Coachella 2008 Festival: Notes on Friday

The Breeders are in fine form on the main stage. Kelly and Kim’s twins-y between-song banter is a well honed act. It’s always great to see Kim’s smiley singing grimace and lean back stance at the mic. In a short set they remind us how deep a stockpile of catchy tunes they have in their bag, when they go and rip through about a half dozen great riffs in a row. Even a lesser hit like side-side-project Amps’ “Tipp City” can stand up with best tunes of most bands playing today. The eternal “Cannonball,” of course sets the crowd off, right from the distorted intro “CHECK CHECK AWOO-ooh AWOOH-ooh.” Sadly the seemingly desert-appropriate “Safari” was not played but we did get their “Happiness is a Warm Gun” cover…….Múm is in the middle of a well received late afternoon tent set. Smartly sticking mostly to their up-tempo stuff, the Icelanders’ baroque electronica went over a treat in the desert. It was heartening to see that the kids are into them to the point where they recognize a particular tune straightaway from the first bar or two of a Casio beat intro. Feeding off the crowd response they played freer and looser than I’ve ever seen them, their front ladies dancing it up in tasteful summer dresses. Bonus points for the being the sole melodica spotted at the festival………Tegan and Sara—Great look, great sound, great songs. I’m surprised as you might be to hear myself say that but I can’t find anything about these gals about which to complain. Plus, I have no doubt the two of them alone could kick the collective asses of the lot of Vampire Weekend, who, over at the creatively-named Outdoor Theater, has their crowd won over with minimal effort. I’m still not finding them all that necessary but I’ll grant that they definitely played with more confidence and vigor than their recent Echo show. A loud and strong sound mix beefed up their wonky arrangements. Unsurprisingly “A-Punk” goes over huge with festival types who generally enjoy shouting random syllables out loud……..Coming on dusk, all black-clad against the purple pink desert sky, The National made a serious claim for set of the day. These are not kids aping it up; these are grown men, playing fully realized grown up rock. The guitars were emphatic and cutting, the horns triumphantly blaring, Berniger’s talk/sing vocals holding down the low, low end. If there were any justice in the world, they’d have Cold War Kids spot on the main stage 24 hours from now………Crossing back to the main stage, The Raconteurs are displaying well-studied tunesmanship and rock chops. Despite their packaging as a 4-piece is clear that any band that Jack White is in is in fact Jack White’s Band………Well it definitely looked like Richard James sitting behind the desk, knob twisting and fader flicking away, perhaps the very act of sitting down itself perhaps making some comment on the notion of DJ/electronic artist as live performer. Never knowing what you’re going to get with this notorious prankster, Aphex Twin’s set was mostly crowd pleasing if a bit heavier than expected or necessary. As it went on, the danceable constant 808 kick gave way to mangled jungle beats, to the point where it started to veer towards a hostile sonic assault—maybe not what the kids wanted, but may be what they needed………Ducking out, I cut back to catch the end of The Swell Season’s set. That one song from that one movie is being played. You know the one. Then Glenn rips through a white hot take on the Pixies’ “Catcus,” even pausing to switch to electric guitar to really wring it out. He shows what fanboy he is when he slips in some lyrics from “Subbacultcha” (“I was wearing eyeliner, she was wearing eyeliner…”)……..Question: Were (the) Verve every really that good? Answer: Probably not. I find myself revisiting the idea they were ever that good at their reunion U.S. debut. The decent atmospheric early singles—“All in the mind,” “Man called sun,” “Gravity grave”—none of which were played tonight—seem in retrospect to be about as much as they had to say. This current incarnation of bland Oasis style pubrock, dirgey stoner grooves, with “Bittersweet Symphony” thrown in as the anomalous crowd pleaser, is hardly necessary………Thankfully, Sharon Jones redeems the night. This ain’t no retro throwback shit, this is the real muthafuckin’ deal—this is the sound of living breathing funk and soul in 2008. She belts it out with the force of a 1000 suns. The funk of her 7-piece backing band, The Dap Kings, is very funky, so, so funky. Riding their funk, you find yourself pulling involuntary faces of disbelief, not unlike those when you encounter a foul odor—hence the term………Had to see what The Black Lips are all about. I am not a huge fan of their records but I concede I am also not their target demo, as a) I have actually heard some of the 60’s garage they traffic in and b) I’m not 16, wearing florescent Wayfarers and rainbow-colored painter’s hat. Right out of the gate, their guitarist kicks out a power cable “accidentally” to emit a loud pop and halt the proceedings for a bit. It strikes as a rehearsed move, a studied carelessness, and about all you need to know about them………Thankfully Fatboy Slim is running late. After an intro sampling Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination,” he emerges high in the Sahara tent on a platform of jumbo video displays. He drops the “Praise You” vocal hook on the very first downbeat just to remind us who he is, then pulls it right back, like a quick U-turn only to build it up again. He then proceeds to annihilate the crowd with the biggest of beats. Almost as if to taunt other electronic performers who obscure what they do live inside of, say, gigantic pyramids, Fatboy’s set up is a simple set up on a folding table, beneath which you can see his legs dancing in his cargo shorts, a sort of magician’s view that there is nothing going on inside this box. He might be assisted by a laptop these days, but he is dropping needle to vinyl and tilting head to headphones, even taking care to even replace albums in their sleeves as he goes. He understands the importance of utilizing the DJ’s gear, even if they are just props.