Coachella, Day 1
Newsflash: Vampire Weekend—currently one of the most hyped bands in the universe—are merely pleasant, lilting pop with light dustings of African high-life sweetener. They make Remain in Light-era Talking Heads sound like Fela Kuti. Wheedly, jangly guitar dominates Vampire Weekend's sound and one song has a particularly constipated skank rhythm to it. They played some new songs that will probably be on the next album. Very few non-whites were spectating. I still dont know what all the fuss is about, but I do know that Remain in Light is way more interesting than anything VW can muster right now.
Peripatetic DJ Diplo had two huge phallic, red, inflatable "dancers" on either side of his setup, but they were not really necessary. Whatever the level beyond full-on party mode is, that's where Diplo's selections were. A dirty-disco version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Daft Punks "Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger" (with the word work repeated over and over), a track with the third-greatest break ever (Lyn Collins' "Think [About It]"), Federic Franchi's "Cream," the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" segued into Plastkman's "Spastik." It was pretty much all fire and the crowd ate it up. Near the end of his set, he dropped M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" and the Sri Lankan songbird came onstage to sing along with her recorded self—the fringe benefit of being ex-lovers, perhaps? Nice to see they're still on good terms.
Aphex Twin's DJ set started with a beautifully resonant drone—the polar opposite tack of Diplo, whom he followed on the Sahara stage. A surprising transition to Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" followed, before a long stretch of obscure psychedelic dance cuts stream by. "Why is no one dancing?'" a guy behind me asked. Nobody answered, but more people start dancing when Aphex broke into some very intricate drum & bass full of serpentine convolutions and then even more got busy when the redheaded Brit shifted into some hardcore jungle from the '90s. When the jungle took a turn for the weirder, four costumed dancers (panda, dalmatian, gorilla, another dog) joined Aphex, lending some levity to what had been a pretty serious performance (Aphex sits when he DJs, so all you can see is his disembodied head).
The Verve started strong with rock epics like "This Is Music" and "Space and Time," but soon devolved into bloated blandness. I didn't hear anything pre-A Northern Soul. Boo.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' typically storming retro-soul revue was marred by Pendulum's live drum & bass shenanigans over in the next tent. A damned shame.
Spank Rock started with a party-rockin' DJ set that mirrored Diplo's, but their live segment suffered due to front man Naeem Juwan's absence (he was ill). But a short-short-wearing Amanda Blank and a couple of female rappers gamely tried to fill the void with some foul-mouthed flow that could make Peaches curdle. The energy level was high and the songs punchy and endearing.
Black Lips gouged out some raucous, tuneful garage rock with both glee and a dangerous edge. They somehow make 40-year-old tropes sound evergreen where many others who attempt them sound complacent and dull. "Thank you for not going to see Jack Johnson," singer Cole Alexander sincerely quipped between songs.
Black Lips' shaggy charm easily outshone Jack Johnson's beyond-vanilla rock. (Shocking revelation!) I tried to give Johnson a chance, but he was unbelievably flavorless. His shot at reggae rock made the Police sound like Toots & the Maytals.
So I bounced out of the festival only to struggle for 90 minutes to get out of the Empire Polo Field's parking lot. As if I hadn't suffered enough from Jack Johnson, then came this indignity. I write this in a state of nausea. I blame either JJ or the dodgy vegan egg rolls...