Well, another Coachella has come and gone. I have weird sunburns on my feet because of my sandals (these sandals have mighty treads and are cooler than shoes, so they served me well) and I got home at 5:00 a.m. on a Monday when I had to be at work at 12:30 p.m. But I had fun, and will proceed to tell you how much fun I had over the next few posts.
My pal (and groomsman!) Tim and I rolled out of Los Angeles late Thursday night and arrived in Indio at 2:30 Friday morning. Where we sat in my car and waited several hours to be inspected before being allowed into the car camping area. We pitched our tent around 6:00 a.m. and then made what can only be described as a laughable attempt to sleep. Eventually, it was time to head into the festival, sporting festival wristbands that were good for entry and reentry all weekend (this was a big improvement over last year, when you were stuck in the festival from the minute you entered).
The first band we saw was Deer Tick– hold on. That’s not true. We saw this girl named Alana Grace while we were waiting for Deer Tick. Alana Grace was awful. Like, not singing in tune. The music was your standard teenage Evanescence bullshit, but Grace couldn’t carry a tune if you handed it to her in a duffel bag. She proved this by wrapping up her set with cover of “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. You know those long high notes on the chorus of that tune? Yeah, she couldn’t really hit those. At all.
Anyway. Deer Tick. I had heard of but never listened to these folks who mostly come from Providence, Rhode Island. They started out mostly all right and ended up close to awesome. Their singer, John J. McCauley, was sporting a sundress and green cowboy hat (a look he pulled off way better than you might think) and he led the band through a pretty raucous set that concluded with a cover of ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses.” They washed away all the bad vibes from Alana Grace and continued Friday’s unspoken covers theme on the Outdoor Stage.
There wasn’t anyone we wanted to see before She & Him (I kinda wanted to check out the Cribs, but that fucking Iceland volcano kept them from grounded in the U.K.), so we went back to the campground for some food and then went back to the Outdoor Theatre to see M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel rip through about three fourths of their catalog in their allotted fifty minutes. Seriously, they didn’t say a whole lot (at one point, I thought Ward said he could feel the “excrement in the air.” He must’ve been past the port-a-potties at the campground) between songs, but they delivered one helluva set. Deschanel’s voice was perfect, soaring out over the crowd on tracks like “This is Not A Test” and Volume Two‘s lead single, “In the Sun.” Ward led the band through an awe-inspiring version of “Roll Over, Beethoven” that also served to prove that M. Ward is highly underrated as a guitarist. That dude kicks ass. She & Him finished their set early, thinking they had to run off for the next act. So after a minute of confusion, Deschanel and Ward came back on stage and treated everyone to a stripped-down version of “I Put a Spell On You” with just electric guitar and voice. In that one performance, Zooey Deschanel went from an actress who happens to be a pretty good musician to one of the finest female vocalists in rock music. It was that good, and anyone who tells you different was probably just there to see Jay-Z and abuse prescription pills.
After She & Him, Tim and I rolled over to one of the smaller tents to see Lucero, who delivered the best set I saw on Friday. They played a lot from 1372 Overton Park (including a version of “Smoke” that literally gave me chills), but also treated the crowd to songs like “That Much Further West” and the title track from 2005’s Nobody’s Darlings. What made this set so satisfying was that Lucero knows exactly who they are and what they can do. Who they are: some dudes from Memphis how like to drink and raise a little hell now and then. What they can do: rock your fucking face right off of your body. If I believe that the Hold Steady is America’s best rock band right now (and I do), then Friday convinced me that Lucero is America’s most underrated.
Somewhere in there, we caught a part of the Echo & the Bunnymen set. It was not bad at all.
Then we saw Them Crooked Vultures. We did this mostly because Tim wanted to see Dave Grohl play the drums live – I just wanted to see if Them Crooked Vultures improved at all in a live setting. The answer is “no.” Grohl is an amazing drummer and John Paul Jones is an amazing bass player, but the problem is that Them Crooked Vultures don’t seem to have any knack for writing songs. They write these approximations of songs that provide each of their musicians (Grohl and Jones with vocals & guitar by Josh Homme and guitar by Alain Johannes from the band Eleven. You don’t remember them, but they had a hit in the early 1990s with a song called “Reach Out.” Yeah, I remember that song) a chance to show off their considerable chops. I have a word for what you’re doing when you play six songs in fifty minutes: masturbation.
But then it was time for LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy, it needs to be said, totally wins at life. He’s just awesome. True to form on Friday, he was funny and weird, and a little freaked out by the fact that his band was playing on the main stage. My third chill-inducing moment of the day came when LCD Soundsystem played “All My Friends,” but their set was littered with great new stuff and fun old stuff (including a loud, lengthy version of “Yeah” that got pretty much the whole festival screaming). I became convinced, by the time their set ended, that LCD Soundsystem should’ve been made the headliner for Friday. Why? Because they’re awesome. And fuck Jay-Z, that’s why.
We ended the night by catching Vampire Weekend at the Outdoor Theatre. They did not adhere to the covers theme, which is a shame because I thought it would be funny if they played “Call Me Al” (or “You Can Call Me Al” or whatever it’s called) by Paul Simon. Their set sounded almost exactly like their albums, so if you like their albums (I mostly do) you’ll like their live stuff. The only misstep was an ill-advised attempt to get the audience to help sing the chorus of their worst song, the nails-down-a-chalkboard shitfest known as “Blake’s Got a New Face.” Just like the album version, this live version of “Blake’s” was irritating. But they played “A-Punk” and “Giving Up the Gun” and their other good songs, so I guess it was okay.
At that point, Tim and I had basically been awake for 40 hours. So it was time for bed. Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll tell you about Saturday and how a volcano robbed me of seeing one of my favorite bands, the awesome band we saw instead, and how some bands make compelling albums and utterly underwhelming live shows.