Friday, May 13, 2011

Coachella 2011: Day 1

Before you read this, read my getting there adventure. This is a long story broken up into five parts.

7:30 a.m. Rise and shine. I've already kicked off the blankets, but nothing is going to cool me off except getting out of this tent. It's already that hot. I guess the standard is set, I'll be awake around this time the rest of the festival. That's not very comforting. I guess it's time for breakfast, which means it's time to start drinking all that illegal liquor and beer I smuggled in. You don't actually eat for breakfast at festivals, you wait until you have a nice buzz. Then before you leave for the festival, you throw down whatever you have the energy to make. That's just how it works. I don't make the rules.

Most of the morning is spent looking at the schedule, and discussing which acts are can't misses with my neighbors. The schedule didn't come out until the night before my trip started, so I've had no time to figure it out. My neighbors on all three sides reside in Los Angeles, and don't like guitars. That's another way of saying they are big fans of electronic music. That's cool, because I know a thing or two about almost every non-electronic act on the lineup, so hearing their EDM can't misses helped narrow my focus. For example, one neighbor said Beardyman has only played in the States a couple times. I love the rare, so Beardyman jumps up from a probable to a can't miss.

It's amazing how fast time flies after a couple early morning cocktails. The estimated departure time always sneaks up on me at festivals, even if my departure time isn't until mid afternoon. I end up having the internal argument (and sometimes a verbal argument with others) about going to the festival versus having another couple beers and missing a band or two. Not this weekend though, I have a goal to see the first band playing each day, and staying until the headliners are finished. I'm operating purely my own schedule, so I should be able to attain this goal. Cooking seems like a chore, so I run to the food court and grab a couple pieces of pizza. Then I change my clothes, lock up my gear, and I'm rolling to the festival at 11:30 a.m., half drunk operating on three hours of sleep.

I show up to the front gate, and to my surprise, they still have not let anyone in. Alf Alpha is supposed to start at 11:30, and it is close to 11:45. I hope he saved his good material for the end of his set. Finally, 11:50 rolls through, and the gates open. The security checkers were most concerned about checking bags, so I was able to go around the small crowd of people who beat me there, and was given a brief pat down. The second level security check was a metal detector type entrance you walk through with your arms hanging at your side. This gate scans the bar code on your wristband, and a light turns green notifying the security that you are legit. It's a pretty nifty system actually, high class.

This is my ninth outdoor self-contained festival, yet this is the first time I've arrived as the gates are opening. Being one of the first through security, people started running. There was a sense of, "I have to be the first person there!" I felt it too, so I picked up the pace. I have to be the first one. First one where though?

I trot away from where the music is playing, just to familiarize myself with the venue while it is empty. That's when I stumbled upon a giant silver enclosed room like structure which was referred to as "unlisted" on the map. That must be the Spiritualized exhibit I have been reading about. Apparently it is a room built to experience the song "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space," the opening track off the album with the same name, which happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time. I don't know what this exhibit is all about, but it is already one of my most anticipated activities of the weekend, and I'm the first one there. I briefly speak with the security guard who said it isn't open yet, and to check back in an hour. Crap. As I leave, a chick walks up and asks the question that will be asked 17,483 times over the next 58 hours,"What is this?"

I'm ready to get my Alf on, so I quickly familiarize myself with the stages in a clockwise direction, starting with the Do Lab and Main Stage, then the Outdoor Stage, the Gobi, the Mojave, and finally the Sahara. The Oasis will be seen later. At least I have a general idea of where to get water, where to urinate, where to eat, and where to find shade.

Alright, let's talk some music, FINALLY! Not only did Alf Alpha get the honor of opening the festival, but he was scheduled to play 30 minutes unopposed as well. Whose raver goggles did he polish to land that slot? He's is also backed by a ridiculously cool light show, on par with the lower tier of some of the best light shows I've witnessed. I decide he is the luckiest guy at the festival. The twelve people there are just standing around looking at each other. I know there were twelve because I was just standing around looking at them. He's a DJ. He sounds like a DJ.

After a couple minutes watching Miguel, I realize how cool it is that I made it this early. I would never pay to see Miguel, I don't listen to their music, hell, I don't even know who he or they are, but I am being entertained. They remind me of Morris Day and the Time from the Purple Rain movie, complete with choreographed jumps and dance movements, with the lead singer dancing around a glowing neon mic stand. Speaking of Purple Rain, they did a Prince cover near the end of their set, which is when I left. I am officially in festival mode, and wanted to see what else was going on. I want to see the bands I like, the bands I don't like, the bands I've never heard of, and enough DJs to see if I could tell one from another. I'm not going to catch many full sets today, but I decide I should give each band I see at least two songs or ten minutes before moving on and counting them as a seen act.

Back to the Sahara for Tokimonster. She's a DJ. She sounds like a DJ. Cool light show (again). Hurts are dressed nicely, and they all combed their hair. I remember nothing about New Pants. The Rural Alberta Advantage are Canadian. Hearing the female's heavy accent in the desert was enough for a grin, eh? I caught most of their set, but I didn't leave a fan like everyone said I would. Come to think of it, everyone I know who raves about this band are Canadian. Hmm.

After pounding roughly ten seventeen ounce water bottles over the last two hours, I feel completely sober. I'm not even joking about the excessive amount of water consumption. It was 96 degrees, 30 degrees warmer than I had experienced in the last six months. I was freaked out about staying hydrated (especially after having screwdrivers for breakfast). It felt like the water was my source of energy to survive through this first day on so little sleep. Drinking so much water did backfire slightly. I'm now stopping by the honey buckets every 30 minutes, yet I keep sucking down the water at a vigorous pace.

Dude from Moving Units is overdressed, he looks like he is wearing an over sized costume. People really like this band, they must get radio play. I was really digging Brandt Brauer Frick's music, and stayed for most of their set. It was a mellow electronic type of sound. I’ll have to buy one of their albums. Excision is heeeeeavy on the bass. I think he is only bass actually. It was fun for fifteen minutes, but I'm not high on drugs. Cold Cave, um, no recollection. I think Cold Cave, Moving Units, and Hurts are the same band, at different levels of popularity. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, you think the lead singer of the Mars Volta is annoying, the dude Omar had singing vocals was much more annoying, but a lot less talented. I couldn't stay at that one long, it was bad.

I've done a lot of walking so far, between filling water bottles, emptying my bladder, and trying to catch every other band on the lineup. It’s 96 degrees, and I’m nearing exhaustion, so I hit the food court, natures energy. I wasn't planning on catching Titus Andronicus (I'll be seeing them in June), but there was no shade near that food court, so I took in a couple of their songs near the back while eating. They seemed less dirty, loud, angry, and unintelligible than the first time I saw them two years ago. They were still pretty dirty, loud, angry, and unintelligible though. "You'll always be a loser," repeated over and over. I love that song, which is oddly named "Titus Andronicus." A lot of people left that show early; they are not for everyone.

Back to the Sahara for Skrillex. Giant crowd, and a killer light show, the best I've seen so far today. One thing I learned this weekend spending so much time with ravers is this, if you want to be taken seriously in this culture, you cannot like Skrillex. It's the equivalent of telling a bunch of indie rockers you are a big Kings of Leon fan. So here I go sacrificing my rave credibility by saying this was a pretty rad show, one of the day's highlights.

Just like Kings of Leon has masses of fans, Skrillex does as well. He only has two Eps and a couple singles out so far, and I've listened to most of his output, yet the crowd was still going crazy whenever he started a new track, as if to say, "YES, I love this song." I was a bit confused because I barely recognized any of them. There is something I'm missing here. Do the ravers have their own EDM radio stations that play Skrillex, or do they spend 80% of their free time parked in front of youtube? My method of merely listening to albums and Eps with headphones is starting to feel a bit old fashion.

The highlight of the show was when the guitarist and the lead singer of Korn came out to play two songs. The second song was Korn's debut single, the one that starts out with Jonathan screaming, "Arrrre Youuuuu Reaaaady?" This caused the fifty of us who remembered when this song came out to start headbanging, while all the teenagers pretended to remain dancing to this not-so-familiar-not-so-electronic tune. I don't know if Skrillex and Korn have collaborated in the past, so this was about as big of a surprise to me as if Jimmy Buffett had joined Skrillex.

During the last song, Skrillex said something along the lines of, "get the ladies up," leading to roughly 200 women (and three men) being hoisted up on the shoulders of their partners. It was like two layers of heads bobbing. I've never seen anything like that before. As awesome as this show was, take away Korn, the lights, and the crowd, and leave just Skrillex playing music for me in a gymnasium, and I would boo him off the stage. He’s kind of a weird looking guy, isn’t much of a performer, and reminds me a lot of the long haired kid from Dazed And Confused who kept tucking his hair back behind his ears four times per scene.

The exchange of Skrillex fans leaving the Sahara and OFWGKTA fans pouring in led to massive congestion with people barely moving in each direction. Let's face it, Skrillex and OFWGKTA don't have a huge crossover fan base. We had plenty of time to sort out the crowd mess because there were technical difficulties leading to Odd Future starting 10+ minutes late. Just for fun, Tyler called the sound engineer an asshole. The show finally started with one of the members of the group sprinting on stage wearing a green mask. The crowd was going absolutely nuts, but it didn't last. I've never seen a couple thousand people with their hands in the air jumping up and down turn into fifty people doing the same so quickly. It took about three minutes. Four minutes later, people started leaving. It was atrocious. I could almost hear one dude rapping, and his flow was outstanding, but his lyrics weren't legible, and the constant hype shouts by the rest of the group made it impossible to hear the featured rapper. The crowd was literally dead after four songs, which is about when I left.

There isn't much I'm interested in for the next couple hours, so I caught Warpaint. I enjoyed some of their recorded material, but left the show with no interest in ever seeing or hearing them again. I then wandered to the main stage to catch Cee-Lo Green, who I've never been into. He played a cover song I don't recall, then a Gnarls Barkley song, then I took off. My short stay led to a conversation I had with a friend the next day. It went something like this:

He: "Did you catch Cee-Lo's set?"
Me: "Not really, I just walked by and caught a couple songs."
He: "He only played a couple songs, I guess they cut him off."
Me: "Yeah, I caught his set."

I heard he started late, then tried to get the crowd to start a chant about how much Coachella sucks? Yeah, pretty bad idea dude. This festival is much bigger than you are. I guess this was the childish whiny bitch hour, because I headed straight to Arial Pink's Haunted Grafitti next. I'm a fan of his music (he was on Animal Collective's label after all), but I never pulled the plug on paying to see him. The show pretty much sucked from the get go, and I almost left after two songs. Pink, or Arial, or lead singer dude, whatever you call him, kept yelling at the sound engineer, staring him down while gesturing he needed the keyboards turned up. Honestly, the keyboard sounded way too loud already, and it sounded like the volume was actually turned down (thankfully) during the tantrum. Then after almost 20 minutes, he announced, "I know you're going to hate me, but we're done playing music," and stormed off the stage.

The rest of the band looked really confused. After an awkward 30 seconds, the drummer ran off stage to retrieve the Sugar Puff. It was obvious the band wanted to continue playing. Why wouldn't they, it's fucking Coachella? The Crying Child was eventually coerced back on stage, and the show continued, sort of. Drama Pumpkin decided he would just nod his head acceptingly with his lips pressed tight instead of singing. The Delicate Flower didn't sing a note for almost three full songs, before surprising those who hadn't left by busting out the final lyric of the second to last song. Sarcastic crowd cheers followed. Some people leaving actually came back to catch the end, which was their hit, "Round and Round." I'm not sure if this was a staged publicity stunt, if the Pooh Bear was wacked out on chemicals, or if he just rationally felt a reason to get pissed off, but he sure lost a lot of fans in the process. I found it much more entertaining when he started acting like a premadonna, so it didn't bother me, it actually kept me from leaving. I felt like I was going to miss something big. It was pretty hilarious hearing the rest of the band complete their backing vocals on each song, while the lead vocals were missing. I doubt I'll ever see that again.

I needed to head back to camp for food and drinks, so I caught a couple songs by
YACHT before leaving. YACHT appeared to be putting on a fantastic show, both musically and showmanship-wise, but knowing I have a chance to see them in a couple weeks had me heading to the exit.

After dinner, and one of the stiffest whiskey/colas I've ever mixed, I was back at the mainstage to catch the very end of Interpol, who played my favorite song "Obstacle 1." The version they play live is vocally different than the album version. This being the fifth time I've seen this song performed, I realized the live version is exactly the same every time. Whatever, I've already beaten that Interpol unoriginality live horse over the years. There's a reason I didn't catch their full set.

Cut Copy was great, one of the few full sets I caught this day. I'm a sucker for electronic music mixed with an actual lead singer. The voice sampling is one of my biggest pet peeves in electronic music these days. The more music you can pull off live, the better. I almost regret missing the beginning of Beardyman, but I was having too much fun at Cut Copy. Just writing this is reminding me how much fun this evening would become, and how most of the festival's highlights occurred on this day, Beardyman being one of them. He is part DJ, part comedian, and part beatboxer, recording his own live sounds and playing them back mixed with electronic beats and heavy bass. He even had a small laser show, which doesn't really work when the smoke is being blown away from the stage. Wind hates smoke/laser shows, or is it the other way around? The comedy was prevalent as he tried to sing popular songs he didn't know the words to, making up his own. He picked a Black Eyed Peas songs saying, "we used to be good, now we suck really bad." The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" lyrics were replaced by, "I don't know the words to this song." He took a shot at Kings of Leon as well, singing part of the song "Use Somebody."

Beardyman left me in such a good fun-loving mood, I wasn't ready for musicians who take themselves too seriously. This is why I ended up watching the Aquabats, and loving every second of it. Making fun of Kings of Leon was a popular theme this evening, since they were the headliner of the day. The Aquabats had a couple guests on stage they claimed were the Kings of Leon, then promptly ran them off while making fun of them. For those who don't know, the Aquabats are a band that appeals to children. They dress up as super heroes, play ska type music, and act out various super hero type adventures on stage. When the schedule was release, I was scratching my head as to why they were playing at night? They seemed like the perfect early afternoon band, when there are still kids around. Let's just say Coachella at night is a different beast, not where you want your children. This ended up being the reason the Aquabats fit in so perfect at night. They had to adapt their style from entertaining 11 year old kids, to entertaining a bunch of drugged out adults who were acting like 11 year old kids. Seeing these adults with their eyes glued to the stage and monitors (which were displaying cartoons and trippy children's television images) was a highlight of the day.

During one song, they had caveman villains rush out on stage, and a fight ensued. During the fight, they turned down the tempo of the song to a couple beats per measure while fighting in slow-motion, before speeding up the beat and resuming fighting in regular speed. On another tune, they had a giant inflatable dinosaur attacking, followed by an Aquabat shooting dry ice at the beast to defeat him. The lead singer then said, "looks like the ice has killed the dinosaurs,...again (crowd laughter, applause)." They finished with the catchy as hell song "Luck Dragon Lady," with images of the Never Ending Story displayed on the monitors and a fake dragon running around on stage. The crowd was waving their arms back and forth and singing along. I'm telling you, it was a fucking blast.

Having already gone five minutes over their allotted time, the lead singer joked, "we have two more songs," before laughing and saying they were getting cut off. "Thank you Coachella, we've been practicing really hard to make this dream come true." I really didn't want that show to end, and you can bet I'll be paying to see them again.

Back to the Sahara for another DJ, Sasha. I dug this set. It was much more trancey than everything else I had seen that day. Man the Sahara can feel like being in a blender at times. The light show was a bit more classy, filled with earthy colors, rather than the constant seizure causing bright colors cycling at rapid speeds that defined the Sahara this weekend.

I have read so much about Robyn over the past two years, I knew I would dig her music, but I kept putting off listening to her albums until she appeared on the Sasquatch lineup. It didn't take a full album listen before I was hooked. I love that catchy pop stuff. I grew up listening to Madonna after all, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I didn't plan on catching her at Coachella, but curiosity got the best of me. Robyn is a great dancer, and is in incredible shape to be going through so many dance motions while still singing legible lyrics. I now listen to her albums all the time, and they always make me smile.

Since I had been in a half set mood all day, I decided to split Boys Noize and the Chemical Brothers. The Chemicals were one of my top can't misses, but after hearing Boys Noize was working with the Creators Project, and his production was supposed to be amazing, I had to see it. Boys Noize is one of my favorite EDM artists to listen to, yet I'd never seen him live, so skipping part of the Chemical Brothers didn't seem like too terrible of an idea. I was disappointed though, and left after about 15 minutes. You could actually see most of his body, instead of him being hidden behind a giant box like everyone else, and he was putting on a good performance. That was the good part. The bad part, the lights were too bright, and they weren't colored. They were like, you know, the lights that signal the show is over, but they were flashing. I could see everyone around me because it was too bright. I not a hider at shows, but the reminder that there were hundreds of people standing near me was pretty annoying. I like it being dark at shows.

Now I'm in a rush to the mainstage to catch the rest of the Chemical Brothers, but I got held up at the Gobi where the female choir, the Scala and Kolacny Brothers were performing the Foo Fighters hit, "Everlong." Although I could hear music blaring from virtually every stage at that point, the choir was mic'd up, and it sounded phenominal. Like the Aquabats, I really questioned why the choir wasn't playing early in the day? I thought they would be the first band I would see for weeks. Unlike the Aquabats though, I still don't understand why the choir was playing at midnight? I wanted to stay, but could see the Chemical Brother's light show going off on the main stage behind me, so I continued my trek halfway through their next song.

When I arrived at the Chemical Brothers, they were playing "Horse Power," my favorite song of theirs. I have this weird likeness in which I dig animal sounds in music, especially horse noises. I can't tell you how excited I was that I didn't miss that song. I later found out they started really late (the main stage was running behind), and "Horse Power" was their second song. That means I only missed a couple minutes of their set, while seeing two other bands I really wanted to see. How lucky was that?

I'm not going to dissect the Chemical Brothers set like I've done with virtually every other band so far, I'll just say it was amazing, one of the best light shows I've ever seen. By the time they finished, I was literally exhausted. Based on the lack of crowd leaving the venue at that moment, it appeared everyone else left early. I guess there were more Kings Of Leon fans there this night than I realized.

I started closing my eyes as I was walking back to camp, and nearly fell asleep. Have you ever fallen asleep walking? I managed to stay awake, and crawled in my tent immediately upon returning to camp. Thirteen hours of music beginning to end on three hours of sleep in 96 degree weather left me a pile of wreckage. To my surprise, getting to sleep wasn't that easy. There was a DJ playing about 100 yards from my tent, and that lasted until 3:30 a.m. Everyone was still partying. I slept sparingly for over an hour before passing out for good around 3:45 a.m.

Day Two Coming Soon........