Coachella has overtaken Lollapalooza as the major gathering of alt-music tribes. For three days in Indio, California, music fanatics congregate to hear sanity-threatening numbers of bands in intense heat and nipple-hardening cold. Braving Coachella's elements, vile toilets and clogged parking lots has become a rite of passage for adventurous hipsters. This year's fest abounds with quality artists in the rock, pop, rap, electronic, mash-up, Israeli trance, reggae, world-beat genres . . . and Happy fuckin' Mondays. Stuff this in your backpack with the sun block, herbal X and TP, amigos.
FRIDAY, APRIL 27
The quirkiest superstar in the poposphere will likely reduce her devotees to tears of bliss—and drive the infidels to the mist tent. Love her or hate her, this shapeshifting Icelandic vocal acrobat takes sonic risks and flaunts sartorially like nobody else. (DS) 10:45 p.m.
LA rapper Busdriver spits 9X more words per bar than any other MC—and they're wittier, too. He's 'bout to blow up with the fantastic new Roadkill Overcoat. Sure, it's nerd rap, but it's ablaze with amazing, skewed-funk production (from Nobody, Boom-Bip and Bus) and incisive intelligence. Speed (s)kills . . . (DS) 8:25 p.m.
Def Jux honcho El-P returns to the fray with I'll Sleep When You're Dead, a new pressure cooker of tracks to stoke your paranoia and angst. This stalwart indie hip-hop producer/MC always brings the densely rancorous production and lyrics that kick you in the eye. It's smarts that smart. (DS) 9:50 p.m.
Yeah, The Outsider is as patchy and misguided as your kid bro's beard, but Shadow's catalog has enough stunning, chameleonic beat science to make his live sets riveting. This sampladelic sorcerer can go in many directions (hyphy, orchestral psych rock, trip-hop, schmaltzy balladry), most of them worth the inevitable sunburn. (DS) 11:15 p.m.
You've got to give it to Interpol: Not only has it managed to revive and instill pride in New York City's music scene, but it's managed to survive too—five years after the release of its first full-length (not bad for a "hip" band). Chalk that up to mainstream appeal and almost-constant radio play or to, you know, a knack for penning four- to five-minute danceable hits. So, uh, Interpol: Indecipherable lyrics? Fine. Mooching off the beloved spirit of Ian Curtis? Maaaybe a little. Catchy-as-shit music that doesn't take itself (too) seriously? Definitely. (VC) 9:30 p.m.
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
Let's all make one big collective sad frowny face at ourselves for not getting off our asses fast enough to buy Jesus and Mary Chain tix for the band's Glass House show. One . . . two . . . three: >:( (VC) 7:40 p.m.
Frontman Kevin Barnes stirred up controversy by selling one of his tunes to Outback Steakhouse (an indie-cred no-no) and, at a recent show in Las Vegas, by ditching his notorious mid-set costume changes and opting instead to perform totally nude (hey, it was 21+; relax). All controversy aside, focus instead on the band's most recent album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, which couches tales of psychological torment in danceable synth-pop. "I'm in a crisis, I need help, c'mon mood shift, shift back to good again," Barnes sings, and you'll dance as the tears well up in your eyes. (TC) 4:55 p.m.
Mike Patton's latest outlet for his omnivorous curiosity and contortionist cords finds him raiding his sonic pantry with schizo glee—and surprising beat-centric accessibility. Guests on Peeping Tom include myriad anticon superstars: Amon Tobin, Kool Keith, Kid Koala and Massive Attack. Patton even makes Norah Jones sound sexy. Miracles do happen. (DS) 8:40 p.m.
Hey, guys: it's okay to like orchestral, grandly composed melodies and ornate tunes that seem fit for Broadway, with lyrics sparkling with so much wit and charm you just can't seem to stop smiling whenever you see Wainwright live. No one's gonna laugh and call you gay. At least I won't. Promise.(VC) 7:15 p.m.
On her 2006 album Back to Black, this British vixen channels the authoritative soul power of Nina Simone and Ellen McElwaine; the rhythm & booze results transcend homage to become genre rejuvenation. Winehouse sings about her struggles with the bottle and her entanglements with dudes in gritty detail. She told us she was trouble, but damn is she good. (DS) 6 p.m.
OTHER MUST-SEE ACTS: BROTHER ALI/DIGITALISM/JARVIS COCKER/ARCTIC MONKEYS
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SATURDAY, APRIL 28
The ideal complement to LCD Soundsystem, !!! is yet another indie-rock outfit that discovered the holy grail of groove and rode it, mantra-like, to middling success. The Brooklyn octet has peaked with its latest opus, Myth Takes, which often sounds like Afrobeat icon Sunny Ade as interpreted by Talking Heads/Gang of Four aficionados. (DS) 6:40 p.m.
Remember that stuff I said about Rufus Wainwright? Strings and melodic movements and ornate compositions and lyrics oozing with wit? Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird's sorta like that—'cept a little closer to the sensible pop of Badly Drawn Boy than Judy Garland or Liza Minnelli. (VC) 6:15 p.m.
So let's get this straight. CocoRosie: two American half-Cherokee sisters (Sierra and Bianca Casady), playing "psych folk" ("freak folk"? God no) with the harp and tinkering electronic children's toys and (sometimes) beatboxing? And an album recorded entirely inside a Parisian apartment bathroom? And one of them is from Brooklyn? Even if you don't like CocoRosie's oddly appealing, oddly whimsical, oddly catchy, lovably offbeat sounds, you've gotta admit that's some freaking good marketing. (VC) 7:30 p.m.
ROKY ERICKSON & THE EXPLOSIVES
A potentially awesome flashback for those who weren't even born during Roky's acid reign with Thirteenth Floor Elevators . . . or perhaps a disastrous tarnishing of his gleaming back catalog. Whatever the case, heads won't want to miss this garage-psych legend attempting to make the comeback of the decade. Pray for "Earthquake." (DS) 3:50 p.m.
Greg "Girl Talk" Gillis will satisfy your ADD-afflicted need to hear radio hits from all eras, new mainstream rap, '90s club staples, yacht rock and alt-rock chestnuts commingled with uncanny synchronicity into a party-igniting mega-mix. It's like the best-edited Casey Kasem Top 40 rundown ever. (DS) 8:45 p.m.
A review described the Parisian Gotan Project as "electronica meets tango." I hate that. But then I realized it's a dead-on description, no matter how unhip that choice of words may be. Gotan Project takes the time-honored genre of tango and mixes in breakbeats and unique sampling. (VC) 9:55 p.m.
Here's a hipster band that's actually better than the hype would lead you to believe. LCD's new album, Sound of Silver, is a perfect synthesis of old-school tanz muzik and twitchy, New York-centric post-punk. Imagine a dream jam session among Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Cluster, Steve Reich and the Fall, with a sentimental Lou Reedish ballad to send you to the exits. (DS) 9:30 p.m.
With a tiny handful of artists this year representing hip-hop, Pharoahe Monch—along with Busdriver and the Coup—is among the few hip-hop artists at Indio that I . . . well, like. Monch's confrontational lyrics (e.g., "Rape," which sorta disturbingly likens his verbal and musical deftness to physical rape) and complex, seemingly tongue-twisting delivery—yeah, you know what? Just go to this summer's Rock the Bells concert for all your hip-hop needs. (VC) 1:30 p.m.
It's hard to fathom why this Canadian project, consisting of members culled from many other groups, isn't the most popular band in America now. Nearly every song they've recorded has been an expertly produced pop-rock gem, and while they probably haven't changed any lives with their music, they've been consistently solid on record. One of the rare instances where a supergroup equals more than the sum of its parts. (TC) 5:05 p.m.
Mark Linkous is still representing Appalachia's knack for indie rock that was sparked in the early '90s by bands like Superchunk and Archers of Loaf. When Linkous isn't delivering his brand of pop hooks buried behind his haunting vocals, he can be found dodging death and collaborating with everyone from Thom Yorke to Tom Waits or covering Daniel Johnston with the Flaming Lips. (VC) 9:35 p.m.
Along with Fiona Apple, Spektor has stepped in to fill the void left in the hearts of piano-pop fans confused by Tori Amos' flight into Elysium. Spektor's vocal technique has been called precious, but her lyrics are refreshingly direct, and her live performance (complete with occasional beatboxing) is tremendous. (TC) 3:50 p.m.
OTHER MUST-SEE ACTS: BLONDE REDHEAD/CORNELIUS/JUSTICE/POP LEVI/ MSTRKRFT/OZOMATLI/THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE QUEEN/HOT CHIP
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SUNDAY, APRIL 29
Air's new Pocket Symphony is a bland meringue of an album, but with its rich backlog of songs, the French duo has the goods to refresh your overheated noggin with a cool breeze of mellow melodies and sumptuous guitar/keyboard/koto textures. Do try to control yourselves during "Sexy Boy," eh? (DS) 8:35 p.m.
These Brazilian cuties play sparky, sparkly electronic pop that should appeal to Diplo followers and Deerhoof fanatics. They sing about many important issues of the day, including making love while listening to Death from Above and meeting Paris Hilton. And they're Brazilians, the hottest people on Earth. You can't lose with CSS. (DS) 5:55 p.m.
KCRW darling José González is seemingly better known for his acoustic covers—the Knife's "Heartbeats," Massive Attack's "Teardrop," Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart"—than his own original works. Which is funny; González's soft classic guitar and smooooth and placating vocals will make for an excellent low-key set to relax to in between crowded tent sessions and hipster-dodging in the desert sun. (VC) 7:20 p.m.
Surely the biggest WTF? booking of the fest, Happy Mondays by all rights oughta be confined to aging hipsters' hazy reminiscences about the baggy old daze of Madchester and Ecstatic raves in the English countryside. Still, it'll be fascinating to see if Shaun Ryder can remember his goofball lyrics and if the band can recapture its slack funkadelicness. (DS) 9:40 p.m.
For nearly two decades, Hawtin has been one of techno's foremost innovators. While he can geek out over state-of-the-art gear with the best of 'em, this Berlin-based DJ/producer also knows how to move the masses' asses for hours. He makes the minimal maximal, one great bleep at a time. (DS) 6:05 p.m.
This electro-pop group makes the kind of music Depeche Mode never should have abandoned—romantic, emotive vocals on top of beautiful, poignant melodies. Listen to their recent single, "In the Morning," and enjoy as it reminds you of your big relationship mistakes. Hey, sometimes you just need to let it all out, you know? (TC) 4:40 p.m.
They call it "Congotronics," and it's some of the dopest DIY trance-dance jammage you've never heard (but you will). Known for its trademark variously pitched likembés (thumb pianos, which are metal rods attached to a resonator) run through homemade amps, plus hubcap percussion and raucous chants, this urban African sound radiates a hectic ebullience while keeping you utterly mesmerized. (DS) 6:05 p.m.
After a 10-year hiatus, the Lemonheads released their eighth album in 2006—which provoked the resounding question: "Evan Dando is still alive?" The problem with many bands who suffer from the sophomore/ic—and beyond—slump is that they try too hard to stray from their strengths. Dando & Co. successfully channel their early '90s heyday with a return to the sound of It's a Shame About Ray, 15 years later. Go and marvel at the ghost of Dando while he plays the kind of music he does best. (VC) 11:10 p.m.
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At the raunchy nexus where Baltimore club, futurist electro, baile funk and XXX-minded rap converge, you'll find Spank Rock. Fader and Vice may be riding their jocks, but Spank Rock's Technicolor booty music deserves every column inch of hype. Let's hope they bring lewd MC supreme Amanda Blank. Bump, bump. (DS) 11:05 p.m.
TAPES 'N TAPES
Tapes 'N Tapes' debut album, The Loon, may have seemed underwhelming in light of all the initial hype it received, but repeated listens reveal it to be a well-crafted, unpretentious indie-rock album. "10 Gallon Ascots" stands out, as it builds to a Wolf Parade-esque crescendo at the chorus that makes me wish it could be blasting from my car stereo should I ever accidentally drive off a cliff. (TC) 2:25 p.m.
OTHER MUST-SEE ACTS: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA/THE ROOTS/THE COUP/SOULWAX