It would have been cute if it wasn't so appropriate: a mass of half-dressed hipsters outside of Coachella, waiting to get to the front of the mass for wristbands to get into the festival, letting out a communal “moo” any time the mass shifted forwards.
The story of Coachella today, for us at least, was one of logistical frustration. And some music.
When we showed up to the festival last year, the streets of Indio were jammed–but nothing like what we saw today. To get from our cute lil condo four miles away from the polo grounds took more than 90 minutes, nearly all of it spent sitting on one road that might as well have been a parking lot. And then we had to wade through the aforementioned herd to snag wrist bands.
Coachella is famous for being a clusterfuck to enter and exit, but more than a few people we spoke with thought today's slow-motion mob scene around the festival was worse than it has been in past years. Might have something to do with the new all-three-day-passes system, which requires each patron get a wristband for the entire weekend. Chalking it up to kinks getting worked out seems like the charitable thing to do. Or maybe we just hit a string of bad luck.
We entered just in time to catch the end of the last song of She & Him's set. Zooey Deschanel and Matt Ward took their bows, the crowd started to wander away, and then five minutes later–without warning or much egging from the crowd–Deschanel reappeared on stage for a torch-song rendition of “I Put a Spell on You.” It was an interesting performance, one that reminded us She & Him's greatest asset isn't Deschanel's voice. She sounded pitchy. But she sells her stuff with a smile, and there aren't that many acts reaching directly back to the Golden Oldies era as faithfully as she and Ward do.
From there, it was wandering time. We saw a few minutes of Passion Pit, whose singer sounded even more feminine than he did on the Boston band's buzzed-about debut. His voice was thin and embarrassingly affected; that didn't stop the crowd from getting their daytime rave moves on to the Prozac-pumped, electro-pop of tracks like “The Reeling” and set-closer “Little Secrets.” We ducked into the Mojave tent for some Grizzly Bear. They opened with the bracing, fluttering anthem “Southern Point,” but the tent's acoustics, unsurprisingly, dampened the song's dynamics. Grizzly Bear is a band that's nearly all about sound, so the unavoidably muddy festival sound system kept them from making the impact their live shows–usually spellbinding–do. Still, with “Two Weeks,” you saw plenty of passersby lured into the tent by the candy-striped piano plunking and the promise of harmonies you could hum along to. We only caught the beginning and end of Them Crooked Vultures' set, but from what we heard, the rough, chunky guitar sounds and thundering percussion of their debut was translated faithfully.
The act that followed them on that stage, though, nearly stole the night. LCD Soundystem's James Murphy seemed acutely aware that, for most Coachella goers, LCD Soundsystem is a band that's talked about but rarely listened to. So he opened things with something accessible–“Us V Them” from Sound of Silver–and then followed it with plenty of self deprication. He noted that in past years, his band played the smaller stages at Coachella. Their placement this year upgraded them from being the “mixed nuts” of a meal to the fish course–or maybe the vegan protein. The cool thing about seeing Murphy & co. is that they look like professionals: geeky, accomplished 30-somethings, dressed respectably, working hard to build each song from a repetitive skronk into an addictive, funky thrum. And Murhpy's a fun, personable front man. He acknowledged he was about to commit a faux pas by playing two brand-new songs in a row, but the crowd didn't seem to mind that much. Halfway through each new track, the audience seemed to have figured out whatever slogan they were supposed to be chanting.
We made the small mistake of ditching LCD's set for Vampire Weekend. Why a mistake? Because LCD Soundsystem had just launched into “Yeah,” a perfect distillation of the band's disco-ticking-time-bomb philosophy–and a really damn awesome one at that. When we arrived at Vampire Weekend, the quartet's polite, spare pop seemed comically bloodless compared with the thunderous rock-turned-to-house beats bleeding through from the stage next door. That said, Vampire Weekend did deliver an immaculate set. It's too bad the sound was mixed to play against the band's strengths, emphasizing the low end and minimizing the crispness of the percussion and the chiming of the guitars. The effect was strange, and on tracks like “Cousins”–where you're supposed to hear a lot going on–a little disappointing. We expected chipperness; instead, we just got pleasantness, which probably isn't something to complain too much about.
Jay-Z's headlining set felt like a rock show, which is both par for the course from him and also, you know, right for Coachella. Maybe this is part of his shtick, but Jay kept saying throughout the entire performance that he was humbled, thankful, etc. to be here, and he seemed like he meant it. He certainly delivered enough to make the crowd grateful, opening with a recent hit–“Run This Town”–and then laying down one recognizable track after another. There were goodies, too. Like fireworks. Or having Briget Kelly sing the chorus on “Empire State of Mind.” Or giving a shout out to Grizzly Bear, Passion Pit and “Yeasayers.” Or playing the clip of Barack Obama brushing dirt of his shoulders before launching into, well, you know what song. Or… His girl Beyonce Knowles showing up to sing “Forever Young.” That was the track that brought out the fireworks, even though it may have also been the one that least needed them.
As for tomorrow? The only sure bet is that we're taking a different road there. Jeez.