Sunday, May 08, 2005

desert skies, pt. 1

it was hot, but we were cool. we had the sweet palm springs party palace with the shag-a-delic decor, including the pool guarded by tiki idols. we had the ugly rental car with the bitchen A/C. we had the fancy VIP wristband and press-tent access to free water (otherwise a ripoff $2 per small bottle). we had our handy little booklets with the lineups and the set times for all the bands at the two-day coachella valley music and arts festival, held last saturday and sunday on the vast empire polo field in the southern california desert town of indio.

for once i wasn't even working, so i was free to stroll about, pay attention to the music or simply gawk at the crowd (50,000-some people each day). on saturday in the early afternoon, it took a looong time to get from the freeway to inside the venue's gates. (on sunday we took a back way in and cut our time considerably.) it was a pretty long walk just to the entrance from where 00soul, the chief, and i parked my bland white dodge stratus, fervently noting landmarks in the sea of vehicles to mark our way back much later that night.

the vast green field (83 acres, i believe) was divided into two large and small outdoor stages and three smaller tents, as well as the VIP area behind a fence, in what was probably usually the gathering place for the spectators of a polo match. underneath pointy, curvy white tents that looked vaguely arabian, there were a couple of concrete pavilions with a bar and seating areas, as well as some satellite tents (the ladies' "powder room" and some promotioneers such as american spirit cigarettes, not to mention, of course, the press tent), on a green landscaped lawn with a fountain, gazebos, planters, trees, etc. (plus the crucial trailers with flush-toilets and sinks, as well as a couple of rows of port-o-johns in the back). amid the stages and the performance tents were shopping areas (not too exciting; nowhere near as good as lollapalooza's or even the warped tour's) and food-vendor/picnic areas. giant art installations -- many from the same groups that do their thing at burning man, i was told -- sprinkled large and strange-looking sculptures along the midways: a tesla coil, which after nightfall slashed the wind-whipped air with jagged bolts of purplish-white electricity; this group known as cyclecyde, which had all manner of "rides" made of bicycles, including a two-person ferris wheel; a fire-breathing metal structure that reminded me, abstractly, of a multi-headed dragon; a group called MASS ensemble and its drum sphere, a big percussion globe.

the first band we saw on saturday was the raveonettes, and they were hard to beat. the sun was blazing and bright, and there was sharin foo in baby blue, an old-fashioned sundress that made her blonde nordic self look a bit like a rock 'n' roll alice in wonderland. their spooky-sweet retro-rock sounded surprisingly good in the incongruous desert setting. i looked down at one point and saw a girl sitting cross-legged on the grass a few feet away. she was intently singling out and plucking from the ground a blade of grass at a time, which seemed fairly demented. so i can only conclude that the raveonettes' mojo (and/or the drugs in that girl) is strong indeed.

we heard some of snow patrol, who have several songs i love but sounded kind of pale and anonymous under the big sky. crammed ourselves into the mojave tent to hear boy-girl duo the kills, whose primal, sexy punk-blues-freakout fared well in the cavernous, sweltering darkness. they concluded with their whole fucking-over-the-guitar shtick ... which, if becoming predictable, was still hotter than the desert sun itself.

from afar, the dance music act UNKLE sounded kewl. the tinkly piano-rock of keane proved as neutral as its album, with some smooth and agreeable moments but no spark at all. happily, wilco kicked ass, filling the late afternoon air with its country-flavored distortion-edged rock songs. their show, featuring our pal nels cline on insane guitar, created a sense of what-will-happen-next, the set gaining momentum while the yellow flare of the sun dissipated into a burnished orange glow behind a fortuitous smear of low clouds, and a coolish-warmish wind began to kick up.

what happened next, unfortunately, was weezer. i've never been a big fan of theirs anyway, and they sounded tinny and absurd after wilco. (possibly due to the now very strong wind.) new songs? eh, so what? oh, well. most people thought they were brilliant, so what do i know? i took a break around then and strolled about taking everything in. i felt pretty mellow and blissful in the cooling evening, with the sky turning indigo and then deep midnight blue (and the water-bottles-on-the-ground quotient skyrocketing -- crunch!). i don't remember seeing anything else for a while, just hearing snippets of this or that, but mostly a massive cacophony of all the converging sounds along the midway. disorienting, but kind of beautiful. we halfheartedly watched a little of bauhaus; the singer had made his grand entrance hanging upside-down from the rigging, doing "bela lugosi's dead." that was definitely the most dramatic appearance, and certainly their best moment (as always). the video screens were on by then, and bauhaus' were done in black and white ... soooo goth.

00soul and i slipped off to see mercury rev at the smaller outdoor stage. we had to stand all the way on the far side, b/c the smell being blasted by the wind from the port-o-johns was pretty nasty. still, mercury rev's psychedelic, slightly soulful alt-rock was pretty cosmic. complete with groovy visuals a la the flaming lips, with whom they share a kinship. a row of palm trees along one side of the field glowed like a neon-bright dr. seussian rainbow: fuchsia, turquoise, goldenrod, emerald, orange. the singer had a white-boy soul crooner thing going on in front of this heaving tower of trippy sound and imagery ... it felt at once earthly and otherworldly ... exquisite.

we tore ourselves away to hear coldplay, mainly due to some kind of rock-crit sense of obligation. we watched from the sidelines in the VIP area; the field was packed with thousands and thousands of people cheering on chris martin and his mates. oh, i just don't get it. after a while, the three of us conferred briefly and decided we had a choice: bail now, while most of the crowd was still glued to their spots; or stick it out and attend the urb after-party while the crowd dispersed, which meant a very late night. i wanted to hear "clocks," a song i love, but the urge to start the long trip back was stronger. as we began our long hike out to the car, the band started to play it! so i got my wish, and that was fabulous.

No comments: