Coachella 2012: Highlights

    Santigold, Coachella Stage, 3:25 PM [Sunday] 

    Santigold played a hot and sunny midday set just before 3:30 PM to a crowd that resembled a 9:00 PM sized crowd on the same stage. Complete with two dancers and a full band, Santigold’s breaks between songs—which were great by the way—sounded more like a friend on the phone than main-stage-performer audience prodding. She made actually funny jokes like, “What’s up with this lopsided stage placement?” She even managed to host a stage invasion by cherry picking audience members and telling them how to reach the stage, “just jump the fuck over! Hurry!” Santigold’s set was an example of a great adaptation to a festival size, and even the awkward 3:25 PM set time. I would say that her set deserved a spot later in the day, at least after the sun went down, but that would imply something wasn’t working in the sunlight.


    Jeff Mangum, Outdoor Theatre, 7:20PM [Saturday]
    I’m not sure if it was the voice of the sound guy or a manager, but someone made an announcement, the same announcement twice actually, that the artist requests no photos or videos. I realized later that announcement was the reason his set would be unavailable on YouTube and why he had the Jumbotrons respectfully shut off for his set. He has the rare ability to channel living room style concentration at a clusterfuck festival that sometimes seems like a distorted indie rock Las Vegas. Having a camera crew outnumber the one musician on stage might get in the way of that. But Mangum wasn’t alone the entire set. Periodically he was joined by horn players, and for the last song a group of musicians ran from backstage wielding a floor tom drum, two trumpets, a tambourine, and an accordion. The simplicity of Mangum’s performance almost mocked the stage he performed on. The majority of his set is just vocals and quietly mic’d acoustic guitar that would fit more comfortably in an old theater than a music festival. If anyone in the crowd had turned around during the set—and I’m confident almost no one did—the neon flowers, flame-throwing lobsters, and LED Ferris Wheel would have been pretty confusing. It’s definitely worth noting that whoever handles scheduling at Goldenvoice accounted for noise pollution and scheduled Mangum’s set during a break on the neighboring and much louder Coachella Stage.


    Yuck, Outdoor Theatre, 3:15 PM [Friday]
    Some sets just don’t make sense in the desert. Luckily, some cosmic intervention brought dark clouds to Indio and gave Yuck’s music a better context. Not only was the weather chilly, but Yuck had a considerable amount of technical problems for a set less than one hour long. On stage lead singer Daniel Blumberg sarcastically asked the audience if anyone had an extra amplifier, and I think eventually narrowed his problem down to a guitar cable. In the sound booth the engineer couldn’t seem to get a handle on the overwhelming bass of Mariko Doi. But all that’s all right. Yuck’s songs work on an overblown fuzzy aesthetic, so the only requirement of their live sound is that you hear everything. Some highlights were the band opening with their new track “Chew” and the b-side “The Base of a Dream is Empty”.


    The Vaccines, Gobi Tent, 1:40PM [Saturday]
    The first tour around the US it seemed like The Vaccines were still catching up to the pace and studio production of their first LP. This time around that wasn’t the case. It’s not an improvement in chops alone, and it’s not as simple as just more confidence. But instead something a little harder to explain has happened. The band is more cohesive, and now the performance both resembles the studio tracks more closely and improves on the recordings when it should. The band’s looser when the tracks call for it, or in other words, they know when to trade technical specifics for a stronger stage presence. The band played two tracks that aren’t on their self-titled LP, the Albert Hammond, Jr. produced “Tiger Blood” and the early LP2 track, “Teenage Icon”.


    WU LYF, Gobi Tent, 7:00PM [Friday]
    Except for the DJ in the Sahara tent, every band performing at 7:10 PM on Friday night was English. Coachella’s been importing British bands for years, but this year seemed particularly English. With the weather the way it was, the tension was rising as to which band I was going to hear make the “we brought the rain” joke first. WU LYF broke the tension with class with something like, “We always travel with it.” I bet that same rain encouraged the sale of a couple more WU LYF-branded soccer scarves in the merch tent than they originally expected from a show in a desert. During “We Bros” singer Ellery Roberts dedicated the song to the bros he saw while watching other bands at the festival, then kind of huffed like a gorilla and mimed an impression of the bros in question. He reprised the miming during the climax of the song while looking down at the mosh pit. It was one of those moments where you’re not sure everyone knows what joke is being told. WU LYF’s songs were made for large outdoor shows, and hopefully they’ll be playing a bigger, dark stage at Coachella soon.

    At The Drive-In, Coachella Stage, 9:10 PM [Sunday]
    If you were to play a guessing game during At The Drive-In’s set at Coachella, let’s call it, “Who’s Not Into The Reunion?” And let’s say the biggest indicator is not acting like their old self, I think the overwhelming guess would be Omar Rodríguez-López. He doesn’t throw his guitar around anymore like the videos from now-infamous Big Day Out, or even move very much at all. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala on the other hand still flails around, Jim Ward still screams into the mic, drummer Tony Hajjar still slams away like Y2K is a definite possibility, but Omar Rodríguez-López stands still like a tired grade-school third basemen or the most angry kid at the dance. The conservative cap and tamed hair might be an indicator of a changed man. Although the rest of the band is pretty spot-on to their original performances, the non-participation from Rodríguez-López seems to go along with his reunion as ill-fitting tee shirt metaphor.


    Spector, Gobi Tent, 12:05 [Saturday]
    Singer Fred Macpherson made a lot of jokes early on Sunday. He poked fun at how many English bands were playing the festival, how embarrassing it is to sing a song called “Chevy Thunder” to Americans, and how you can’t rely on laptops or humans as band mates. He even singled out two women crossing through the somewhat empty tent for not staying for the show. Come to think of it he probably made a joke about how empty the tent was. Besides the mostly sarcastic humor, he also announced that playing Coachella was the band’s first show in America. Halfway through the set when it seemed like every laptop on stage had failed there were more jokes about how terrible the songs were going to sound. At the time I think most of the audience assumed it was more sarcasm. It turns out most of the synth hooks that garner the Killers comparisons were absent from the set. Regardless, the lack of American shows was not a sign of inexperience, and it will definitely be interesting when Spector returns to the US hopefully wielding working laptops.


    Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Coachella Stage, 10:35 PM [Sunday]
    After the first live skit, which is something I’ve never seen before, I realized that Snoop is actually a pretty good actor. Or maybe this was just the role he was meant to play. Either way, his canned lines that introduced Wiz Khalifa and anyone else he managed to get onstage came off as well rehearsed instead of corny.

    The 2Pac hologram didn’t look real enough to extend further than just another crazy piece of stage decoration. I think the strangest, most inexplicable thing about creating a hologram of Tupac is that the song they played immediately before they introduced 2Pac was arguably his best track. It seemed like a huge missed opportunity to not stage “California Love”, but maybe it was too much to animate the Water World gear from the original video.