Coachella Day One: Crystal Castles, Girl Talk, Morrissey, Paul McCartney, Genghis Tron
I had flown back home from a school language trip to Sevilla, Espana two days before I left for Coachella. I spent the night in Indio before the show was supposed to begin and planned my route for the inevitably sweaty and fun soaked weekend. My path began at Los Campesinos! A Welsh (?) pop/punk indie rock group that I had heard was really good. I ended up going to Joshua Tree National park with my parents, and underestimated the traffic, completely missing LC! (under 21 fans, rejoice, they are playing a secret house show in Seattle in early may!) So I found my buddies, who had VIP passes and eventually ditched me to head there, and got a spot at the Mojave tent I think for Crystal Castles. I had never seen them before. Last show they played in Seattle I think was $10 and sold out. I really wanted to see dd/mm/yyyy. But the past aside. The stage went dark as multi instrumentalist and producer Ethan Kath and a session drummer took the stage; Kath in his standard black hoodie up under a leather jacket. As the 8-bit style, raw electro punk raged out of the speakers, singer Alice Glass emerged. She screeched ferally and all that standard Crystal Castle buzz. Loud and harsh, but danceable. They played a remix of HEALTH, an L.A. noise band that sounded nothing like the original (Crimewave) which was pretty fun. But other than that, their set was of no consequence to me. I went for an 8 dollar sandwich. (Shitty) and a 5 dollar lemonade (equally shitty) and staggered over to the mainstage to grab a good spot to see Morrissey, one of my favorite musicians and lyricists of all time. I found a pretty good spot next to a loud, drunk fan. As the video screens played videos by Shocking Blue and the New York Dolls, the guy next to me kept screaming “MORRISSEEEYYY!!!! COME OUT AND FUCKING PLAY, I LOVE YOUUUU!!!” it started to piss me off, so I decided to initiate conversation with him so he couldn’t yell anymore. We talked about the Smiths. After five minutes, Morrissey and his uniformed band, most sporting his signature haircut, took the stage. “May I serenade you?” he asked, to which the crowd screamed, and he replied “I’ll try.” The band blasted into a more rock, chorded version of the classic Smiths song, “This Charming Man.” I was beyond stoked. As he played a few more of his own songs, he carefully inserted a Smiths song every few. “Girlfriend in a Coma” and others followed. In the middle of a song, he stopped signing and covered his face, eventually leaving the stage. He came back out in a different shirt and said “I can smell burning animal flesh, and I can’t bear it.” He was acting like a prick, so I left. I was disappointed at the sloppy level of care that he put into his songs, songs that mean a lot to me, were just rocked through or half assed. Morrissey is a wonderful musician, but a real asshole.
I walked over to get my spot for Girl Talk, outside of the over flowing tent, about to burst with people. As he took the stage, introducing himself as Gregg Gillis, so did about 50 other people, who stayed on the stage the whole time, dancing and partying. The set began with a remix of “Da Stanky Legg,” a joke/smash hit in most high schools, being played over a sped up “Sweet Child O’ Mine” it ruled. Most people see Gillis as the mashup king, combining 20+ songs in one and making it into a rad dance party, sampling Metallica to T.I. and others. This time he played a good 40 minute set, during which I inched my way up towards the front and danced all over the place. He ended the set by releasing a huge clutch of white balloons, attached to the ceiling on to the crowd, and throwing an inflatable yacht on to the people and hopping in. It was super good vibes and a really positive crowd, down to dance and have a good time. His mashups were super, he seemed really stoked on it and everyone had a good time. If you have a chance, I would suggest that you see Girl Talk. For real.
I went back over to the mainstage for Sir Paul McCartney. He came out on the stage looking confused, and angry, like 80,000 people had just showed up at his house. He laughed and smiled, and addressed the crowd. He began the set with a Wings classic, and moved on to play his own songs, and Beatles songs, much to the pleasure of the mixed age crowd. His band looked like 40 year old + “rock stars” who had too much gear and too much hair gel. The guitars were really distorted too, way too much. But the thing about Paul McCartney, and the thing about the Beatles, is that they are both timeless, bring together a group of music lovers from every generation, which to me is about the most positive good thing he could have done, more so than playing the songs perfectly. It was a lovely experience to see him, and I am glad that I did, but I left around 10:45 to see Genghis Tron. They were setting up their gear in the relatively empty tent. I looked around to see a small crowd of punks, hardcore kids and metalheads, talking, smoking and getting ready for the electronic brutality that they were about to witness. The members of the band finished setting up and headed backstage, looking a little disheveled. They came back 5 minutes later and proclaimed “Genghis Tron vs. Paul McCartney, go!” and blasted into song. Their sound is like taking traditional grindcore and hardcore, and removing the drummer, putting in a drum machine, and adding synths. In the middle of a song, they would slow down, and the guitar would stop, and they’d play pretty stuff on their syunthesizers, which was totally hilarious for me in the pit, watching some of the kids get it, and stop punching dancing and running and start bobbing their heads to the jam, then quick as a flash, jabbing out with their limbs as soon as it got hardcore again.
I had to leave, but they continued to thrash as I left the tent and walked off the grounds.
Coachella Day Two: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Blitzen Trapper, Bob Mould Band, Fleet Foxes
This morning I didn’t bother to go anywhere before the show, I knew I really wanted to see Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. I had been enjoying his lo-fi psychedelic pop for a while and was excited to see how it would translate live. Pink has been a part of the L.A. scene for a long time, beginning with super rudimentary bedroom recordings, using his hands, mouth and armpits to make beats. Lately, he has been using more sophisticated equipment, but still maintaining his lo-fi charm. For the last few years, Pink has been touring and playing with Haunted Graffiti, his backing band/project title. A drummer, a guitarist, a bassist and a multi instrumentalist took the stage with him. Pink wore a ripped up shirt and gray jeans, looking bedraggled and strikingly similar to Kurt Cobain, substituting blonde for black hair. He and Haunted Graffiti eased into their set, seemingly warming up. They had an early slot and all of them looked tired, but as the show progressed, they played with more intensity and precision. The music ranged all over the spectrum, but always seemed to be rooted in pop. Often times, the melody could be discerned from layers of reverb and effect driving synthesizers. To their own great amusement, they would take classic Haunted Graffiti songs and speed them up, playing a pop punk style beat underneath. The set progressed in reverse chronological order; at the end, I heard more tracks from House Arrest and The Doldrums, favorites like Among Dreams and For Kate I Wait. I really enjoyed seeing Pink perform, he effectively managed to take his lo-fi styled home recordings and play them in a relevant manner, impressing the crowd (including myself) to enjoy it more than I imagine they expected to. He finished his set with Hardcore Pops are Fun, a poppy jam that crescendos into a jumpy freakout and ends abruptly. Pink reminded me a lot of R. Stevie Moore, “the father of home recording” as well as Seattle’s own T.v. coahran, who played his last show ever with Haunted Graffiti in March.
I didn’t have anyone I particularly wanted to see for a while afterwards, so I meandered over to where Blitzen Trapper was setting up. I’d seen them before, in Seattle a few times, and I really liked their classic take on indie rock. They seem to fuse 70′s rock with modern styled introspective indie music with some country western sensibilities. They took forever to set up, 20+ minutes, looking up at the anxious crowd of mostly older fans. Its no surprise that Blitzen Trapper appeals to the older crowd, their retro sound is true enough for those who were around back in the day, but credible and interesting enough to appeal to the younger demographic. They started. The set this time was far more western oriented than I had ever heard them play before. I was looking forward to hearing “Wild Mountain Nation” which they never played, and instead got to an insight into the newish sound that these Portland guys are going for. The lyrics on several songs were about riding on a horse, or killing men on the border, typical cowboy fare. Singer/guitarist Eric Earley who I believe does most of the songwriting, shared vocal duties a little bit more than I recall he used to. The set was enjoyable, where it was not particularly memorable, I would say that Blitzen Trapper is the ultimate festival band. You payed the ticket price, might as well go see em, it will be nice.
I caught about half of Bob Mould Band’s set. He had just started playing “Makes No Sense At All,” a Husker Du classic, and a favorite of mine. I stood and watched him for a good 20 minutes, about half of the songs he played were classic Husker Du tunes, mostly from the seminal album “Flip Your Wig.” Mould’s solo music is a little bit more of a dad rock version of Husker Du; his songwriting hasn’t changed much over the years, but he seems to play in the major keys and stick to classic styled chord changes and structure. It certainly wasn’t bad, it didn’t impress or affect me the way that Husker Du did, but what does anyone expect. Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Bob Mould all played to people who fell in love with their original bands, and no matter what anyone says, that’s what they were there for. That’s why I saw all three. I wanted deep down to hear Beatles songs, to hear the Smiths and to hear Husker Du. Its nice to know that I’ve seen Bob Mould, knowing that he is getting up there in years, and it can always be the last time he tours.
I am a very pale, very German boy, from a very pale, very German family. I do not like the heat, or the sun. When I was forced out of my (semi) comfort zone of the shady tents to the outdoor side stage to see Fleet Foxes, I was a little grumpy. Robin Pecknold asked the sound guy, “Is the Public Address system on?” I thought, how uber-pretentious, but then realized that he was just a nerd, playing with words like I enjoy doing. I was in a better mood after slapping myself for being a judgmental prick. Drummer Joshua Tillman hit the drums a few times, awkwardly, as some guys who were passing an enormous joint commented, “This guy sucks. Where’d he learn to drum?” I was tempted to tell them, to just wait. They began their set, playing their standard songs. Of course, Tillman was much better than the guys in front of me had implied. He was slow and rhythmic, never seeming out of place, as sometimes drummers do in folky bands. The sound was really good, everything had been mixed correctly. I noticed that their set hadn’t changed since the last time I saw them, at I think Capitol Hill block party, or something like that. But still, it was a really pretty view of the shaggy guys, with the palm trees and mountains all around, the sun setting in the background. Fleet Foxes’ music is meant for the Pacific Northwest; the harmonies and chords sound temperate and cool, and hearing them in the warm desert seemed a little off, like watching Abe Vigoda play in Washington. The sound didn’t really suit the setting. It was, however, very beautiful as usual, they never missed a note, the harmonies sounded perfect, as they always do. I left about two songs before the end. I was tired.
Coachella Day Three pt 1: Vivian Girls, No Age, Fucked Up, The Murder City Devils, X, My Bloody Valentine
The third day of Coachella I knew was going to be the best. Some of my favorite bands EVER were playing. I woke up early and paid too much for breakfast. I got to Coachella round 1PM. Vivian Girls had started their set. This band has received an ungodly amount of good press from the “indie” circuit (i.e. Pitchfork) There are praised for their surf-rock meets girl group sound meets Greg Sage ghost writing for Black Tambourine. That’s what I think they sound like; Greg Sage ghost writing songs for Black Tambourine. Singer/guitar player Cassie “Ramone” carelessly strummed her way through their set, oddly enough, without any effect pedals that I could see, creating a sound of almost two guitars with only a Squier strat knockoff and a S.I.R. rented amp. That, to me, was the most compelling part of their set. The sound was “dream-like” as Pitchfork so often describes it, but it didn’t have the hardness that drew me to the Wipers, nor the beautiful simplicity of Black Tambourine. Vivian Girls shoegazy take on punk rock has either gone way over my head, or as I suspect, through one ear and out the other. While they were not in any way bad, their set in the extremely hot California desert failed to compel me or interest me in any great or significant way. A highlight, however, was the three way instrument swap that occurred during their last song, as the guitar was thrown down, causing reverb and feedback to fill the tent as the guitarist nabbed the bass, and the bass play took an extra drum stick to keep rhythm while the drummer went for the guitar. They pulled it of perfectly, although Finally Punk kind of beat them to the gimmick, switching their instruments for each song. It is worth checking out Vivian Girls on myspace (or at show (although you just missed them at Neumo’s with Abe Vigoda.) I stuck around, No Age began to set their gear up.
I had the pleasure of seeing No Age play a house show last July, and it was one of the best highlights of my summer. The L.A. band’s sophomore LP, Nouns defined my summer last year, with its punk hopefuls and pop melodies; surrounded by darkness and noise that gave off the feeling of being alive in the summer time. Songs like “Sleeper Hold” and “Eraser” dominated my iPod, filling me with sunny bliss. The two dudes in No Age are skateboarders, they have a half pipe in their house. It only suited the record to be played while cruising Broadway and Madison Park in sun on a skateboard, feeling the wind and the heat. Live, their sound translates better than I initially would have assumed. Drummer Dean Spunt controls samples from his drum kit, while guitarist Randy Randall re creates all of the noise and loops manually. His amplifier and equipment set up is impossibly complicated; but he manages to get it all set up in about 20 minutes, while Spunt tests each microphone. They walk off stage, then back on, and start their set. As the sun shines in through the back of the tent, their music hits me harder. Although this time No Age was more sloppy, but I really felt their punk energy, as well as the vibe that initially brought me into them in the heat of the sweaty tent, being thrown around by punks and festival goers of a wide variation of ages. Their sound is unmistakably noisy, drawing a distinct comparison to Sonic Youth especially in the sense of not sacrificing the pop aesthetic of the song for noise, only using the drone and feed back to push the point into the brain of the listener. The crowd was super stoked, it was early in the day, they were hot but hydrated, and seeing No Age rip through songs mostly from Nouns but occasionally playing older tracks off of the noisier, more punk, less pop Weirdo Rippers. I love Dean Spunt’s voice; its high and powerful without straining too much. He kind of sounds like a million California skate punks singing along to the Adolescents or Dr. Know. To me, No Age represent the youngest of the punk crowd, almost never having grown up themselves. As their set cascaded to a close, Randall threw up a No Age themed piñata like a baseball and swung with his guitar. The result was fantastic. The piñata’s head blew off and it flew into the audience. They walked off stage, and I went to get a $4 coke before Fucked Up.
Fucked Up played the Vera Project in September to about 30 people. They played the Mojave Tent at Coachella to about a hundred billion million. Like so many people. I was so ready to thrash. I got back to the front with my $4 coke in hand, thinking I’d have adequate time to drink it before they started. I was wrong. About two sips in, they start playing “Son the Father.” I chug the coke to try to get into the pit. Bad idea. But whatever, I was stoked to see them. Fucked Up is a hardcore band, first and foremost, but pigeon holing them further than that is extremely difficult. The guitar work and chord progressions often seem atmospheric and poppy, rather than fast and hard. But whatever is lost (or gained) in their lack of tradition, is re garnered by the amazingly deep and hoarse vocals of Pink Eyes, the singer. He is a huge hairy man, belting out odd lyrics not in the style of hardcore at all, more cryptic and fantasy oriented. Within minutes, Pink Eyes beat his face to a pulp with the microphone, drenching himself in blood. The set lasted for what seemed like forever, song after song, each different than the last, but similar in quality and ingredient. The reverb seemed to give an arty, tropical feel to their fast hardcore vibe. Pink Eyes started and stopped a song almost instantly, berating an audience member for feeling up on a female crowdsurfer. “This is not the place for that. Fuck that, there is never a place for that! This is meant to be positive.” But unlike many hardcore bands I’ve seen before, he never told anyone to get the fuck out, or made any threats. Fucked Up really are sweet people, nerds if anything, who channel that through their music. Pink Eyes spent most of the show on the guardrail or in the crowd, helping crowdsurfers out while singing, making sure no one got hurt; that all anyone walked away with was a few bruises and a stoked grin on their face. I got the pleasure of surfing, trying to catch the chorus of “Baiting of the Public,” and as I’m screaming into Pink Eye’s face and the mic, another guy gets the same idea, and I get surfed over. We both tumble in to the arms of the bloody, happy Canadian singer, still belting the words out. The security has all but given up. For their last song, they finally met a cliché. They covered “Nervous Breakdown,” the Black Flag classic. Dean and Randy from No Age helped out on guitar and extra vocals. The entire crowd went absolutely batshit. It was total chaos, but totally fun chaos; the kind of out of control situation that makes you stoked to be alive, stoked to be there, and stoked to get so intimate and sweaty with others of your ilk. After the show, I talked to Pink Eyes. He was the nicest imaginable guy. We talked about how good the lineup was that day, and eventually I brought up the subject of Seattle. I told him I was disappointed that their show in Seattle the previous week had been 21+. He told me to look out, because on their next tour, they’d be playing an all ages warehouse space. So get ready kids!
Coachella Day Three pt. 2: The Murder City Devils, X, My Bloody Valentine
After seeing Fucked Up, I was bruised and exhausted, but I my favorite band of the entire festival was yet to play. The Murder City Devils have been a favorite of mine since I was in the 7th grade. I waited 4 years to see them play in February at the Showbox. I thought that that show would be my last chance to see them, EVER. But no! I am standing in a tent, panting, surrounded by strangers, waiting for the Murder City Devils to take the stage. Spencer Moody is a really nice guy, he runs a junk shop on Olive called the Anne Bonny, and is generally friendly and supportive. His lyrics, however, are rough and tough, rock n roll clichés that somehow surpass cliché-dom, and almost come off as nerdy. You see Spencer in a polo, a sun hat and big goofy glasses take the stage. If you weren’t expecting it, it would be so funny and odd to see the 6 older musicians rip through such a cut throat set. On “18 Wheels,” the lyrics describe leaving a loved one, like a trucker, which I guess means for a long time, then asks if that lover will be there when he gets back. But the Devils transcend any level of criticism, rising from the Eastside suburbs in the 90s, the played since they were teenagers, first in places like Redmond’s Old Firehouse teen center, eventually signing to Sub Pop and selling out the Showbox. This band had a serious impact on me as an angsty pre-teen on Vashon Island, as they are still relevant to me now. They started the set, and the sparse crowd suddenly rushed forward, and like 1000 other people poured into the tent it seemed. If you aren’t familiar with the Devils, they play a garagey style of punk rock with almost poetic lyrics about garage punk rock things. They ripped through their set with the intensity that I knew they would, especially on classics like “I Want A Lot Now (So Come On)” and “I Drink the Wine.” The latter was the first real song I ever learned to play on guitar. There was a lot of moshing and crowd surfing, to the degree that I wouldn’t have expected. Three guys in luchador masks were punching people and being assholes, but other than that, it was super positive and fun for the nostalgic group of older music fans, as well as the younger kids, who found relevance and meaning in the Devils long after they broke up. I STILL stayed in that tent. X was up next.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I know almost nothing about X. I know that they are a female fronted, classic L.A. punk band. That’s it. I didn’t know what to expect from the show. Singer Exene Cervenka was wearing a granny dress, which is what a woman next to me told me she would do. I heard that she had been doing that forever, since the 70s and the bands inception. I figured that since most punks around then were tearing up clothes to make a statement, she surpassed all of them by wearing thrift store dresses and putting no effort into it. Their sound is classic, first-wave punk rock, with a lot of rock and roll and rockabilly influence, especially in the guitar. Guitarist Billy Zoom is 61 years old, and looks it. All of the solos that he played during X songs were without looking at the neck of the guitar, perfectly executed blue licks and rock solos. He wore big Ray Bans the whole time, craning his neck every 30 seconds, tilting his head, and grinning, making eye contact with a member of the audience. He posed for pictures like this, smiling and tilting his head. He seemed like a zombie. The crowd was about 80% people my parents age, stoked and singing along. The 20% that remained were people my ages, doing the same, except slamming and trying to crowdsurf. The experience was so surreal; seeing the longetivity of punk music, and how old the first punks are now. X ruled. Totally. They seem to tour every few years, usually doing two nights at the Showbox. Its worth it to go check them out, if that’s your jam.
BAM! I had a migraine like that. A mix of 139085 dollar food and the $20 in my pocket being GONE, grass pollen, and thrashing all day hit me like a truck. I wasn’t ready to give up yet. My Bloody Valentine were next. I was actually so stoked to see them. But my head hurt a lot. They took the stage. It was probably the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, ever. But damn was is beautiful, one of the prettiest things I’d ever heard. They played “When You Sleep” second. I know its clichéd but that is my favorite MBV song. They played it perfectly, beautifully. The guitars swirled around through the speakers, driven by the constant picking and the throbbing bass. It was like they had 4 guitarists, each managed to play two parts a piece, ripping through the noisy reverby mess. It was like stumbling into a dream with the 30,000 other people watching them. They stood perfectly still on stage, playing constantly, hardly speaking between songs. In my delusion, I wrote on my leg, “this is beautiful and loud and red.” Some other stuff too, but it washed on in the shower. I have no recollection of writing it. I saw the people around me in awe, no one spoke, just stared at the stage. Guitarist Bilinda Butcher was wearing all red, and her guitar was red. She looked beautiful. Kevin Shields had messy long grey hair, and he never moved. Everyone around me was fixated on the almost religious experience of seeing My Bloody Valentine. It was a super powerful set. They played a good 45 minutes to an hour, at the last song hitting their effects and strumming. They created the loudest; most penetrating wall of sound that I think possibly could have been created. It lasted for about 20 minutes. My head throbbed. I wanted to see the Cure and Throbbing Gristle, but I couldn’t. I went back to my hotel and threw up. Good weekend.
Ben Funkhouser is a former KEXP programming intern turned weekly columnist. He his column, Oh, Messy Life, will focus strictly on the all-ages music in Seattle. He also is the booking assistant at the Vera Project and writes for Public Access Media.