Coachella was amazing. I hardly know where to start.
The drive down, from Portland to Indio, California, was brutal. I and my friend left town around 3:15 PM on Friday, only stopped briefly for gas, to switch drivers, and incidental snacks 3-4 times, and pulled in to the campsite parking lot at 8:45 AM Saturday. After some wandering around, we grabbed a campsite and set up our tent. The heat was already brutal; according to weather.com it was only 99°, but damn it was hot. The combination of no sleep the night before and not nearly enough water made for a long day. Luckily, even though the event organizers stated that water bottles would not be allowed inside, the security girl that checked our backpacks allowed us to bring our Nalgene bottles in, which was a lifesaver. Security girl, I salute you…
The festival was taking place at Empire Polo Grounds, in a grassy area marked off with 15′ tall shrubberies. Scattered around the grounds, amongst the stages and tents, were some sculptures and art projects. I took a couple of pictures of this giant, broken red-glass chandelier, laying just as if it had fallen from the sky. People were using this (and anything else that cast a shadow) to get out of the blistering sun.
Later that night, they turned on spotlights around the perimeter of the grounds. In the night sky, the beams showed up as pillars of light, that all converged to a point overhead; obviously the pinnacle from which the chandelier had been suspended.
I saw several new bands and am adding considerably to my iPod. My friend, also, brought along some CDs of bands that I had never heard before, and we turned the trip into a New Music Experience. But the highlights of the festival were hearing Beck, the Pixies, and Radiohead, all live and within hours of each other.
Beck’s set was in the heat of the day, around 4:00 – 4:30 or so (I had lost track) and was in one of the smaller side tents. People were congregating in that tent and spilling out into the surrounding area for a half-hour before he came out. Oh, and he started late. The crowd was pressed up in the tightest crowd I had ever been in. I and my friend were outside the tent, so there was no shade, and the body heat only added to my discomfort. I’d like to say that hearing Beck made it all worthwhile, but I have to wonder if he didn’t choose a small tent on purpose, in order to limit the number of people who could hear him. When he started his set (a song I didn’t recognize; the only albums of his I’m familiar with are Odelay and Sea Change, along with the songs they play on the radio) he didn’t acknowledge the heat or the large crowd. He played solo, just him and an acoustic guitar. I was able to move forward as people got tired of the heat and left, but never got a glimpse of him. My friend did manage to see his mop of hair over the heads of the audience, though.
The Pixies had their set on the main stage, starting around dusk. This was their reunion tour. Earlier this week, I used some free credits on the iTunes Music Store to download some of their songs, just to be familiar with their sound. I didn’t think I knew many of their songs, but once they played I had several moments where I went, “Oh, so that song’s one of theirs!” I liked what I heard, and will definitely pick up some of their CDs.
But the main reason I went, the primary goal of this trip for me, was to hear Radiohead live. The set started with a darkened stage, then Johnny Greenwood and Phil Selway came out on stage and began the hypnotic opening to “There There”. When Thom Yorke came out and simply said, “Hello there”, the crowd roared their approval. They played a full hour-long set, mostly tracks from their newest CD, “Hail to the Thief”, mixed with tracks from all their other CDs, with the exception of “Pablo Honey”, their first CD. I’ve read that the band doesn’t like that particular CD, and I’ve never heard an explanation. Their single from that CD, “Creep”, is the single that launched their popularity, and is almost the only song of theirs that gets radio play. I understand they have a love-hate relationship with that song, and the CD it came from, and for those reasons they never play “Creep” in concert.
When their set ended, they came back for their encore. Most bands play one or two songs, then retreat again. They launched into a terrifically odd version of “You And Whose Army?” (yet another political statement), then “Planet Telex”, and then, as the music slowed and quieted a bit for their second song, Mr. Yorke, not the most talkative people, mumbled into the mike, “I hope I remember the words…”
…and they played “Creep”, to the delight of the entire crowd. Thom mugged for the cameras; the screens on either side of the stage showed an extreme close-up of his thin face leering into the crowd while clutching the microphone tight to his mouth. The crowd ate it up; during one chorus, after singing “But I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo” he acknowledged, “I am, I really am!” Of that there’s not a shred of doubt. But he’s such a charming weirdo.
When the song finished, Thom spoke up again, and confessed, “That was for the Pixies. When I was in college, the Pixies and REM changed my life.” It was a tribute! A revealing moment for such a private person.
And I was there to hear it.
They ended up playing almost another entire set for their encore, a total of 20 songs and two hours. Here’s the set list:
- There There
- My Iron Lung
- Exit Music (for a film)
- The Gloaming
- Karma Police
- Sail To The Moon
- I Might Be Wrong
- Sit Down. Stand Up.
- No Surprises
- National Anthem
- Paranoid Android
- Street Spirit (fade out)
- You And Whose Army?
- Planet Telex
- Everything In Its Right Place
I’ll post more about the trip, some of the other bands I saw, and the drive back home (with a detour through Oakland and San Francisco) in a few days. I did not burn, having the foresight to slather myself in SPF 30 sunblock, but I did get blisters on my heels from wearing my sandals for the 36 hours I was driving. I hope that doesn’t prevent me from running this week; there’s a race in Lake Oswego next weekend…