After a 364 day countdown it was finally time for Coachella 2011! The Coachella Music and Arts Festival is a Southern California tradition, where droves of music lovers drive out to the Polo Grounds in Indio, California for 3 days of music, dancing, partying and lots of sunshine!
This year wristbands sold out after only 3 weeks, a shock to many annual Coachellites who could purchase tickets online for last year’s festival up to 2 weeks before the event. Despite the early frustration for many Coachella veterans, the festival was still a tremendous success with masses of people converging at every stage, tent, and impromptu dance party. But of course the most important thing is the MUSIC! It’s the reason 300,000 people converge in the middle of the desert. This year’s lineup was heavily Indie and Electronic, with headliners Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, and the Chemical Brothers, with Kanye West providing a hip-hop set as the Sunday headliner.As is the case with large festivals, there are always some great surprises. Here are a couple of the highlights from this past weekend as well as a couple disappointments (although how disappointed can anyone really be when surrounded by live music, it’s only expectations that aren’t met).
Best Performance: Kings of Leon
I can fully admit that I bought the Aha Shake Heartbreak album when it first came out and played it until it broke. I also admit I was disappointed by their much more polished yet predictable effort in the megahit album Only By the Night. Kings of Leon played well as the opener for the Rolling Stones a few years back, and that stadium experience really showed. I had two concerns coming in: 1) Kings’ early music was just so raw that I imagined it would only translate in a small venue that could magnify the band’s sound; 2) I simply wasn’t excited to hear their new material live after listening to the album. But the performance I saw put both those fears to rest. Kings of Leon, without question, was the best sounding band at Coachella. The music was flawless and the sound was so big it wiped out conversations 2 stages away. It was face-melting.
Consensus: Ya, you got me, Kings of Leon is a legitimate headliner.
Best Band Nobody Saw: Flogging Molly
So I left Kings of Leon towards the end of their set, which was no easy task considering the show they put on, but I had to make it over to see the always spectacular Flogging Molly for their midnight-1am set at the Outdoor Stage. As I headed toward the stage I found myself struggling against a heavy current of people leaving the stage. Everyone was heading towards Kings of Leon, which left a relatively deserted stage for Flogging Molly. The crowd was filled with Irish rock fans: Celtics jerseys, Irish flags, and groups of fans wearing that free shirt they got at a St. Paddy’s party this year. This is a rare breed at Coachella, which is not the ideal venue for Irish rock, but the fans showed up. The first violin lick rolled off and the entire crowd started an hour long Irish jig dance pit. It was a celebration, which after a full day in the sun and a weary crowd, was the perfect sendoff to the first night of music. The set was highlighted by several new tracks from their new album Speed of Darkness, coming out May 31. In particular Saints and Sinners, off the new album, rocked the audience. The songs off Speed of Darkness are reminiscent of the older “Drunken Lullabies” album with a greater emphasis on quick drum beats and light violin which made for such fun dance songs. It’s a refreshing departure from the beautifully crafted but predominantly somber and melodic Float album.
Plus, Dave King is a showman, and he’ll make sure everyone has fun. It was a great set for those select few that stuck around to see it.
Biggest Disappointments: Kanye West and Black Keys
Disclaimer: In different ways, they both put on very good shows!! But the sound quality made both these performances hard to watch, especially in light of such high expectations.
Black Keys: This band has such a big sound on their albums that I thought they were a sure bet to rock the crowd! But a faulty microphone and sound issues kept the vocals almost unintelligible. It was an underwhelming performance from a band with such good albums. Maybe this band just isn’t built for festivals, there are only 2 guys for most of the songs, but then again I’ve seen Jack White shred a wall of sound practically by himself. Look to see them in a club if you can.
Kanye West: The major headliner of Coachella pumped out hit after hit during his almost 2 hour set, which I admit is impressive, but quantity isn’t always quality. Kanye obviously had more $$$ to put into his stage show. The amazing background dancers, the remarkable set which showered sparks down on the stage, and the well-choreographed theatrics were a spectacle in themselves and honestly the best part of the show. Kanye himself just doesn’t have the voice or stage presence to project energy out to such a vast festival crowd. Ultimately his set ended up feeling like a well-produced Broadway stage production of “Kanye,” as opposed to a true individual musical performance. It was a spectacle for the eyes, not the ears. It may be unfair but I have to inevitably compare it to Jay-Z’s performance at last year’s Coachella festival, which is still being talked about, and there is no comparison. Jay-Z commanded both the stage and the audience and captivated the crowd accompanied only by a static set and a band, something Kanye couldn’t do with masses of extremely talented dancers and performers behind him.
Let the countdown begin to Coachella 2012: 358 days and counting…