May 4, 2008

Coachella Day 3: I just wanna burn up hard and bright

Vacate is the word. Arriving at Coachella Sunday, the traffic was light, the sun was shining but not too intensely . . . and the extra ticket my friend had was pretty much impossible to give away. There were tens of thousands there to see some very fine bands for Sunday, but it was not packed-crowded. While surely this was not nice for the organizers, it was good for the dusty masses who were wedged together a little less tightly for the third and final day of Coachella 2008.

Sunday was also basically just The Day I met The Hoff. All else (including shaking Sean Penn’s hand and chatting with M. Ward) pales in direct comparison. It’s like if you look right at the sun and then try to focus on anything else. The brilliance of his tanned Hoff-dom made me want to run down the beach slow-motion in a red tank swimsuit. Oh wait!! Not really.

After unfortunately missing Brett Dennen who I was looking forward to, Sunday actually began with Sean Penn urging us to get on his Dirty Hands Caravan to New Orleans (which would be a cool six days if I could afford just to just up and go). Penn is actually quite a compelling speaker and I admired what he was trying to do. I hope he had some success with the Coachellans. And contrary to advance rumors, Penn brought no special musical guest with him, just his direct earnest stare and his impassioned speech.

Next up was a few fun songs from Detroit/Chicago hybrid duo The Cool Kids on the main stage. They’ve got an old-school hip hop feel with buckets of confidence. I know Chris over at Gorilla vs Bear has been a big fan, saying way back when that they reminded him of “a late ’80s EPMD joint produced by a low-budget version of the Neptunes.” Agreed – not a bad start. Those guys would be amazingly fun to see in a small club – maybe kind of like the time I saw Sugarhill Gang in a tiny (literally) underground club in Italy.

Heading back to the tents, my mind was sent reeling by Holy F*ck, whose brand of lo-fi improvisational electronica is anything but sterile. Watching them pour their hearts into their music, doubled over their machines, radiating intensity — and then hearing the warmly soaring sounds that emerge made me reconsider what’s possible with that genre. They closed with my favorite song of theirs (you must watch them do it) and I know it sounds a bit hyperbolic, but for those final five minutes my soul levitated a little.

I’d been looking forward to the gorgeous vocal interplay, catchy melodies and varied instrumentation of Canadian lush-pop band Stars. I’d caught their live set before, so I knew how engaging Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s shared verses and crowd banter could be. Their Set Yourself On Fire album is a favorite of mine and I loved hearing those songs live, alongside the new stuff.

A wandering jaunt backstage revealed a busy crew inflating and painting the massive pig for the Roger Waters set later that night, and the aforementioned Hoff and Penn (sounds like a Vegas magic trick duo). I also tried and clearly failed to suppress my glee at meeting M. Ward, who was waiting to join his friends from My Morning Jacket on stage for their sunset performance.

My Morning Jacket more or less melted my face off. I’d never seen them play live before but from the opening notes of “One Big Holiday” I was pulled into their vortex and duly impressed with how hard they rocked. As a live band MMJ is relentless and fiery and impassioned.

They played through several songs from their new album, which ranged from the fairly-traditional big alt-countrified sounds of “I’m Amazed,” the straight up funky falsetto of “Highly Suspicious,” and a gorgeous rendition of the title track “Evil Urges.” They range so effortlessly from the thrashing rock to the perfect burnished timbre of sunset vocals fading out into the air.

Jim James played a scorching solo while surveying his fifedom from the speaker stacks in his Skeletor boot tops.

M. Ward indeed came out for the second song,”Off The Record,” with little fanfare. M didn’t sing at all to my disappointment, but they had some intense moments of rocking out and clearly enjoyed playing together.

Finally, a slightly blurred (call it artistic) shot of MMJ as the last vestiges of light from Sunday vanished below the horizon. I’m behind them, looking out at the crowd. They played for just a shade under an hour, abruptly leaving the stage at three minutes til 8.

Now, by the time Roger Waters took the stage, everyone in the crowd seemed to fall into two categories, both equally lethargic:

a) those who were doing some form of mood- or mind-altering drugs (not me Mom!) in what one of my friends commented was surely the densest concentration in the world at that moment in time of high people


b) those who were completely wiped out, who wanted nothing more than to lay on the grass somewhere and watch Roger Waters’ bi-plane drop confetti on us that turned out to be Obama fliers. We were glad it wasn’t biological warfare, which was honestly my first thought.

So while Waters took Coachella to the dark side of the moon, freaked with our minds with the surround sound effects, and released the giant pig that apparently got a bit out of control, I laid in the cooling grass that was just starting to be damp with dew and waited for the Tesla coils to go off, shooting blue-green lightning from coil to sky to earth. They never did for me, not that night.

So I guess that means I’ll be back.

And finally –randomly but perfectly– the song that was looping through my head all that last night:

What a beautiful face I have found in this place
That is circling all around the sun
What a beautiful dream that could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me
Soft and sweet
Let me hold it close and keep it here with me

And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be
In the arms of all I’m keeping here with me

What a curious life we have found here tonight
There is music that sounds from the street
There are lights in the clouds and there’s ghosts all around
Hear a voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me
Soft and sweet
How the notes all bend and reach above the trees. . .”

In An Aeroplane Over The Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel

ALL PICS: Friday / Saturday / Sunday
TUNES: Coachella music downloads aggregation on LargeHearted Boy

[Penn pic credit]


  • M. Ward AND Hassle the Hoff? Why are you SO awesome???

    Dainon. — May 4, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  • I think anyone would be hard-pressed to not enjoy “Lovely Allen.” It’s just a beautiful song.

    I find the whole concept of an open stage among a bajillion other people with those amazingly artistic backdrops brought to you by sunset, sky and palm tree intensely romantic (somehow).

    Thank for for (still) living an awesome life that makes us all nice and jealous. :) Glad you had a great time!

    Steve — May 5, 2008 @ 12:07 am

  • Mr.Ward is taller than you in the picture.Were you standing on an incline,he on a coolbox?

    Wife very happy with U2 Africa CD and Gram Parsons live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969.She,too, was at those early U2 concerts.CD is funking away happily as we paint the garden shed on a British Bank Holiday.

    Sun is shining.

    Russell — May 5, 2008 @ 5:17 am

  • Great pics; also in UK on very hot holiday Monday! Love the Blog, always read it.

    Inspector Gadget — May 5, 2008 @ 7:07 am

  • MMJ has been my favorite band for quite some time. i am so glad they rocked you live! did they use a ridiculous amount of reverb on stage?

    Uncle Erk — May 5, 2008 @ 9:01 am

  • I saw MMJ at last year’s Austin City Limits festival and they melted my head, too. Unbelievable. So glad you had the chance to experience them.

    Rambling Canuck — May 5, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  • Stars is one of the greatest bands ever! “Set Yourself On Fire” is one of my all time favorite albums. Saw them in North Carolina last year in a small club… their stage presence/chemistry blew me away.

    Amy — May 5, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  • So…not to be an obsessive stickler for detail, but Jim James’ boots are actually skeletons, not piano keys…Don’t hate the messenger, I’m just sayin’.
    Check it out (gotta scroll down):

    Clearly, I have too much time on my hands! But now I know what I am going to be for Halloween.

    Love your blog more every day. Thanks.

    Ike — May 5, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  • thanks Ike. You are indeed right! I couldn’t tell from my snaps but remember when he walked past me backstage as I stood there frozen and said nothing that they were just toppers and you could see his shoes underneath. Thanks for the link!

    heather — May 5, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

  • Just now discovering your site. Overall good Coachella review, however I disagree with your assessment of Sean Penn. The consensus of all those standing around me was “what the fuck?” No one had a clue what the hell he was talking about. Yahoo, Defamer, and many other blogs/mainstream media types all described him as incoherent and I think someone said he “oratorically challenged”. described it as “a babbling Sean Penn saying nothing noteworthy”. I think you might have been a bit foggy in your post review from having actually shaken the hands of Spicoli :)

    Kelli Douglas — July 14, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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