This year's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival — which ran April 15-17 — featured some of the most acclaimed artists in contemporary music, though it may become better known for how organizers made the experience more fan friendly for the 70,000-plus people who attended.
Kanye West, the Arcade Fire, the Strokes and Kings of Leon and the Chemical Brothers were the big name artists who played on the biggest stages, but as always, the numerous smaller acts - some better known than others - made the event the most rewarding for indie music lovers.
Goldenvoice — promoters of the annual event in Indio, Callif. (just east of Palm Springs) since 1999 — announced earlier this year that they would not sell as many tickets as the record-breaking 75,000 in 2010, and for the first time in Coachella history, would only be offering fans three-day tickets, where in previous years there'd always been single-day ticket options. Due to reports that thousands of people had sneaked in last year, Goldenvoice also established checkpoints within a mile of the site so security could turn away anyone who didn't have a wristbands for the fest. Finally, Goldenvoice officials insisted the numerous long lines for both motorists and ticket-holding customers would be resolved time fest around.
And despite the fact that it still took more than an hour to drive the couple miles from Jefferson Street off Highway 111 to the parking lot, it was an overall better experience for those of us who've been in years past.
In keeping with making the event more fan-friendly, the three music tents (named Gobi, Sahara and Mohave) were expanded to include 10 to 15-foot openings that allowed fest attendees to see in from all sides.
But what about the music? For me, there were several highlights. The biggest one was the re-emergence of London Suede, who made their first (and only) U.S. appearance in 14 years.
The question among standing fans was before they hit the stage at 10:40 p.m. on Saturday night was: What would frontman Brett Anderson look like? The dynamic performer — who made English rock critics swoon about Suede in the early 1990's (they added the "London" part after a U.S. band claimed the same name), and were hailed by Melody Maker and New Music Express as being the Greatest Rock Band Ever — was, along with guitarist Bernard Butler, an essential member of the group.
But Butler left London Suede long ago. And Anderson? Forget the Bowie/Morrissey comparisons — I'm thinking more along the lines of Elvis Presley (seriously), as the 43-year-old Britpop star was a nonstop beehive of energy for the entire 50-minute set, tossing his microphone cord on some occasions, dramatically falling on his knees at others. In sum, he never stopped. Take a look see:
Right before London Suede, my crew checked out a 1980's icon — former Clash guitarist and singer Mick Jones, who, after playing Coachella last year with the Gorillaz, decided to reform his Big Audio Dynamite, a cutting edge band from the 80's and early 90's.
The 55-year-old Jones grinned from ear-to-ear throughout most of his band's performance on the Outdoor Stage, and some songs, like "E=Mc2," were absolutely brilliant to hear again in all of their live glory. But other older material felt like it came direct from the recycled school of 1980's riffs — a generic run of chords indistinguishable from so much of the average corporate rock from that era.
In terms of pure pop that went down well, nothing could beat Broken Social Scene's 6 p.m. set on the main Coachella stage, followed by the New Pornographers (with Neko Case in tow) next door on the Outdoor stage.