Pavement's Stephen Malkmus at Coachella 2010
Coachella 2010 Day Three Report – Pavement, Thom Yorke, Gorillaz, and more
Plus: Phoenix, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deerhunter, Florence and the Machine, and others
Day three of Coachella 2010 more than made up for a lackluster day two, with set after set of strong artists and ending with perhaps the three best performances of the whole festival, all in a row: Pavement, Thom Yorke, and Gorillaz. It would have been nice if the wealth of great artists had been spread out a little bit more over the three days, but then again, Sunday wouldn't have been so strong if they had scheduled it that way.
Due to Delphic's no show thanks to the Icelandic volcano, the first Sunday set I saw was Local Natives. The Gobi tent was overflowing with people curious to check out the justly acclaimed Los Angeles five-piece. If Coachella books them again, they're likely to be playing the Outdoor Theatre. "I'm a little bummed we're playing during Owen Pallett. So thank you for making that decision, it was a hard one to make," said Keleey Ayer, reinforcing that there were just too many compelling artists all playing up against each other on Sunday. Local Natives are one of the most exciting new bands to come out of LA in awhile and they proved their worth with "Sun Hands," which ended the set. The band was on fire and at the end the song erupted like an Icelandic volcano, with multiple members playing a drum of some sort and guitars being attacked. It might be an understatement to say that the crowd was amped.
"This is crazy.... I can't believe a violinist is playing outside to so many people," said Owen Pallett over at the Outdoor Theatre. Pallett, who genuinely seemed happy to be there, was playing the violin and singing. Sometimes he sampled and then looped his violin and played over top of the loop. He was sometimes joined by one other member, who alternated between drums and guitar. "It's kind of like the gay ghetto stage with me and Bradford and Jonsi," Pallett joked, referring to other performers at the Outdoor Theatre later that day, Deerhunter's Bradford Cox and Jonsi. Before one song Pallett had trouble tuning his violin and chalked it up to the weather. "Man, direct sunlight on a fiddle. I wish I played a synthesizer," he said. Pallett sang into his violin's microphone at one point, which gave it a distorted and echoed effect. Because of all the looping and layering of his violin on his last song, Pallett had a surprisingly big sound for just himself and one other musician.
Neo-soul singer Mayer Hawthorne ran out onto the Gobi stage soon after his backing band The Country started playing, and immediately started singing. He was decked out in a sharp suit and tie and Buddy Holly-esque glasses. In the 2010 soul realm, Hawthorne came off like a less soulful Jamie Lidell, but with a more authentic backing band. But when compared to the new queen of soul, Sharon Jones, Hawthorne is hardly the king. He's more the Wonder Bread to Jones' whole grain soul and seemed more interested in pimping his Twitter account than getting deep. Regardless, the audience was having fun and Hawthorne entertained, even if he didn't excite.
"This song goes out to all the people who didn't take a shower this weekend. It's called 'Wash Off,'" said Deerhunter's Bradford Cox back over at the Gay Ghetto Stage...I mean, the Outdoor Theatre. "Wash Off" was noisy, not quite to the level of 2009 Coachella performers My Bloody Valentine, but it was still kind of abrasive sounding for an afternoon set in the hot sun. Soon after, the band had technical problems to do with guitarist Lockett Pundt ("we've got a power issue," said Cox), so Cox sang an impromptu song about Coachella to fill time. His made-up-on-the-spot lyrics went a little something like this: "Coachella 2010/Lots of people in the sun/lots of kids having fun/How many kids OD'd in the medical center?/How many condoms broke in the hotel/supplying future festivals with their audience?" "That's for you guys, dedicated especially to you, from my heart," said Cox. With technical problems resolved the set really got going with Microcastle highlights "Never Stops" and "Nothing Ever Happened." Spoon's Britt Daniel was watching from the side of the stage as Deerhunter had just concluded a tour opening for Spoon.
Florence and the Machine really should've been playing on a bigger stage. The Gobi tent was flanked by tons of people trying to get in or to just catch a glimpse of the redheaded singer from England. It was impossible to get into the tent without being more aggressive than I was prepared to be on the third day of Coachella, too worn out to be overly pushy. So I tried to watch from the outside through the openings. I could see okay from the side, but the sound was lousy. At the very back I couldn't see much, but the sound was marginally better. I was able to hear Florence Welch say, "I'll tell you what, it takes a lot to get me to the desert," making light of her fair complexion. "Kiss With a Fist," "The Drums," and "Raise It Up," all sounded good from my vantage point (and probably sounded amazing from inside the tent), and it was clear that Welch had magnetic stage presence, but I gave up, no doubt missing "Dog Days Are Over." Last year Welch was a simple spectator, this year she played to an over-capacity Gobi tent, next year the main stage perhaps?
The Gobi tent was nowhere near as full for Charlotte Gainsbourg's set, but she still played to a healthy crowd (likely including almost every French person at Coachella). The Anglo-French singer/actress was backed by a five person band. To the disappointment of some, that band did not include Beck, who produced, wrote, and sang on her recent album, IRM, and who performed with Gainsbourg not that long ago on the KCRW radio station. Gainsbourg mainly sang, but sometimes played some percussion, as if to show that she was a real musician, not just an actress pretending to be one. "It's my first time in Coachella. First time, first tour, first everything. So thank-you for being here," said a visibly gracious Gainsbourg. Her set leaned heavy on IRM tracks, which is too bad, because 2006's 5:55 (recorded with Air and written by Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon) is the superior album. She did play a couple of songs from 5:55, including "Jamais" (which thrived on a slinky bass-line) and bonus track "Set Yourself on Fire," but several highlights from that album ("The Operation" and "Beauty Mark," to name two) were left off the set-list. But Gainsbourg did perform a French song that I believe she said was from her father Serge's album Histoire de Melody Nelson. Gainsbourg's voice didn't have a lot of power live, and some moments of her set bordered on dull, whereas others were charming.
I only caught the tale end of Jonsi's set at the Outdoor Theatre, but he was making quite a racket, with pounding drums and an epic euphoria to his soaring pipes. He was also wearing a headdress. I didn't see much of Spoon's main stage set either, which Britt Daniel said marked the end of their tour with Deerhunter. Bradford Cox played guitar during "Who Makes Your Money." I also heard "Don't Make Me a Target," "I Turn My Camera On," and "The Way We Get By."
France's Phoenix played the Outdoor Theatre, but easily could have commanded a big audience on the main stage, I've never seen so many people at the Outdoor Theatre in all my years of attending every Coachella. Before playing "Consolation Prizes," vocalist Thomas Mars referred to the Icelandic volcano: "We almost didn't make it today...we decided to keep it simple. Tonight it's only going to be about the music." It's interesting how big Phoenix has become in the last year. Not that long ago they could barely get arrested when it came to the American mainstream, but the band's fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, made it onto the Billboard Top 40, whereas previous albums didn't even chart in America.
Sly Stone was supposed to play the Gobi tent at 7 p.m., but was a no show. Things didn't bode well when his set was already running 30 minutes and crew were up on ladders adjusting lights. The word was that he was going to play after Little Boots at around 9 p.m., and it was later announced that he was actually playing at 10:40 in the Mojave tent instead, which actually did come into fruition. I didn't see his eventual set (it was during Gorillaz), but various Internet reports and YouTube videos have shown that it was disastrous, with Stone rambling on about being sued by his former manager, barely singing, and eventually walking off stage mid song.
The final three sets ended Coachella 2010 on a complete high. A reformed Pavement made the most of their main stage set, even if there were less spectators than expected (I assumed they'd be the hot ticket of the day, but while there was a healthy crowd, it seemed as though Phoenix had siphoned off too many potential Pavement watchers). "Happy to see Pavement again?" asked guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg before "Shady Lane." "We're happy to see you." Later, Kannberg joked, "We're Pavement, back from the dead, back from the grave." The '90s indie legends played a rousing no-nonsense greatest hits set that also included the likes of "Stereo," "Gold Soundz," and "Cut Your Hair." Stephen Malkmus' own hair was often in his face. His signature deadpan sense of humor was also on display. Before "Range Life," which Malkmus said he was supposed to dedicate to someone, but he couldn't remember who, he gave shout outs to a few local high schools. After one song he jokingly boasted, "Yes! I hit every one of those notes." After another, he said, "That was pretty much the '90s in a nutshell." Pavement played the first Coachella, in 1999, but the band admits today that the set was a mess, as it wasn't long after that they broke up. The band more than made up for it with the 2010 show. Kannberg referred to P.I.L.'s Friday night set as "fucking great," but he really should've been talking about his own band's performance. To play on a lyric from "Shady Lane," we were just extras in the festival adaptation to the sequel of Pavement's career. Bring on a new album!
Thom Yorke and his side band Atoms for Peace likely broke the record just set by Phoenix for the most people ever watching a band at the Outdoor Theatre. As I walked over to the stage I overheard one guy explain to his clueless friend, "he's the lead singer of Radiohead." He's only the singer of one of the most acclaimed bands of the last two decades! "We're called Atoms for Peace. My name's Thom. We're going to play every track off our album Eraser," said Yorke near the start of a set that followed through with his promise. Atoms for Peace's lineup also consisted of Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Mauro Refosco (Forro in the Dark), and famous session drummer Joey Waronker. Flea in particular stood out, his bass prevalent in many of the songs. When the video screens first cut to a blue haired Flea the crowd went wild. Thanks in large part to Flea's bass, the songs from The Eraser sounded a lot funkier live and the consistent rhythm and pace of the songs rarely let up. Atoms for Peace allows Yorke to let loose a little more without the weight of Radiohead. He seemed genuinely happy and animated, dancing around the stage with abandon as a wall of neon lights flashed behind the band.
Yorke took to the stage solo for the start of the encore. "This one you don't know, unless you spend too much time on YouTube," Yorke joked before performing a new song solo on acoustic guitar (although he sampled and looped his singing to act as backing vocals). "Maybe you remember this one," said Yorke before surprising everyone by performing Radiohead's "Airbag" on acoustic guitar. He then moved to the piano for a gorgeous rendition of Radiohead's "Everything In It's Right Place." It was assumed that Yorke likely would only perform solo work, so it was nice to see that he wasn't above pleasing the crowd with a couple of Radiohead songs.
Then the band came back on and Yorke said, "Now we're gonna play some mad shit. We'll need all the energy you've got left, you've got to dance." Somehow, Yorke seemed more relaxed then when on stage with his main band. Then Atoms for Peace played the first new song they've written together. "When we got together in Los Angeles last summer we wondered what to do. We came up with this. This is called 'Judge, Jury, and Executioner,'" explained Yorke. As I was walking over to see the start of Gorillaz, the last thing I heard Yorke say, before Atoms for Peace's final song, was "This is to freak out to. You've had a long weekend and you need to freak out." If, God forbid, Radiohead ever break up then Atoms for Peace would be a welcome backup plan.
Ever since its inception, Gorillaz has been trying to work out how to put together its live show. Everyone knows that Gorillaz is really Blur's Damon Albarn, artist Jamie Hewlett, and whoever else is collaborating on that particular album, but for awhile they tried to maintain the illusion of the animated characters supposedly fronting the band, by utilizing hologram technology to make it seem like the virtual band was performing. Due to the prohibitive costs of all that, the real Gorillaz now perform live and Albarn, along with a full backing band and an array of guests, was front and center on Coachella's main stage.
The band was all dressed as sailors and the lineup included a string section. The set opened with "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," which Snoop Dogg sings on Gorillaz's recently released third album, Plastic Beach. Snoop wasn't there in person, but a video image of him singing the song appeared on the video screens and the band played along. It worked, mainly because the band sounded so confident. The performance included plenty of special guests from Plastic Beach in person. Bobby Womack took the stage for both "Stylo" and "Cloud of Unknowing." De La Soul had already performed on the same stage earlier in the day, so it was a shoe in that they'd join in the Gorillaz fun with "Super Fast Jellyfish" (although I had hoped that Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys would've made an appearance too, but his part on that song was provided via backing track). More surprising was when De La Soul came back out for "Feel Good Inc.," which predictably sent the crowd into wild fits of excitement that overshot the enthused reception that had met "Clint Eastwood" earlier in the set. Little Dragon vocalist Yukimi Nagano (whose band played Coachella on Friday) sang on "Empire Ants" and "To Binge" (both Plastic Beach highlights and the latter a duet with Albarn). Oh, and members of a little band called The Clash (Paul Simonon and Mick Jones) played with the band the whole night (Simonon was also in The Good, the Bad, & the Queen with Albarn).
A Middle Eastern band was literally wheeled out on a platform for "White Flag," which began as a traditional sounding song from the region, but then segued into a hip-hop beat with rapping, which added to the wonderfully eclectic nature of the set (and Gorillaz in general). Demon Days tracks "Dirty Harry" and "Kids With Guns" were also played; the former featuring a pre-recorded kids choir presented as animated children on the video screen and the latter briefly morphed into Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It." Beneath all the bells and whistles was a truly funky backing band, and Albarn's inviting vocals anchored the whole thing. Gorillaz simply sounded amazing. At one point Albarn briefly pretended to conduct the string section, but it was clear that he was definitely the man in charge of this circus. Back in the mid-'90s Britpop era Albarn was briefly caught up in the Blur vs. Oasis rivalry when the two bands released a big single on the same day. All of that is a distant and irrelevant memory, but now that Oasis has broken up (and stopped making great music awhile before that), it could be noted that Albarn has long been able to hold the title of the eventual winner in that silly publicity battle. With Gorillaz he's making forward-thinking, genre-blending music that is very much of this era, and has come out ahead of anyone else associated with the whole Britpop scene (apologies to Jarvis Cocker, who also still makes great music).
With Coachella 2010 wrapped up, here are some lessons that the organizers could learn for next year. Don't overstuff one day with too many great artists, while leaving the other days' line-ups a little bit wanting. Either try not to put hugely hyped new artists (Florence and the Machine, Local Natives) in the Gobi tent or make the tent bigger or further limit the number of tickets sold. Hire more parking staff and/or convince the local police to help more with parking, just find better solutions to the traffic problem. It worked great on Sunday night to have Thom Yorke at the Outdoor Theatre, right in between Pavement and Gorillaz on the main stage, meaning that you had three amazing artists in a role with almost no interruption (and, for the most part, no two artists playing at the same time); do that again. Don't book old school artists known for being flaky and having erratic stage shows (à la Sly Stone). But do book more reformed artists like Pavement or other old schoolers/reformers who have wowed in recent years (Paul McCartney, Prince, Roger Waters, The Verve, Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, etc.); there weren't enough of those this year. Book Thom Yorke, no matter what band he's in, same goes with Damon Albarn. And I would add that they shouldn't schedule a festival right after an Icelandic volcano eruption, but there's not much they can do about that. Despite these suggestions, after more than a decade, Coachella still remains America's finest music festival.
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