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  • Coachella 2008: Surfer Sounds, Electro Thumps and Rock Titans

    Tue, 29 Apr 2008 15:56:46

    Coachella 2008: Surfer Sounds, Electro Thumps and Rock Titans - Day One: Jens Lekman, Goldfrapp, Diplo, The Verve, Jack Johnson [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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    Day One:

    The crowd was light, getting into the venue was a breeze, and - wtf? - it was freezing at night.

    Coachella on a Friday was an interesting experience. Since the festival only expanded to three days last year, I hadn’t yet made a Friday appearance. I was wondering how it might be given the fish-out-of-indie-water named Jack Johnson that was headlining, leaving many Coachella message board mavens head-scratching.

    The much-maligned singer/songwriter sent many people packing as he strummed away, but there was definitely some good music to be heard before he graced the main stage with his poppy presence.

    The day was noticeably less hot than previous years, clocking-in at around 95 degrees at the peak. The sunlight, heat and relative soberness of many concert-goers still, as usual, did nothing to help out the Sahara tent performers with daytime slots.

    Adam Freeland trudged his way through some tired sounding breaks and electro tracks, mixing cleanly, but oh, so predictably. Sandra Collins just sounded like a straight-up hack. Some people still haven’t realized that trance is dead, but the number is apparently dwindling.

    Moving around a bit, Jens Lekman was his usual folky and witty self, much to the adoration of his respectable legion of (mostly female) fans. Cut Copy spent a bit of time explaining to the crowd that the breakdown was coming only to drop something rather underwhelming by today’s electrometal, Justice-dominated hipster dancerock scene.

    Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip proved that the YouTube sensation behind “Just a Band” succeeded on its tongue-in-cheek sentiments as the overly-aggro performance sent many people wandering elsewhere during a heavily booked timeslot featuring Goldfrapp and Diplo, among others.

    Speaking of Diplo, the guy is simply legit. There’s no other way to put it. He has the dancefloor sensibility of a good club DJ, the crowd-pleasing record crate of a top-shelf hip hop DJ, and the edginess of the indie scene that keeps his rather large slice the sound du jour pie intact. He had the Sahara tent rocking during a sunset slot. Meandering back to the Sahara for Aphex Twin brought stops at Santogold and Aesop Rock. Much as the M.I.A.’s and the Lady Sovereigns of years past have done, Santogold walked into the Gobi tent with a massive internet following before much of anything had legitimately hit the store shelves in the U.S. Her energy is undeniable. One of the more personable, bubbly performers I have seen on stage. It’s just too bad that her mic was cranked so high, each word felt like a dagger through my cerebral cortex.

    Aesop Rock suffered from a similar but opposite plight, with the luscious beats from None Shall Pass so low that it turned the Mojave into a bad night at The Knitting Factory backroom. I’m sure upfront was easier on the ears than most, but years past had solidified Coachella the best sound setup ever for any musical event I’ve ever been to. This year? Not so much.

    Aphex Twin, however, was the saving grace of that cross-venue trek, delivering one of the more suprising sets of the entire weekend. Like Hot Chip the following day, Richard D. James sounded more at home in the Sahara tent than many of the stalwart DJ’s did. This rare live performance had less of the abstract, spliced up feel of his albums and more of an upbeat yet still velvety and layered feel to it. It was seductive and sexy, only rivaled by Portishead the next day in that area for the entire weekend.

    The out-of-the-blue surprise of the day for me was definitely The Verve, however. Ten years removed from their biggest song, they brought a maturity and genuine rock-and-roll feel to the mainstage that has escaped more established bands of years past. There was an innate confidence that their music would resonate, and they delivered. Once they actually dropped “Bittersweet Symphony” towards the end of the set, many casual listeners finally said “Ohhh, that’s who is playing right now!” and made a beeline for the cluster of people at the front.

    And what would Coachella be without the world’s greatest plan-B, the Do Lab? I mean no disrespect at all, only that if you ever hit a lull, or a performance just isn’t working out for you, head to the Do Lab to fill the gap. Always quality underground electronic music and always an incredibly friendly vibe. And also a face-melting party with The Glitch Mob on Saturday. I absolutely had to mention that in a Friday write-up because it was simply that good.

    All in all, the day had a feel of Coachella-light. Still tasted good, but just not quite as filling. If there is any victim of dilution because of the three day expansion, Friday is certainly it. On the one hand, it’s the best day logistically to go.

    On the other, nine to fivers can’t be blamed entirely for the lack of people density. It simply just wasn’t as compelling of a day, stellar performances aside. You have to close well to leave an imprint, and for those choosing between days, Jack Johnson just can’t step to Prince and Roger Waters for anyone looking to guarantee a solid return on toughing out the parking lot madness at midnight.

    —Chris Nelson
    04.29.08


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