Another day is in the books for Coachella 2013, and what this day lacked in mega, blockbuster star power or once-in-a-lifetime performances, it made up for in sheer volume of quality. A requisite composite of indie darling bands butted directly up against electro heavyweights and punk heroes of yesteryear.
Like How to destroy angels_ yesterday, the spectacle and emotional depth of Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer was the strongest outing on the day. After a hilarious intro video detailing the romantic failings of Keenan alter ego Reverend Billy, the band entered the stage through a mini trailer park cab. Co-vocalist Carina Round came out sporting a fake pregnancy stomach. On the back of her shirt was a homemade sign that read, “Buy me a shot and I’ll let you name it.” Keenan stomped forth, several beers in hand and proudly announced, “We’ve got candy!” and then promptly began throwing out packets of Puscifer branded gummy fish. While that was happening, Round sang “World Up My Ass” aided by two backup singers (one of which mxdwn favorite Juliette Commagere).
From there, even though the presentation implied nothing but humor and silliness, the music was all business. The combination of pulsing quasi-rock, desert road twang and keyboard-modulated beeps and squelches delivered a stunning backdrop for the 3-layered vocal attack. “Dozo” bumped with enrapturing fun and “Toma” began the deep dive into weightier territory. Donkey Punch the Night track “Breathe” continued this progression and somehow, impossibly so, the illumination of struggle in the face of futility went even further with a cover of Accept’s “Balls to the Wall.” This was all cemented and perfected by their delivery and contrapuntal vocal harmonies on “Man Overboard” featuring layered tiers of singing (“Blood sky in the morning,” “All hands on all hands on deck”).
Earlier in the day, punk legend (Minor Threat, Fugazi) Ian MacKaye played to a modest crowd with his current The Evens. A stellar band featuring his wife Amy Farina on drums, the duo is the more accessible answer to the brutal power of Minor Threat and the art punk chaos of Fugazi. “Wanted Criminals” had a direct tempo and drove straight through to its finale. MacKaye made a short speech afterwards to vilify drone soldier attacks, drawing comparison the shock that America had in the recent attacks at the Boston marathon. He objected, “If you’re terrified, don’t terrorize.”
Ironically, another famous punk band started just a few minutes later. This one, actually hailed from Boston, and today, in keeping with the tone of their entire career paid tribute to the city where they were born. The band made a different kind of reference to the recent tragedy, simply stating only how grateful they were for the support everyone has showed to Boston in the wake of the incident. They then played “Your Spirit’s Alive” as a fitting response to all that’s happened. The bands incorporation of traditional Celtic instruments (bagpipes, flutes) with New England-style hardcore punk rock is a fun mix and pleasant change of pace compared to more straightforward punk music.
Later on in the evening the reunited Descendents also did a solid job with a pure punk sound. This configuration featuring Karl Alvarez on bass, Stephen Egerton on guitar, Bill Stevenson on drums and Milo Aukerman on vocals, the band blasted out “Everything Sucks” to start. Like Refused, who blew us away at Coachella 2012 and FYF Fest 2012, Alvarez, Egerton and Stevenson each all matter equally to the mix. Half of the fun in hearing Descendents is enjoying how technically sound each member is, and how no instrument is merely just following the pulse of the song. Fans of the band were treated with the short humorous number, “Weinerschnitzel,” and later the driving, “I’m Not a Loser.”
On the other side of the spectrum, England’s The xx played what just might be the most important show of their career. Playing to a gigantic crowd, the three-piece group delicately and coolly plucked out each song. The band’s brilliance lies in their extreme minimalism. Co-lead singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim play as few notes as possible (on guitar and bass respectively) letting the airy moments between each chord or vocal line ring through clearly. No song ever jumps up in tempo, or explodes into a frantic breakdown. The xx have their pace and once wrapped up in their web, there’s no need for it to move along any faster. While Croft and Sim hold court, sonic wizard Jamie Smith peppers the mix with keyboards, equally minimal percussion or even calypso drums. “Crystalised,” “Sunset” and “Shelter” all enraptured with meditative excellence. The trio demonstrated decidedly how they have earned a slot this high on any festival lineup.
For electronic dance music, the dichotomy of performance versus presentation was painfully obvious. Major Lazer brought the crowd to a frenzy largely through gimmicks. The band’s stage setup was comprised a series of proper speakers, the largest of which a smoke generator that could fire out smoke rings over the crowd. Diplo and the band’s hype man mostly spent the set handing out novelty horns to the audience, waving flags, hyping the crowd and even briefly surfing over the audience in plastic air bubbles a la Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips. However, it’s hard to say if Diplo or any members of the band were actually performing anything. It seems likely the whole set was triggered via an audio app like Serato or Ableton Live. The crowd didn’t seem to mind though.
Hot Chip, however, excelled purely because they were playing their instruments. All 7 members of the band diligently crafted each and every note of their extensive repertoire. “One Life Stand” and “Over and Over” were exciting because of how well they were actually performed. It’s no surprise from Hot Chip, as they’ve earned their reputation as one of the world’s greatest dance bands over many years of diligent touring.
The recently reunited Violent Femmes played the entirety of their classic self-titled debut album. Thirty years from its original release, the album’s cuts “Kiss Off,” “Please Do Not Go,” and “Add It Up” still reverberate as charming and courageous songs, unforgettable in both lyrical phrasing and playful structure.
The Postal Service took to the main stage and played to a giant crowd, all of which likely have been fans for many years never having had a chance to see the song’s performed live before the band quietly disappeared. Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of the band were joined live by lone album Give Up backing vocal contributor Jenny Lewis. This was the greatest chance on the weekend for audience members to singalong to classics such as “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” “Sleeping In” and “Brand New Colony.”
Lastly Janelle Monae owned the stage like she always does, confidently dancing furiously while wailing on choice cuts “Cold War” and “Tightrope” and covers of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
All photos by Raymond Flotat