Coachella 2009 Kicks off With Strong Sets from Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Coachella 2009 Kicks off With Strong Sets from Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen

The Former Beatle Plays an Emotional Set on the Anniversary of His Wife's Passing

Apr 18, 2009 Morrissey Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

Coachella 2009 kicked off with strong sets from living legends Leonard Cohen and Paul McCartney, as the crowd adjusted to a desert heat that was forecasted to get even hotter as the weekend went on.

Day one began for us at the Outdoor Theatre with a 2:25 PM set from British indie folk troubadours Noah and the Whale, who were blown away by the beautiful setting of the festival, which is nestled in a desert valley between snow capped mountains, but who also had difficulty adjusting to the oppressive temperatures. “This is the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen from a stage, probably. Sorry, if anybody wants to turn around, the view is much better that way,” said frontman Charlie Fink. One audience member proclaimed that she wanted to have Fink’s baby, to which he replied: “I will certainly have any of your babies.” Throughout the set the heat seemed to be getting the best of the English quartet. “I think my shoes are stuck to the floor a little bit, it’s so hot,” lamented Fink. Bassist Urby Whale later added: “In this heat we can’t see our tuners.” Fink was also fighting a cold, which affected his vocals. “Come back and see us again when I can sing and I’ll sing to you sweetly, I promise,” said Fink towards the end of their set. Still, the band played rousing versions of “Rocks and Daggers” and “5 Years Time,” the latter eliciting an audience sing-along of its catchy chorus “sun, sun, sun.”

Next up were Los Campesinos! The Welsh seven-piece were as loud and ramshackle as the explanation point at the end of their name might suggest, perhaps a little too loud. The soundman could have done the band a favor by turning things down a bit, although perhaps the group were going for a messy sound. Their 4:20 PM set in the Gobi tent amounted to a very energetic and infectious late afternoon pep talk. Lead vocalist Tom Campesinos!, who was clad in a black Wedding Present t-shirt, seemed overwhelmed by the Coachella experience. “I think we’ve all been a little bit flustered, we’re too excited to be here,” he said, later adding, “This is out of the world for us. We started the band three years ago, we didn’t expect to be here.”

M. Ward’s 4:55 PM set at the Outdoor Theatre got off to a rocky start when his guitar kept getting turned off/unplugged. “Coachella, how’s it going? Welcome to the soundcheck,” Ward joked. Ward buried his hair under a baseball cap and began his set on acoustic guitar, backed only by a drummer. Despite technical problems, there was no denying the transcendent power of Ward’s soothing voice or the proficiency of his guitar playing. Then we caught hyped British trio White Lies, who were clad in all black and did their best to conjure the dark tones of the ‘80s. They played in the Mojave tent at 5:45 PM with hot lights looming over each member. The band’s songs had an anthemic quality and sounded very clean and true to their recorded versions

Conor Oberst was in a playful mood back at the Outdoor Theatre at 6:10 PM. “My name’s Conor. This is the River City Magic Mountain Band. We’re here to play for you,” Oberst joked his backing band, The Mystic Valley Band. Oberst was wearing a very big hat. After he messed up the start of one song, he joked: “I had a different song in mind.” He also dedicated a song to a friend and fellow Coachella performer. “This next song is about the beach. I’d like to dedicate it to my brother M. Ward, who just played an amazing set,” said Oberst.

Franz Ferdinand was the first band to get us over to the main Coachella Stage. During their 6:35 PM set the Scottish quartet played favorites from all three of their albums, including songs from their current album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, such as the iPod ad-featured “No You Girls” and the album’s first single, “Ulysses.” The band were in good form, performing classic Franz tracks “Michael,” “Walk Away,” and “Take Me Out.”

Leonard Cohen’s 7:30 PM set at the Outdoor Theatre proved to be one of the highlights of day one of Coachella. The only problem with his set was that the volume was too low. Luckily it was scheduled so that no one was playing the main stage during the majority of his set, but unless you were fairly close to the stage his vocals and backing band sounded a little too intimate for a festival setting. But the crowd went wild when the legendary singer sung his first notes with his signature gruff voice. Cohen’s band included backing singers and a multi-instrumentalist who played the clarinet, among other instruments, and Cohen sang while sitting down for some of the set. He genuinely seemed appreciative that a young audience was so excited to see him, calling us “friends” multiple times. “Thanks so much friends for your kind attention,” he said. He performed “Everybody Knows,” which always reminds me of the 1990 teenaged-pirate-radio-DJ-film Pump Up the Volume, as it contained two versions of that song in the film, one by Cohen and the other by Concrete Blonde. Cohen also performed a rousing version of his oft-covered song “Hallelujah,” changing the lyrics to say: “I did not come to Coachella to fool you.”

Morrissey kicked off his 8:30 PM set on the main Coachella Stage with The Smith’s “This Charming Man.” Morrissey and his backing band performed in front of a big banner that featured a black and white photo of a topless man in a sailor’s hat flexing his muscles, with the word “Refusal” written across the image, a reference to his current album title, Years of Refusal. Morrissey, who played the very first Coachella back in 1999, wasn’t in the best of form, as he struggled a little with his vocals. At one point the vegetarian singer made a strange comment about the smell of burning flesh and stormed off stage, returning after a short while to explain that he couldn’t handle the smell of burning flesh that was no doubt coming from one of the barbeque food stands. Regardless, Morrissey and his band pulled off excellent renditions of “Girlfriend in a Coma,” Irish Blood, English Heart,” and “First of the Gang to Die.” Morrissey’s set ended with a triumphant version of The Smith’s “How Soon is Now,” complete with flashing lights and that signature guitar sound. Poor Beirut was stuck playing up against Morrissey at the exact same time in the Mojave tent. Luckily Zach Condon and co. were game, playing a rousing horn-filled set to a loudly appreciative crowd.

Only an extreme cynic would tell you that they didn’t enjoy Paul McCartney’s headlining set on the main Coachella Stage. I once knew a guy made the ridiculous claim that The Beatles were overrated. Sure, the legendary ‘60s group is probably the most acclaimed band of all time, but justifiably so. McCartney mainly performed Beatles songs that he had written and that was enough of a mind-blowing greatest hits Beatles set without even the inclusion of songs written by the other three members (well John Lennon and George Harrison’s songs at least, sorry Ringo). Suffice it to say that I’m no longer friends with that Beatles hater. Before McCartney took the stage, a DJ spun remixes and cool covers of old Beatles songs, including a great old soul cover of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” “Something tells me we’re going to have a bit of fun tonight. The opening night of the Coachella festival. In California. In the United States. In the world. In the galaxy. In the universe,” said McCartney near the start of his two and a half hour set, clearly in a playful mood. McCartney’s set list spanned his entire career, from his work with The Beatles, to Wings, to recent solo albums, to his current album with producer Youth as The Fireman, but much to the delight of the audience, the set was heavy of Beatles classics, such as “Paperback Writer,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and many others. McCartney’s backing band was topnotch and one has to wonder how in awe those session musicians must be in getting to play with a Beatle every night. “My homage to Jimi there,” said McCartney after playing a rollicking guitar solo, referring to Hendrix.

“It’s very emotional for me today, and for my family, because April 17th is the anniversary of Linda’s passing,” said McCartney, adding that his late wife passed 11 years ago today in Arizona. But McCartney remarked that Linda loved the desert and rock ‘n’ roll, indicating that she would’ve enjoyed Coachella. He then performed a song that was written for Linda. Later McCartney also dedicated songs to John Lennon and George Harrison and pointed out that Harrison’s widow, Olivia, was in the audience.

“Wrote this next song in…was it the ‘60s?” quipped McCartney, saying that the song was about the Civil Rights movement. “You know what’s great now is to be here at this point in time and so much of that has been realized…and you’ve got President Obama.” McCartney then launched into a rousing performance of “Blackbird” on acoustic guitar, with no backing band. “It’s an emotional day for me, but that’s okay. A lot of heart, a lot of emotion,” said McCartney, again referring to Linda’s passing, before playing “A Day in the Life.”

The rest of the set was heavy on the hits. “Give Peace a Chance” and “Let It Be” led into the Wings’ James Bond song “Live and Let Die,” which featured on stage pyrotechnics and fireworks that wowed the crowd. After leading the crowd in a sing-a-long of “Hey Jude,” McCartney made sure that he gave his guitar pick to an audience member who was holding up a sign asking for his pick, and then exited the stage. But that was before the first of two encores. Encore one featured “Birthday,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “Lady Madonna.” And just when you thought that there was no way possible that McCatney could pull out any more iconic Beatles hits, he returned for an amazing second encore that featured “Yesterday,” “Helter Skelter,” “Get Back,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the latter concluding with dueling guitar solos that ended day one of Coachella 2009 on a soaring note. Cynics be damned, The Killers and The Cure have a lot to live up to in the next two nights in terms of headlining sets if they want to top McCartney’s (which of course neither they will top).

Click here to view a full gallery of photos from Coachella 2009 day one.


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