[Sprawl of Sound] Highlights, Lowlights, A'ights and Blights From Coachella '08

Coachella: Too Hot to Handle
Highlights, lowlights, a'ights and blights

Coachella kicked my ass in more ways than one. I got ill twice in three days and had to miss Sunday's lineup. If you're not feeling 100 percent (or even better), you will find yourself beat down by Coachella's zombifying heat, swarming crowds, dubious foodstuffs, and those plastic stench containers euphemistically called “restrooms”—and probably in dire need of medical attention.

Still, I took in enough action to fill the Weekly's entire music section, so let's try to condense this Coachella experience/ordeal into four categories within the column's niggardly confines. (See Heard Mentality at blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality for further Coachella coverage.)


Portishead. Their new songs sounded awesome, swerving away from the beloved trip-hop icons' trademark blunted, torch-song sublimity into harrowing new styles and moods. “The Rip” cruised on a wondrous motorik rhythm that sounded like a heartfelt homage to the late Neu! drummer Klaus Dinger; “Silence” and “Threads” found Beth Gibbons belting with soul-wrenching fervor, more Patti Smith than Billie Holiday; “Machine Gun” boasted disturbing, staccato beats, eerie Theremin moans and terrifying synth bursts. The band's older material came off well, but the new stuff really made this set exciting. Impressive for an established group a decade into their career to go on such a challenging tangent.

My Kraftwerk Tour de France bicyclist shirt. I wore it in honor of the German legends' Saturday-night performance and received more than a dozen praises, two photographs and two appreciative strokes from fellow attendees. Note to self: Get six more of these jerseys.

Kraftwerk. Never have so many people moved to such motionless onstage figures. The Deutsch men-machine rolled out something of a greatest-non-hits set before brilliant, riveting graphics, reminding us that they pretty much conceived the blueprints for techno and electro—without breaking a sweat and while barely moving a muscle. A serious “Boing Boom Tschak” to the system.

Aphex Twin. He deejayed sitting down and roamed musically from academic drones to Public Enemy's “Welcome to the Terrordome” to what may have been unreleased weird electro cuts from his voluminous archives to old-school hardcore jungle to ultra-complex experimental drum-and-bass to a set-closing 808 maelstrom (Squarepusher, maybe?). And the crowd went apeshit. Faith in humanity (temporarily) restored.

Diplo. His versatility within the oft-predictable realm of “party-rockin'” jock elevates this blond globetrotter from the white-powder-septum'd pack. Ingenious juxtapositions and deep knowledge of several styles keep his sets fresher than tomorrow's limited-edition Nikes.

Animal Collective. Primitivist enchantment and ritualistic music you can sing along to. Archetypal outdoor tunes to take to your grave.

Parabola. A huge Harry Partch-like sound sculpture from Ashland, Oregon, Parabola drew hundreds of amateur percussionists to its many beatable implements. Looked amazing, sounded thrilling, decreased hacky-sack playing.

Hearing theWicker Man soundtrack before Goldfrapp's set. Got chills to “Willow's Song,” even if it was 100 degrees out.

Black Lips. Garage-psych with attitude and killer tunes. Paradox alert: a timeless anachronism.

A bag emblazoned with I <3 minimalism>. On the shoulder of a white woman in a wifebeater.

VIP-section quote. From a 40-ish white man: “I don't feel so great now—not with all these very important people around me.”


Sharon Jones N the Dap-Kings. Their performance was sullied by errant bass frequencies from Pendulum in the next tent over.

Nausea. Brain-sautéeing heat and questionable festival food knocked me out of the loop for part of Saturday and all of Sunday.

Whoever was working sound for Prince. Biggest Coachella crowd ever, and we get aural mud.


Prince. Great songs, excellent performances, interesting between-song banter, weak sound.

Vampire Weekend. Can thousands of bloggers be exaggerating their greatness? Hell to the yes.

The Verve. Once-godlike space rockers suffer from middle-age spread.

Fat. Seeing a year's worth of unwanted human flesh in two days (mitigated by seeing a year's worth of wanted human flesh in two days).

Cinematic Orchestra. The once-expansive British jazz-funk troupe have gone from Sun Ra to somewhat blah, from LSD to chamomile tea.


Cigarette smoke. If I had a quarter for every toxic plume I inadvertently inhaled, I'd have enough money to pay Prince's Coachella performance fee. My suggestion: legalize pot, ban tobacco.

The couple who brought their infant in a stroller. Presumably for Portishead and/or Prince. All kinds of wrong.

Bottlenecked traffic. Entering and exiting Empire Polo Field has become an environmental disaster and a threat to the sanity of festival-goers who don't camp. Mass fucking transit, anybody?

Portable toilets. Yeah, I bitched about this last year, but it can't be stressed enough: these things are a horror. What to do? I propose that the contents periodically be emptied into cargo planes every few hours and flown to wherever George W. Bush is passed out, where said planes will drop the contents on his lawn as a gesture against the Iraq War and the shittiness of his reign in general. Call it Operation Scat Splat.


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