Coachella 2009: Cohen and McCartney? Yes. M.I.A.? Not so much

Cohen won plenty of plaudits for his performance , but McCartney won the hearts of the young and the old, opening with “Jet” and pulling out all types of tricks in a performance that well beyond the midnight curfew.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to see the cute Beatle, or Cohen, Morrissey (Moz, are you going to make up your blown-off gig at Jannus Landing, or what?), Franz Ferndinand, Silversun Pickups, or any of the other outstanding artists on Day One of the festival.

But I did attend Saturday and Sunday – with my main motivation seeing the return of the ultimate dream pop/shoegazing band of the 1990’s, My Bloody Valentine.

In its 10th iteration, Coachella brings both classic rock acts and up and coming ones, but when it comes to the heart of what is known as indie or alternative rock, it didn’t shatter my long-held belief that the genre peaked in 1995.

In addition to MBV, there was The Orb, Public Enemy, Paul Weller, The Cure, Morrisey, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Superchunk, and others whose greatest days were in the 80’s and or 90’s.

My two-day experience in the desert was intensely pleasurable, but it did not come easily. The festival has not only become well known for its amazing performances (including Prince’s in 07, and the return of the Pixies in ’04), but also for its incendiary weather conditions, which make it a prerequisite to seek hydration and shade throughout the day. (it was 94 on Saturday, more than 100 degrees on Sunday).


Wandering around the site at around 1 PM on Saturday, the first bands were just beginning to perform (Coachella has 5 stages — the main “Coachella” stage which dominates the main field and is supported by giant video screens on each side, a second outdoor stage where the next level of musicians perform, and three large tent stages).

The intense heat began to make its intentions immediately. And that’s why dozens of people were hanging out in what was called the Do Lab (shown above), where they danced to jungle trances as mists of water sprayed over them.

My musical day began by watching an excited Bob Mould light it up in front of an appreciative crowd. The 50-year-old rocker played a mix of selections from his lengthy career, including material from his short era in Sugar, songs from his first two solo albums in the late '80s, before delighting those with some hits from his pioneering days with Huskur Du.

From there I encountered a few minutes of the young British artist Joss Stone, who delighted the thousands of fans watching her in the brilliant sunshine on the Coachella stage walk down in the photo aisle between barricades to sing to her devoted fans.

Shortly afterwards, I took up some shade and from a distance was able to listen to the Drive By Truckers work their gritty, roots based rock and roll.

But for me, the highlight of Saturday afternoon, and was the electrifying performance of Superchunk, the Chapel Hill based indie band who have been dormant from recording music for most of the aughts.

However, with a new EP about to be released, the foursome was simply awesome, cranking through some of their '90s oeuvre, and finishing with the indie rock anthem “Slack Motherf*cker”.

The fact that they were playing when the sun felt like it was going to melt through the ground only added to the intensity of their performance. Band leader Mac McCaughan acknowledged at one point that the band wasn’t exactly thrilled to be playing at 5 PM, but so be it.

After that came for me one of the revelatory performances of the weekend, TV on the Radio. The NYC-based group comes off their last release, “Dear Science” being named the best record of the year by a bevy of music periodicals, such as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and The Guardian. The band’s music escapes easy categorizing, though references to the Talking Heads don’t seem to be out of line.

The lead singer of the band, Tunde Adebimpe, was always in the moment, enjoying the gig on the huge Coachella stage, but also inquiring, “: “Everyone all right? Medium well? … The object of the next hour is to send the sun down!”

Following them on the main stage were Thievery Corporation, who are a somewhat unusual band in that, they don’t seem to have a regular lead singer. I think I lost count after five different people helmed the mic (including Perry Farrell).

For their third song, they performed the string-heavy "Lebanese Blonde" (best known from the Garden State soundtrack) that had thousands dancing all across the Empire Polo Field At another juncture, one of their vocalists stage dived into the audience, a feat by several other performers throughout the weekend.

Of course, there are regrets at festivals like this. Such as the fact that you can’t clone yourself. There are always four other musical choices at Coachella, and a band that I had counted on seeing, the very happening Fleet Foxes, was one such casualty for me.

However, the last two acts on the big stage Saturday night were two of the biggest disappointments of the weekend.

Although you may have seen many photos in newspapers covering the concert over the weekend with fans with their camera phones flashing when M.I.A. took the stage at around 9 PM Saturday night, many fans became bored and tired of her performance extremely early on. By her fourth tune, she invited fans to join her on stage, and generally didn’t seem prepared for prime time. No less than the NY Times referred to it as ”a disaster.“

M.I.A. was followed on the main stage by the Killers, the Las Vegas that has meteorically risen in just 5 years to be considered one of the great American bands. At least that’s what people tell me. But while singer Brandon Flowers energies and ambition may bring up references to U2 and Bruce Springsteen, but there seems to be something in at least their performance on Saturday night that leads more to be desired.

Not to be forgotten however, was one of the best performances not widely acknowledged in the wrap up- Jenny Lewis performance on Saturday night on the outdoor stage was moving and funny, and the best individual performance by an artist on Saturday that I was able to glean.

Also, before I staggered to my car miles away after 12 hours of music sun, I stumbled by one of the music tents drawn in by the compelling tones of the Junior Boys, an electronic pop group that hails from Canada. Check 'em out if you haven’t heard of them.

Sunday, I returned to Coachella a little smarter, a little wiser, but still severely dehydrated from the Saturday’s events. The one criticism that is not fan-friendly at this massive event is the fact that there are only two places in the entire facility to get beer — and then, unlike most other concerts in which alcohol is available at, you can’t take your drink and then listen to one of the many bands playing — no, you must remain holed up in the “Beer Gardens.” However, marijuana was as ubiquitous at Coachella as sunscreen. At one point I’d thought that medicinal marijuana prescriptions were being filled at the first-aid facility. I’m not knocking that — in fact, the beautiful thing about this concert is that you may be siding up to 60,000 other people wandering to and fro, but there is seemingly no hostile vibes at all at the facility. If one brushes up against somebody else (which, based on physics, was virtually impossible not to do), or somehow grazes a foot walking by something sitting on the ground, invariably both parties reach out to apologize at once. It’s an amazing thing, and civility should never be underestimated, particularly in such staggering weather conditions.

Anyway, I saw several great bands on Sunday afternoon, but the night was reserved for the main stage for the troika of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, My Blood Valentine, and The Cure.

None disappointed. Only recently becoming well acquainted to the NYC-based YYY’s, I admit I didn’t get the band until about halfway thru their set. Then, they cooked. Much is made of singer Karen O’s demonstrations on stage, but when I heard “Zero” live, I thought simply of Georgio Morodor, and especially his 1978 single with Donna Summer “I Feel Love.” Apparently, the band’s new musical outlook is inspired by the Italian disco czar.

Finally, at just before 8 PM, My Bloody Valentine hit the stage. I’d been lucky enough to see the band on their last go around (before they reunited last year) in July 1992 on their Loveless tour.

MBV came on the music scene in 1988 with the release of “Isn’t Anything,” but it was 1991’s “Loveless” that became an influential document for a certain type of rock bands ever since.

“Loveless” did not necessarily shake the music world at its release; that was already happening with a couple of Seattle bands called Nirvana and Pearl Jam. If anything, most of the news coming from “Loveless” revolved around the perfections of guitarist/band leader Kevin Sheilds unyielding ways, and its financial costs.

But MBV became the leader of a series of English bands that copped from a variety of different styles to come up with what some wags referred to as Shoegazing music, and there were many bands that stood out at that time (Ride, Swevedriver, Lush). Then, like J.D. Salinger, they disappeared from the music scene. Every year there would be reports of a new album — in fact, Shields is still talking that way. But they reunited last year, and to say that their set on the final night of Coachella was much anticipated would be an understatement. And they delivered.

With clouds of smoke billowing from the side of the stage and psychedelic films playing behind them, there was plenty to watch while one’s brain cranked to the massive wall of noise and sounds that the band made. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Bilinda Butcher looked almost incongruous in her red ensemble and heels, a stately presence making beautiful music.

Their greatest songs — “Only Shallow” and “Soon” — were epic and left me breathless.

Nothing could truly surpass that, but hey, this was Coachella. Over on the Outdoor stage, Public Enemy announced that they were going to play their 1988 classic disc “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back,” track for track.

Then it was time to go check out The Cure, who began with some selections from their latest record before they segued into their classics, none prettier than “Pictures of You”.

Like Paul McCartney, Robert Smith and company played past the midnight witching hour. Unlike the former Beatle however, Coachella organizers literally cut the Cure’s mic shortly after midnight, but the band played on.

Dehydrated, sleepless, and with perhaps a diagnosis of tinnitus, I returned back to Tampa with indelible memories. And despite concerns that the event would be affected by the sour economy, organizers said last week that the event was the 2nd best in its 10 year history. That’s good news after Miami’s Langerado concert was canceled earlier this year, and initial reports about this summer’s Lollapalooza were not encouraging. But that event has just announced its new lineup, and of course, there’s Bonnaroo, with that youngster, Bruce Springsteen headlining for the 20 somethings who will be camping out in June.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival observed its 10th birthday earlier this month. The 3-day weekend event, held in the Palm Springs desert each spring, is generally considered (along with Bonnaroo in suburban Nashville) the preeminent music festival in the country.

The festival’s domain has been indie and dance music, but in recent years heavyweights like Roger Waters, Prince, and this year, Paul McCartney, have provided heft to the lineup, as well as some controversy.

But the 66-year-old McCartney wasn’t even the oldest performer on the bill this year. That would be 74-year-old Leonard Cohen, who played right before McCartney on the festival’s opening night.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.