As you get onto the 10 freeway from Los Angeles, you begin to realize that this is an endless expedition that can take you across the southern half of the entire U-S-of-A if you so choose. While you begin with the iconic western skyline from Lethal Weapon, a journey on the 10 can take you to the turquoise-laden states of the Southwest or to the muggy porches of the Gothic South; it all just depends on how much gas you have and what exit on which you decide to depart the five lanes of treaded tar.
For two weekends out of the year, the I-10 East is clogged with cars heading to the desert city of Indio—leaving the imagined adventures of Faulkner and Florida to the mind—full of music lovers searching for their yearly fix of sweat, drugs and bleeding eardrums.
The first weekend of the iconic festival (its 12th year on the scene) began with the sweltering heat that the valley is known for, and ended with an apocalyptic dust storm, which sent the painted and dirt covered crowd heading for the hills…or at least their hotels. In between Mother Nature’s mood swings though, some of the world’s biggest names and best kept secrets played on the Empire Polo Field. We were there to take it all in, or at least as much as we physically could.
The first day of the festival was a big day for musical offerings from the UK. The London based garage-pop-rock quartet Palma Violets braved the stage for their first Coachella outing and became one of the most buzzed about bands of the festival. Local favorites Lord Huron cast a spell over their early afternoon audience with their dream-like melodies and resonance proving that sometimes the first time really is the charm.
While the earlier acts stood their own at their first desert outing, including Canada’s Japandroids, it was only when a truly seasoned performer stepped onto stage that you saw the difference that a few years—or decades—makes for a live performance. Case in point: Johnny Marr. Known best for his unparalleled guitar riffs for the Smiths and his early involvement with Modest Mouse, Marr commanded the tent playing tunes from his first solo album The Messenger as well as classic Morrissey/Marr tunes. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” anyone?
Once night fell, the sold out crowd prepared themselves for the one-two punch of Blur and the Stone Roses, but it became crystal clear that the night belonged to Karen O and Daft Punk—the latter not even in attendance at the festival, but instead revealing a much longer clip and commercial for their newest single “Get Lucky.”
Armed with a gospel choir and a bedazzled outfit that would even make the former Pope jealous, Karen O commanded the main stage running through new material off of Mosquito as well as “Maps”: a self-described “Yeah Yeah Yeahs love song.” As a band that has donned the Coachella stages before, O was completely in control and confirmed her spot as one of the greatest band leaders of today.
Beyond the unanticipated and incredibly satisfying Coachella collaboration of Phoenix and R. Kelly for “Ignition (Remix),” the second day of the festival showed a more eclectic line-up (sorry Brits) including Wild Nothing and Spiritualized, the latter managing to capture the attention of an entire tent’s worth of fans without moving from his chair.
While the guitar bands claimed their spots at the top of the flyer and the set times, it was 2 Chainz that drew the largest crowd of the day spilling frenzied fans out of the Mojave tent and sprawling all over the “walking paths” up towards the food tents. If you weren’t inside the confines of the gleaming white tent you couldn’t see the rapper from Georgia at all, but the communal experience of his set was infectious.
The sweat was more palpable on Saturday—even though Friday was technically the hottest of the weekend—because the acts got people moving; punks and ravers were united by the undeniable exhaustion from their favorite act. The Violent Femmes (playing their self-titled debut in its entirety), Dropkick Murphys and the Descendents got the blood pumping from the punk scene while Major Lazer and Yeasayer brought serious grooves (and moves) to the crowd desperately pouring water on themselves to stay cool and wash off the surmounting dust.
When you can tell that a band is having as much fun as the throngs of fans that came to see them, it reminds us why live music is so much fun and why we love bands like the Postal Service and Franz Ferdinand in the first place. The reunited duo of Ben Gibbard and Danny Tamberello plus the always appreciated Jenny Lewis jumped right back into performing together as if it was 2003 again. They played through the recently released “new” tracks as well as Give Up staples that perfectly blended Gibbard’s unique voice with Lewis’ for truly ethereal harmonies.
From the calming sound of the Postal Service, we headed over to fully experience the sexually charged riffs of Franz Ferdinand. Always an underrated band, Kapranos and co sounded strong on the new material that showed a return to the harmonies and guitar of their first two releases. The four lads from Glasgow tore through a set full of new songs that and old favorites that left the crowd wondering why they haven’t been listening to Franz for the last couple of years.
Sunday marked the last and windiest day of the festival with Vampire Weekend preparing the music buying masses for their upcoming release Modern Vampires of the City. With the sun blocked out by dust, harsh gusts jarring exhausted attendees back into awareness, bandanas went from being a fashion statement to a necessity. LA locals Deap Vally took a break from their European touring to play Coachella for the first time, though you couldn’t tell that it was anything new to them as the duo owned the stage in true rock-n’-roll fashion. Continuing the West Coast trend, Hanni El Khatib brought blues back to the Gobi tent with a simple setup, but a lot of sound to get the crowd moving.
Right around the same time the ever-eccentric Claire Boucher charmed the audience and fronted both band and backup dancers. Aussie indie rockers Tame Impala established just how loved they are as fans poured in to see them play and well exceeded the normal amount of viewers for the outdoor stage. As the hazy resemblance of a sun started to set, Father John Misty got the ladies swooning with Josh Tillman’s signature hip moves and a lot of Lord of the Rings references. Marking the very day of Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers)‘s 20th anniversary Wu Tang Clan got the enormous crowd psyched and hands held high in “W” formation could be seen from almost any part of the grounds.
As most bands were taking the stage for the first time this weekend, Nick Cave returned to the stage after his Friday Grinderman performance. Not that he needed the practice, the rock vet opened with a youth choir and moved with more ease and comfort about the stage as if it was a second home.
Head over to our Tumblr for more of our photos from the festival!
Taken from FILTER Magazine. Published April 17, 2013.