expect, it will be different. You can go with it and have fun, or fight it and it’s likely you’ll not have as good a time. I had a list of bands to see, off the top of my head I can name five that I missed, and I don’t care. I saw at least five I didn’t plan to see and mostly I liked them.

Drink lots of water, I think I went through more than a case in three days.

Have an open mind, like the point above about expectations. You’ll have an opportunity to push your musical boundaries. This advice will lead you to things like a band you may love with a belly dancer and electric slide banjo player…definitely more on THAT later.

Don’t spend so much time chasing bands that you forget to stop and enjoy them. Take a break once in a while, otherwise you’ll just overload yourself…set a pace that allows a break here or there.

Drink lots of water.

Don’t feel you have to follow the crowd. See who else is playing against the headliner, avoid the crowd and you may find you best moment of the day in the process.

The bands at the bottom of the poster in the small print are the future headliners. Go early and seek them out. You’ll find some amazing musicians who are thrilled to be there and have a crowd to hear them. Show them some love and respect, and you’ll be well rewarded.

As my brilliant wife summed it up when we were chatting. A festival is like wine tasting. It allows you a chance to sample a bunch of stuff you might not otherwise have access to. A small taste without buying the whole bottle, at least until you know if you like it or not.

So, that’s a start…
(Don’t forget the water part…)

There’s a lot more to say as soon as I can get it all typed.

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