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COACHELLA 2004


By: A. L. Venable

April 30

(Writing from the balcony from the Palm Desert Motel 6)

7:30 pm

Nothing like getting up at the crack of dawn—actually before dawn—to get to the airport to head to Coachella 2004.

Southwest Airlines is quite the travel experience. I recommend flying with them at least once. There was a camera crew on hand at BWI because a competitor in the Strong Man contest was on board, plus there was a singing flight attendant who distributed bottles of champagne to a guy celebrating his 35th birthday and a couple marking their 40th wedding anniversary.

Fast forward to arriving at LAX, I met up with my friend Craig. We got the rental car and headed down the I-10 to Palm Desert. Ugh! LA traffic sucks! But the view from the car window was amazing as we got closer to the desert. The desert was awesome; it reminded me of the artwork for the Twilight Singers’ Blackberry Belle album. The mountains made you feel so small as you drove by and the windmills were cool as well. (This was my first trip to the West Coast.)

The sun is setting now and there’s a gentle breeze blowing. From the balcony, I can see the mountains off in the distance. Just beautiful.

Everything is so spaced out here…there isn’t much near the motel beyond a few fast food places and a gas station.

I set my cell phone’s alarm for 7:30am…I know the crowd will be crazy, but somehow any inconveniences will be outweighed in the end.

May 1

9:30am

We arrive at the Empire Polo Fields. Parking wasn’t too difficult, but being so far up front means it’ll be really hard to exit tonight!

There are 35 entrance rows; we get into line #17. Lots of people from different scenes are represented—hippies, rastas, indie boys and girls, punks, new wave…and lots and lots of tattoos. There were people from all over the U.S. and from around the world who traveled to a spot—literally—in the middle of nowhere to enjoy the sun and hear music in a relaxed setting.

Movement in the line starts around 11am. After getting my backpack checked by security and my ticket scanned, we’re on the grounds at around 11:15am…not bad at all.

11:15am

This place is HUGE! There are five venues for bands—Coachella Main Stage, Outdoor Theatre, Sahara Tent, Mojave Tent and Gobi Tent. The Sahara Tent was for the DJs while the other venues had bands. There was another tent showing films and episodes of South Park. As we walked around, there were various sculptures and performance art pieces.

Lots of tents for t-shirt vendors, Coachella sponsors, even a makeshift Virgin Megastore in place to sell CDs of the bands performing over the weekend.

My favorite shirt was at the High Fidelity Distribution Co. tent—“Jews Kick Ass,” which included photos of a few famous Jews—from Jesus to Sammy Davis, Jr.

It’s hot, but bearable. There are water tents scattered all over and at $2 a bottle, the price is reasonable.

The scenery—palm trees are on the perimeter with the mountains serving as the backdrop far off in the distance.

12:00pm

The Section Quartet – Four string musicians who cover rock songs. It was pretty damn cool. Since Radiohead was tonight’s headliner, they did a few of their songs, including “Iron Lung,” “Just,” and “Paranoid Android.” They also did songs by Queens of the Stone Age, Jeff Buckley, TOOL, and yes…the Darkness. They were on the main stage and had a good crowd cheering for them.

The food options on the grounds were very good. You could find anything here no matter what you did or didn’t eat. There are so many people walking around! Man, the guys are all pretty hot, too.

1:15pm

The Sounds – We caught part of their set, it was pretty good. The lead singer is very reminiscent of the days of Blondie or Missing Persons. She was swaggering around the stage and trying to stir up the crowd. They played their hit, “Seven Days a Week,” first…I told Craig that probably wasn’t a good sign. They did play a few new songs.

2:30pm

The Evens – This band of two includes Ian MacKaye (guitar), known from Fugazi and Dischord Records, and Amy Farina (drums) from the Warmers. Craig and I were looking forward to checking out one of the bands representing the DC music scene. Sadly, all we could say was “Meh.” The best part of the set was when Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers came on stage for 15 seconds to play a trumpet part during “On the Face of It.” We left after a couple of songs.

2:45pm

The Stills – I got this band mixed up with The Thrills and The Killers…see, that’s what happens when too many bands are on the bill with rhyming names. I did recognize several of their songs…especially the one that goes, “I’m still in looooove, I’m still in loooove…” They had a decent-sized crowd at the outdoor theatre.

The thing about festivals like this is that people feel the need to “represent their scene.” Well, that’s fine and all, but when it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s time to abandon that shit. There were lots of people—yes, men and women—walking around in heels, fishnets, long-sleeved tops, etc. Alas, there were many under-dressed folks. Leave something for the imagination!

Most people wore sandals, shorts, dresses, skirts, capri and cargo pants or jeans. Many of the guys went topless. It wasn’t unusual to see most people, myself included, carrying their shoes and walking around barefoot through the grass.

3:25pm

Stellastarr* — They played a good amount of tracks from their debut album. It was the first time I saw the band in a couple of years. The crowd was loving it…the tent was packed with people. I even saw another chick wearing the same top I had on…go figure!

The heat is getting to me now. I take a break from seeing Stella to find a cold beverage. Fruit smoothie = good. I returned to the tent to catch the last few songs of Stella’s set.

4:30pm

Beck – well, we were going to see him, but everyone else had the same idea, so we sought more beverages and shade with the others. Alas, I only get to hear a dance remix of “Seven Nation Army” thumping from the nearby Sahara Tent.

Cannot wait for the sun to go down…

5:00pm

After basking in the shade for a bit, it was time to return to the sunlight. We decided to check out International Noise Conspiracy over on the main concert stage.

The band wore matching red and black-striped tops (long-sleeves) and black pants. They were very energetic during the set…jumping around, yelling and giving a full-on rock show performance. I don’t know how they can do it. I’m dying out here and I’m just sitting or standing.

The band played a few new anti-capitalism songs and urged the Americans in the crowd to vote Bush out of the White House in November.

5:45pm

Black Keys – Ahh, back in the shaded tent. I think a lot of people were thinking the same thing…or, maybe they’re indifferent as to who’s playing, just as long as it’s in the shade. Unfortunately, that backfired since the tent was packed, it got super-hot.

The Black Keys’ performance was just as hot as the tent. Just about everyone stayed for the entire set. These boys prove that you don’t necessarily need a bassist. Craig said they were blowing all the Detroit bands (i.e. White Stripes) out of the water with their retro sound.

6:30pm

Desert Sessions – This is one of the bands that made me want to go to Coachella this year.

It’s actually cooler outside at this point than it was in the tent during the Black Keys set. The DS live band included Josh Homme, Natasha Schneider, Dave Catching, Chris Goss, Troy Van Leeuwen, Alain Johannes, Mark Lanegan and a few others that I didn’t recognize.

Random note: A small airplane flew over the grounds throughout the day to promote Adam Sandler’s new album. Ick.

As the sun slipped behind the mountains, DS played the laid-back “I Wanna Make It Witchu,” which was a perfect soundtrack to what was going on…Sniff…sniff…what’s that strange smell?

It’s amazing how on-schedule all the bands are. Outside of the headliners, each band has about 50 minutes and there’s an actual clock positioned on all the stages.

7:20pm

The Pixies – Holy crap! This is yet another band that made me want to attend. The crowd was insanely huge. Luckily, there were Jumbotron-type monitors on the stage so most folks could see the band.

They played all the hits (Monkey Gone to Heaven, Gigantic, Here Comes Your Man, Debaser, etc.), but there wasn’t much interaction within the band or with the crowd. But still, it was the PIXIES!!

9:00pm

Radiohead – Craig and I knew we wouldn’t be anywhere near the stage. I suspect a lot of folks staked out the front the entire day. How lame. We found a nice spot on the field and sat down to look up at the stars and enjoy the music.

When the headliners took the stage, the crowd went nuts. They played songs from every album, including “Creep.” The crowd went beserk over that and sang along. There were two guys in front of us playing air guitar…okay, Beavis, settle down. While I’m not the biggest Radiohead fan, the show and Thom Yorke’s voice were both great, despite worries earlier in the week that his vocal cords were not well.

The stage set-up was worthy of their headliner status. There were lots of lights and multiple camera angles used to display the band on the Jumbotron screens.

11:00pm

The herd – There was no other way to describe the mass of people exiting the festival grounds to search for their cars. Actually, I think someone did go “Moooo.” Even though we found our rental with relative ease, we didn’t move anywhere.

If anything took away from the festival, it was the lack of an exit strategy. Everyone was trying to get out, but there were no police, security or other traffic guidance (i.e. signs saying “go here”) in the parking lot. We sat motionless for two hours. Thankfully, we had plenty of CDs.

Once we exited the lot, we saw tons of police, which makes me wonder what the hell they were doing…probably waiting to bust folks who may have been smoking or drinking.

We reached the hotel, after a stop for gas and sodas, after 2am.

After that debacle, we decide to go to the festival later and leave early. Otherwise, we may as well check out Sunday morning and take our things to the venue before heading back to Los Angeles.

May 2

1:30pm

We decided to only check out a few bands and leave early to beat the traffic this time. We were directed to a different lot…hope it helps!

2:10pm

Since the first band we want to see—Muse—doesn’t begin until 3:45pm, we check out the String Quartet again. This time, they’re playing in smaller tent, but they’re still good.

3:20pm

Broken Social Scene – Bathroom break…woohoo! Flushing toilet trailer.

3:45pm

Muse – ROCK! They were so good. I think that was the most energetic performance of the weekend. Craig hadn’t heard of them before, but he came away a fan. He’s planning to pick up all of their albums. You hear that RIAA?!? People are still buying records.

Thanks to the ID tag on my backpack, we run into a few folks from Baltimore. Pretty cool.

4:45pm

The Killers and The Thrills—They were playing at the same time in different tents. We walked through both, but didn’t stay for long. Both sounded OK.

6:15pm

Belle and Sebastian—After taking a long break at the food court (Thai iced tea with cream is so damn good!) to relax in the shade, we ventured over to the main stage to check out B&S.

Not really a fan, but glad we decided to sit down in the grass to check them out. It was a nice set with lots of harmonizing…very light and mellow, which was fitting since the sun was going down.

7:35pm

AIR – Boys with foreign accents? I’m there. What a perfect scheduling fit! The chill sounds of AIR as the sun sets. It’s just hitting me that the weekend is coming to a close.

AIR’s live band and the outdoor setting were great. Although we left their set a bit early to head to the outdoor theatre for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, AIR is a great band that can move from the studio to a live audience.

I think the epitome of what the Coachella festival is all about happened during the AIR set. There was a guy with lots of tattoos, piercings, a Mohawk, and wearing a kilt and Doc Martens in front of us dancing while “Kelly Watched the Stars.”

8:15pm

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC)—Despite a false start due to mic problems and continued bass issues, which forced the band to go acoustic for about half their set, the band put on a great show. They were good sports about the situation and that goes a long way.

Note to self: avoid German Hare Krishnas in dark parking fields handing out books. I left $5 lighter because I knew if I didn’t contribute, the Karma Police would be looking for my ass.

10:30pm

Back in the hotel room, freshly showered to rid myself of the dirt, dust, sweat and grass (not that kind!). It’s time to reflect on the weekend’s performances and the Coachella experience as a whole.

The weekend was great and I’ll probably return next year, though next time I’ll probably fly to Palm Springs to save car travel time.

Favorite acts of the weekend:

– Muse

– Black Keys

– Pixies

– BRMC (for being gracious despite the tech difficulties)

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