Hella Coachella

Photo by Rich Kane COACHELLA

The superlative sonic supermarket of Coachella 2003—the good, the bad, the weird, the ugly. The skinny:

•Pulling into the parking lot and hearing the White Stripes' Elephant blasting away on at least three car stereos.

•Being accosted in the parking lot by a strange group of cultists trying to hawk odd books about yoga in outer space or something.

•First music: Particle, a great jam band with lots of apropos Jerry Garcia/Allman Brothers coloring their tunes, as well as a fair number of faux Deadheads in front of the stage doing that silly, stoney dancing. During their set, the scent of a hundred rapidly evaporating spliffs filled the air.

•Black-clad NYC rockists the Mooney Suzuki. Okay, but not all that interesting, mining a loud, swift sound that's become quite a clich amidst all the “return-to-rock” hubbub. We know high-quality rock N roll when we feel it, brothers and sisters, but as long as these Moonies were onstage, we didn't. After two or three songs, you pretty much had them all figured-out, so with no mystery left, we split. They're the Donnas with wigglier genitalia.

•Later—and speaking of one-note wonders—were the Donnas themselves, on the same stage where the Mooney Suzuki had been. And there we were, walking right past. Bye, Donnas!

•We liked the five minutes' worth of Tha Liks' set we caught until they launched into tedious “Everybody wanna git all fucked-up!” chants. Thanks for being the first band of the weekend to rape our intellect, Liks!

•The best hip-hop we caught all day happened to be on film via The Freshest Kids, an excellent documentary about the late-'70s/early-'80s rise of breakdance/B-boy culture that played inside a sweltering tent (made endurable thanks to all the free Yoo-Hoo we could drink). But every now and then, between the vintage video of street crews spinning on their heads and hands, Pauly Shore inexplicably pops up to offer his alleged insights about the old-school scene, which leaves us thinking maybe this isn't such a great doc after all.

•We decide Ben Kweller is our king of the late afternoon, with his fantabulous pop hooks reminding us of a kiddie version of Wilco, minus the myriad of plug-ins. Kweller is the best thing to happen to '70s AM-radio nuts like us since Hanson, and we mean that with much respect.

•While snapping pics of the Hives in the photo pit, singer Pelle Almqvist steps off the stage and onto the narrow top of the steel barricade, using our left shoulder to keep his balance. Good thing we mostly like the Hives; otherwise, it would've been really fun to suddenly lurch forward and send him splattering to the ground. The Hives were peppy and fun, their usual manic, cartoony selves, playing around Swedish-style with the best chunks of frantic American R&B. Still, with egomaniacal exhortations from Almqvist like “All the other bands are dessert after this!” we couldn't help but think of them as a fleeting novelty gimmick. Far more distressing was the queasy possibility that somewhere, Robert Hilburn was off greasing his pole to the Hives' “marvelously entertaining” sound.

•Hot Hot Heat took forever getting started, so we floated over to the Sahara tent for Felix Da Housecat, who was brilliant with his sense of crowd-pleasuring. This being the main electronic/DJ/dance locale at Coachella, there was a lot to look at: asses slow-grinding against crotches; chunky, bearish men dancing with their shirts off; and everyone getting a chance to be gay, if only for a few lucky minutes. Near the end of his turntable time, Felix threw on New Order's “Blue Monday,” which practically made every sweat-stained person in the room spooge themselves.

•With dusk approaching, we made camp on the grass to take in Blur—ya-awn! Even before they hit the stage, people around us started yelling for “the woo-hoo song.” Does anyone ever actually play polo on these polo fields?

•On a quest for water, we found Coachella promoters Goldenvoice had again lied to us. At Coachella I in 1999, you may recall, there were supposed to have been 15,000 free bottles of water for parched ticket-buyers, but there were none. So we can't say we were too surprised when, using the map in the official fest guide, we trekked over to where free drinking fountains were supposed to have been and found . . . nothing, unless they meant the liquid waste people were evacuating from their bladders in the nearby portable toilets. We couldn't even refill the $2 water bottle we bought with tap, as there was only gooey sanitizer available for cleaning hands. We still maintain that water at Coachella should be free, especially when you're asking kids to drive out into the middle of a godforsaken desert on the cusp of summer. Anything else is a flat-out health hazard.

•While we're ranting, there are still not enough spaces for shade and still not enough toilets. Don't believe what Hilburn's LA Times story on Monday said: there were humongous lines at the shit cans, and we even caught one girl pulling down and crapping in the bushes near the main entrance.

•We passed up boring Queens of the Stone Age for a chance to witness the Mutaytor, a troupe of performing artists who play with flaming Hula-Hoops and stuff. We tired quickly at the spectacle—so Lollapalooza '92—and instead opted for the Subjagator, who offered a chance to view fire-breathing, remote-controlled robots, wanton destruction and shit blowing up. After nearly an hour's worth of delays, though, the guy who was apparently running the show announced that what we were about to see was a mere dress rehearsal for the “big” show on Sunday night. Dick.

•The Blue Man Group were splendid—mostly just added musicians to their already-percussion-laden stage show. They slid a video camera down the throat of a security guy so we could all see what he ate for lunch; banged away on their plastic-pipe contraptions; floated techno-fried jellyfish and dragonflies around; morphed into traffic warning signs brought to life; and covered both “White Rabbit” and “I Feel Love” in fascinating, danceable ways that made neither song seem dated or goofy. Plus, we didn't have to pay exorbitant Las Vegas prices to see any of it.

•Speaking of goofy, what business is it of KROQ's to have their lame on-air personalities (we don't dare call them DJs) hop up onstage and yelp, “Hi, I'm from KROQ! Woo-hoo!” at an event where the vast majority of the bands playing will never, ever get spun on the station?

•We especially loved all the new Beastie Boys tunes: “The U.S. Is Going Around Acting Like a Bully,” “We Need to Allow the UN to Play a Major Role in the Reconstruction of Iraq” and “When These Next Elections Come Up, Please Vote for Anybody But Bush.” Indeed, it has been a long ride from “Cookie Puss” to here.

As for Sunday, well, we had tickets; we wanted to go. But around 3 a.m., the nasty Mojave winds had kicked our allergies up with a vengeance. To stem the river of snot, we stuffed toilet paper up our nose, which made sleeping damn near impossible. Faced with a day of sneezing and watery eyes just to see the Stooges reunion, we bailed Sunday morning and drove home—we'd rather be able to breathe, thanks. But next year, we'll be sure to pack the Claritin. (Rich Kane)

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