Coachella. Three days of music in the desert with my best friends and a hundred thousand new ones. It is soul cleansing. It is life affirming. It is a religious experience filled with as much ritual and reverence as any pilgrimage to Mecca.
The journey begins on the drive from Los Angeles, windows down, iPods blaring the songs that define your life, fellow freeway-goers exchanging knowing smiles. Usually bumper-to-bumper traffic is a recipe for rage, but never on the road to Coachella. Everyone inching along the interstate is giddy with anticipation of the following morning when we all get to walk out onto that field and feel the energy of the crowd and the promise of pleasure pulsing through the air in some distant and familiar drum beat.
It is a special moment, those first few footstep in the warm grass after winding your way through the giant hedgerows of the Empire Polo Fields. You can see it in the smiles and deep sighs as everyone pours out onto a hundred acres of live music and bliss. Let the dancing begin.
This year, my first must-see artist was Cee Lo Green. I showed up late, but that’s okay, so did Cee Lo. He took the stage with only twenty minutes left in his set time, apologized with a shit eating grin, and in a moment of profane transcendence, promptly got a small city’s worth of sunburned white kids to sing “Fuck You” in unison. Everyone went nuts as the band rolled into the opening of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, but that shit was too good to be true.
We were all ready to belt out “just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world” when suddenly the sound to the main stage was cut. Cee Lo had run over his allotted time, and the Coachella overlords were not feeling merciful. Ugh, it was brutal. We’d all been gypped out of a magical closer.
Oh well. Time for some cocktails. This year’s VIP section was sporting layer upon layer of extra chain link fence that cordoned off the lawn and funneled the cool kids into an oasis of hard liquor and shade. It was an awkward attempt at crowd control that ended up making all the models and industry types look like a bunch of high fashion detainees.
After a round of drinks and some world-class people watching, it was off to the Sahara Tent to work up a sweat and watch A-Trak spin. His set was bananas. Literally. Raver kids in banana costumes were bopping around, and a massive blow-up banana was bouncing its way over the crowd. If Coachella is a playground, the Sahara Tent is its sandbox. It’s filthy fun for the kids who like to bring their own special toys. The final moments of a DJ set in the Sahara Tent are a thing to behold. The roar of the crowd converges with a wall of sound and light and it’s impossible not to throw your hands into the air, howling until you lose your voice.
Walking away amidst throngs of feather booted bikini girls and neon suited boys, we were faced with our first Coachella conflict. Cold War Kids on the Outdoor Stage or Kele in the Mohave Tent? We flipped a coin, and none of us were disappointed when George Washington’s shiny face told us to go to Mohave.
Kele is the front man for Bloc Party, and he is incredible live. I convinced my friends to all squeeze their way to the front row, and it was worth every sharp elbow. His performance was casual, high-energy perfection. My first roll kicked in right in the middle of Tenderoni, and I danced my fucking face off. He closed with my two favorite Bloc Party tracks, This Modern Love and Flux. Singing along to those was the highlight of the day.
We caught the tail end of Interpol on the way back to VIP, just enough to get Obstacle 1 stuck in my head. Brandon Flowers was up next, and while I didn’t particularly give a shit, I have to admit he was all polish. He opened with Only the Young, which sent every sorority girl within earshot bouncing towards the stage. He moved right on into Magdalena, and in a clever turn, he followed up his only two solo album hits with a respectable cover of Bette Davis Eyes. He’d blown his load early, which made it easy to convince my crew to cut out and catch the Black Keys on the main stage.
The Keys are one of the greatest blues-rock duos ever to walk the earth, but for what seemed like a technical reason, their sound just wasn’t filling the field. Nobody felt the urge to get up and dance. We were happy to sit in the grass, smoke a few cigarettes, and soak in the night. The set wasn’t a disappointment, but I definitely wish I’d gone to Cut Copy instead. Unfortunately, once our asses were parked, they weren’t moving. We missed Crystal Castles altogether.
The Kings of Leon brought the energy back. Everyone danced to Sex on Fire. Everyone sang along to Use Somebody. A few of us fell over during Closer. Unfortunately, the Chemical Brothers fizzled. It was fucking sad. They never won the crowd. The same thing happened when Tiesto tried to do his shit on the main stage last year. I don’t know when the festival promotors are gonna learn, but the Coachella Stage is no place for a DJ set. That shit belongs in one of the tents. Just ask anyone who’s face is still melted from Daft Punk in 2006.
Saturday’s standout was Mumford and Sons. Holy fucking shit, did those boys kill it. It was my first time seeing them live, and it was their first time playing to such massive numbers. They fed off the energy of the crowd, and their sound took on an entirely new dimension. It was pounding and passionate in a way that made me dance and cry at the same time. Roll Away Your Stone destroyed me. I’ll never be able to listen to that song the same way again.
Arcade Fire was great, but everyone in my crew has seen them live a half dozen times already. After the first couple songs, we headed over to Mohave to close out our Saturday night with the Scissor Sisters. We chose well, lemme tell ya. That tent was filled with some good old fashioned funk and fuckery. Filthy gorgeous, indeed.
I have to admit, the rest of the festival is a bit of a blur. I saw the sunrise a couple of times, and I’m pretty sure Duran Duran covered Lady Gaga. I remember Ratatat being a blast, and of course, Kanye West was this year’s orgasm after three days of musical wondersex. Seriously, that dude blew my mind when he busted out the Chariots of Fire theme song along with an interpretive dance number featuring what can only be described as a gigantic ballerina burrito. I was not prepared for him to rock my world, but hey, let’s have a toast for the douchebags.
Then suddenly, it was all over. Three days in the blink of a blurry eye, and another Coachella was history. Apparently, there was a Monday, because it’s Tuesday evening, and I’m still wearing my wristbands.
I’m just not ready to take ‘em off yet.