Coachella 2012, Neon Indian, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Mazzy Star, The Rapture, M83, The Horrors
Coachella Recap Day 1: Neon Indian, Pulp, M83 and More, April 14th, 2012
True Tales of the Coachella Curmudgeon
Part one: In Which Our Hero Begins Her Long And Arduous Quest (…and starts by stealing titles from Dntel.)
This year’s Coachella started off on a wrong foot when it was announced that—for the first time in eight years—no one at Under the Radar would be receiving a press pass. And so, our three-day adventure began by slapping on general admission wristbands. Now, I’m sure that mixing with fans does us journalists a world of good—after all, we need to be reminded just because we put our options on the page or screen doesn’t mean they’re any more valid than the population at large. But I couldn’t help but feel, well, a bit curmudgeonly about the whole matter1.
That feeling was enforced by the momentous walk from the car to the venue, wherein we were forced to go through two pat-downs and bag checks, in what was threatening to look like Glastonbury-levels of rain. Less than one day in the desert, I had my first revelation: I’m clearly going to be the kind of elderly who yells at kids to get off her lawn. Who needs hallucinogens when you have exceptionally strong tea?
Regardless of the setbacks, it was—as usual—a day of exceptional music. The day’s highlights) and lowlights included Neon Indian, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Mazzy Star, The Rapture, M83, and The Horrors.
Culling the majority of his set from last year’s Era Extraña, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo looked pleasantly stunned to be playing the Coachella’s outdoor stage. Regardless of having recorded his sophomore album in the deepest winter Helsinki, Finland, he too looked a bit stunned at the approaching storm, announcing to the audience that he felt like he was on a listing ship slowly coming apart. The elements didn’t affect the tunes though—the 1980s video game refrains sounding as giddy, and dance party-worthy as ever. Closing the set in a gloriously miasmic haze of feedback, the Texas quartet made the most of their first Coachella appearance.
The same cannot be said for Arctic Monkeys. Despite the upbeat collection of tunes presented from recently released dance rock album Suck it and See, the British quartet never really connected with the audience—playing at them rather than for them. Do I really need to be told I’m going to love this song, or that I should, “Get on this shit?” Err…no. By the time they played “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” I had lost interest. Not that I had much interest to begin with.
Pulp had no difficulties getting the audience worked into a sweat. Perhaps the most charismatic performer to take the stage all day (or ever, really) Javis Cocker—clad in a dignified dark suit—strutted, danced, prowled, and basically gave a 45 minute primer on how to be a rock star. The crib notes? Play highlights from your already standout discography, (“Disco 2000,” “The Fear,” “Common People”—just assume that every one of the ten songs played deserves to go on this list), set them up with hilarious stories, and then leave your blood, sweat, and tears on the stage. It’s so simple!
“We have a special kind of dry ice” Cocker joked about the fog that all but enveloped the set, noting that it had delayed hallucinogenic effects…right before a series of lasers started painting psychedelic shapes around the stage. Even without the impressive visual displays, Pulp would still be one of the most engaging acts of the day. Will I remember the first time…I saw Pulp? You better believe I will!
Side note to Pulp: The set included an interpreter for the deaf. This is hardcore.
Over at the outdoor stage, Mazzy Star, sounded stunning, all slide guitar and Hope Sandoval’s ethereal whisperings. Although after Pulp’s high-energy set, the whole thing seemed (dare I say it?) a bit dull. Despite being big fan, I found myself feeling a bit restless, and left shortly after the obligatory performance of hit “Fade into You.”
Heading over to Mojave to secure a good spot for M83 (which astute readers will remember I’m quite a fan of) I caught the tail end of The Rapture’s set. Upbeat, surf pop, performed with heart. A band that clearly adored being on stage. Remind me why they weren’t playing Arctic Monkeys’ spot? It wasn’t that regretted my decision to check out Mazzy Star or linger with Pulp, it’s just that I wished—as I often do at festivals—I could be everywhere at once.
M83 were fantastic. There’s no way I can dress that statement up (particularly after covering them live twice in the same week.) Now, I recognize writing reviews is somewhat of a futile endeavor. At the end of the day, you probably fall into three camps. 1) You adore M83. 2) You hate M83. 3) You’re not going to give them a listen because you’re indifferent to dance/electro music as a whole. If you’re in camp 1—congratulations, you’re my people. For those of you in camp 2 or 3, we can still be friends. It’s cool. But I urge you, take a second listen to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Or better yet, seek the band out live, where already carefully crafted tunes become musical firecrackers—the four-piece band playing like they’ve met the devil down in Georgia. (And looking like they’re having the time of their life doing it.)
End M83 rant. You have your mission. Report back.
The day closed out with The Horrors, performing to a tent shockingly half-full. Despite my affection for last year’s Skying (Under the Radar’s fifth favorite album of 2011 for those keeping score), the performance felt a bit derivative of, well, pretty much every glam band from the 1970s/1980s. Posture, turn, grab the mike, sneer. It’s not that I don’t enjoy shameless use of rock and roll tropes (I do, I really do!) but the whole thing felt a little phoned in. Was frontman Faris Badwan mentally composing a letter to his grandma or concentrating on delivering a performance? I left, never feeling completely sure. Credit where credit’s due—it sounded great though.
And day one was in the books. Despite the walk back to the car turning into a Kafkaesq nightmare (where security guards inability to communicate with one another turned a simple stroll into a ninety-minute circular death march) it was a satisfying start to the weekend.
1. There are some people who contend I was born a curmudgeon. At SXSW this year, I ran into a old friend from high school. My editor somewhat giddily asked him what I was like back then. My friend’s response? “Smart and cynical.” Harumph…
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