The waves of radiating heat by midday arrival at Coachella on Saturday felt the most heady of the three days, but perhaps it was just the swell in the crowd numbers in anticipation of The wee sexy Artist. More people = more body heat. Although I was excited about so many acts that day, the gild was off the lily-fresh novelty of Friday and I kept finding myself jammed into overpacked tents with too many hip dudes in neon sweating on me. This was the day I wanted to spend the most time in the Do Lab so that guy above could spray me with his cooling mists of the gods, in time to the pulsating electronic music. In that crowd, you cease feeling hot, and just feel blissful.
I started my rounds over in tent village wandering from French synthpop band The Teenagers over to the Gobi Tent for the music of Mick Jones’ (the Clash) side project with Tony James of Generation X, Carbon/Silicon. Their sound is true to those (slightly idling) punk guitar jags and the cockney drawl, but my friend kept shaking his head in dismay at Mick’s pink button down dress shirt. “Joe Strummer would’ve beaten him up for that shit,” he muttered under his breath. Ah, but we all age. Not all still sound as good as these guys did; it was an enjoyable afternoon set.
Denver’s “indie rock with a circus-polka-cabaret-Eastern-European spin” Devotchka was next, and not only were they all dressed up like a symphony in their (surely godawful hot) dress blacks, they brought acrobats and tubas.
After a few songs from Cold War Kids, I got right in the middle of the main stage crowd for an exhilarating Spanish language bonanza with Mexico City’s CafÃ© Tacuba. Hot damn, that was one of the most fun sets of the entire festival for me. I had no idea what was going on. There were Mexican wrestler masks, flags being waved, everybody and their nephew singing along en espaÃ±ol at the very top of their lungs — and I loved every minute of it. Once when I was studying abroad I went to an Italian pop/rap concert by Jovanotti and this was not a dissimilar experience. It’s great to feel out of place at a concert and yet completely, totally in place because you can share that kind of passion. Please go see CafÃ© Tacuba if you get a chance. The force of the energy exploding from the tiny man on stage felt like it looked:
After Dwight Yoakam (Dwight Yoakam!) and his hillbilly muuuusic –which seemed to go over quite well, as a testament to the variety of this festival– I headed over to get trampled at Hot Chip. The photo pit was as packed as the tent, spilling out into the open air, all of us sweating, weeping for a good shot of the band, and trying to deny that the rhythm of Hot Chip was indeed, in the end, going to get us. Those beats were just as delicious and tightly-woven as I had expected and the crowds were out in full force to be a part of that.
If I thought I was trampled at Hot Chip though, my goodness it was just preparation for M.I.A. I found it interesting that the two most buzzed and frenetically attended sets of the whole festival that I saw were out in the Sahara Tent (bet it woulda been three if I made it to Justice). Traditionally, I understand that’s been the dance/DJ tent but it seems to me that maybe genres are bending and next year the organizers shouldn’t assume that the dance kids will all fit inside it. Under the stars at the outdoor stage would have been so much better. But nonetheless, M.I.A. was stomping and bright, a dizzying set causing complete crowd chaos from this Sri Lankan wundergirl.
In between Hot Chip and M.I.A. I swooned a little over Jenny Lewis, who charmingly dug out the same outfit she must have worn for her tap dance recital in 1988, and whose fellow Rilo Kileyans sounded warm and perfect in the setting sun:
Also worth noting that Portishead’s set possessed the magical ability to completely jam the cell phone text messaging network, leaving thousands of us stranded, wandering with a dazed look in our eyes as we sought our friends. It was a near tragedy of Herculean proportions. You just don’t DO that to techno-addicted younguns. How did I survive festivals before texting? It was brutal.
Finally – Prince! You do not take pictures of The Artist. You take pictures of the screen showing the artist. Only Prince’s “personal photographers” were allowed in to the photo pit, much to mine and everyone else’s chagrin. I wanted to see how tiny he was from 15 feet away. But it was okay because his essence radiated all the way back to where I ended up on the field and I felt the heat, baby. One only needs to watch him play guitar like he’s in The Throes of It All to see why women flock to him (not this one, but some women. So I hear).
He was moody and sensual, I never could figure out what he was going to do next, he changed clothes in the middle of his set and played an hour after noise curfew with little concern for silly rules. And really, who was going to tell him to stop? And he pretty much blew the standard for future headliners sky high. I am not a huge Prince fan with the exception of a few undeniable favorites (Never Take The Place Of Your Man? P Control?) but this man was in charge. His cover of Radiohead’s Creep was one of those wtf moments where I looked around and said, “Wait, is he actually doing this?” – the ways he changed the lyrics eviscerated the song of a lot of its insecure meanings, and I didn’t care for that, but he made it his own. One thing Prince does not do is wish he were special.
As the final notes of Prince’s set vibrated off into the sexy oblivion where all of his performances are stored ad infinitum, one of my friends commented that people were going to be talking about that set for years. And indeed, everywhere I went I overheard conversations, starting with one at the table behind me when getting bagels the next morning.
“He kept changing what he called us!” Young Man With Visor #1 remarked. “Like, first it was [slight falsetto] ‘Hello Co-ah-chella!” then he switched and was all, “Y’all are the coolest, Cuh-chella. Unh!” When he achingly closed the sentence with that perfect Prince “unh,” I almost spit out my coffee trying not to laugh because then they would’ve known I was eavesdropping. Their conversation then veered into hypothetical situations that amused me so much I had to get up and leave: “So, if you had a nipple on your forehead, would you just wear a beanie all the time? Or a sweatband?”
On that thought-provoking note, we headed out into the ghostland observatory of Coachella on a sparsely populated Sunday . . .