Coachella 2008 Festival: Notes on Saturday

Decked out in Wimbledon whites, donning smears of face paint, Man Man’s tribal cling clang is perfect festival fare—a band living at the very nexus of hipsters and hippies—and this late afternoon tent set was a-rockin’……..One tent, one continent, and a whole universe over from M.m., Norway’s 120 Days could be none more Euro, getting away with a) acid wash denim, b) mirrored shades and c) singing non-words into the mic (“shhhhshhhawwwkaaa” through delay FX while somehow managing to not look ridiculous. Their thump-thump-thump-thump and squelchy oscillations conjure dark, smoky late night, likely illicit activities in the city, but against all odds it’s really working here in then desert. Hats off to their bassist, the lone rock player who drives their groove—and the first of example I catch of the day’s big trend of dance/rock hybrid acts.…….DeVotchKa, however, shan’t be part of that trend. I only drift close enough to pick up the strain of a waltz of horns on the hot breeze before U-turning it back to attempt to crowbar into MGMT’s packed set that is slaying the kids. Their version of the dance/rock hybrid might lean 75%/25% rock, but the beat is pure disco and dance the kids do, making this one of the more rapturous sets of the afternoon. It might be a touch presumptuous for them to introduce the hit “Time to Pretend” to the crowd saying, “This song is about you…”—A line, coincidentally, I’m From Barcelona will drop verbatim tomorrow, introducing one of their numbers—but their heart is in the right place and the message is sugarcoated in enough gooey synth so as to not be preachy…….Splitting for VIP cattle pen—speaking of which, here’s a thought for next year: can shirts on dudes be made mandatory, at least in the so-called VIP section? The douche quotient (dq) was as high as the fucking temperature. This rule would not, of course, apply to The Hoff, should he return in ’09 and desire to don pecs and pull a burger off the ground—and hightailing right out of there, I catch the end of Cold War Kids somewhere from around deep right field. Never really noticed until now that their monotonous riffs and hunched over playing veer dangerously close to the dreaded jam band territory. “Hospital Walls” is still the exceptional tune but I think I can wait until the next LP before checking in with them again…….Stephen Malkmus, on the otherhand, has the right kind of jams—jamz, if you will. The Jicks are a tight, powerful unit, even more so with ex-Sleater Kinney Janet behind the kit. Now with two kids at age 41 (thanks for the deets, Entertainment Weekly!) Daddy Malkmus is positively shredding on the axe these days. Let’s hope the rest of Pavement is keeping up with their chops for the inevitable reunion. His tunes were quirky before the term was a pejorative and thankfully still are, if a bit more, uh, jammy as alluded to above. Unsurprisingly, Malk, takes home the weekend’s best between-song banter award. He’s chatty as ever, possibly a bit drunk, referencing, in no particular order: the heat of Stockton in July compared to that of Indio in April, Scout Finch from To Kill A Mocking Bird–getting there from a long strange digression the weirdness of the word “scout”–their lack of a big hit like “Black Hole Sun” accounting for them not being on the main stage, and a playful jab at Jack Johnson, finally leaving us with the command to “…Make it count. You only get to go to, like, 30 of these things in your life”………Meanwhile Hot Chip’s going strong, full capacity, baked bodies clustered around the tent openings hoping to catch a view. Another of the day’s all-white clad act and another dance/rock hybrid (75%/25%, dance), the Londoners are basically presiding over a full-on rave at 3 pm. Their sound is intense yet warm, hypnotic yet cerebral. It is dance music that doesn’t forgo actual songwriting. “Boy from School” and “Over and Over” in particular are late-set standouts………I only catch a glimpse of Rilo Kiley from afar. I can report that Jenny was wearing those high-waisted mom shorts like everyone else these days (UPDATE: Closer inspection finds the outfit to be some kind of one piece jump)……..After taking in a bit of precisely executed Kraftwerk Powerpoint presentation on the main stage from the field, it is time for M.I.A. Easily the most riotous set of the day, she mostly brought the goods. Blaring air raid sirens and gun shots between tracks—no doubt influenced by Public Enemy’s live show—attempted to convey some necessary sense of chaos and urgency but the long pauses between tracks worked against her flow. The occasion was ripe for a political comment or two but she opted out, perhaps for the best, leaving that to Sean Penn, focusing instead on rocking the party……..Finally then, 10 years and 10 hours later, Portishead. Coming out with the new LP opener “Silence,” they sound great right out of the gate. They are perhaps the pinnacle of the myriad hybrid genre bands that mary sampled and/or electronic beats to traditional rock instrumentation and/or symphonic arrangement. They are forceful and sharp but not unnecessarily loud, even on this big a stage. The breaks on the snare are cracking, guitars are stinging and Beth is on her game, if a bit visibly nervous. Geoff manned the decks and occasionally hopped on snare kit and some visceral electronic drumming on the perfectly harsh “Machine Gun.” Their hour long set went by all too fast. (Rumor has it they had to cut down their set once Prince was added to the bill.) So they didn’t really have the space to dig too deep into the first 2 records, but “Roads” and “Cowboys”–personal favorites–were highlights……What to say about Prince, whose legend about his legend precedes him, whose mere bedazzled apparition in the desert satisfied most expectations before a single note was hung on his custom Telecaster. Beyond the set list—“1999,” “Controversy,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Purple Rain,” “Let’s Go Crazy” were all in the mix—the man puts on a show and the song choice feels almost incidental to the show. The peak of his set before the encore was a tasty souled-up take on “Come Together” with an extra timely “War No More” refrain thrown in for a sing-along with his massive crowd. A slow jam take on “Creep” was nearly unidentifiable but rewarding and demonstrated his understanding of his place in the lineage of the Coachella festival.

[UNPROOFED DRAFT: Last updated 4/30/08 5:30 p.m.]