April 23rd, 2009 5:33 pm | by MARK STOCK Music | Posted In: Columns

Mark Stock's Coachella, Part Three: Coachella Education

coachellaFive Things I Learned From Coachella

1. We're poor, but we still like music.

For the first time in its decade long history, Coachella offered tickets on layaway. In other words, in the tongue of a used car salesman, “half down, half paid later—in full or installments.”

Seemed like desperation at first, but as the cost of these musical extravaganzas escalate and people's savings sink, it's beginning to seem rational. So much so, other festivals are considering it. Bonnaroo will offer a similar option for their June gathering, when The Boss and Phish groove the hell out of tens of thousands in Tennessee.

And it seemed to work. An estimated 18 percent of Coachella festival goers went with the pay-part-now-pay-part-later option. Coachella attendance broke 150,000 over the three-day span, second only to 2007s bill that included Bjork and a reunited Rage Against The Machine. Which brings me to my second musing.

2. Reunions, elders, and crazies work.

I laughed out loud when we drove by a billboard on Highway 10 that read, “Legends of Hip-Hop: Coolio, MC Hammer and Slick Rick.” The venue? San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in dismal Highland, California. In fairness, a bunch of bankrupt rappers could do a lot worse. In fact, they'll probably pull enough loot to pay the tuition of some promoter's kid.

It's a tried theory, bit it continues to be employed. The resuscitation of greying musicians. And even in its rawest purpose, that is, to answer the curious question “I wonder what they sound like now?,” it proves effective and profitable.

Coachella managed to wrangle up Public Enemy in between their on again off again performance schedule and hectic reality television duties. Despite never being a genuine fan prior, I couldn't resist seeing a fifty-year-old Flavor Flav parade around in clocks and jewels. And so did countless others.

Acid house crafters Throbbing Gristle assembled again for the weekend. The group started in the late 1970s and have parted ways several times since. There's a certain gravity in a plurality of independent musical minds—if only together for a single show or tour—too.

There's also the suction of a band like Brian Jonestown Massacre, who when assembled and playing, feel like a reunion every time. There's simply no way to predict what they'll do on stage. You have to see it.

By Sunday evening people were still reeling with regard to Paul McCartney's Friday night performance. He went fifty minutes over his alloted time in what I can only estimate to be either a selfish attempt and cementing his rock star status we all know he already has (you're a fucking Beatle, Paul) or an actual rock star still in good form and unwilling to let technicalities interfere with his mission.

He's been knighted, there's no way you're cutting his sound.

3. Heat brings people together.

Everyone had something to talk about in the weather. Therefore, there were no strangers. The incredibly friendly atmosphere of Coachella was nearly fake at times. Maybe it was collective heat exhaustion, maybe the end was near, maybe Michael Franti had successfully placed every attendee in the happiest emotional place they're ever been.

Either way, the cordial atmosphere masked chaos and confusion elsewhere. Coachella was moved two weeks earlier this year to combat heat, a feeble attempted serve that Mother Nature backhanded like Bjorn Borg.

4. Contemporary music is in capable hands.

Certain themes permeated this year's bill and the direction of modern music in an exciting one. Synthesizers and horn sections appear to be back. Dance music has returned. And the strict vocalist has given way to the multi-tasking performer, the product of the speedy, second-to-second circumstances we now live in.

Such general assessments speak to the range and innovation currently in practice. Saharan rockers Tinariwen and the aforementioned Gang Gang Dance Dance (see part one) are still waiting to be appropriately classified. History tends to repeat itself - say, in the form of Beirut's classical inklings or Fleet Foxes' baroqueness - but never in the same way.

5. Okay, this is less a lesson than a rant.

That two minute clip you captured of Band Of Horses playing “Nobody's Gonna Love You Like I Do” was not worth it. People will click on it indifferently on Youtube. It's not worth the trouble you're causing the guy behind you.

The picture you took with your cell phone is going to be blurry and indecipherable. It will remind you of little more than bright lights and throngs. And one will do, you don't seen a baker's dozen, especially of that shot.

You can't dance to the guy tuning the drums. Plain as that.

But that's just the heat talking. Coachella unrolled itself in fine form, certainly among the nation's best and ever-evolving. Carpoolchella was a noticeable hit, ridding the road of many cars and filling hotel rooms to capacity, and beyond. Fans could exchange ten found plastic bottles for a fresh bottle of water. The artwork was mind boggling.

And the music wasn't bad either.

And a slideshow:

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