The Coachella crowd has acclimated by now. Parking lots are completely full and it’s the biggest crowd I’ve witnessed all weekend. A different crowd, mind you, one hellbent on getting a piece of Tupac* on their camera phones and getting within shouting distance of Snoop Dogg so as to request “Lodi Dodi” for an encore.
Wild Flag, 5:30 pm
With crackling bands like At The Drive In and the Black Keys filling out this year’s lineup, I never expected Wild Flag to win the blue ribbon for jamming. Yet, thanks to a robust and tireless set that veered recklessly between pensive blues-rock and energizing alt-punk, the all-female supergroup based mostly in PDX won, hands down.
Voluntary or not (it may have been heat exhaustion), Carrie Brownstein summoned the stagemanship of Henry Rollins through “Future Crimes.” Fans giggled as she held her guitar above her head like a sacrifice to Helios, used to her parodying musical stunts as seen on Portlandia. But anyone older than two knows that Brownstein has been a rock star for most of her life, thrashing guitars and mic stands alike - she tossed another one into the crowd at Coachella—as Sleater-Kinney, the Spells, etc.
What’s endearing about Wild Flag, in addition to its natural spunk, is that every member has an equal and integral role. Vocals are shared and the instrumentation bounces back and forth from strength-in-numbers heft to individual line-leading. Rarely complicated but always captivating, Wild Flag feeds a fix that fans of fine-tuned force need. Brownstein and band mates melted the stage and rebuilt it as an abandoned garage, rocking out as though nobody was watching.
At The Drive In, 9:10 pm
My jaw was ajar most of the set. And while not as mind-blowingly intricate as some Mars Volta shows I’ve seen, this performance was expectedly tempestuous and incredibly acute. Sounds contradictory, but that’s what makes the Texas prog-metalists tick. Cedric Bixler-Zavala plays the role of unruly frontman, powered by tea (I think it’s tea) and a sleepless nervous system that routinely sends him up towers of amps, mic in hand. Lead guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (dubbed the “Puerto Rican Harry Potter” by Bixler-Zavala during the set) is the Zen master, with a tucked in shirt and rarely so much as a nod while dazzling the crowd with his highly-evolved jazz-meets-hardcore renderings.
Nobody thought ATDI would reunite. Nearly two decades old, the band seems an unlikely mix of incredible talent. But to see them live—casting lighting bolt after lightning bolt of artsy, white-knuckled rock—is quite moving. Best, the band seemed downright ravenous, like they were just breaking out and in sore need of a record deal. Co-vocalist Jim Ward (also of Sparta fame) sung his guts out, matching Bixler-Zavala’s maniacal malignancy. For those down on the radius clause, ATDI was your band. Chances are, their deafening set could be heard from Los Angeles.
Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre, 10:35 pm
The festival is coming to a close and I’m already dreading the mass exodus. Apparently, I didn’t stay with the Black Keys long enough, as they invited John Fogerty on stage to pay tribute to the late Levon Helm. They played The Band’s “The Weight” in his honor. Between that and everything I’m hearing about Pulp’s first show on US soil since ’98, I have a pair of regrets, but just a pair. Things are looking up, Snoop Dogg is walking on stage, toting a joint the size of a tee-ball bat.
As fun as it is to see huge names perform at a huge festival, the Dre and Snoop set was somewhat disappointing. Sure, it was a performance piece, adorned with special videos, 3D sets and hydraulic cars. But it was also a collage of snip-its from radio hits spanning twenty years, rarely played from start to finish. The live band, fit with two drummers, added some flavor, but the ADD-ness of the set left me feeling disoriented, hungry even (insert weed jokes here, but I assure you, it was the set’s doing).
A star-studded cast including Wiz Khalifa, Eminem and Fifty Cent took the stage for brief spells, playing the beginnings of their big-money tracks. Sporting a custom shirt (reading www.warreng.com), Warren G joined the fray, sending us straight back to when Clinton was President, the US hosted the World Cup, and the Dandy Warhols were formed. I’ll cross it off the bucket list, but the show was much more about hilarious posturing, nostalgia and *new technology than music. To their credit, Snoop and family sound much like they did years ago. And, in fairness, I genuinely miss gangster rap. The genre’s constant ego-inflating bred plenty of senseless violence, but that’s also what made it more fiery than most mainstream rap today. Hearing “Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None),” played as a tribute to the late Nate Dogg, filled a certain void. Street song from the many dark alleys of Southern California shouldn’t have anything to do with a middle-class white kid’s upbringing in suburban Portland. But Dr. Dre bridges that gap with unforgettable beats and clever lines, making this set worthwhile, at the least.
*First off, so that we’re all clear, Tupac did not return to life in hologram form. His lifelike projection was two-dimensional, an optical illusion dating back to the late 19th Century. And while I think the Times really over did it with this one, the trick is pretty cool. Whether or not the floodgates will open for a Tupac tour—Dr. Dre says no, this was a festival-only affair—or a host of other dead musicians remains to be seen. There’s already talk of a John Lennon digital resurrection.
While I’m still on the fence about grave digging for lost talent, I can’t help but imagine the top five “holograms” I’d like to see live.
Fact is, the dude died way too young. If Tupac is worthy, so too is B.I.G.
He was the Little Richard of the 18th Century. Why not?
Sounds like a sleeper, but his live sets mystified the masses. His signature combination of operatic lyricism and brainy guitar noodling is unreal as it is.
Per Times’ mention, I still can’t believe he’s dead. It’d be comforting to see his image, shimmying across the stage.
The First Lady of Song tickled radios with her impeccable vocal ability. Oh, to see a voice that was so often hidden, especially if performing “A-Tisket A-Tasket.” Enough to give you shivers.