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Festival Review: Coachella 2013 – Friday, April 12th

on April 13, 2013, 3:17pm

coachella 2013

Thumpty-dump, thumpty-dump, thumpty-dump! Weaving through dense traffic on I-10, blazing past the gargantuan Cabazon dinosaurs and billboards championing musicians of all flavors (from the XX to Ghost BC), speeding by battalions of wind turbines is the greying asphalt that leads to Indio, CA — aka, the “out there” world of Coachella Music and Arts Festival. It’s a wild sight once you’re there: Ticketholders – fresh off the freeway from office cubicles and lecture halls – sport pasty complexions and keen, darting eyes. The air’s filled with overheard chatter about the schedule, what kind of cute outfits everyone’s packed, and whether their pals have even heard of The Stone Roses.

Though tickets sold out in just 20 minutes, there’s been a wave of disappointment surrounding the lineup this time around. “Coachella loves the 90s” has been the most prolific jab, and there’s a sense that the bill is lacking throughout (e.g. no holographic reincarnations slotted this time around). But as fine wine develops complexity with age and absence makes the heart grow fonder, the established headliners proved to be the crown jewels, while the hungry rising stars provided the backbone, the anchor, the vitality, and lifeblood for any great music festival.

It was a youthful day one.

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Photo by Frank Mojica

Io Echo – Gobi – 12:15 p.m.

A quarter past noon is exceedingly early to watch a band at a festival, especially on the first day. This unfortunate reality was not lost on Io Echo, as frontwoman Ioanna Gika gave the crowd kudos for being the true music lovers, as opposed to those rolling in at 6:00 p.m. Io Echo’s opening set proved to be a strong argument against daytime pool parties and a proper night’s sleep, as waves of ear-ringing, ominous rock that was equal parts goth, shoegaze, and synthpop enthralled the modest turnout. Gika held together their self-coined “New Orientalism” with an air of theatricality, twirling and reaching for the sky in a sparkling kimono. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Frank Mojica

Lord Huron – Mojave – 1:00 p.m.

“Getting there folks, we’re about to do this thing,” singer-songwriter Ben Schneider told a female-heavy crowd of early arrivals during soundcheck. Fusing African shakers, bongo drums, and a deftly deployed tabla with Schneider’s crystalline vocals, Lord Huron concocted a warm, airy, naturalistic mood that matched their early and intimate timeslot. To the tune of screeching eagles, cooing owls, and shimmying rattlesnakes, Schneider sang of challenging the norms of nature on “Ends of the Earth”: “Oh, there’s an island where all things are silent / I’m gonna whistle a tune.” Turning to “We Went Wild”, the vocalist erupted in a flurry of wild percussion, making mincemeat of a borrowed drumstick by smashing it against the rim of a standup snare drum before tossing the stick into the delighted crowd. -Henry Hauser

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Photo by Frank Mojica

Youth Lagoon – Mojave – 2:00 p.m.

As is the case during the most scorching hours, Youth Lagoon’s set got to a late start, yet nobody seemed to mind. Beginning almost too low for an act in close proximity to a dance tent, Youth Lagoon’s songs began with a whimper but ended with a bang. Throughout a 40 minute set of catch and release, Trevor Powers’ voice transitioned from a nasally snivel to a formidable wail as delicate bedroom pop escalated towards shoegazed finales. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Ted Maider

The Shouting Matches – Gobi – 2:05 p.m.

Rootsy blues trio The Shouting Matches – a collaboration featuring Grammy award-winner Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) on vocals and guitar, Brian Moen (of Peter Wolf Crier) on organ and harmonica, and Phil Cook (of Megafaun) on drums — didn’t get off to an amicable start. Between a disastrous 45-minute sound check that ate up much of their set, to taunts from overly expectant fans (“play something or give back the Grammy, Justin!”), it didn’t appear at first that Vernon & Co. were going to get a fair shake. But while winning back these eager, unforgiving fans wasn’t a simple task, Shouting Matches rose to the occasion like true vets and belted out tight, wallowing electrified twelve-bar blues.

Shedding some light on the title of their forthcoming debut, Grownass Man, Vernon playfully quipped: “I hear it’s always better to be in your 30’s…sometimes.” As the set wound down, Vernon took a knee for a jaunty guitar solo that bobbed and swayed the crowd. Abruptly cut off by Moen’s rapturous church organ, Vernon redoubled his efforts only to find that the splendid organ has grown louder and fuller. It’s always a thrill to see two pros vigorously jostle for position live onstage, and if Shouting Matches can channel this verve into their LP they might just have a hit on their hands. -Henry Hauser

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Photo by Ted Maider

Johnny Marr – Mojave – 4:15 p.m.

Garbed in formfitting mod dress shirts buttoned up to their Adam’s apples, at first glance it seemed that Johnny Marr was outfitted for a mild spring day in Manchester or London rather than the brutal 90-plus degree dry heat of Coachella Valley. Kicking off with “The Right Thing Right”, the leadoff track to his solo debut The Messenger, the quadragenarian rocker’s nimble digits, adorned with reflective silver nail polish, burred the frets of his signature Fender Jaguar.

With a wide smile across his face and feeling like he ought to “do something friendly,” Marr launched the crowd into a fit of delirium by tapping nostalgic Smiths ditty “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. Without even a hint of solicitation, the audience sang along atop meandering, bittersweet guitar lines: “Take me out tonight / Where there’s music and there’s people / And they’re young and alive.” How meta, right? -Henry Hauser

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Photo by Ted Maider

Metric – Coachella – 4:45 p.m.

Metric’s Emily Haines is one of the most captivating frontwomen on the scene today, and just as with their previous two Coachella appearances, her stage presence invigorated the sun-charred masses until they couldn’t help but dance and shout. Before closing the Fantasies and Synthetica-centric set with an acoustic singalong rendition of “Gimme Sympathy”, Haines set the record straight in regards to the song’s Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones query by revealing that she “would rather be The Velvet Underground” before inciting a declaration of love for the sorely missed Lou Reed. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Ted Maider

Modest Mouse – Coachella– 7:25 p.m.

Editor’s Note: This writeup was edited for missing tracks shortly after publishing.

It’s usually a bad sign when a band’s frontman suggests that “it might be a good idea for festivals to look into letting in fewer people.” Yet that’s exactly what Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock laid on his bright-eyed fans at a packed Main Stage on Friday evening. A troupe of bronzed bros, eager to make a dash for Infected Mushroom over at the Mojave, responded in capitalistic rage by screaming, “Screw you, we paid money! Just play ‘Carry It On’ so we can go.” In response to that, Brock cautioned against the tricks the mind can play on us all, admonishing fans to stay mindful and present — deep stuff for a festival.

Leading with “Dramamine”, the Issaquah, WA folk rockers layered on three tiers of oscillating guitar lines in an extended, haunting build as Brock glided around his band.  Sporting sourpuss cheeks and a wild, bug-eyed gaze on “Ocean Breathes Salty”, Brock showcased a quirky, off-kilter delivery as he spit venomous rhetorical putdowns at an erstwhile lover: “You wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?” After sampling “Satin in a Coffin” and “Paper Thin Walls”, Modest appeased the crowd with their anthemic crossover hit “Float On”. Fans swung and swayed to the cut’s triumphant chorus, as lush ethereal violins ushered the track skyward. -Henry Hauser

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Photo by Frank Mojica

Sparks – Mojave – 7:35 p.m.

With the exception of the out-of-the-blue reunions from Jurassic 5 and Violent Femmes, Sparks were the most surprising name on the lineup. Unfortunately, they were also one of the most unknown, with 40+ years of cult status only garnering a couple hundred attendees. Once the sun finally dropped out of view, the Mojave Tent became Coachella’s unofficial Reverse Daycare tent, thanks to the average age being double that of any other crowd on the fields.

Dubbed “Two Hands, One Mouth”, Friday night’s set was the latest in over 40 years of weirdness from the Mael brothers. Those decades have been all over the place in style, going from glam to disco to chamber pop and back again. Yet, for “Two Hands, One Mouth”, a wild and unpredictable body of work became a cohesive unit for these stripped-down, keys-and-voice reinterpretations. Dramatic flair was not a casualty of minimalism, with Russell serving as the pose-striking falsetto mouth, a foil to Ron’s expressionless immovability.

The duo’s idiosyncratic dynamic gave the few but faithful some of the night’s most memorable moments, especially the unexpected “fancy footwork of Ron Mael” at the conclusion of “Beat the Clock”, as Ron dropped the stoicism and twisted and grinned like a madman. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Ted Maider

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Coachella – 8:40 p.m.

At approximately 8:30 p.m., a new commercial for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories played on the stage’s screens. This fuel for the already never-ending rumor of a Daft Punk appearance would overshadow most bands that followed, but they have the misfortune of not being Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Always one to make an entrance, New York’s coolest were joined by the Hollywood Gospel Choir for opener “Sacrilege”. Irreverent or not, Mosquito‘s lead single uplifted the soul as if the main stage were a mega church of sacri-licious heathenism.

Sporting a delightfully Pope-gone-pimp blasphemous fashion sense complete with upside down crosses under the eyes, Karen O looked the part of a Coachella-style spiritual guide. For impassioned sermons “Rich” and “Pin”, she took the microphone into her mouth for a growl, down her pants to create a bulge, or twirled it overhead as musical accompaniment for “Pin”. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs agenda was not all feral guitar licks, howls, and shenanigans, however, as catharsis came with the gently understated clang of “Subway” and the love song singalong smash “Maps”. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Ted Maider

Blur – Coachella – 9:55 p.m.

If Americans generally don’t know who the hell The Stone Roses are, then surely they at least know Blur via “that woo hoo song.” Yet, it’s Blur that got the second billing for Coachella’s opening night. Regardless, Damon Albarn and the boys appeared unfazed, as they drew from not only the early Britpop smashes but also their more experimental works with a magnetizing air of self-assurance.

Blur loaded all the irresistible hits into their co-headlining set, and “Girls & Boys” and “The Universal” scored in such anthemic intensity that I had to add the band’s stateside status as a cult phenomenon to my list of unpatriotic criticisms. Post-Britpop era songs such as “Coffee & TV” and “Trimm Trabb” sounded especially fresh, thanks to a timeless quality that perpetually evaded Oasis, with the latter slamming hard with its extended howls and pummeling finale.

Compared to the flag-waving, booze-sloshing, hug and shout extravaganza that was their Glastonbury 2009 comeback, audience reception was low key, missing their cues for obvious singalong moments in “Beetlebum” and “Tender”. Between-song applause was sufficient, though, and an admittedly unscientific bout of post-show polling presented more positive feedback than when Albarn’ Gorillaz closed the fest a few years ago. One surprise surfaced when a bout of raucousness spread over the crowd during the unabashedly British “Parklife”. Blur may never fully transition into the level of mainstream name recognition as previous headliners, but their Friday night set proved why that top-line billing was deserved. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Ted Maider

Jurassic 5 – Outdoor – 11:40 p.m.

Ten years ago, Jurassic 5 were one of the most interesting groups in underground rap, which made it all the more tragic when they faded into obscurity. No tears necessary as the Outdoor stage was packed with people looking to groove on the unique beats of Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark, and soak up the barbershop quartet-styled flows of the MCs. Both DJs turned the weird on with their homemade turntable contraptions, while all four rappers excelled with little rust. Solid performances included the classic “Quality Control”, the joyful “Concrete Schoolyard”, and this journalist’s personal favorite, “Freedom”. Plenty still subscribe to J5, and if their conquest were to continue, nobody would bat an eye. -Ted Maider

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Photo by Ted Maider

The Stone Roses – Coachella– 11:40 PM

To the surprise of maybe diehard fanatics, the crowd that stuck around for The Stone Roses was remarkably thin for a headliner at any music festival, ever more so for the 100,000+ capacity Coachella main stage. Having said that, the only matter at hand, really, is whether or not the Manchester trailblazers still “have it.” The answer is both an undeniable yes, for blistering guitarist John Squire, throbbing bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield, and percussionist extraordinaire Alan “Reni” Wren, and a resounding hell no, in the case of stiff, frigid, utterly unlikeable frontman Ian Brown, who trotted around the stage looking like a lost, self-obsessed fool with a tambourine.

Classics like the bar-friendly “I Wanna Be Adored” or the bouncy, up-tempo “She Bangs the Drums” were both jarring alternative punches that aptly showcased Mani’s basslines, Squire’s agile fingerwork, or Reni’s bruising percussion. Not once did they fail the band as a whole, offering enough fuzzy reverb for Brown to belt over in an incomprehensible, fervid frenzy. At one point, he appeared more as a cheerleader than a frontman, lifting his arms to the heavens and tapping on his little tambourine again and again. As the crowd erupted in applause, Brown graciously paid tribute with a nice “fuck you all.”

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Photo by Ted Maider

“Waterfall” found the band envisioning a woman as a surging naturalistic force amidst cascading guitar riffs: “The wind it just whips her and wails / And fills up her brigantine sails / She’ll carry on through it all.” A slew of deliciously garish guitar licks and trippy electronic effects set the backdrop for psych-rock ditty “Made of Stone”. Again, wild applause from adoring fans. Once more, a good ol’ “fuck you.”

Before existing the stage, The Stone Roses embraced passionately, locking arms and taking a long awaited bow. There’s still chemistry within the outfit, and three-fourths of the band maintains a very high level of musicianship and at least passable showmanship. But, yeah, Ian’s a dick. -Henry Hauser

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Photo by Frank Mojica

How to Destroy Angels – Mojave – 12:00 a.m.

How to Destroy Angels’ live production must have been created with Coachella specifically in mind. Compared to their debut live performance in Pomona, the stage-encompassing field of intense projections was just as much a treat for the eyes at Coachella, but the atmosphere is incomparable. In the desert, the glitchy tones dug a little deeper, and Mariqueen Maandig Reznor’s wails were especally sinister on “The Space in Between”. -Frank Mojica

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Photo by Ted Maider

Earl Sweatshirt – Gobi – 12:05 a.m.

In 2011, Odd Future’s debut Coachella set lacked their most talented member, Earl Sweatshirt (he was still in Samoa). Last year, he was seen all over the grounds watching shows, but only there to support his labelmate, Frank Ocean. This year, Earl finally arrived at Indio for his own set. Though, between poor sound and a sheepish pit, at least compared to Odd Future’s standards, it was lacking in areas. Nevertheless, Earl boasted a guest heavy set (a scaffold scaling Tyler, Domo Genesis, and Flying Lotus DJing) and waded through a number of great tracks (“Whoa”, “Couch”, and “Earl”). In hindsight, Earl needs to step up the live game this summer to get on the level like his comrades. -Ted Maider

Stay tuned for day two coverage, which includes reviews for The Postal Service, Phoenix, New Order, and more!

Gallery

Photographers: Ted Maider, Frank Mojica

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