Friday, May 06, 2005

Coachella 2005: a weekend of music and artistic mayhem in the desert

After spending the past several years jealously reading about great times and even greater music every year at Coachella, my wife and I decided to take the plunge this year and find out what all the fuss was about. It doesn't hurt that my mother and aunt live less than a half hour away; makes for a fairly inexpensive trip. Either way, it was a great way for us to celebrate our first anniversary!

This account will gradually be expanded, with photos, but for now, here are just a few of the incredible bands we saw over the weekend of April 30th and May 1st:

Day One:
Snow Patrol
Rilo Kiley
MF Doom
Cafe Tacuba
Four Tet
The Chemical Brothers (from afar)

It wasn't all about music, either. Some of the art on display was quite impressive and fascinating. The first thing you are greeted by at the entrance is the Horn Massive, a gigantic scoop speaker weighing 2 tons and measuring 4 meters wide! The dancehall they were playing out of this on Saturday evening sounded particularly impressive.

There were also sculptures to relieve your stress through percussion. First, the Platonic Chamber was hardly what its name implied. Festivalgoers gathered around the steel sculpture, pounding it with the sticks provided or they simply used their shoes or whatever their eager hands could grasp upon. There was also the drum orb, an impressive round cage consisting of dozens of drums of all shapes and sizes. The band had several shows throughout the day, encouraging audience members to play the orb along with the assembled musicians.

The evening brought many of these artistic pieces to life. Close to the entrance was the CAUAC, a gigantic teslacoil that had been at the festival previous years. This year they claimed to have upped the juice on the sucker quite a bit, making for an awesome electrical show as tongues of lightning licked the cool desert evening air while emitting a sound similar to that of a helicopter engine. Propane gas also came into play with the Thermo Kraken, a 20-foot-high sculpture that pulsed and spat fire throughout the evening. At times, the Kraken's noise would become so loud that it would often drown out the acts playing the nearby Gobi Tent.

Other impressive works included a massive misting dragonfly, a gigantic sphere full of pulsing techno and dancers wearing traditional Far Eastern garb, and the quite politically incorrect RoboChrist show, which was basically an R-rated version of the robot wars you often see on television. There, mechanized terrors would decapitate human effigies, overturn Jaguars (the car, not the animal) and rip the faces off of blood-spewing gigantic babies. This, of course, provided the perfect opening act for Nine Inch Nails on Sunday evening.

Speaking of which...

Day Two:
Tegan and Sara
Gang of Four
Z-Trip (with Chester Bennington)
New Order (with a taped Kylie Minogue)
British Sea Power
Nine Inch Nails
The Prodigy
Bright Eyes

Eco-friendly exhibits were also on display (this is California, after all!). There were rows and rows of creatively-decorated recycle bins, dubbed TRASHed. These were not unlike the plastic wheeled containers that those of us in Gainesville use as our main trash bins. All of these were up for sale, with proceeds benefiting

A couple of the drawbacks were eventually seen as pluses. First, the ticket prices were rather high (about $75 per day), but it was almost worth it to not see the constant corporate banners in your face from the stages, exhibits, etc. Also, alcohol was being served, but could only be consumed within restricted fenced areas well away from any of the stages. I thought this was quite bad at first, until by clever wife pointed out to me, "would you really want all of these inebriated assholes hanging out with you in the crowd?" Damn, she's got a point. Just one of the many fine reasons I married her... :-) Anyway, a note to the responsible drinker: simply pretend it's a Gator game and pack a flask.

The worst part of the whole festival was the parking situation. There were several lots around the polo field, all of them marked by high-flying yellow balloons with the lot number on them. One problem that festival organizers Goldenvoice apparently didn't anticipate was the strength of the desert winds that kick up after sundown. Saturday evening, it took us over an hour to find our rental car since the winds had blown the balloons almost to the point where they were horizontal. It's much harder to see these yellow balloons when they're only about 15 feet off the ground thanks to blustery mother nature.

All in all, a good time though. Music Midtown in Atlanta, with all it's corporatization, is still the better value. Coachella, however, may be on our radar screens once again if the band lineup proves worthy.