Coachella Festival, Worth its Weight in Gold

Coachella Festival 2005
Coachella Festival 2005
April 30-May1
Coachella 2005 is over and done with and now all we have is memories. That,
or regrets, because having only 50,000 people there per day means there were
8 billion people that didn't go, and that's a shame. They missed a really
good show. Those people will never be as happy as the people who went, I'll
tell you that much.

It's weird. Saying "I saw 28 bands last weekend" seems pretty impressive.
But saying "I saw 28 bands out of 90" seems less so. I wish I could have
seen them all. Really. But it's just not possible. Coachella is probably the
most organized festival in the world. With five stages, each band gets
almost an hour to work their magic. There aren't too many other festivals
that do that. As well, the show seemed choreographed perfectly for food
breaks (and what amazing concert food they have in California). For any
stage, there is always at least one band that absolutely does not fit within
the genre confines. Plan on being at the Coachella stage all day Saturday?
Then take Keane as the time to chow down. Love most of the Outdoor theatre
on Sunday? Miss Aesop rock and grab a burrito.

As well as being musically organized, the actual grounds were put together
so that you simply could not ignore all the unique art projects on display.
All of it appeared to revolve around recycling, be it the rows of
spraypainted garbage cans or the mutated bycicles seen all over the place.
The bike merry-go-round was my favorite.

Still, the festival was not about the asides. It was about the music. Here's
what I saw, heard, and judged.

The Sexy Magazines are really awesome. Still mostly unheard of, you
can still snatch these guys up and say you heard them first in whatever
little indie clique you belong to. This offer won't last long though. Check
them out before they blow up to Hot Hot Heat proportions.

Nic Armstrong & The Thieves could be the next Elvis Costello if he
wanted to be. He could also be the next Trent Reznor with that haircut he
sports. Don't worry, he sounds nothing like him. Think of him as a British
Buddy Holly with a rougher set of guitars. Wicked stuff.

Buck 65 deserves every bit of hype he gets. I didn't know he was his
own DJ. Whenever he found himself in between those extremely long verses of his, he scratched those records like crazy just to show us that he
could. Playing everything off that greatest hits package that just came out,
he seemed completely at home and oddly out of place at the same time.
Everyone loved him but nobody really knew what to do with the guy.

K-os did exactly what everyone from Canada knows he could do; put on
the best rap show in the world. Beginning with 'B-Boy Stance' and only going
up from there, K-os was a home run for the crowd, which seemed to be made up of 75% Canadians. Even the ticket puncher at the front gate seemed perturbed
by the number of us down there. I think it might have to do with all the
amazing Canadian acts stealing the show.

The Raveonettes, though not Canadian, were amazing nonetheless. Their
rockabilly throwback stuff should be at the top of every pop chart. The new
album is a little more laid back than their previous full throttle approach, but still pretty great in my books.

M83 was a disappointment from my level. I think I expected something
akin to the Foo Fighters, but they ended up sounding more like Default. Not
good. Not good at all.

The Kills kicked it dark and sexy, the kind of stuff you should play
when you're making out in the back of a dirty chevy. Their sound was
extremely simple and rarely grew into anything beyond a simple 2/2
progression, but that wasn't the point. The music is not meant for foreplay.
It's not meant to be nicey-nicey. It's the soundtrack to the shut-up-and-give-it-to-me style.

Keane was great for laying around and watching the palm trees flutter
in the wind (palm trees! I'd never seen them up close before) but not really
for much else. Soft, sappy Coldplay-lite; Keane is bound for opening
band-forever hell if they don't come up with something original.

Rilo Kiley kept to her new album almost exclusively (there wasn't too
much of that with the other artists), coming off as a country superstar
instead of the killer rocker we know her to be. The white, frilly Dolly
Parton dress didn't help. Still, if she wants to do country then that's
fine, as she belts just as good as any in that genre and writes a song like
nobody's business.

Wilco is never going to do it for me, I'm afraid. I guess he just
reminds me too much of Aimee Mann's style of crooning. It's nice, it's
pretty, but it isn't terribly interesting, especially not live. I know
there's a bajillion people out there who disagree with that and think that
he's the best, and all the power to them, but I think he's just whiny.

Weezer has absolutely no stage presence. Still, they kick butt live
somehow. I don't know how that makes sense, but it does. To my absolute
shocking surprise, half their set was comprised of older material, a typical
Weezer no-no. Beginning with "Say it Ain't so" and ending with "Buddy Holly"
it almost felt like a career retrospective (sans anything from Pinkerton).
The new stuff is give and take. "Take care of me" might be one of the best
songs they've ever done, while "Beverly Hills" might just be one of their
worst. It's all perspective, I guess. Still, a great end to Saturday.

Coldplay finished off Saturday, but I only caught the first bit of
the set. Chris Martin was showmanistic as usual and sang his guts out. From
the stuff I heard, the new material is just as good as the previous two
albums worth, though nobody seems to think so more than Martin himself.
"This new song is really good. No, wait, it's not, it's really great" was
heard in various tones a bunch of times during the set.

Midlake was the first band I saw Sunday. They were fairly relaxed and
dream-like in sound. Having three keyboard players and a drummer will give
that effect. They were all dressed in plain white dress shirts, and sported
absolutely no facial expressions the entire time. A little creepy.

Shout Out Louds are going to be the next big indie-pop band. Or, at
least they should be. They've got the entire Pixies/Ted Leo/Matthew Barber
sound completely down. This was probably my biggest surprise at Coachella. I
went to see them strictly for their name and came away knowing another solid
pop band.

Donavon Frankenreiter just might have the least marketable name in
the world, and maybe that's why Jack Johnson is making all that money in the
major leagues while his mentor plays the two o clock timeslot. From what
I've heard, this guy taught Johnson everything he knows, and that they're
surfing buddies. I could see it. They sound exactly the same, which is just
fine. Now I don't have to see Jack Johnson.

Gram Rabbit were awesome in three different ways. First, the show
began with security handing out really high quality bunny ears for the whole
crowd to wear. Second, the lead singer is a fox with an amazingly smoky
voice that lifts the dark industrial out of the shadows of How-to-play-Nine-Inch-Nails into something unique and sexy. Third, they had women wearing deranged rabbit costumes dancing onstage. That will always score extra points with me.

JEM was really, really good looking, and sang some easy, summery
songs that explain completely why her British-born album is selling highest
in California. She covered this Paul McCartney song that she performed once
on the OC that was pretty good, but a lot of her songs are really run of the
mill and ultimately unimpressive on a bill like this one.

The Fiery Furnaces forced me to completely forget about Jem,
actually. To hear the Fiery Furnaces on a CD and then live are two
completely different experiences. What they did was take their designated 50
minutes and compile just about all their songs into one giant megamix. Few
songs were played straight through. A verse here, a chorus there. It was
extremely impressive to see a band go in and out of their catalogue so
casually.

Tegan and Sara made us proud, and again reminded me just how many
Canadians were in the crowd. The adorable little pixies played a smattering
of stuff from all their albums, but took a lot longer in between songs than
any other band. To compensate, they had the best stage banter of the weekend, actually showing signs of personality where most bands just seemed afraid or in a coma.

The Futureheads were fairly all right, though I definitely prefer
their recorded material over the live show. The crowd seemed fairly
apathetic for them as well. Standard brit pop was everywhere at this
festival, and I'm not sure there was anything within the Futureheads that
wasn't better represented by British Sea Power or Kasabian.

The Arcade Fire were by far the show of the festival. If anyone
missed them then they are fools. If anyone saw them and didn't like it then
they are fools. Do not talk to these people. What we have now is a world
with two kinds of people; those who love the Arcade Fire, and those who
don't. The crowd was more excited to see them than any other band. More than
Coldplay, more than Weezer, more than Nine Inch Nails. The buzz on these
guys was through the roof and you could feel the ground swell as they
stepped up. Beginning with a primal scream lasting half a minute, they had
the crowd in the palm of their hands the entire time. Between all the stage
diving, scaffold climbing, instrument switching and high hat duels, the band
played album-perfect renditions of most everything off "Funeral".

New Order played a couple of Joy Division songs, but other than that,
were really just uninteresting. Perhaps it was the high I got from The
Arcade Fire, but New Order disappointed me. They had the presence of guys
doing it for something other than the joy of playing music for thousands of
fans. It felt very by-the-book. Maybe I expected too much from them? I don't
know. The new album is actually very good, so I'm not sure why the live show
didn't present itself as anything less than amazing.

British Sea Power were a solid, quality show with nothing great and
nothing bad. They were the very definition of par for the course. Playing
radio-friendly brit pop, BSP felt like an opening band for something better.
Which they were in a way, since the following two acts were a thousand
levels superior. Still, I don't want to take away anything from them. They
played an above average show in a festival full of sublimely amazing shows.

The Faint. Speaking of sublimely amazing shows, The Faint got just
about everybody up and dancing. Though they referred to songs off "Wet From
Birth" as both old and new stuff, they played it exactly how a live version
of amazing songs should be played; with the intensity cranked up to 11.

Bright Eyes is touring for his "Digital Ash In a Digital Urn" album,
which explains why he never wavered from the albums' playlist. Hearing
something like "Lover I don't have to love" would have sounded completely
wrong surrounded by all the haunting melodies of Digital Ash. I know the
album came under a lot of criticism, but hearing the songs live do them so
much more service than regular speakers. As well, the giant video screens
projected disturbing image after disturbing image (the Faint, in contrast,
mostly just used images of speeding trains) which only accentuated the
horror the music created.

I'm not sure why the organizers at Coachella would want us to leave with a
sense that the world was a horribly scary place to live. They must have. The
last bands playing on each stage were Nine Inch Nails, Bright Eyes, The
Prodigy, The Locust, and Wolf Eyes. Okay, so Black Star played after Nine
Inch Nails, but you get my point. Compare that to Saturday's closers;
Coldplay, Spoon, Chemical Brothers, Fantomas, and Zap Mama, and you see my
point. The finale of an extremely sunny and optimistic festival was covered
in blood, machines, and screaming.

My top 5 were Arcade Fire, The Faint, The Raveonettes, Bright Eyes, and Rilo
Kiley.

Did I mention that I didn't really sleep for the four days surrounding this show? I am so tired now, it's a miracle I remember this much. It was the show of my life though. I wish you all had been there.

Writer: Kyle David Paul

Photo:Kyle David Paul

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