Frank Black used to say—said as recently as a year ago—that his old band the Pixies would never get back together. And yet here they are, the main attraction at this weekend's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the reason Pixies-obsessed kids are flying in from Japan, the biggest of the many invisible hands behind the rising value of Coachella tickets—$140 tickets sold out for the first time in the fest's five-year history and they're now approaching $300 on the scalpers' market.
You don't have to wonder whether the Pixies are in this (and their simultaneous national tour) for the money. They've admitted as much. Such is life when the once-promising solo career of front man Charles Frank Black Francis Thompson (or whatever he's calling himself these days) peters out and royalty checks from bassist Kim Deal's one-hit-wonder side project band the Breeders apparently dry up.
But above all others at the fest, the Pixies are worth seeing this weekend. They were alternative when alternative actually meant something, before Nirvana stole just about everything the Pixies did—particularly their quiet-loud-quiet song structure—and parlayed it into legend. The best that could come out of this reunion is history: we don't want a new album, which couldn't nearly approach the greatness of their canon.
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So, two days, more than 80 bands—what else is there? We like Saturday's bill over Sunday's by far. Even though Wilco pulled out because of Jeff Tweedy's rehab stint, we're still intrigued by the potential fantabulousness of synth pioneers Kraftwerk, the political punditry of the International Noise Conspiracy, the delicious new wave/Mexican folk mash-up of Kinky, the glorious atmospherics of Dios, and the fag-tastic queer party of Junior Senior and Electric Six. We're even looking forward to Radiohead, though they haven't been listenable in years.
But the Cure, who play Sunday, haven't been listenable in decades. And while Sunday includes the Flaming Lips (a guaranteed great time), the Thrills (merely okay) and the intense DJ stylings of T. Raumschmiere's Radio Blackout CD, it's hard to imagine standing through a set by withered, self-parodic Robert Smith, Belle & Sebastian, and the horribly overrated Bright Eyes. We suspect we'll be hiking to the parking lot early Sunday.
Music, music, music—but what about the really important stuff? We expect to be sickened by the lame stage introductions of assorted DJs from KROQ, which co-sponsors Coachella, even though the station plays only about five bands on the bill—and we're probably being generous; with any luck, Indie 103.1 will find a way to infiltrate the grounds. And no matter what the Coachella website promises, there is never enough shade and there are never enough toilets. (Lines were so long at the shitcans last year that we caught one desperate lass pulling down and crapping in the bushes near the main entrance.) Coachella promoters promise—and fail—every year to supply free water and drinking fountains, and they're promising again this year. Yeah, you can buy bottles of the stuff for $2 a pop, but really: selling water to thousands of people you summoned to a parched desert on the cusp of summer should qualify as a human-rights violation. To save some money, we suggest smuggling in a bottle or two by telling the security bag-search people you're diabetic, even if you're not. Works for us every year.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field, 81-800 Ave. 51, Indio, (714) 740-2000; www.coachella.com. Sat.-Sun., noon-midnight. $75 per day; two-day passes, $140. All ages.