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COACHELLA 2006

DISCLAIMER: THIS REVIEW WAS WRITTEN BY AN INVETERATE SHOPPER/POOLSIDE LOUNGER/BARFLY, SO THE LURE OF A SUNNY WEEKEND IN PALM SPRINGS AT TIMES TRUMPED THE DESIRE TO RUB UP AGAINST FILTHY, SWEATY, SCANTILY CLAD TEENAGERS IN A QUEST TO LISTEN TO MUSIC.

OK, so that said, my friend and I had decided this was the year for us to start going to Coachella. Two days of music in the California sunshine was going to be just the antidote to the long winter. We had grandiose plans that we would camp at the festival and really get into the whole scene. Three day camping passes were purchased and lots of excited chatter about sleeping bags and tents n' things ensued. As the date of the festival got closer, however, our discussions began to revolve around questions like "do you think people will be going at it in the tent next to us?" and "do you think if I eat oatmeal and cheese I won't have to use the bathroom for three days?" and so we began to doubt the wisdom of our decision. Last-minute hotel rooms at extortionate rates were hastily booked. Did you know that the Howard Johnson's in Palm Springs can get away with charging $239 a night on Coachella weekend, up from their standard rate of $64 a night? How about that!? Learn from my mistakes, and book early next year. And whatever you do, unless you are REALLY poor, don't camp. We walked by what was to have been our home for three nights, and it turns out the answers to the above questions would have been "yes" and "no" respectively. The campground bore more than a passing resemblance to a refugee camp, complete with a lone row of porta-potties at the end.

Day 1

Well, you probably would have gotten a more thorough review of the first day if I had been staying at the campground instead of my splashy digs in Palm Springs. As it was, we were closer to the Desert Hills outlet mall than to Coachella, so we took a little side trip there on Saturday morning. Girls, you know how it is. While your boyfriends are playing Frisbee and starting to stink like they will all weekend, do yourself a favor and spend your morning there. You're going to need some new threads to compete with the freaky fashions going on back at the show, anyway - I can't believe I was so out of the loop not to have known that tiny, polyester running shorts and knee-high tube socks, accessorized with shaggy hair and huge sunglasses, had become de rigueur. But whatever you do, don't stay too late; the traffic getting into Coachella is god-awful. We had fully intended to be there to see Nine Black Alps, but instead spent two and a half hours toiling in traffic between getting off at the exit and parking the car. So that sucked. As soon as we got in, we felt compelled to take the edge off with a couple of Newcastles, so we shoved our way into the beer garden where the over-21 crowd was allowed to indulge. We could still see the main stage, where Kanye West was playing to an enthusiastic crowd. Now, I don't have anything against Kanye per se, but I had to wonder what the hell he was doing there. Was he Saturday's nod to mainstream that Madonna was to Sunday?

I'll tell you what the cure is to mainstream: Sigur Rós, who followed Kanye West on the main stage. Their vaguely elegiac sound was well suited to their sunset slot, and after initially finding Jónsi Birgisson's hypnotic falsetto a bit grating (OK, it's actually closer to a castrato, but he's probably not that so perhaps it's not so nice to say), I settled into the lull of their ethereal music. It was well suited for lying back on the grass and watching the sun set over the palm trees, even if Birgisson does play his electric guitar on occasion with a bow. I was feeling pretty lazy after that, so it was a good thing that Franz Ferdinand were up next so I didn't have to actually move from my perch on the lawn. Now, I know, I know, I KNOW how you feel about Franz Ferdinand; that they are somehow reflective of all that is wrong with British music these days. I just don't get it. They write smart, funny lyrics and play guitar like nobody's business; what's not to like? While they were not quite as machine-gun precise as at their show at the Fillmore in Denver last October, they still commanded the stage in their tight little rock star trousers and had the crowd up on their feet and dancing. They only broke the upbeat tempo once for "Eleanor," Alex Kapranos' ode to his girlfriend from the overrated Fiery Furnaces, then got straight back to the most hip-shaking numbers from their two albums. Call me lowbrow, but I love them.

I'll spare you any details about Saturday's headliner, Depeche Mode, because I don't have any. I saw them when I was 14 and that was good enough for me. Skipping them had the added benefits of allowing us to avoid any traffic and getting back to the bright lights and flowing alcohol of Palm Springs.

Day 2

Apparently not having learned our lesson on Saturday, we didn't manage to get to the festival until just before The Magic Numbers. We missed The Dears and James Blunt, both of whom I had wanted to see (although I'm going to nominate James Blunt for the award you wanted to give Franz Ferdinand - pappy, bland crap. I still wanted to see it for myself, though, as he is rather pretty). The Magic Numbers were terrific. Their sweet, uptempo songs are perfect for a hot summer afternoon, and my goodness but they have lovely manners! They played a couple of new songs that they plan to put on their new album they are going into the studio to record this week, and they were no departure from their current style of sunny but bittersweet, slightly retro tunes bounced along with groovy guitars and pretty harmonies. Matisyahu was on the main stage directly after, but since I'm not a big fan of reggae or of religious sects that view women as less than the equals of men, I opted to turn my back on him and head over early for Wolf Parade.

Once we got over to Wolf Parade, the tent was packed and we had to sit out on the grass where we couldn't see the band. The show started late because of technical difficulties, the sound was bad, and a girl came running out of the throng with her hands cupped around her nose and mouth and blood seeping out between her fingers. At that point we decided to cut our losses and head on over to join the enormous crowd for Bloc Party. It seemed like we were about half a mile from the stage, it was so packed. They started out kind of slow, with what sounded to me like a new song (and a crappy one, at that). From so far away the sound wasn't great, so I was feeling a little discouraged. Fortunately, however, they swung into some of their more engrossing stuff and the sound was adjusted so you could hear more than just Kele's vocals and a blurry surf of music behind him. They went through a bunch of great numbers off of Silent Alarm, as well as another, better new song called "Beautiful." I'm a little concerned that I might have heard Kele whining about the typical poor-little-rock-star, screw you MTV for making me so miserable shite, but it was still a pretty good song.

When Bloc Party wound up, we made haste back over to the main stage to catch the end of Sleater-Kinney. They were just launching into "Entertain," which completely kicked ass and made me mad that I had wasted my time watching Bloc Party from seven million miles away. They were followed by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who came on loud and hard and didn't let up. We stuck around for about five songs, then after we could not listen to Karen O's shrieks or stare at her thighs straining through her artfully ripped tights for another moment, we endured them both for another ten as we made our way across the grounds to see The Editors. Boy, does that main stage really take over the place. As we got closer to the Mojave tent, the trance-like sounds of Paul Oakenfold from the Sahara tent next door took over. Combined with the white and blue lasers of light pulsing out over the crowd and the incredible sunset behind the mountains, it was spectacular. We staked out spots on the edge of the tent for The Editors, as we had learned our lesson from Wolf Parade. The crowd assembling for The Editors was much smaller, presumably because of the incomprehensible draw of Madonna turning up in the next tent after Paul Oakenfold.

The Editors were excellent. I'll admit I wasn't expecting that much, since I had found The Back Room, their debut album, to be kind of boring and a little derivative in the way it transported me back to my teenaged years of nurturing my angst and sneaking cigarettes out the bedroom window with the likes of Echo And The Bunnymen on the hi-fi. But live, somehow the band managed to differentiate itself from every other guitar-driven British band with dark and theatrical eighties' influences. Guitars were big and chiming and occasionally evocative of The Edge. Comparisons of Tom Smith's vocals to Ian Curtis and Ian McCulloch are well-founded, but there was a modernity to the performance that I somehow missed on the album. Tom Smith definitely fancies himself to be a Rock Star; prancing all over the stage and slinging his guitar around. Whatever; I am definitely going to give their album another chance, and I would see them again live in a heartbeat.

And now the moment you've all been waiting for. While The Editors were playing, the crowd for Madonna next door was getting rather terrifying. We decided we would check out a few songs before hitting the road; we had really wanted to see Dungen, Art Brut and Scissor Sisters but had decided early on that the appeal of an early, surgical departure to somewhere that a cocktail could be drunk amongst clean people was greater. As we waited for Madonna's "performance" to start, the whole scene became a bit surreal and claustrophobic and we decided it wasn't worth it. As we left, her glossy self was just appearing on the jumbotron, all decked out in a black, patent leather cat suit and sunglasses, launching into "Hung Up." We could hear her all the way to the car, and maybe just for a minute during "Ray Of Light" did we wish we weren't quite so cool that we had decided to leave.

- Heidi Lamer


Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
April 29-30, 2006
Indio, CA

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