Guest Writers Brian & Mitch Cover Coachella 2009!

Let’s be honest. When the news arrived that we would be guest blogging at the 10th annual Coachella Music Festival, an immediate rush of Hunter S. Thompson swept through us. We promptly began to mentally prepare for a drug-induced coma of a concert weekend.

After about five to ten seconds of channeling HST, we quickly came to terms with our pathetic inexperience in gonzo journalism and hard drugs. So we decided to just enjoy the music and blog because, well, we like a show, too.

FRIDAY

BRIAN:
Some part of me feels like the road to Coachella is the road to recovery. Many Los Angelinos download music at their cubicles and count the days until they make the short trek (if you’re lucky) out to the heat-intensive weekend featuring over 100 bands. What more could you ask for? How about a big house with wet bar, BBQ and pool around the corner from the festival grounds? Stage set…literally.

It’s safe to say 3:30pm is the peak arrival time. The sun begins its descent behind the surrounding mountains, cooling off backs of necks, while remaining rays stream through the kicked-up dust clouds – the perfect setting for the gritty, twosome - The Black Keys. With hits like Strange Times, Your Touch and Just Got To Be, the Keys emerged as the late-afternoon’s natural raw talent in the rawest of climates.

If expectations were higher for the following act, Franz Ferdinand, they surely weren’t met as the band slowly channeled into the night with their middle-of-the-road songs like Michael and Turn It On. When their tempo picked up during Take Me Out, lead singer Alex Kapranos called the audience “tone deaf” and advised them to “chill, ” sending waves of rolling eyes through the dissipating crowd. The show’s highlight came too late with the performance of the recently released track, Ulysses containing the Coachella-friendly lyrics “Come on let’s get high.” Unfortunately most of the crowd had already made their way over to Leonard Cohen to do so.


MITCH:
After a traffic-filled five-hour commute, I parked in Indio just after dusk and sprinted into the festival. It was my duty to meet Brian at Beirut, a show I was eager to attend. With spotty cell-phone service in a festival event that averaged about 100, 000 people per day, the odds of meeting people shrank considerably upon entering the desert setting. Instead of losing my cool, which literally had already happened, I took it all in. Art installments from mechanical hands to fiery serpents dazzled the crowds as they traveled from tent to beer garden to port-a-potty to tent.

Within minutes of my own little game of “Where’s Waldo,” I spotted Brian in his red striped shirt and our night began. Beirut took the evening stage to an excited crowd, whose energy only magnified inside the echoes of the tent. We had read the folklore of the lead singer, Zach Condon, and his teenage musical journey through Europe as a New Mexico high-school dropout. Just your average prodigy story. His homely group of awkwardly-dressed musicians supported him in a “we are more talented than we look” fashion.

With the number of instruments involved, Beirut’s set felt more like a Parisian street performance of brass, strings, and a complimenting accordion. Condon’s romantic voice, accompanied by his ukulele, would calm the mood, only to set us up as the horns rose and blew us away, belting through the melody.

“It’s okay if you don’t know the lyrics, you can just sing along anyways,” Condon proclaimed as they dove into a favorite, A Sunday Smile. The crowd further fueled the performers as they, at one point, raised their arms for more and proved to be a great starting line for our Coachellathon.

We took a backseat approach when Paul McCartney arrived on stage, but despite our location, there was still that initial overwhelming moment of “Wow, that’s a Beatle.” From my generational perspective, that may sound artificial, but for someone as iconic as Paul McCartney in the last 100 years of cultural history, any given fan will have those same goose bumps.

Aside from his fun moments, the majority of McCartney’s performance consisted of emotional dedications. On the 11-year anniversary of Linda McCartney’s death, he reflected back with a song for her, My Love. The dedications didn’t stop there. In light of most recent and most historic Presidential inauguration, Paul gave a charming presentation of Blackbird, which he had written during the turmoil of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s:

All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

At a healthy age of 66, Paul cycled through his half-century full of hits, sounding as poetic as ever with even more dedications to John and George. Of course, the moment of the night came with the greatest sing-a-long of all time, Hey Jude. We may have all anticipated its first few notes, but couldn’t predict the overwhelming “Na Na Na Na’s” that could be heard for miles.

Despite the $1000 fine for every minute over midnight, the show continued through a second encore. Tiring out at the $55,000 mark, we meandered our way back to the car, but not without the final array of songs echoing as we exited. Yesterday. Get Back. Can’t Buy Me Love. Some people have these songs as personal memories for which we are envious. Yes, we can admit it. A legend roughly 40 years our elder outlasted us that night. We address him as Sir Paul for a reason.


SATURDAY
The 95-degree Saturday heat served as a wake-up call for our day ahead. We arrived to the festival while Paolo Nutini hit the main stage. Paolo had a fun style and the casual melodies were an excellent start to our day. We waited for his hit track, Jenny, Don’t Be Hasty, jammed out and moved on. It’s a must-download, by the way.

Unfortunately, we were not fast enough to sprint to Glasvegas or Dr. Dog, who were finishing up sets as well. Always a problem with massive festivals. This barely affected us as we pulled the smart move to hit up some convenient “spray stations” and “water troughs.” Brian later referenced his soaking wet bandana as “the one thing that saved my life today.”

TV On The Radio was up next on the main stage. Their latest album had everyone buzzing, which set for a great sundown scene. In fact, they even mentioned the idea of bringing the sun down during their set. That could have been the drugs talking, though. Clich├ęs aside, TVOTR’s music spoke for itself. And Saturday’s growing crowd helped, pulsating through TVOTR’s passionate beats. Sure enough, the sunset moments stood out as a strong highlight of the weekend.

Turning to the outdoor stage, we ran into the largest disappointment of the evening. The back-to-back Fleet Foxes/Band of Horses lineup had us eagerly awaiting a 1-2 punch, but the intimate atmospheres were drowned out by the main stage acts of Thievery Corporation and M.I.A. Not a great mix.

Regardless, the Fleet Foxes put on a talented, intricate performance that seemed better fit for an indoor venue. The band agreed, commenting on the consequences of not headlining the festival. Band of Horses managed to pump up the intensity, but still seemed bogged down by the outdoor stage’s acoustics. Lesson learned for all of us - Get closer to the outdoor stage.

Without any shame, we exited and quickly became another group sucked into the enticing main stage, where MIA finished a bright florescent performance with horns blaring. Even her jeans’ stitching lit up in the night. We have little doubt that at least one obsessive fan went home to immediately to purchase a pair to complement their bedroom black light. Either way, her stage presence emphasized crowd interaction, eventually riding on a few front-row shoulders.

Now the fun began. We got to fight for an ideal, close-up spot for The Killers. Our main strategy, you ask? A system that we called “The Link.” On Brian’s call, our group locked arms, blocking off the toppling belligerence that surrounded us. The team effort proved successful, aside from the excess of awkward rubbing with some sweaty strangers. This was soon forgotten when The Killers took the stage.

They have always seemed to excel further in each of their performances, mainly for one reason: the love they have for themselves. I respect Brandon Flowers in the same way that I respect Kanye West. Each of their oversized egos remains perfectly acceptable because of their incredible talent and stage presence. It’s a guilty feeling at times, but I can’t deny it.

Jumping around from new Day & Age tracks to classics like Jenny Was A Friend of Mine, they kept the hope that old-school rock is alive and well. Dark foggy tones lit the majority of the performance with some extra fireworks to spice it up. Skeptics disagreed with their “headline” status, but The Killers have always captured crowds with audience-electrifying sets that share creative storytelling through emotional choruses.

We may have hit a snag or two in our plans when it took us about two hours to catch a cab home, but it was all part of “the experience.” At one point, a pickup truck filled with Mexicans offered to give us a ride. I happened to wave them over, only to find that my friends did not agree with my alternative commute home. Horror stories were promptly shared, and we went with the ol’… Thanks, but no thanks.


SUNDAY
Our third and final day offered up the most relaxed mood with the hottest temperature. This hazy perspective stemmed from our obvious exhaustion, so the main portion of our afternoon was spent sitting in any sliver of shade while Lupe Fiasco, Peter Bjorn & John, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs graced the main stage.

Slightly into the YYY set, however, we could not sit any longer. The massive eyeball hanging over the stage brought us to our feet, only to find dozens of small eyeball beach balls bouncing through the crowd. Without hesitation, a Clear Eyes mirage of Ben Stein appeared, but quickly vanished. Fortunately, this strange behavior felt to fit soundly with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs style.

Plenty of time had passed since their “Unitard” days at Oberlin, but the band managed to keep people guessing with their awesomely insane outfits. Karen O yelled “Sunday!” and made her presence known with some teal blue leggings, draped in shiny, mirror-like scales. I’m pretty sure she had wings, too. Why not?

Her personality matched the clothing perfectly with impulsive giggling and dancing. Many believers in the audience imitated such behavior. I felt myself enthralled with the people-dancing-watching. There were moments worthy of hysterics, but these zealous drones were so encapsulated by their own dancing, it only produced jealousy.

Despite their quirkiness, there was no doubt that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were on top of their game, standing out as one of the better sounding bands of the festival. Their new album is great, and they proved it with various tempos the echoed their feelings. Karen O went through her laundry list of dedications for Maps, which barely needed any introduction with the power that it packed.

Our time had expired at Coachella. We chose to skip the rest of the festival, which included a classic Public Enemy act that cycled through their entire ’88 It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. No regrets though. Not much compared to the atmosphere we were leaving behind. The bathrooms were auditoriums of chaos. The outfits were creatively perfect in their own mistaken way. Our skin was burnt. Coachella had rocked our world once again.

Blind Pilot. Spaceland. April 11, 2009.

Things looked grim when we underestimated the popularity of Blind Pilot. We arrived at Spaceland still in need of tickets and not anticipating it to sell out. We waited with about 50 others, eating Bugles and Almond Joys that were purchased in an effort to get cash back for a cab. We resorted to "Bear, Hunter, Ninja" to see who deserved two of the four tickets we had - a Russian Roulette of concert-going, if you will. If all of us couldn't get in, two at least needed to enjoy the show.

Low and behold! Success arrived as the Spaceland doors opened for the hopefuls outside, just in time to see Blind Pilot's second song of the night.

Blind Pilot is Israel Nebeker and Ryan Borbrowski. The longtime friends formed the band in Portland. They began to make a name for themselves by cycling down the west coast and playing in small towns along the way. As their website (blindpilotmusic.com) states:

They hauled everything on their bikes. No gas. 100% leg powered. Playing little towns that don’t often get shows by “touring bands...”

Their first bike tour (they were hoping to cycle from Vancouver to Mexico) was cut short when their bikes wore stolen in San Francisco. On their current tour, they are riding on 4 wheels instead of 2 since they are traveling with a larger group. Joining them on stage were 3 others (who we have yet to find the names of...).

Although Spaceland was PACKED and those nights can be a bit frustrating (especially for Angelic the gnome), the show was great. Blind Pilot sounded awesome and the crowd was diggin' them. A guy at the bar was singing a little too loud, especailly for a relatively low-key show like this. But all in all, it was nice to see people come out in full force for such a great band.

The long line for valet encouraged us to stay for a few more drinks and a game of pool. Israel joined us for a couple games...and kicked total ass. Maybe this is how they funded their cycle tours...

Alexi Murdoch. El Rey. April 8, 2009.

The outside of the El Rey looks like a ghost town as we approach. There is no line of concert-goers waiting outside. No one hanging out at the restaurant patio (which, btw, has changed once again. This time to Indian-Tex Mex cuisine. The menu looks quite tasty). The upstairs is closed. No line at the bar. WTF, mate?

We missed the opening act, The Portland Cello Project...but decided we didn't miss out on much when we asked our friends how they were and they responded with a shrug.

It was a very quiet crowd. When Alexi took the stage with his band, the crowd swaying began. Needless to say, it was a sleepy show. Alexi is a poor man's Nick Drake with a side of Bert Jansch. We admire his recent 2 year stint in the Himalayas, but his music doesn't bring much flare to our iPods. There are uber fans of Alexi, but we don't think he is anything to flip over. We laughed at the serious followers chanting "my salvation is in your love" in between making out with their lovers.

Once we left the venue, a usually very opinionated Jackson said nothing until we got home, then spat out, "That was so fucking boring." He thinks if you're gonna see a show live like that, you may as well spend money on Iron & Wine or Califone. Or as Angelic would prefer, be a seated show.

We did have time to draw a penis, drink a few drinks (the non existent line at the bar worked to our advantage) and make friends with the rowdy couple chanting "sing Orange Sky!" Or as we like to call it, "Pinky-Orange Moon-Sky."