4.27 – 4.29 Coachella
Six hours is a long time to spend in the car, especially when completing a drive that should only take two. But welcome to the first feat of endurance associated with the Coachella music festival, held each year at the Empire Polo Field in Indio. While the event is remarkably well organized and environmentally conscious, and even the port-a-potties mostly held up all weekend, there’s just something about drawing 60,000 people to the desert and encouraging them to dance wildly and consume bounteous amounts of alcohol in 110 degree heat that is bound to make for a few rocky moments.
Having survived the first feat, and then wrestled with a broken lock box and dug up the keys to our rental house from under a dirty pile of rocks, my friend Laurel and I opted for a much needed sit down before hitting the grounds. Wine was drunk. Food was eaten. The Palm Springs modern design of our weekend abode was admired. Restored, we drove to the grounds in time to catch Bjork close out the night’s music. She lived up to her reputation as a riveting, theatrical performer, and then some, holding down the ginormous main stage with help from her magical voice and pixie charisma, as well as a mini orchestrate that added up to a magnificent stage show. With the white beams of light that shoot up into the sky around the field to dramatic effect, and a nearly full moon as accompaniments, her set was atmospheric and divine. Although we missed their sets, word was that The Jesus and Mary Chain and Interpol also killed it. In the artists' area, members of the latter band unwound with ping pong and beers while Carlos D’s Italian greyhound leapt about. After a ridiculous post-show rendezvous of Chinese fire drill proportions that involved spending 45 minutes in the parking lot while a very drunk girl we’d only just met shouted into her cell phone at a very drunk friend who couldn’t seem to understand a word she said, while searching for directions to a party at Frank Sinatra’s house, and several false starts that had my passengers disco napping in the back as the car leading our beleaguered posse somehow couldn’t follow the directions or their own GPS system, we made it to the onetime hacienda of Old Blue Eyes himself, only to be denied entrance. Laurel and other members of our crew hopped the fence, while someone else sweet talked the security guards into opening the gate for us. Once inside, we saw that the pool was in fact shaped like a piano and drank free Belvedere vodka. The allure of an enormous Belvedere bottle proved too strong to resist for Spank Rock’s Naeem, and he resembled a figure from the zodiac (the vodka bearer, anyone?) as he poured its contents into the pool. After being shut down by a sassy, Spanish-accented hostess who told him he was not making off with her vibrator (the bottle), he solaced himself by jumping into the pool with Sean (a.k.a. Har Mar Superstar), who, no surprise, opted to swim in the nude. At that point, the party was cleared out by security, and exiting seemed advisable.
Day two quickly grew as hot as Hades, and so I opted to enjoy several traditional heat beaters – napping, swimming in our rental house’s partially shaded pool, and trawling the aisles of the heavily air conditioned grocery store in search of tequila and corn chips for later that night. We finally braved the 110 degree heat in the late afternoon. I saw Peter, Bjorn and John play a remarkably peppy and charming set featuring guest vocalist Bebban from the Shout Out Louds on their breakout single, "Young Folks." As always, she looked gorgeous and cool as an iced martini while the rest of us sweated and hallucinated in the heat. I caught a bit of Andrew Bird’s wild violin playing on the way to see The Decemberists, who were as whimsical and inspired as always. Their set's highlight definitely came during “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” when the stage was stormed by a giant canvas whale, manned by three people, which attacked Colin Meloy as he sang about surviving the belly of the whale. After that, I headed back to the shade in the VIP area near the main stage for The Kings of Leon’s smoldering set. Nonplussed and as full of swagger as always, the Followill family killed it during a set that featured songs from their three albums, including the perfectly sultry rocker “On Call” from their latest. The stage’s huge video screens were put to particularly captivating use as the camera crew caught close ups of drummer Nathan blowing bubbles with his gum while casually wielding his sticks, interspersed with shots of the lads’ dancing feet in their tight as sin stretch jeans and pointy boots. This was also around the time my friend Rebecca spotted a severely inebriated Paris Hilton being pretty much carried around the VIP area by a team of friends. Hasn’t that girl learned to hold her cosmos yet?! As the sun sunk against the desert landscape, the mood was perfect for the Arcade Fire to deliver their set of atmospheric, highly emotive indie rock. While those disappointed by the band’s sophomore album grumbled that their set dragged, it was a gorgeous moment.
At night’s end, we engaged in the weekend’s pastime of trailer hopping: This involves taking over the elaborately decorated artist trailers left unoccupied by those bands forced to catch a flight directly after their set and pilfering them for leftover snacks and drinks. The Decemberists were kind enough to leave behind several bottles of wine, a bucket of beer, and some hummus and chips. Rumor has it that Rufus Wainwright took all of the decorations out of his trailer (since other trailers featured, paper hearts, Cabbage Patch dolls and My Little Ponys, among other goodies, we can only imagine what kind of score he made off with), except for a stuffed animal, which was left in the microwave. From there, the party moved to the grass outside Peter, Bjorn & John’s trailer, where the Swedish flew fast as members of the Teddybears stopped by to hang out. And from there, we headed to our rental house, where we hosted friends, made guacamole, and had drinks out by the pool. I ended the night with a soak in the hot tub as the sun came up. Spoiled? Who me?
Sunday got off to an even lazier start, but we did get to drop in on a photo shoot for Filter magazine featuring Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, which was being masterminded by killer rock photographer Piper Ferguson. I even got the Brit pop legend a beer! From there, Laurel showed me around her old stomping grounds in downtown Palm Springs. So cute! They have misting fountains above the sidewalk to cool pedestrians as they walk between the main street’s many patio-adorned restaurants. And there’s tons of old school kitsch still reigning in its full glory. We had our first solid meal of the weekend at a Mexican restaurant and then hit the grounds. Crowded House sounded fantastic and vibrant as they played old favorites and new material to a mass of exhausted and drunken, but still resilient, festival goers. Maybe I was just worn down by this point, or the Rage Against the Machine fans can’t hold their liquor quite like they used to, but the vibe was particularly drunk and surreal on Sunday night. Lily Allen was clearly having a good ol’ time, as she apologized at one point during her set because the weed she had smoked was making her forget some of the lyrics. But she was all cool sass in a white dress as she entertained fans with help from a horn section that looked pinched from her local junior high school. Brooklyn-based indie dance innovators Ratatat created sensory magic and whipped up a full on dance frenzy, in spite of playing with a stripped down version of their normal stage show. Backed by a simple white sheet, on which images and shadows of the band were projected, the duo (plus a touring keyboardist) delivered an ecstatic set of all instrumental dance pop gems. The audience was a sea of bobbing heads and waving arms. Karma reigned down on one particularly inebriated young woman who pushed to the front of the platform at the side of the stage, irritating everyone with her flying elbows and the way in which her shirtless beau was energetically grinding her from behind. She was so excited (and, did I mention, drunk?) that she pushed her way past the front and right over the edge, falling into the space between the platform and the stage. (She was OK, so it’s alright to laugh.) Rage Against the Machine sounded as taut and on point as always during their reunion set, as they rallied their devoted fans to end the night (and the weekend) on a high energy note. I had met two young men from Iceland earlier in the week, who flew to California just to see the reunited Rage, if that gives you an idea of how excited people were for this one. In the artist area, the Kings of Leon had taken over Damien Rice’s vacated trailer and singer Caleb laughed about the fact that everyone had told him the close-ups of their dancing feet were the highlight of their set.
As we walked towards the exit, I spotted a super dapper Perry Farrell on his way back towards the artists' area. As the acting Patron Saint of summer festivals, he seemed like a good note on which to wind down the weekend. The drive back to Los Angeles only took two hours, but it felt like six, which sort of brought everything around full circle, wouldn't you say?