Coachella Day Three: My Morning Back Pain

Mmj Jaded Insider limped into Day 3 of Coachella 2008, with our feet and lower backs still reeling from 48 hours worth of desert festival hardship. But our spirits were not broken.

Kentucky Fried Music: We were looking forward to seeing My Morning Jacket as much as anything at the festival, and are thrilled to know that the Louisville five-piece delivered in spades. From the opening notes of “One Big Holiday,” the band worked the stage with authority. Singer/guitarist Jim James frequently dashed from one side of the stage to the other, his huge black-and-white moon boots propelling him with every step. The group’s passion was palpable and undeniable. MMJ was then joined by M. Ward for “Off the Record,” a sprawling, reggae-tinged jam that borrows its main riff from the theme to “Hawaii Five-O.”

“I’m Amazed” from the band’s upcoming LP “Evil Urges” (due June 10th) kept the heat on, with a memorable guitar riff and excellent Fender Rhodes touches from keyboardist Bo Koster. Other “Evil” tracks previewed included “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream (Part 1)," the funky, robotic “Highly Suspicious,” the Chi-Lites-quoting “Smokin from Shootin,” and current single “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream (Part 2)," which closed the show. “Wordless Chorus, ” “Anytime, and “Gideon” from 2005’s “Z” also rang out triumphantly as the sun set on the festival’s final day. With the breadth and depth of this set -- and the promise of their forthcoming fifth studio album fulfilled -- it’s safe to say that My Morning Jacket stands as one of best, if not the best band in America today. James has always been a great songwriter, but the group’s live dynamic is continuing to gel in an even more impressive fashion underneath his songs.

Their willingness to incorporate non-traditional sounds (and effectively weave them into memorable melodic compositions) lends them the creative heft that separates them from many of their contemporaries and lifts their music above the familiar constraints of genres such as indie or Southern rock. We expect that this band’s creative trajectory is still on the rise, and are sure that they will continue to win over listeners along the way.

Look But Don't Listen: One of the most unnecessarily frustrating sets of the weekend came courtesy of Spiritualized. The band’s performance was plagued by a multitude of sound problems throughout, most obviously the nearly constant feedback emanating from frontman Jason Pierce’s acoustic guitar. Accompanied by three harmonists, Fender Rhodes and a string quartet, Pierce could have turned it into a stunner. Sadly, the string section inexplicably remained inaudible for the entirety of the set. In fact, the members of the quartet did not appear to be mic’ed at all. Fortunately, several of the musicians were easy enough on the eyes to somewhat mitigate the sonic incongruity. (Dark haired violinist: we can’t hear a note you’re playing, but you sure are pretty.) “Lord Let It Rain On Me” from 2003’s “Amazing Grace” and the Daniel Johnston cover “True Love Will Find You” rose above the fray. “Amen” and “Going Down Slow” were also attempted, as was “Soul on Fire,” the lead single from forthcoming LP “Songs in A&E.” We’d love to hear how this was supposed to sound, and would gladly give it another chance under more conducive circumstances.

Never Lost That Feeling: The members of Swervedriver took the stage looking like the guests of honor at a poorly attended surprise birthday party. Their looks of disappointment upon seeing the mostly-empty Mojave Tent were evident, but the group soldiered on undaunted, opening with “Sandblasted” from 1991’s “Raise.” They were damn tight though, despite having not played together for nearly 10 years. And although physically they may have looked their age, the youthful rockers inside of them were totally taking over as they roared through an almost unbearably loud survey of their catalog. “The Birds” from 1995’s import-only “Ejector Seat Reservation,” “Dual” from 1993’s Mezcal Head,” and “These Times” from 1998’s “99th Dream” followed in succession, with each tune sounding better than the last.

Singer/guitarist Adam Franklin, never one to exhibit perfect pitch live, emoted more than crooned and effectively transmitted the heart and soul of each song to the assembled devotees. Drummer Jez seemed thrilled to be back behind the kit, punishing his cymbals and shooting the audience demented, bug-eyed glance during “Last Train to Satansville.” While the band revealed some of the limitations that prevented it from reaching the lofty heights of Creation label-mates like Oasis, they nonetheless demonstrated a resiliency and unapologetic, no-frills rawness that one couldn’t help but admire.

April 28, 2008 in Coachella | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Coachella Day Two: Rock Around The Clock

Portis Reasons To Love You: Back from a nearly decade-long hiatus in the United States, Portishead delivered a jaw-dropping set that blended earlier material with songs prepped for their much-anticipated upcoming release, "Third." Opener "Silence" and other new tracks such as "The Rip" fared well alongside the band's previous work. "Sour Times" took on an added heft in the live setting, while other "Dummy" tracks such as "Wandering Star," "Mysterons" and "Glory Box" similarly impressed, as the band layered their trademark noir-ish instrumental strokes around singer Beth Gibbons' pleading, haunted vocals.

No set at Coachella has had better sound -- even the slightest sonic details were clearly audible to the sizable Main Stage crowd. These included exceptional snare drum hits, gorgeous Fender Rhodes and Moog organ trickles and discordant guitar cascades. Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow's instrumental arrangements dazzled, as did the band's striking multi-screen visual presentation. Layering real-time black-and-white footage of the performance with manipulated graphic effects, this element added the perfect complement to the group's spooky beauty.

Computer Blue:
We're not quite sure exactly what was happening onstage during Kraftwerk's set, or if there were even human beings on the stage at all. But the music sounded so good we didn't care. "Autobahn" and "Computer Love" were early highlights, the latter of which we're sure had more than one listener wondering why the group was ripping off Coldplay. During "Radioactivity," animated visuals of atoms and molecules danced across the screens, while a delightful first-person point-of-view film shot on a train offered the perfect accompaniment to "Trans-Europe Express." It sounded like R2D2 was making love onstage during "The Robots," even though he may have just been checking email for software upgrades. Computerized musical notes dripped over the screens like water during closer "Music Non Stop."

The Sound Of Sweating To The Oldies:
Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard looks like he's been having a shake for breakfast, lunch and a sensible dinner. Honestly though, he looks good. Now he and Seth Cohen can share the same-sized ironic t-shirts. The Seattle-based group was mostly on-target with only a few missteps during their early-evening set on the Main Stage. New single "I Will Possess Your Heart" from their upcoming "Narrow Stairs" finally won us over once we woke up from our nap during the three-minutes-too-long intro.

The band's more streamlined, melodic material fared better than their kookier, more meandering tunes from previous albums. The new record's "Long Division," as well as earlier faves "New Year," "Soul Meets Body" and "The Sound of Settling" stood out. "Why You'd Want to Live Here" proved overly peppy and less satisfying, lacking the emotional weight of the stronger material. Chris Walla added smart layers of harmonies, keyboards and guitar, despite needing desperately to unbutton his shirt's top button. It's hard to know whether to award Death Cab the Coachella High 2008 yearbook superlative for "Most Likely To Succeed" or "Most Improved." Nevertheless, the group seems to be winning over new fans with each new release for all the right reasons. Have a great summer. Don't change.

Baby, It's Bad News: The last time we saw Jenny Lewis in the Coachella Valley, she was starring opposite Fred Savage in 1989's heartwarming video game coming-of-age story "The Wizard." Sadly, her teenage chemistry with Savage proves far more potent than with any of her current bandmates in Rilo Kiley. In fact, we're pretty sure that if Lewis actually had a jock strap, no one else in the group would even be able to carry it.

The big crowd assembled for their sundown set in the Outdoor Theatre seemed content to enjoy the cooling temperatures, while gearing up for the rest of the evening. Whether it's from her acting background or not, Ms. Lewis has a strong sense of narrative, both in her songwriting and her onstage demeanor. However, her bass playing on "Dream World" and "Moneymaker" couldn't help elevate the tunes above their '70s Fleetwood Mac-homage origins. New album "Under the Black Light" seems too much a character study in California disco pastiche, rather than an authentic expression of the group's original potential. "Portions for Foxes" from 2004's "More Adventurous" offered the sole glimpse of what the band could and should be as a group. Without the emergence of more such material, we're left to simply wait for the ongoing launch of Lewis's solo career (as well as a long-overdue sequel to "The Wizard").

MGMT provided one of the few early highlights of the afternoon. During "The Handshake" and "Electric Feel," the band unleashed a noisy, intense psychedelic romp. The rabid response of the sizable Mojave Tent crowd belied the band's relatively recent emergence. The band seems tailor-made for Coachella --incorporating a wild array of dance, rock, THC and R&B influences. For closer "Kids," Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden sang together backed only by pre-recorded instrumental tracks. The band's ABBA-on-meth anthem "Time to Pretend" successfully connected with listeners both on and off the wagon.

Greatest Show On Earth: Devotchka
turned the Outdoor Theatre into a Turkish bazaar, complete with accordion, tuba, upright bass, skittish drums and acrobats. Seriously -- The Amazing Slavic Sisters (as they were introduced) twirled and tumbled as they climbed 40-foot red and black curtains hung from the stage scaffolding while wearing sequined leotards.

Kids Don't Follow: The Cold War Kids'
aggressive indie blues-rock seemed to go down harshly in the hot mid-afternoon sun. So did the fact that they chose to sing songs about being on death row, despite their middle-class Orange County backgrounds. "Hospital Beds" made good use of moody piano in crafting a more original take on the band's blues-indebted skronk. But otherwise, the band has yet to find its own worthwhile spin on the influences that it so openly mimics.

Go Back, To Those "Gold Soundz":
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks ran through a leisurely set in the Outdoor Theatre that included tracks such as "Dragonfly" and "Hopscotch Willie." Malkmus looked kind of like a scarecrow, wearing a floppy fisherman's cap. The guitar and bass seemed to be chasing each other around like an indie-rock "Tom and Jerry" cartoon, but former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss gave everything as much backbone as she could. Malkmus tossed in his usual rambling, free-associative between-song banter, much to the confusion of the audience -- many of whom were still in pre-school in the days of "Slanted and Enchanted."

Dance 'Til You Drop:
Short of climbing the rafters in the massively overcrowded Sahara Tent, Hot Chip and MIA were not to be had by festival-goers arriving late to the party. The proceedings took on a decidedly post-Spring Break vibe during the opening moments of Hot Chip's set, and nowhere else was the reefer as pungent.

April 27, 2008 in Coachella | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Coachella Day Two: Junk In The Trunk

Junkie Junkie XL was perfectly comfortable wearing a thick brown leather coat in the blazing sun yesterday at Empire Polo Field. "I would turn into a lobster," the Dutch DJ said. "So it's either that or wear the jacket."

The blistering heat obviously doesn't deter the Coachella vet (he played in 2005) from returning. "What makes this festival special is that there's music, but there's also art and people love that," he said. "It reminds me a lot of the hippie festivals where people go for the experience." Indeed, Junkie XL's early-evening Sahara tent experience was one hour of him mixing pulsating rhythms that whipped the kids into a frenzy. All done, of course, in his brown leather jacket.

Some random musings from day two of Coachella:

* M.I.A. had half the Sahara tent on stage with her at one point and then said she wouldn't continue unless they turned the lights down (after she had first told them to turn up the lights).

* Mark Ronson brought out the Charlatans' Tim Burgess to sing "The Only One I Know" -- no surprise there since he's done it before. Kelly Osbourne sang backup on "Stop Me," with Klaxons' Jamie Reynolds chipping in on vocals as well.

* Waiting for Prince to come on, who would draw the biggest cheers in the VIP section but none other than David Hasselhoff, greeted like a king and smiling as dozens of cell phones and cameras lined his path snapping shots of him.

April 27, 2008 in Coachella | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Coachella Day Two: Purple Mountain Majesties

Prince Coachella 2008 day two was a slow starter, what with larger crowds, longer lines and significantly higher temperatures. In fact, Jaded Insider has just now gotten back to the room (3 a.m.), and it’s not because we were hitting up Prince’s after-party. The man’s two hour-plus set was hands down the apex of the day, the duration of which was rivaled only by the nearly as long logjam getting out of the polo field parking lots. Thankfully, the Am/PM across the street from the hotel had enough Combos and Funions in stock to keep us conscious enough to write this post, but a proper update will follow in a few hours.

Suffice to say however that Saturday’s lineup fell far short from Friday's many pleasant surprises. Solid performances from Portishead, Death Cab For Cutie and MGMT kept the faith, but they were all dwarfed by the phenomenon that is Prince. His instrumental prowess, songwriting depth and immaculately well groomed hair and mustache were on full display before the tens of thousands of listeners assembled at the Main Stage.

Surprise guests and surprise covers mixed well with extended jams on greatest hits, encompassing material from 1979’s eponymous album all the way through 2004’s "Musicology." After taking the stage with a brief introduction, Prince yielded the microphone to Morris Day and Jerome, who strutted their stuff to “The Bird” and “Jungle Love." He then introduced Sheila E. to the Coachella masses as she percussed her way through a sassy rendition of her 1984 hit “The Glamorous Life,” much to the delight of the assembled desert throng.

Having effectively established his entourage, the star of the show, draped in a celestial white bedazzled tunic, proceeded to claim his stage, tearing through “1999” and “Controversy” before a re-imagined “Little Red Corvette,” complete with a sultrier intro and slower verse tempo. A medley of “Cream” and “U Got the Look” officially brought the funk to full force, while smeary covers of Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Beatles’ “Come Together” were appropriate nods to the Coachella faithful.

Following a costume change into a creamsicle-colored yellow French-cuffed pajama suit, Prince reemerged with a stunning countrified version of  “7,” and after briefly leaving the stage, returned for an encore of “Purple Rain.” Refusing to obey the festival time constraints, he then finished off the crowd with a manic “Let’s Go Crazy,” successfully bringing it to a purple-drenched paroxysm.

Not many artists can so easily make such a deep connection with an audience so quickly or effectively, let alone sustain it over the course of two hours. Prince's onstage charisma is so thick and his musical identity so fully formed that it’s hard to imagine him existing off stage at all. That he is able to direct the crowd’s ebbs and flows as he sees fit is merely one manifestation of these powers, the others being complete and utter instrumental virtuosity, ageless vocal prowess and intuitive songwriting acumen. We're pretty sure he can also fly.

Regardless of the fact that he will turn 50 this June, Prince truly does transcends age, gender and genre. Because he has attained iconic status, it’s easy to forget what a diverse and significant artist he is. He has taken his love of old school R&B and laced it with traces of funk, new wave, classic rock, psychedelia and more, somehow creating a sound that is wholly unique, yet accessible to all. This was plainly reflected in both the set, the audience response and the sequins on his outfits Saturday night.

April 27, 2008 in Coachella | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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