Mediocre? You Can't Be Serious

In defense of Coachella

Those of us who make the yearly trek to Coachella do so not because the festival is a rite of passage, or a badge of honor, or even particularly cool—that motivation went out in '01 with headliners/former KROQ kings Jane's Addiction, and if not then then certainly in '02 with Oasis. So there's really no point in bloviating over whether Coachella's slipped in comparison to, say, Tennessee's Bonnaroo, or Chicago's Lollapalooza, or Sasquatch! up in Washington, especially considering those festivals draw from the same pool of "It" bands—and that, travel costs and time off aside, Tennessee is still really. Really. Far. Away. Yet that's precisely what various bloggers and music journalists—namely the Register's Ben Wener—did in the days leading up to the festival.

And, well, shit. Why?

Those of us who make the yearly trek to Coachella do so because—for lack of a better phrase—it's life. It's how we know summer is almost here. It's how we know 364 days have passed since the last time we drove to Indio. And, above all, it's how we stumble—literally—upon new bands to love. Which helps explain a note I scribbled during My Morning Jacket's late afternoon set on Saturday: "Okay, first of all, Ben Wener, Fuck You!"

Watching as the Louisville rockers delivered one Kentucky-fried jam after another—including the endlessly, hopelessly catchy "Off the Record" and others showcasing singer Jim James' from-here-to-Mars falsetto—I felt a fervor for rock & roll that I hadn't registered since first watching TheLast Waltz as a teenager. Add to this a boozy, plugged-in electric set from hippie guy/Second Coming Devendra Banhart and a gorgeous performance by Cat Power, backed by the Memphis Rhythm Band, and it's easy to see why, by night's end—physically drained and nearly reduced to tears, no joke—all I could muster was a quiet, "Let's go." And then: "I can't watch another band today after this."

If you were listening—and not just debating/whining about the presence of has-been headliners such as Depeche Mode or Madonna or Tool—this year's Coachella proved every bit as entertaining and solid as the years previous. And if you weren't listening? Well, then: Fuck you.

SATURDAY

Matt Costa, 2:05 p.m.: Local-boy-gone-sort-of-famous Costa—who, by the way, is also on the bill at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Sasquatch! and every other music festival reachable by R.V.—listens as a crowd of 300 or 400 (maybe 500? I'm bad with guesstimates) sings his Donovan-esque folk songs right back to him. The crowd even includes a raver in a dog costume (complete with a furry tail snaking out from beneath his shirt), who appears to particularly enjoy—as we all do—Costa's single "Cold December." Guy's on tour for the next two months straight. Godspeed, man. Make boatloads of money.

The Walkmen, 3 p.m.: The new song? "Lost in Boston"? Fun to say out loud.

Animal Collective, 4:45 p.m.:Reports from those closer to the stage laud this set as one of the best of the day, but if, like me, you're standing toward the back, this freak-pop outfit's lush landscape of yells and echoes and heavy reverb—while at points perfectly channeling Wall of Voodoo—doesn't really translate so well. I blame it on the wind pushing the sound every which way before reaching my ears. If that's even possible.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, 5:25 p.m.:There's people standing 10 deep outside the Mojave tent for the Brooklyn band's set. These people are totally content doing this. That's a Brooklyn band for you.

My Morning Jacket, 6:05 p.m.:One more thing about these guys: Radiohead better watch their back.

Devendra Banhart, 7:40 p.m.:Shirtless and shoeless and holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a guitar in the other, Devendra is the dirty hippie every mother fears her daughter will one day bring home. Two other guitarists, a bassist and a drummer join him onstage for a decidedly not-very-folksy set that includes "Long Haired Child," a quiet cover of Xiu Xiu's "Heard Somebody Say" and "I Feel Like a Child." His hold over the crowd is unreal: I can't decide if he's like Jesus or Manson, but either way, I'm fairly certain he could tell us to kill our parents and we would.

Franz Ferdinand, 8:30 p.m.:They play the hits, and you know what? The hits still hold up.

Cat Power, 8:45 p.m.:
The poignance and nervous brilliance of this set converts me into a Cat Power fan. Leading the Memphis Rhythm Band, a group of a dozen or so musicians—including a slide guitarist, a string section and some backup singers who make my knees shake—Chan Marshall serves up Southern-tinged ballads like they're mint juleps on a balmy summer night. Fluctuating between shy and flirty, a near mess and in total control, she nails it. Her voice is thick with sadness, yet there's a palpable pride there too. It's easily the best performance I've ever seen at Coachella, and I may be ruined for life because of it.


SUNDAY

Mates of State, 2:25 p.m.:Eternally consistent hubby-and-wife duo delivers another round of songs featuring their signature shout-at-each-other-over-drums-and-keyboards style. Also, lots of tracks from the new record, which, if you haven't already picked it up, might just be their best.

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