Coachella review: Day two – TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes, Thievery Corporation, M.I.A.

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Indio, CA – Welcome to day 2 of Coachella. I promise you this won’t be as lengthy as part 1, through no fault of my own. I had a leisurely lunch with some friends in nearby Palm Springs that afternoon, then got stuck in an inexplicable traffic jam trying to get into the festival on Saturday and didn’t get in until 6pm. In contrast to Friday, I had never seen any of the bands I decided to check out.

That wasn’t my initial plan, though. Once I got through the gates I hightailed it to the back of the field, wanting to catch Glasvegas. They were a highlight of SXSW for me and I wanted a chance to see them closer up, and I didn’t really have anything else I wanted to do during their time slot. I arrived just as they were supposed to go on, and immediately I knew something was amiss. Another nice thing about Coachella is that it is very efficient; bands almost always start on time, and barely any gear was on stage at this point. I overheard someone saying Glasvegas canceled because singer James was sick, then a keyboard rolled onto the stage. Glasvegas do not have a keyboard player so I correctly assumed they weren’t going to be playing. I was sad but ran back to the front of the field in order to see TV on the Radio after all.

Not sure what to say about TV on the Radio that hasn’t been said by almost everyone in the entire music world, they’re awesome. After seeing them I plan to spend more time listening to them, as I really enjoyed them a lot. There were a ton more people on the field Saturday and it seemed like almost everyone was at the main stage watching them and singing along enthusiastically. The vibe was really good Saturday afternoon, everyone seemed really excited to be there. I still noticed the sound at the main stage wasn’t the greatest, though. Not sure what was going on there.

I caught about 5 songs of Fleet Foxes’ set, some of which were from behind the beer garden fence, so I probably didn’t get the full experience. Along with TV on the Radio everyone seems to love them to death, while I agree they’re really good I prefer their album mostly for background music. It flows very well, as did their live show. Not sure how they got through their set wearing flannel with those thick beards though. I was overheating just looking at them. Big problem for them was that the stage they played on wasn’t far from the main stage, so the last half of their set was slightly marred by Thievery Corporation going on. I gave up, as I wanted to migrate anyway.

Thievery were, without a doubt, the unexpected highlight of my day on Saturday. I’m a casual fan, but friends that have seen them urged me to make sure I saw them and I’m glad I did. What a cast of amazing musicians they are; so interesting to watch and listen to and the beats wouldn’t let me stand still. They are from DC and have been around for almost fifteen years. Perry Farrell showed up and sang on one song; keeping with the trend that he will perform in some way at Coachella every single year. Luckily at this point in my life I am not opposed to dancing around like a fool all by myself and I don’t really care what people think. It was nice to see that many other people in this crowd felt the same way. I wonder how many of them were on drugs.. anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed their set and am going to make sure to see them again someday when I can.

M.I.A. was next, and while I’m not a huge fan of hers I was very interested to check her out. It seems like just yesterday she showed up on the scene, whatever scene that might be.. and now she’s nearly headlining one of the biggest festivals in the country. She definitely rose to the occasion even though she just had a baby a couple months ago. In between comments about wishing she was back in one of the tents performing, she promised us seven songs instead of six. She and her DJ and dancers were covered in glow in the dark stripes and she often sang from a mock podium similar to one you’d see at a presidential press conference, launching bullhorns into the crowd. This time when audience members were invited on stage it did not end the show, and just watching was a hell of a lot of fun.

So that’s basically Coachella 2009 from my perspective. I’m glad I decided to make the trip out and if the line up is good in future years, I’ll definitely be back for more dry heat and Del Taco.

Coachella review: Day one, part two – Franz Ferdinand, Morrissey, The Presets

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Indio, CA – Moving right along..

In 2006 Franz Ferdinand made a fan out of me when I first saw them at this very festival. I had never gotten into them until I was forced to sit through their set while waiting for another band and they completely blew me away. Understandably I was pretty stoked to see them perform the older hits as well as some songs off the new album “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand”, which I am really liking a lot. Funny story real quick: In ’06 I ran into singer Alex Kapranos a couple hours after seeing them (seriously, I was hauling ass from one stage to another and bumped into him pretty hard) and upon realizing who he was excitedly told him how much I enjoyed his band and he graciously stopped to say thanks and wished me a good rest of the night. Anyway, these guys just radiate energy when they are on stage, and I find it impossible to stand still and not be swept up into it when they play. The new material sounded spectacular, especially “Ulysses”.

Morrissey was up next. I had also seen him previously at Coachella in 1999, the inaugural year of the festival. I wondered if he’d make a comment about it, but he didn’t. His set started off strong and turned out to be similar to the one he played last weekend – a few Smiths songs, mostly new songs. However, a little while into it he was obviously not happy with the way things were going. He kept putting his hand up to his ear which signaled he was having trouble hearing himself, and he made several angry comments about being able to smell burning flesh – “and I hope to God it’s human”, he said. I’m guessing anyone reading this blog is aware of Morrissey’s strict vegetarianism and animal advocacy. As a die hard fan I respect his dedication to the causes, but to me it’s pretty extreme at times (no, I am not a vegetarian because Moz says I should be, though I know he’s influenced many fans to that end. Very well and good for them but I love bacon thanks). He ended his set somewhat abruptly a few songs early but by then I wasn’t surprised. I felt bad for people who weren’t as familiar with him.. but what can you say about the man? He does what he wants and it’s a price you pay when you love his music. I’m not saying it’s okay to be a complete diva like he can be, but it’s something I’ve learned to live with.

Disappointment quickly faded away because it was time to book it back to the Sahara tent for The Presets. Ricky saw them recently in Toronto and reading his review made it so hard to wait for Friday night. Then I got even MORE excited to see them since the list of set times and locations were revealed for Coachella – they were given an hour to play (a long set, for a festival) late at night in the biggest tent, which was exactly what I had hoped for. I can definitely say that Jules and Kim did not disappoint, in fact they killed it. I have never danced so hard in my entire life and I don’t think I was the only one; I did not care that my tank top was soaked through with sweat even though the night had cooled off considerably. They powered through most of “Apocalypso”, one of my favorite albums of 2007, as well as a couple songs off of 2005’s “Beams”. The light show was also incredible to watch and it was just a perfect end to a very long, but satisfying day of music.

Day two coming soon….

Coachella review: Day one, part one – The Courteeners, We Are Scientists, Felix Da Housecat, White Lies

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Indio, CA – Having lived in southern California for twelve years until moving to Texas in 2006, I have had the pleasure of attending the Coachella Music & Arts Festival a few times since its inception in 1999. One of those times was 2004, where fellow Panic Manual writer Ricky and a few other Torontonians flew out to go with me, a very memorable weekend!

I only went to the first two (out of three) days. Even though we weren’t granted press coverage for the event (boooo) and I am the only one of us that went, I’m going to review the crap out of it anyway. Friday was the day I was most excited for; even though I had already seen many of the bands I was on board right away. Sense a trend here, in reading my reviews? I’m kind of obsessive. Coachella is my all time favorite music festival for so many reasons, but mainly because the setting is absolutely perfect. Indio is a desert town nestled at the foot of the Santa Rosa mountains, 150 miles east of LA. The festival is held on the polo fields there and I have yet to attend a musical function as beautiful and well organized as this one. It is put on with the fans in mind. Water is cheap and plentiful, in fact this year they introduced a new program where you could buy a logo water bottle for $10 and get unlimited free refills throughout the whole weekend. There’s tons of good food, and well-placed spots to lay on the grass in the shade or get a beer. I cannot recommend this festival enough, even if you don’t live anywhere near it. I feel it’s something any music lover should go to at least once in their life.

The Courteeners started things off on the main stage, even though I just saw them open for Morrissey last week I decided to check them out again. A decent sized crowd formed around us pretty quickly once they started. I really can’t wait for this band to do another album. I like St. Jude very much but I think their next effort has potential to be awesome; like I said previously, Liam Fray is a very talented lyricist and I think he will only get better. They got a good reception from the crowd and I enjoyed them as much as last week.

Out of laziness and lack of interest in anything else at the time, I stuck around the main stage area for southern California locals We Are Scientists. I remember liking them back when their second album came out in 2006, though I also remember Indie 103.1 (RIP, best radio station ever – though you can still listen to them online!) seriously overplayed a couple of their singles. Seeing them live was not at the top of my list but I’m glad I did, they really got the growing crowd moving despite the rising temperature, as no shade was to be had on that part of the field.

Next up I wandered over to the Sahara tent for my first dance act of the weekend, Felix Da Housecat. His remixes are always fun and I felt like dancing.. even though the tents get stuffy in the midday sun the place was packed and the crowd was loving it. One of the reasons I love Coachella so much is for these dance & electronica tents. Even though I’ve not always been a huge fan of electronic music – at least not as much as lately – somehow nothing wakes you up from a heat coma like setting foot in one of these tents. Being around fans that are SO EXCITED they can’t stop dancing is as infectious as it sounds. FDHC “played all the hits” as they say, and closed his set with a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” remix which was really interesting, but kind of anticlimactic.

White Lies were conveniently playing next, right across from where FDHC was. They were a surprise favorite of mine back at SXSW, but were given a really short set. I was happy to find that their time slot at Coachella was much longer. Unfortunately, the sound engineering gods were not smiling down upon them on Friday. They had problems during almost every song and while the band handled it more professionally than you’d expect, many angry looks and a few frustrated words were shot in the direction of the sound guy. They’ve been on the road for months now and Harry’s voice was a little worse for the wear but he still sounded good, and he’s still got my favorite voice among my personal top bands. As seems to be customary for this band, they were very appreciative of the fans who came by to see them, especially despite all the sound problems. I also have to give a shout out to Harry’s awesome shoes. He was wearing some pretty epic black & gold Nike hi-tops.

More to come….

Concert review: Morrissey with The Courteeners, April 12, Bass Concert Hall, Austin TX

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Austin – I’m not really sure where to start in writing a review of a Morrissey show. Seeing how this is the 38th gig of his I have been to, I’m a bit biased as to whether he is any good. It had been about a year and a half since the last time I saw him so I was feeling about due for a night with the man.

This tour he brought along The Courteeners, an up and coming band from Manchester, hand picked by Morrissey himself. They had been slated to play at SXSW but decided to go on tour with him instead. Their album “St. Jude” was produced by Stephen Street, who has also worked with Morrissey in the past; singles from the album charted pretty well in the UK last year. Unlike most bands that tour with Morrissey, The Courteeners have actually gotten a decent reception from the fans, including yours truly. I like their album very much and for once was happy to arrive early enough to see them and was not disappointed. Singer Liam Fray is an excellent writer and musician and the band were tight last night. I’m excited to hear more from them over the next year or two.

Promptly at 9pm Morrissey took the stage to a packed theater. The Bass Concert Hall is a bit of a weird venue to be seeing him at, at least if you ask me.. I prefer a general admission environment and most fans would probably agree with me. At any rate it was a nice place, smaller than most venues on the last tour and the crowd stayed on their feet for the duration of the show. He came out in a tux and the band were dressed in black with white ties bearing his likeness. Songs ranged from Smiths hits “How Soon is Now” and the more obscure “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” (with changed up lyrics), to several tracks off 2009’s album “Years of Refusal”. Lead guitarist Boz Boorer busted out the clarinet a couple times, I personally missed the presence of multi-tasker Mikey Farrell, who played trumpet on a few tracks on the 2007 tour.. those bits were replaced with a synth which felt cheap to me. Highlight of the evening for me was “I’m OK By Myself”, which hit home as I attended this show by myself and it was additionally a great performance by all. Per tradition there are usually a few to several stage invading fans towards the end of Morrissey shows, but that didn’t happen last night thanks to ridiculously tight security, who are the same reason I don’t have any photos to post (that and my seat was 19 rows back).

It feels like Morrissey is reaching the point where he doesn’t just belong to his die-hard fans anymore. People are finally understanding what an important songwriter and influence he is upon everyone from awkward high school kids to many well known bands. The crowds at the shows have slowly evolved from semi-familiar faces and to all kinds of people of all ages. It has been nice to be part of that club all the misfits like myself belonged to over the years, but I’m also happy to share him with anyone willing to listen.