My Coachella 2011 Experience

Wow.  Where do I possibly begin to describe Coachella 2011?  Well, I can sit here and complain about the heat and the itchy bracelets (or “shackles” as my friend Kim called them) – but why bother when the positives outweigh the negatives? 

First of all, I have to state that Goldenvoice did an amazing job this year with crowd control.  There were the aforementioned bracelets that may have itched slightly but man, they ensured who was getting in and out of the enormous field.  You couldn’t even get within proximity of the Empire Polo Fields without the magic bracelet.  Check points for cars, walkers, bicyclists, etc. were all over Indio.  Well played, Goldenvoice – no gatecrashers this year!  Hence, no overcrowding. That brings me to the physical size of the venue.  Several football fields long, it was even bigger than last year and made room for yet another tent (ok, it was being called a dome, whatever).  The combined effect of the scanned bracelets and bigger venue size made for a fantastic weekend where overcrowding didn’t feel like an issue.  Amazing!

The fashion was, well, wacky again to say the least.  I really wanted to ask the people with fake fur scarves (and even fake fur gloves!?) what they were thinking. I mean, people, come ON – it was 98 degrees on Saturday!  Very, very hot.  I wore a simple tank top and shorts and roasted with the best of them in the shade of the beer garden each afternoon.  The food was a bit expensive as it usually is (same with the alcoholic drinks) but it was pretty darn good again.  Spicy Pie for the win!

ANYWAY – onto the music.  I tried not to drive myself crazy with the numerous conflicts in set times and just went with the flow.  I started off Friday by seeing The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.  They were having a blast up there; you could see it written all over their faces. Their near-shoegazing sounds made for a nice afternoon chillout zone and the crowd swayed along with their tunes.  Lead singer Kip Berman chatted warmly with the audience about which acts he was excited to see and highly encouraged the masses to see Suede tomorrow night (more on that later!). 

Next up was chilling out in the beer garden by the large Coachella Stage to see if Lauryn Hill would actually show up.  We figured hey, let’s hydrate and see what happens.  (Little did I know that Cee-Lo Green had shown up suuuuuuper late for his set and then had a hissy fit when he was told he had to end his set early.  Dude, show up on time and then you get to sing all your songs!)  So I’m looking at my blackberry and wondering how late she’s going to be, or whether she’s going to show up at all and lo and behold, a mere 15 minutes late, there she is!  She sounded a bit hoarse and was drowned out a bit by her incredible band and backup singers but the minute she got into Fugees music, you could just feel her win over the growing crowd.  Nicely done, Ms. Lauryn Hill!

After being surprised and then dancing for a bit, we stayed put to listen to Interpol start their set.  Moody and intense – yes.  Solid songs – definitely.  The super large screens on each side of the Coachella Stage added to the dark quality of their songs by flashing red lights throughout their set.

Next up – the Black Keys.  The crowd swelled for these guys and boy, you could see why within 5 notes of the first song.  Watching the chemistry between Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach is just incredible.  Patrick keeps a steady beat while watching Dan rip into his guitar solos.  Absolutely amazing duo and it was impressive to see what songs they chose from their latest album and what gems they chose from the past albums.  Well played, boys!

Then came Kings of Leon which was my biggest worry of the weekend.  Why was I worrying?  Well, the public has turned on them recently since “Use Somebody” has been played on soft rock stations.  And once-rabid fans are just super annoyed over their last two albums, declaring them “too soft” and wishing them to return to their rockin’ roots of their earlier albums.  I was nervously reading the Coachella message board and I’d say roughly 80% of the comments were anti-KoL and I was starting to wonder if they would even draw much of a crowd.  Well, I’ve been a fan of them for a long time and I’m pleased to announce they had a large crowd and the Followills appeared to have listened to their fanbase and played a large number of older songs!  Excellent.  Very good call!  The crowd seemed receptive and not throwing out boos or catcalls like I had feared. Phew.

Next up was the traditional “rave” spot of the weekend being performed by the amazing duo The Chemical Brothers.  Starting a few minutes late was forgiven quickly as they put on a stunning show of visuals and beats.  Glow sticks were rampant as expected and the duo closed out a fantastic first day.

Next day after some lovely time poolside (yes, you can be jealous), we headed right for the beer garden for some Erykah Badu.  There were some technical glitches during her performance but it didn’t seem to get the crowd or herself down.  “On and On” was met with usual chilled out, blissful sway-type dancing and provided a great start to our Saturday.

After feeling nice and chilled out, we went for more of the same – the Mancurians known as Elbow.  Singer Guy Garvey seemed to be immediately overwhelmed by the oppressive heat within the Mojave tent but didn’t let it ruin his band’s performance.  The second song into the set was “Grounds for Divorce” and the crowd fed into it right away.  The entire set left everyone feeling peaceful and easygoing and was quite a nice way to celebrate the sunset (and decreasing temperatures) on the second day of Coachella.

We decided to hop onto the ferris wheel and kill some time rather than join a band’s set midway through.  The wait was worth it when we reentered the Mojave tent for The Swell Season.  Glen Hansard came out for a few minutes to tune with the band (imagine that, a performer wanting to be part of the setup process!) and the growing crowd screamed approval.  Once the entire band took stage, it was just mindblowing how incredible their performance was.  The crowd sang along to the songs from the movie Once in approval and overall, it was another feelgood and heartfelt performance for the day.

Right after The Swell Season left the stage, I pulled my friend Kim forward as far as we could go (which turned out to be pretty damn close) and waited for Suede (that’s The London Suede to us Americans).  She had never heard one song by them and I was just dying to see how they would be.  Well – they were nothing short of incredible.  I’m going to call them the act of the weekend. Seriously, that good!  Lead singer Brett Anderson never uttered a word to the audience as he immediately laid out his signature sexy moves by swaying his hips, jumping up and down, demanding the crowd sing along and wrapping the mic around his body several times.  The band ripped into their hits without a hitch, sometimes just starting a song on the final note of the previous song.  I am still absolutely mesmerized by their performance and can only hope they’ll come back to the states for another show.  My friend turned to me with a huge grin on her face and said “that was UNBELIEVABLE” and a guy to our right stated “that was better than sex.”  Yes people, it was THAT good of a performance.

We rushed over to catch Arcade Fire as soon as Suede finished up and to our delight, they were only 2 songs in.  Phew!  Arcade Fire was solid as always, playing a great mix of songs from their Grammy-winning album and frontman Win Butler seeming to be in disbelief that they were playing to such an impressively huge crowd.  While I personally was still on a Suede high, I will say that Arcade Fire was great and the surprise of the balls being dropped at the end was a great way to cap Saturday night.

And then, the last day.  Booooo.  😦  Once again, we headed right for the beer garden and listened to Nas and Damian Marley.  The crowd within the beer garden was highly enthusiastic when Nas did his biggest hits and then broke out in cheers and applause for their rendition of Bob Marley’s “Could This Be Love.”  Very nice!

We raced over to catch some of Best Coast, who did their dreamy super short songs to a large crowd.  Their hit song “Boyfriend” got the biggest reception but they also threw in some brand new songs into the mix. 

After grabbing a burger and shake, we ran over to catch Foster the People.  They came on a bit late for the massive crowd in the Gobi tent and we only caught a few songs, but the band seemed to be having a blast playing for a crowd that was spilling out of the tent. 

We zipped over to catch the majority of Duran Duran’s set.  The 80s rockers blended a nice mix of songs from their latest Mark Ronson-produced album and biggest hits from the 80s.  Seeing people randomly dance around for “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” was a great sight.

The it was time for The Strokes.  Julian Casablancas made his usually witty comments in-between songs and the band gave the crowd exactly what they wanted – rock songs delivered with gusto.  Playing all their past hits, you could tell the band was truly enjoying themselves on stage.

And then it was time for the most highly anticipated performance of the whole weekend – Kanye West.  Everyone was wondering how he would cap an amazing weekend of music and boy, he did NOT let us down. Appearing on a moving elevated crane above the audience with a stage full of writhing dancers, one got the feeling they were in for the performance of a lifetime. Sure enough, Kanye delivered and dedicated it to his beloved mother, ending the night with a heartfelt “Hey Mama.” 

I fully admit to still having the post-Coachella blues (and total exhaustion from taking the redeye back to NYC last night) but all I have to do is look at my pictures from the weekend and relive the memories.  I can’t wait until Coachella 2012 🙂

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