It’s Friday afternoon and the sun is scorching the estimated 160,000
people that have gathered in southern California for the Coachella
Music & Arts Festival. While some set up camp (and sprinkle their
tents with sweat), others take in the Ting Tings and the Black Keys ‘-‘-
two of the Friday afternoon acts ‘-‘- and still, others enjoy the shaded
arts and crafts areas on the camping grounds.
As the sun finally decides to set, and a breathtaking dusk settles
over the dark mountains surrounding the valley, the sounds of Leonard
Cohen fill the air around the Outdoor Theater on the festival site. He
opens with ‘Dance Me to the End of Love,’ while cheers ring out. The
man is old, but his baritone voice still sends vibrations. ‘The
Future’ and ‘Bird on a Wire’ follow and can be heard from the nearby
Coachella stage ‘-‘- the main stage ‘-‘- where eager Morrissey addicts
await their favorite lamenter.
The former Smiths front man is a bit bland on the last stop of his
Refusal tour and sings a set consisting mainly of songs off the new
album, but sure to include some Smiths’ gems like ‘Ask’ and
‘Girlfriend in a Coma.’ Always the militant vegetarian, old Mozza
denounces the stench of flesh rolling down the grounds from the food
vendors before exiting the stage following an amazing rendition of
‘How Soon is Now.’
Indeed, soon after, the highlight of the festival takes the stage and
proceeds to blow everyone’s minds away. With a three-hour set that
includes ‘Helter Skelter,’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and, unbelievably, ‘A
Day in the Life,’ Paul McCartney gives a stellar performance that, if
unsurprising because he is, after all, Paul McCartney, definitely
exceeds expectations in terms of length, energy and plain awesomeness.
Tears were shed, songs were sung (‘naaa, na, na, na, na, na, naaa’)
and all arms went into the cool desert night as the former Beatle
rocked away amidst fire explosions and fireworks.
On Saturday, campers are up and about at dawn, when the first ray of
light shoots the temperature through the roof ‘-‘- or tarp. Rumors of a
second McCartney appearance during The Newno2, George Harrison’s son’s
band, probably accounted for the packed crowd under the Mojave stage.
The band is formidable, but clearly in its early stages, and Dhani
Harrison proves good looks are very much hereditary.
Besides the music, there are plenty of interactive and quirky art
exhibits, like the flaming metallic Serpent Mother and the enthralling
Electric Towers. The Hand of Man power trips whoever is controlling
the giant metal hand that crushes old cars like paper. And everywhere
smaller artistic contortions spray the weekend’s most valued element:
Back on the Coachella stage, Michael Franti & Spearhead make everyone
dance to the contagiously upbeat rock/reggae tunes. The palm trees
sway and the sun starts to dip down behind the majestic mountains.
Next up is one of Brooklyn’s finest: TV on the Radio. The band aims to
hide the sun completely by the time they are done, and the over
amplified bass and horns section make sure to do this. An unfortunate
technical glitch doesn’t deter from the energy emanating from the
stage, however, and the band mixes songs off their brilliant new album
with long loved tunes, ‘Young Liars’ being especially powerful.
With the temperature cooling down comes the chilling airwaves of
Thievery Corporation. Their set turns the grounds into a lounge pad
and one of the female vocalists stage dives. Even Perry Farrell comes
out for ‘Revolution Solution,’ giving Jane’s Addiction fans a preview
of his solo set on Sunday. The Killers top off the night in their
usual bombastic glory. Macca had set the bar unattainable the previous
night, but Brandon Flowers and co. do a good job trying to reach it.
The march back to the camping site is an exodus of people in high
spirits ‘-‘- or just high ‘-‘- illuminated by the fireworks that mark the
end of the set.
The last day of Coachella includes the blissful melodies of bushy
haired Frenchman S’eacute;bastien Tellier, who jams airy wonders under the
Gobi tent. Plump DJs throw a party at the Sahara stage, gathering the
most interesting mix of dancers ‘-‘- everything from your grandma to a
trio of oily Jazzercisers to an ecstatic life-size banana. My Bloody
Valentine is plain awful and waste about half an hour on a single note
of noise for which approximately six people cheer while the rest
suffer ear damage. And then comes The Cure.
The festival closers open with a hair-raising new tune ‘Underneath the
Stars’ as Robert Smith pierces the night air in all his
red-lipstick-whitened-face-purposely-unkempt-mane glory. People go
insane. He doesn’t talk, just grunts ‘Hello,’ and continues to
hypnotize. ‘Lovesong’ comes on surprisingly early, before ‘Pictures of
You,’ ‘Just Like Heaven’ and other tearjerkers. Back at the Outdoor
Theater Roni Size Reprazent has a smaller but very animated crowd that
includes some of the Plump DJs loonies.
Dwindling back to the camping grounds, the magic almost at its end,
The Cure takes to beginning the end with ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ when the
second technical mishap occurs: the sound goes off. From a distance,
poor Robert is still audible, but barely. Some boys probably did cry.
The morning after greets a far emptier camping site, as some
festival-goers ‘-‘- as fleeting as the weekend itself ‘-‘- have packed and
left during the night. The sun is still blistering and the remnants of
a weekend escape litter the grounds. Coachella 2009 has drawn to a
close and as quickly as the thermostat rises, people wither away, back
to real life.