So where the hell were we last week? Vacation, bruthas and sistahs! Our bad selves needed to take a break from our thankless job of sorting out the begonias from the ragweed among all the local talent. But just so we can use our travels as a tax write-off, we'll now clue you into the fests we've been to. Won't be around next week, either—Best of OC and all that—so savor the following reportage, as Locals hits the road to the exotic land of, um, Portland. And Indio. Yeah.
North by Northwest
Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Music conference/fest NXNW is the Portland equivalent of Austin's South by Southwest, only about half the size, and, interestingly enough, friendlier to OC indie bands. All the locals who play SXSW these days seem to be affiliated with a major label; NXNW (which is run by the same people), in just its fifth year, feels about where its Austin counterpart was around 1991: smaller, less corporate, less crowded. Still, 350 bands from around the globe converging on one city (as opposed to SXSW's 850 bands) is still a big messa music, and we didn't even try covering it in-depth (remember: on vacation!).
And how could we, when just about all the OC/Long Beach peeps were playing on Thursday night at about the same time? And in such remote locales, too. Most of the 20 host clubs were peppered around downtown Portland's Burnside Street (where all the prime foot traffic was), but Long Beach's poor 00 Soul got stuck playing some joint called Seges a good 10 blocks away. Same for the LBC's fine Halo Friendlies, who were banished way across the Willamette River to a divey club called the Tonic Lounge. Meanwhile, Teen Heroes were booked into, appropriately enough, an '80s video arcade named Ground Kontrol. We couldn't catch their set, as our lifelong bud/Portland tour guide Michele insisted on hauling us over to the Zoot Suite to catch Portland's own Baseboard Heaters (remember: on vacation!), who kicked out some amazing, rootsy, alterna-country jams that were almost as good as Peepshot's. Not that there was a whole lot of competition or anything, but the Baseboard Heaters are our new favorite Portland band.
In turn, we dragged Michele to Jimmy Mak's for the set from Long Beach's Havalina Rail Co., whose live show we raved about several months back. But this set was way better than what we remembered, from probably the most eclectic, interesting local band we can think of. Especially severe moments of kick-assness came when Matt Wignall coaxed all sorts of incredibly odd, skritchy sounds out from his guitar, and bassist Orlando got so carried away with his playing that he wound up rolling into a ball on the floor but quite professionally kept the groove from falling, not missing a single pluck. Paired with the band's penchant for crazed Tom Waits-on-GHB instrumentation and joyous, sometimes country-fried balls-out rock & roll, Havalina's immense talents were quite terrifying to behold. All the Oregonians in the room agreed, since they accordingly went berserk over them, as they should. So did Michele, who bought two CDs, including their stupendous latest, America.
Also on the home front, Costa Mesa's Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings played Saturday night at the Ash Street Saloon, but Michele dragged us to the Spot to see another one of her local Portland faves, the Flatirons, instead. So we missed Walter but felt no guilt—we were on vacation!
Empire Polo Field, Indio
Our verdict on Coachella (a.k.a. Sweatstock), last weekend's endure-athon in the middle of the godforsaken desert? Glad you asked!
We loved: the vast, roomy expanse of the outdoor venue; seeing giddy people write WWW.WASHME.COM with their fingers on dusty car windshields in the parking lot; the bravery (or stupidity) of everyone who actually wore pants in the 100-degree bake; all the cool Commie propaganda on sale at the Libros Revolucion stand and the irony of it being just a Molotov cocktail's toss away from the AT&T booth; the activists who walked around with a giant Commandante Marcos puppet; the free (!) vintage video games in the hospitality tent backstage supplied by the Reagan Years in Fullerton, OC's coolest arcade; the bright evening glow of hot-air balloons; Sunday's generally swift parking-lot exit time of 20 minutes (we once waited two hours to escape from a U2 show); and, oh, yeah, the music of techno DJ Juan Atkins, the Chemical Brothers, Rage Against the Machine, esoteric Manchester breakbeaters Lamb (who sound like Marianne Faithfull fronting the Cardigans, but with a DJ), and—though we hate to admit it because we think everything he's ever done has been screamingly overrated but whose Coachella set was actually (ulp!) pretty good, except for the part in which he coyly waved a banana in front of his crotch before hurling it into the crowd—Morrissey!
We hated: water, or the lack of it. When you stage a big music festival under the broiling Mojave sun, you need to make water not only plentiful, but also free, not just as a matter of class, but also as a matter of public health. Though promoters promised "there will be plenty of drinking fountains available to guests for free" in the fliers hyping the event, we saw none, only some guy with a hose, which doesn't count. We wandered everywhere and asked everyone, too, but the gratis H20 was a no-show. We asked a Staff Pro guy where the fountains were, but all he did was laugh at us through a pair of parched lips and say, "If you find 'em, man, come back and tell me." What of the 15,000 free water bottles that were supposed to be handed out to people upon entering the grounds each day? An EMT working the medical tent on Saturday told us they had run out (gates opened at noon; we arrived at 3 p.m.; the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported a total attendance of 17,000 for Saturday. Conclusion: 15,000 people did notpass through the gates in the first three hours). "But," chirped the med guy, "there is water available for purchase behind you for $2."
"Thank you," we said—but "Fuck you" is what we thought. To sell water for any price under the Coachella weather conditions reeks of shameless profiteering at the least and inhumanity at worst.
But besides that, we had a really great time!