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]

April 30, 2008

Coachella Day 2: It was hot but remember how stunning?

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.

I love how you can see the whole stage and the crowd reflected in Jeanie Schroder’s tuba, and who doesn’t want flailing spandex-clad women swinging from large scarves in time to their live music?

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 Café 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 español 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 Café 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.

P.S. – You need proper athletic wear to survive Hot Chip (below). I also saw 5 grown men dressed only in matching Speedos and hip packs and it made me die a little inside.

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:

Golden confetti during The Moneymaker as the sky darkened….

was alternately mournful and sexy and numbing and thrilling all at once. Under the starry desert sky Beth Gibbons’ voice floated like a ghost weaving in and out of the trance.

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 . . .

April 29, 2008

Coachella, let’s go again (Day One)

Ah, Coachella, you winsome siren.

That festival is going to beckon to me annually after the amazing experience I’ve had over this past weekend. Even with a lineup that some declared “not as strong” compared to past years, I had such a full schedule and was extremely pleased with almost every show I went to. In fact, as I scroll through the schedule now that it’s over, I feel actual pain at the shows I meant to go to and completely missed. It all felt like a well-organized little technicolor city with oases of coolness and mist and fun around every corner, worlds apart from the everyday world. The variety of music represented was truly terrific and non-stop. And I am now in love with the Coachella tacos, two for $4! It just doesn’t get much better.

The first really awesome set of the festival for me on Friday was the Black Kids. They were fun and having fun, they sounded terrific — like the Cure filtered through a little bit of a danceathon soundtrack – plus they can really play. I felt an immense sense of kinship to see all these other kids counting off “1! 2! 3! 4!!” in unison for a band that’s gained 90% of their buzz through blogs:

THE BLACK KIDS: “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” (live at Coachella 2008)

Yeah, like that.

After the Black Kids I heard the jarring strains of Slightly Stoopid covering old Nirvana wafting across the open field to me (no!!) and then headed to the press tent for this pleasant surprise:

Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip then turned in an electrifying, stimulating, clever, fresh set over in the Gobi Tent to another packed audience. I can’t get enough of the way Pip rolls around his words into these sentences that you think aren’t gonna flow back together, and then he pulls it off with panache and wit. The beats shook that tent to its stakes. Can’t wait to see them again at Monolith:

A clamorous and multi-instrumental set from Architecture in Helsinki (not from Helsinki mind you but Australia) also popped up that afternoon. AIH were the first folks of the fest to be sporting the very popular yet really awful ’80s fluorescent fashion alongside the kind of brightly colored sunglasses you know I had in the eighth grade.

Vampire Weekend! Hugely anticipated set that delivered what I had come to see. Crest of hipness or over it, these guys know how to write an infectiously catchy yet distinctively African-infused pop song. More seriously questionable ’80s fashion, this of the preppy variety (those shorts?!), and one of my personal favorite pics I managed to snap:

And then as the golden sun began to slide behind the palm trees, and that perfect light hovered over the lawn and wrapped itself around the stage, The National took their places for a set that I was almost intimidated to see. I’d been looking forward to seeing them live for so many months here, and with so much ferocity that I almost couldn’t abide. No screaming or fainting on my part, but I’d be lying if I said my heart wasn’t a bit fluttery. Their music is so richly, deeply gorgeous with lyrics that drip poetry and a flawless way of phrasing things I’ve always thought but never said. The National carved something out of me and put something back in is the best way I can put it. Their set ended too soon for me, but it seemed like magic in the desert when that sun hit the mirrorball above their heads and splayed the crowd with dancing light.

Unfortunately the steep price extracted to see the National was missing about half of the Raconteurs and all my pictures were crap. What I saw was scorching as expected and led to a conversation about Jack White’s exceptionally impressive guitar skills and how Brendan Benson is always better than we remember to give him credit for.

Then another pinnacle on a day filled with greatness – The Verve! Seeing the re-formed Verve was treat enough but did anyone really expect them to sound this tight? After Richard Ashcroft famously declared, “There’s more chance of getting all four Beatles on stage together than a Verve reunion,” there they were.

From the opening notes of “This Is Music” followed by “Space and Time” and then my much-beloved “Sonnet” — it really did all sound like a sonnet, my love. Their set was one treat after another, with the newish song “Sit and Wonder” which had been played on the UK shows, and a brand new song that veered off into rave-worthy dance territory called “Love is Noise.” It was the epic seven-minute closer:

Love Is Noise (new song, live in San Francisco 4-23-08) – The Verve

But before Love is Noise was unleashed on us, the true culmination of their set came for me with that Stones-string-sampling wonder that is “Bittersweet Symphony.” This was a moment that will live on in shiver-inducing concert history for me — check that break, that crashing like a wave, all the fists pumping together across the crest:

THE VERVE: Bittersweet Symphony (live at Coachella)

Now, Jack Johnson is so affable and warm and relaxing that I’ll admit to falling out of the game for his set. After the Verve I just felt drained and exuberant and didn’t give ole Jack my undivided. But Mason Jennings joined him for a new song “I Love You and Buddha Too,” as did Matt Costa for “Let It Be Sung,” a tune off the eclectic Brokedown Melody soundtrack.

The effects of running on Heineken and funnel cake for a weekend are catching up with me in force tonight and I am going to tuck it in for the evening with the sun setting on Day One. We got two more days to cover, kids. What a fantastic, halcyon Friday.

April 28, 2008

Easily the best picture ever taken in the history of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival

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April 26, 2008

Not melted yet

Updates from “the field” (meaning, an air-conditioned AT&T tent with free laptop use at Coachella): Yesterday’s highlights were a terrific set from The Black Kids, an overwhelmingly intense experience with The National, and The Verve sounding just brilliant — better than I could have hoped after ten years apart. Hearing those epic-feeling opening notes of Bittersweet Symphony build and crest under the stars and the light tent, with a few thousand fists pumping in time, was a concert moment I will remember for a very long time.

The set from Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip yesterday evening was thrilling, with their intelligent wordplay and beats that get under my skin. It was difficult to tear myself away from the tail end of their set, but hard choices must be made all the time. Such are the difficulties of trying to line up all the acts on the grid and not miss anyone; there are so many many good choices. I’ve just arrived for day two, and already Saturday is hotter than Friday was, but I am holding my own. It’s not bad at all. Yesterday as a whole was perfect, a rousing success; this is a great great festival.

My camera is charging unattended in the press area while I trust in the basic goodness of other journalists not to steal it; I am hoping to try and pull the pictures off it later. If my little viewfinder is any indication, I am going to have some really amazing pictures to share with you all soon. Today holds Carbon/Silicon, Man Man, DeVotchKa, Cold War Kids, Stephen Malkmus, Cafe Tacvba, Hot Chip, Dwight Yoakam, Rilo Kiley, M.I.A., Islands, Animal Collective, Akron/Family, and, of course, a closing set from the one and only Prince — depending on how motivated I am to run from tent to tent. That’s the game plan for now, though.

Coachella = fantastic!

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April 24, 2008

The Ghosts of Coachella Past :: Live driving mix

I hear sometimes there’s traffic.

If you are heading down to Coachella this weekend in the center of the Indio desert, you may encounter a few other (80,000) folks doin the same. What shall you do whilst idling?

After Netflixing the movie about Coachella last weekend filled with so many great live performances from the past seven fests, I felt compelled to look for some of them to put on my iPod. Turns out that it makes quite the fine little mix to keep you company on the drive.

This and In’n'Out, and I’m all set:

Autobahn (short) (2004) – Kraftwerk
Y Control (2006) – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Some Candy Talking (2007) – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Inertia Creeps (2006) – Massive Attack
7/4 (2004) – Broken Social Scene
Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time (2007) – Jarvis Cocker
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (1999) – Morrissey
Kelly Watch The Stars (2007) – AIR
Girls and Boys (2003) – Blur
No Fun (2003) – Iggy Pop & The Stooges
Bizarre Love Triangle (2005) – New Order
Keep The Car Running (2007) – Arcade Fire
New York City Cops (2002) – The Strokes
Pressure Zone (2004) – Beck
You Know I’m No Good (2007) – Amy Winehouse
Planet Telex (2004) – Radiohead
March of the Pigs (2005) – Nine Inch Nails
Dead Ken Beats (2005) – Prodigy
Do You Wanna Touch Me (2003) – Queens of the Stone Age
Kool Thing (2003) – Sonic Youth
Bulls on Parade (2007) – Rage Against The Machine
Close To Me (2004) – The Cure
In Heaven –> Where Is My Mind? (2004) – The Pixies
She’s Electric (2002) – Oasis
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2005) – Wilco
Like Eating Glass (2006) – Bloc Party
Army of Me (2007) – Bj
God Put A Smile On Your Face (2005) – Coldplay
Lua (2005) – Bright Eyes
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2004) – The Flaming Lips


April 22, 2008

As the mercury climbs :: Coachella 2008 Mix

After taking care of some business in the San Fran climes, I am packing up and heading south to (hot) Southern California to cover the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Oddly enough for a California native, this will be my first time at the fest. I am excited for the many great bands I plan to hear, while simultaneously terrified of the waves of heat that I’ve been told will descend on me without mercy. After 3 years in Colorado I’ve gotten spoiled; it rarely gets above say 70, 75 here. So pray for my sweaty, sunburned soul.

In the meantime I’ve pulled a 30-song mix together of acts that will be appearing at Coachella this year. The set times were announced today, and with so many conflicts, organizing seems futile; I just plan to close my eyes and walk towards a stage at random.

Total Fucking Madness – Carbon/Silicon
Steady As She Goes (acoustic) – The Raconteurs
Bang On – The Breeders
Lake Michigan – Rogue Wave
A-Punk – Vampire Weekend
Slow Show – The National
Say It Now – The Swell Season
Avril 14th – Aphex Twin
Thou Shalt Always Kill – Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
A&E – Goldfrapp
100 Days – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Amazon – M.I.A.
Red Wine, Success! – Cold War Kids
Better Than The Rest – Murs
Transliterator – DeVotchKa
The Way That He Sings – My Morning Jacket
Ain’t No Reason – Brett Dennen
I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You (The Twelves remix) – The Black Kids
Sunday – Sia
D.A.N.C.E. (original EP mix) – Justice
Mercy – Duffy
Lovely Allen – Holy Fuck
I’d Rather Go Blind (Etta James cover) – Man Man
Creeper – Islands
Volver a Comenzar – Cafe Tacvba
Love In Our Hearts – Electric Touch
My Radio (AM Mix) – Stars
(Shake It) Over and Over – Hot Chip/Diplo
Lady In The Front Row – Red Kross
The Sweat Descends – Les Savy Fav


And, if you want to listen in on the madness and feel like you’re there, go buy some pricey beer/frozen lemonade, crank the heater up to 102, and stream Coachella 2008 live on AT&T Blueroom starting Friday afternoon.

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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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