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Coachella Day One: Double Vision

Theverve Jaded Insider has just returned home from Day One of Coachella 2008 sweaty, exhausted, and caked with desert grime. Temperatures remained cooler than those of festivals past, yet attendance seemed significantly sparser than in recent years. Perhaps this explains why traffic going to and from the festival proved nonexistent, as routes normally clogged with traffic moved freely. Now, let's get to it...

Did anyone else notice that there were four sets of identical twins playing back-to-back-to-back on Friday? Starting with the Breeders' Kim and Kelley Deal, followed by Tegan and Sara Quin, and capped off with the National's double-stuffed, identical twin tag-team of Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf? We did.

Beats Happening: New York-based math rock combo Battles kicked things off early Friday afternoon, adeptly mixing intense riffs with splashes of melody and instrumental hooks to create a frenetic concoction that went down smoothly in the packed Gobi tent. Mmmm ... fractals.

I've Overestimated My Blog (Again): We admit that we wanted to see Black Kids -- partly because we don't hate their EP, but also because we were curious to see whether they could deliver the goods live. Turns out they can't. Despite being plagued by sound problems throughout their set (singer Reggie Youngblood's guitar repeatedly cut out during a solo), the group simply seemed to lack the necessary tools to win over the largely indifferent crowd.

That's not to say the first seven rows weren't into it -- clearly Pitchfork readers all. But EP tracks such as "I've Underestimated My Charm (Again)" may have been the nadir, with both female keyboard players struggling mightily to find an appropriate note for the background vocal. Non-EP tracks didn't fare much better, and didn't seem to indicate any new wrinkles on the way. The group's set fell somewhere between an endearing shambles and an unprofessional mess.

The First Splash: The Breeders' career-spanning set offered one of the day's clear highlights on the Main Stage. The Deal sisters' charming good cop-bad cop act kept the mood light, as did their willingness to bash through their set with a refreshing looseness and unhinged power. Standout tracks included "Tipp City" (from Kim Deal's 1995 side-project record with the Amps), "Divine Hammer" and "No Aloha" (featuring skillful slide guitar work from Kelley Deal). Naturally, the band treated the crowd to a jubilant rendition of "Cannonball," and more than a decade after its release, the song still sounds like a tune Phil Spector might have wished he could get his hands on.

Kudos to the group then for following it up with their madcap cover of the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." Only the Deal sisters could joke about their "insane mother" (suffering from Alzheimer's) and have the crowd laughing as hard as they were. Despite clearly approaching the set with an offhanded casualness, the band nonetheless boasts an undeniable authenticity that was noticeably lacking among the festival's more junior participants.

Goldfrapp Vampire Weekend At Bernie's: Blog darling upstarts Vampire Weekend drew one of the day's largest crowds to the Outdoor Theatre as they plucked through selections from their self-titled debut. Painted with a palette of pastel outfits (singer Ezra Koenig was actually wearing pink shorts), it was unclear if the band had taken a wrong turn en route to a beachy afternoon in the Hamptons and instead settled on the Empire Polo Field by accident. Somebody get these guys some club sandwiches!

Nevertheless, "A-Punk" and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" had the throngs of devotees dancing to the band's Manhattan-meets-Barbados brand of Afro-pop. Honestly, we were truly waiting for Bernie Lomax to join in on the fun. "I Stand Corrected" offered a moodier take on the band's cheerful aesthetic, while a freshly unveiled new track (performed atop a percussive pre-recorded loop) did not stray far from the debut's classical-flecked formula.

Boxing Clever: Not to be outdone on the Outdoor Theatre stage, Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati quintet the National pulled off an impressive set that relied heavily on material from their two most recent releases, "Boxer" and "Alligator." Buttressed by horn players and a supplemental keyboardist, the group laid waste to tracks like "Mistaken for Strangers" and "Secret Meeting." With artfully arranged textures made possible by the expanded lineup, "Boxer" tunes such as "Fake Empire" and "Slow Show" took on a depth and importance unmatched during the day. Many of their tracks built to massive crescendos ("Squalor Victoria", "Mr. November"), as singer Matt Berninger skillfully raised his voice from spoken-word ramblings to full-throated screams.

A New Decade: Back from a 10-year hiatus, the Verve showed no signs of time away, launching into a muscular 11-song set on the festival's Main Stage. If there were any hard feelings lingering between singer Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe, then opener "This Is Music" rendered any previous bickering moot. Unsurprisingly, the group focused heavily its most successful stateside album, 1997's "Urban Hymns." Singles like "Sonnet," "The Drugs Don't Work," "Lucky Man" and "Bittersweet Symphony" sounded massive, with tasteful, judicious use of pre-recorded string pads wafting underneath. The group also played two new songs (one titled "Sit and Wonder") that recalled the more groove-based rawness of 1995's "A Northern Soul."

Ashcroft (sporting a freshly-cropped mop) and company looked as fit as they did a decade ago (we'll forgive drummer Pete Salisbury, who appeared to use his added girth to the band's benefit by attacking his kit). It's marvelous indeed to hear them sounding this good, but the promise of a new album featuring these teasers is even more mouth-watering.

Rest of the Best: Canadian songstresses Tegan and Sara played a surprisingly delightful early-evening set on the Main Stage. Tight, melodic offerings such as "Back in Your Head" and "The Con" demonstrated a vastly matured sense of songwriting and performance since their last Coachella appearance in 2005. We're happy to know there's more to this band than two pretty Canadian identical twin faces. We're going to go buy their album tomorrow ... Goldfrapp (pictured) really packed them into the Mojave Tent, where they played to easily the most grateful and enthusiastic audience of the night. Highlights of the set included "Number 1," "Happiness" and "Strict Machine." Great songs, great power. Singer Alison Goldfrapp pranced across the stage wearing a bushy pink blouse with little-to-no pants visible underneath. We were in love from minute one ... Scandinavian wunderkind Jens Lekman took the stage looking like he was late to his 4:00 p.m. botany class, although his blonde bombshell of a drummer may have taken home the prize for the day's most attractive percussionist. In addition to said skinsmith, Lekman found himself flanked with three other beauties on violin cello, and bass, as well as an additional utility laptop operator. The set's second tune "The Opposite of Hallelujah" required a restart after Lekman's piano was discovered to be unplugged. From there, the set remained pleasantly musical and whimsical, if a bit twee.

Elsewhere On Day One: The Swell Season's Glen Hansard poured out his heart on "Leave" later on at the Outdoor Theatre, before being joined by his partner Marketa Irglova for a cover of the Pixies' "Cactus" ... In his first U.S. show in almost a decade, Aphex Twin pummeled the crowd in the sprawling, dance-oriented Sahara Tent with steely beats and harsh synth riffs that would have made the perfect soundtrack to a Bret Easton Ellis novel set in the year 3000 ... Main Stage-disappointees the Raconteurs bored us silly with their mediocre classic-rock posturing on songs like "Carolina Drama" and "Rich Boy Blues." Puzzlingly, co-front man Jack White sang much of the latter in a vocal style reminiscent of Adam Sandler's Halloween Costume Suggestions characters. Now give us some candy!

Seek And Ye Shall Find: A final note on the notion of risk-reward when it comes to searching for food on the festival grounds: Why settle for a delicious-as-it-may-be $6 slice of pizza when -- with a little bit of hunting -- you can find an $8 falafel or a $12 plate of tofu stir-fry? What is the risk and what is the reward? Our point exactly. Tomorrow, we try the curry.

April 26, 2008 in Coachella | Permalink


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