Friday: Conor Oberst
Friday: Conor Oberst
Merge Records

[Coachella 2009] Everything New Is Old Again--and Vice Versa

Worth the Wait
Everything new is old again—and vice versa—at Coachella

Is Coachella repeating itself? This year’s lineup, though predictably impressive, is full of bands who have played the festival before—the Cure, Morrissey, TV on the Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Black Keys. M.I.A. is performing for the second year in a row, her third appearance overall. Amy Winehouse, who had to pull out due to (shocker!) legal issues, did the event two years ago (though she certainly looks like a different person now, so maybe that wouldn’t have counted). Sure, two of the three headliners are new to Coachella, but Paul McCartney and the Killers aren’t exactly fresh, exciting new talent.

Whatever this says about popular music, though, the appeal of seeing all these artists in one weekend is undeniable. The lead singer of the Smiths, 8-bit-powered dance music, LA hip-hop and the guy who wrote “Yesterday” all in 12 hours? And that’s the first day? It’s enough to suffer through the crowds and the two-hour-long queue just to get in—and more queues to get into the porta-potties. It’s enough to deal with the inevitable heat rash and future melanoma. It’s even enough to justify spending $269 on one weekend of entertainment, which, in this economic climate, would make an AIG exec pause.

And there are still plenty of bands to be discovered at Coachella. (Check for set times.)

Blurbs by Vickie Chang, Albert Ching, Erin DeWitt, Spencer Kornhaber and Amanda Parsons



Airborne Toxic Event
Their popular single “Sometime Around Midnight” has invaded your radio speakers—and rightfully so. The Los Feliz quintet’s song describing a first encounter with a now-ex-lover is truly inspired. Unfortunately, this local band’s sound hasn’t transcended enough to move them past one-hit-wonderdom. Verdict: Stay for “Sometime,” then bounce. (AP)

A Place to Bury Strangers
Seemingly every few months since the dawn of Sonic Youth, a new buzz band emerge using messy, puke-brown guitar squall to wow critics and annoy everyone else. A Place to Bury Strangers are not one of those bands. They’re noisy, but their squall is sculpted, obsidian and wrapped around seductively sad vocals. Excluding My Bloody Valentine, these Brookynites’ set promises the weekend’s coolest opportunity for hearing loss. (SK)

Blending singer/songwriter Zach Condon’s unmistakable voice with mandolin, accordion, ukulele and other delightfully quirky instruments, Beirut land somewhere between Old World gypsy folk and modern whimsical indie. There’s something familiar yet innovative about the relatively new band’s richly textured sound and structure—plus, “Postcards From Italy” could just be one of the most beautiful songs ever written. (ED)

The Black Keys
Ohio natives Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney bring an old-timey feel to the Black Keys’ blues-rock ballads, thanks to Auerbach’s melancholy vocal swagger and his uncanny ability to make guitars weep (mostly attributed to his insane slide skills). Add Patrick’s vibrant, lock-step percussion, and it becomes difficult to believe that a two-man band can produce such audible perfection. (AP)

Leonard Cohen
He may be 75 and Coachella might be full of kids wearing fucking face paint, neon leggings and headbands, but Leonard Cohen’s gentle baritone voice knows no bounds. His dark folk has carried on throughout generations, thanks in part to being one of the most covered artists of all time, with everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Johnny Cash offering up their own renditions of such favorites as “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah.” (VC)

Crystal Castles
Nintendo, sex and violence all rolled into one sweaty dance party overseen by leather-loving she-demon Alice Glass. A Crystal Castles show is like a wet nightmare for the average Star Fox-playing geek. (SK)

Franz Ferdinand
These guys used to claim they only got into the biz to “make music for girls to dance to.” Clearly an oversimplification, given the range and depth the band have shown across their three full-lengths, but the point still stands: They are, indeed, really good at making music for girls to dance to, and there’ll surely be plenty of girls (and guys!) boogying to tracks such as “No You Girls” and the once-ubiquitous “Take Me Out.” (AC)

Girl Talk
Do you like when parts of songs you recognize are pieced together to make new songs? Well, this is the set for you! Technical whiz Gregg Gillis brings his copyright-flouting concoctions to what is sure to be a dancetastic desert party. (AC)

The Hold Steady
If you’re worried the fest will be packed with too-cool-for-school types, take some solace in the Hold Steady. Their front man, Craig Finn, is nerdy, balding and approaching middle age. All of which contributes to his awesomeness. The fact that his band produce joyfully verbose rock ballads that (constantly) attract favorable comparisons to the Boss doesn’t hurt, either. (AC)

Paul McCartney
Here’s a guy you might have heard of. The 66-year-old former Wings member (oh, yeah, he was in the Beatles, too) reaches out to the youth of America while simultaneously promoting his latest album, Electric Arguments, his third collaboration with producer Youth under the moniker “The Fireman.” He’s (arguably?) the most famous person yet to play Coachella—take that, Madonna! (AC)

No, it’s not the much-requested Smiths reunion (move on, saddoes), it’s St. Moz’s second Coachella appearance—the first was at the original in 1999. Things have changed for the guy since then, with three straight critically acclaimed records that have equaled “career comeback,” including February’s Years of Refusal. As he notes in his current single, “Something Is Squeezing My Skull,” he’s doing very well. (AC)

Conor Oberst
There’s no stopping a precociously prolific songwriter like Conor Oberst. The singer/songwriter, best-known for his work with Bright Eyes and for inspiring Tobey Maguire’s haircut in Spider-Man 3, released a self-titled record last August and is following it up with one in May from his latest project—the one he’s bringing to Indio—Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. (AC)

Silversun Pickups
The eagerly awaited follow-up to their 2006 triumph, Carnavas, has unfortunately been leaked online just two weeks before its April 14 release. Fans (and hackers) who have already snatched up Swoon may have the new songs before anyone else, but nothing recorded onto a digital format can compete with the band’s electrifying live performances. Sure, others may have the raspy-vocaled, poetic, stirring song files before you do, but at Coachella, you’ve got the real thing. (ED)

The Ting Tings
The lead singer of the Ting Tings is named Katie White—not “Stacey,” “Jane,” “Mary,” “Jo” or “Lisa.” (Apparently, she gets those a lot.) The British dance-rock duo aren’t “freaking” or “faking this,” either, despite the decidedly mixed reviews they got for their debut, We Started Nothing. (AC)

M. Ward
The twangy, soulful sound of this brooding blues artist, full of wailing lamentations for lost loves, just might make the festival crowd imagine they’re listening to scratchy sounds of an old Tommy Johnson album spinning on the Victrola. (AP)

We Are Scientists
When it gets hot and heavy under the desert sun, Keith Murray and Chris Cain of We Are Scientists will surely lighten things up: The two are known for cracking jokes between songs and generally being upbeat gentlemen. They describe their sound as “rock music of the thoughtful, sometimes epic, often loud, vaguely danceable, implicitly humanist variety.” We describe it as impressive. (AP)



Indie hip-hop duo Atmosphere will, unfortunately, be one of the very few hip-hop acts to grace the desert this year. Though Atmosphere have chosen to stay independent, the duo still remain bold with lyrical content and sound, with songs addressing death, touring and depression unlike, say, any of the autotune-loving artists on the charts today. (VC)

Band of Horses
These South Carolinians make spacious, anthemic indie rock that even your grandmother could love. Catch ’em now: If they land a few more car-commercial deals, Band of Horses could be headlining the joint next year. (SK)

Blitzen Trapper
Depending on which song you judge them by, Blitzen Trapper could either be the most authentic Neil Young revivalists alive or the most impious. They merely claim to be white-trash guys playing good tunes, deconstructing classic rock with Casio keyboards, and then reconstructing it with perfect, yearning melodies. (SK)

At this point, either you’re hip to Calexico—Joey Burns and John Convertino, whose diverse stylings range from alt-country to indie pop and whom you can find performing with a mariachi band or Neko Case, sometimes at the same time—or you’re not. If the latter, well, sucks for you. Much bigger in Europe than they are in their native country (this one), here’s as good an opportunity as any to get to know them. (AC)

Fleet Foxes
The 2008 self-titled debut of this Seattle group received massive critical acclaim, thanks to their “baroque harmonic pop jams” (as the band call it), whose almost-church-like sound lifts the spirit and transports listeners to a peaceful place. Escape the overcrowding and intense heat by visiting the band, closing your eyes and being entranced by their musically induced nirvana. (AP)

Gang Gang Dance
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Glass Candy
Electronica-pop duo Ida No and Johnny Jewel bring the dance to the desert. Embodying all things that go twinkle, sparkle and flash, Glass Candy pair concrete dance beats with offbeat, silvery vocals. So sweet, so cool, Glass Candy’s version of fresh, contemporary disco will send an icy blast through the dusty Indio air. (ED)

Junior Boys
It’s unclear why this duo, whose bummed-out whispering and sterile electro beats provide the perfect soundtrack to an icy winter, are returning to the desert after Coachella 2007. Just be glad it’s happening: With a live drummer and muscled-up guitars, these Canadians’ carefully crafted synth symphonies (synthphonies?) translate into a surprisingly slick rock show. (SK)

The Killers
After storming onto the music scene with their 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, they’ve continued their nouveau-wave success with a mixture of electronica and synthesized vocals reminiscent of hits from the ’80s. The Las Vegas crew take the old and make it sound new again—a philosophy that has proved to be the band’s jackpot. (AP)

Jenny Lewis
Along with M.I.A., Lewis is making a back-to-back Coachella appearance. Except, last year, it was with her band Rilo Kiley, and this time, it’s her solo act, which is a little more soulful and country, but just as apt to attract fawning indie-geek fans, of whose obsession she is the object. Must be flattering(ly creepy). (AC)

Think of these New York rockers as gifted horror-film directors, embracing the formula for popular thrills but also spooking with atmosphere and jolts. Like any good Hitchcock wannabe, they avoid parody by delivering only a few moments of gory pay-off per performance. The song “Broken Witch” provides a good example: It’s the one in which the band starts chanting, “BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!” (SK)

So we’ve gotten over the novelty of seeing M.I.A. perform while about to give birth at any moment (as she did at the Grammys in February), so now we’ll have to settle for M.I.A., the mother of a two-month-old, performing at her third Coachella and doing “Paper Planes” for all those who have swagger like us (and aren’t totally sick of that song yet). (AC)

Henry Rollins
Tired of live music? Venture over to former Black Flag front man turned comedian/author/activist Henry Rollins to listen to some live rants. While Indie 103.1 as we knew it may be gone, it’s nice to know its death hasn’t quelled the fire within this multitalented punk-rock icon. He’ll be up there bitchin’ about all the things we love him for hating: the government, women, and the trials and tribulations of being awesome. (AP)

TV On the Radio
Tunde Adebimpe has to be one of the coolest dudes ever. Not only is he the lead singer of one of the most lauded bands around, but he’s also an actor (he was in last year’s Rachel Getting Married, even though he didn’t have much to do) and an animator (he directed the video for “Pin” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Seeking out this performance is worth it for the chance to soak in his cultural capital alone. (AC)



Antony and the Johnsons
With a soulful wail, singer Antony Hegarty boasts tracks that are equal parts heartfelt and horrifically depressing. His unique voice has been compared to the deep jazz vocals of Nina Simone, but we’d say it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s jazzy, yes, but it’s also incredibly theatrical, operatic and can even switch from femme to masculine within a few notes. To be honest, we’re not sure how well this stuff is going to hold up in a 103-degree atmosphere in a tent that smells like armpit, but hey, maybe it’ll be really beautiful nonetheless. (VC)

Devendra Banhart
The freak-folk sage and Naturalismo pioneer spreads his eccentric bohemian sound over Indio, perfectly countering the festival’s abundance of electronic, digital and all-things-wired music. With his earthy melodies, hippie locks and starlet-attracting dishevelment, Banhart takes festivals back to the time of their peace-and-love heyday but adds just enough avant-garde weirdness to keep things current. (ED)

Brian Jonestown Massacre
For those who’ve seen the 2004 documentary DIG!—spotlighting the rivalry between Brian Jonestown Massacre guitarist/singer and Newport Beach local Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols—Brian Jonestown Massacre didn’t seem like they would be long for this world. But here they are, five years after the film’s release, playing the biggest and best music festival in the U.S. The Dandy Warhols, on the other hand, are not. In your face! (AP)

The Cure
Headlining the last day, just like they did in 2004, Robert Smith (who’s still rockin’ his signature look, for better or worse) and company will surely play songs off their latest album, 4:13 Dream, even if the crowd is more in the mood for, say, “10:15 Saturday Night.” (AC)

Shepard Fairey
Fresh from his newfound mainstream (to clarify, we’re talking “mainstream” mainstream) success from the now-iconic Obama campaign (and victory) poster, OBEY Giant artist Shepard Fairey is showcasing his other talent this Coachella weekend—as a DJ. With quite possibly the cutest DJ handles ever (he goes by both DJ Diabetic and Emcee Insulin), he has gained notoriety from opening for acts such as Love and Rockets and MSTRKRFT, and he has even made a few appearances at the Crosby in Santa Ana. (VC)

Friendly Fires
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Fucked Up
There’ll be no shortage of shirtless, overweight dudes with tattoos and shaved heads at Coachella, but Fucked Up front man Damian Abraham (a.k.a. “Pink Eye”) will be the only one to really own that look. After all, a man of his stature has only two legit career choices: drive a truck, or bellow savagely over epic, pop-poisoned hardcore. We’re glad he opted for the latter—it’s terrifyingly entertaining stuff. (SK)

The Kills
The Kills sure have changed. On 2003’s Keep On Your Mean Side, singer Alison Mosshart snarled her way into our hearts with her chain-smoking, sensual, perfectly raspy vocals, while guitar player Jamie Hince tore through blues riffs on tracks such as “Cat Claw” or the Velvet Underground-rich “Kissy Kissy.” And now? Now they sound like hipster dance music. But they’re also as popular as ever, so guess the joke’s on us. (VC)

You wouldn’t figure any city in Canada to have a sizable population of Somalian refugees, but the Toronto neighborhood of Rexdale is home to rapper K’naan and his family. The surprises don’t stop there—his latest, Troubador, features guest appearances from Kirk Hammett, Mos Def, Damian Marley and Adam Levine, among the motliest of musical crews (the ones that don’t requite an umlaut, at least). (AC)

The Knux
Last year’s Remind Me in 3 Days brought a whole heap of buzz to this LA-by-the-way-of-New Orleans duo, attracting attention and generally becoming the latest hip-hop act mostly white music critics could gush over after Kanye West became too unlikable. But don’t hold that against the Knux, who are legitimately funky. (AC)

Lykke Li
As is the case with most Scandinavian waifs, you might worry that Lykke Li could faint in the desert sun. But bear in mind that her pop ditties are somehow unpretentious, thoughtful and capable of inciting entire mobs to dance. She’s used to the heat. (SK)

Mexican Institute of Sound
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My Bloody Valentine
With concerns over noise pollution, we can’t help but wonder if Kevin Shields and friends are going to be able to pull off in a festival setting their trademark live feature: volume. Their last round of live shows in the area enveloped audiences in a terrifying din, which reportedly went as high as 130 dB—that’s jet-engine loud. Despite the noise restrictions, My Bloody Valentine will still be able to remind you why a Smashing Pumpkins reunion was totally not necessary. (VC)

Night Marchers
We’ve never seen fans as devoted as John Reis’ fans. From his days in Drive By Jehu—the Californian Fugazi, if you will—to Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes, Reis (better known as Speedo by his devotees) describes his present-day project, the Night Marchers, as an amalgamation of every band he’s been in. We just like to think of it as the talent of his greatest hits rolled into brand-new material. (VC)

No Age
Some fans will try to tell you that No Age’s strength lies in catchy tunes hidden beneath guitar fuzz and vocals that sound like they’re shouted out of car windows. We’d argue that these LA punks exist for moments and the feelings they produce, from the delirium of a noisy breakdown to the joy of cartwheeling off an amp. (SK)

Okkervil River
Austin, Texas, boasts that it is “The Live Music Capital of the World,” so it better be producing some good bands. Okkervil River’s most recent releases (The Stage Names and The Stand Ins) help lend credibility to that moniker: The quasi-double album (strongly linked thematically, but they were released a year apart) ponders celebrity culture. (AC)

Peter Bjorn and John
These Swedish rockers broke onto the scene with that one song in which they all whistle. “Young Folks” was even sampled by Kanye West on his Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape. Now these Stockholm natives have grown up and produced a whole new album, Living Thing (Almost Gold), which features absolutely no whistling whatsoever. But Rolling Stone gave it four stars, so they’ve got that going for them. (AP)

Paul Weller
It’s a shame that Paul Weller’s single name can sell out amphitheaters and fill fields with sweaty, gross festivalgoers, while the combination of Bruce Foxton’s and Rick Buckler’s couldn’t even sell out the Glass House. Sad face. (VC)

Public Enemy
It’s a sad, sad day when Public Enemy’s name is in even smaller point size than Peter Bjorn and John’s on a festival lineup. Sure, it’s also sad that a founding member of a rap group that once got away with lyrics that referred to Independence Day as “Hitler Day” has been whoring himself as the town jackass all over VH1, but just know that it’s all a distraction so Chuck D could subliminally fill your mind with his knowledge. All KRS-One ever needed, after all, was a Flavor Flaaaaaaaav. (VC)

Sebastien Tellier
You probably guessed from his name that he’s French, but that didn’t stop him from heavily promoting his latest album, Sexuality (produced by the equally French Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk), at American Apparel, which had an exclusive three-month prerelease of the record. Sebastien Tellier: sweatshop-free! (AC)

Every year at Coachella, there are a few musty classic-alternative bands hanging around. Like X! The Los Angeles punk band, best-known for their album Los Angeles, featuring their biggest hit, “Los Angeles” (hmm, possible trend?), have mostly stuck together after 30-plus years and several hiatuses and breakups. They’re now working on their first studio album since 1993. (AC)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Surely worth it just to see what type of fabulously weird outfit Karen O has planned. That, and their latest (It’s Blitz!) is chockablock with of tracks that seem like they would come across fairly mind-blowing live. (AC)


Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Empire Polo Field, 81-800 Ave. 51, Indio; April 17-19. Check website for set times and ticket pricing.


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