Coachella Live Webcast, 12 – 14 April 2013
It was a stay home weekend for me and many other folks as we settled down in front of our computers to watch the live webcast of the annual Coachella music festival in Indio, California. For those unable to make it or on the other side of the world, this was as close as it got to being there. The irony was I nearly missed out on the acts on the first day if not for a message from XA. I jumped out of bed and hurriedly switched on my laptop, hoping I was still in time to catch the headliners.
A few minutes later I was watching Blur on stage. They played classics like “Beetlebum,” “Parklife,” “Coffee & TV,” “Song 2,” “Tender,” “For Tomorrow,” “The Universal” and “Out of Time.” The band sounded great and they looked like they were having fun. Next was Foals, whom I saw at Laneway here in 2011. They started with the atmosphere-building “Prelude” off their latest album Holy Fire, and proceeded to blaze through a tight hour-long set that comprised a mix of songs from all three full-lengths. They ended with the charged “Two Steps, Twice” from their debut Antidotes. I switched to Channel 2 and watched Canadian duo Tegan & Sara perform their last few songs, including “Walking with a Ghost” and “Closer.” The next 10 hours passed in a haze as I watched band after band perform on the rebroadcast. There was Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Johnny Marr, Metric, Passion Pit, Japandroids and Sparks. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were alright – you can always count on Karen O in a crazy getup doing her rock goddess thing. Her vocals were weak but she’s got stage presence so it balances out. Beach House, a big favourite of mine, also performed. They played in near darkness for most of their set. Dressed in a glittering sequined jacket, Victoria LeGrand tossed her wild mane as she sang and pounded the keyboards. They ended with “Irene,” the lovely closing track off Bloom. It’s a song that grew on me and the refrain of “It’s a strange paradise” always makes me feel funny inside.
However it was Local Natives who were the highlight of Friday’s lineup for me. They put on a great set that captivated me from start to finish. There is a ruminative yet danceable quality about the LA quartet’s music and I remember devoting a lot of time to their debut Gorilla Manor when it came out. Kelcey Ayer’s expressive voice and the backup vocals from the other members harmonized beautifully and were a delight to listen to. They had the crowd thoroughly mesmerized by the time they closed with a blistering rendition of “Sun Hands.”
Coachella madness continued on day two and I caught a bit of the Major Lazer and Grizzly Bear sets before switching to Hot Chip. Having seen the British dance wizards twice last year, I was expecting a solid set and I wasn’t disappointed. They were armed with a repertoire of irresistible catchy tunes like “One Life Stand” and “Over and Over” that had me bopping along and tapping my toes. I like that they tweak their life show to keep things interesting and fresh, from the cleverly disguised intro of “Boy From School” to the ad-libbed robotic opening chants of “Ready For The Floor,” and a massive reworked version of “I Feel Better.”
Next up was The Postal Service. They’ve played only a smattering of live shows since releasing their lauded 2003 album Give Up and I was very much looking forward to their Coachella performance. It was also a chance to see Ben Gibbard in a different light outside of his main band Death Cab For Cutie. Their electronic songs, delicate and carefully measured on record, sounded more robust and full-bodied in a live setting. It was surreal hearing songs like “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and “Such Great Heights” that came out ten years ago still sound current and timeless now. There was an air of self-assured confidence about Ben Gibbard, whether he was behind the drums or dancing on stage. He and Jenny Lewis traded verses and paced like unsure lovers on “Nothing Better.” As they ended with “Brand New Colony,” it felt like a milestone had passed.
Phoenix was hands down the best show of Saturday. Their headlining set was amazing and they showed that they were capable of shouldering the responsibility of being the closing band of the day. They played mostly songs from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and a few from their new album Bankrupt! Kicking off with the oriental-sounding “Entertainment,” the band ran through a gamut of songs that included “Long Distance Call,” “Fences,” and the gorgeous two-part anthem “Love Like A Sunset.” Frontman Thomas Mars was clearly having a ball, singing to the crowd from the edge of the barricade, climbing the scaffolding to survey the audience, and crowdsurfing. In a surprise appearance, they were joined by R. Kelly on a mashup of “1901/Ignition,” which as unlikely as that sounds, was actually decent.
I woke up early to see DIIV play the first set of the third and last day. They were alright but I thought they would have sounded better in a small intimate club, and their songs lost some of their energy in an outdoor venue. It was definitely not their best performance. Also Zac Cole Smith seemed a bit off. Maybe it was lack of sleep. In comparison, Jessie Ware was a picture of bubbly ebullience. Dressed in a cheery red and white candy striped top and skirt, she charmed the crowd with her sultry R&B inflected love songs. She was funny, adorable and full of quips throughout, dedicating “Sweet Talk” to an audience member who was celebrating their birthday, and roping in her drummer to do a duet on “Valentine.” Jessie Ware had the crowd eating out of her hand by the time she ended with the Devotion standout “Running.” Brooklyn electronic duo Tanlines were up next and their brand of sun-kissed jams tailor-made for summer got the crowd dancing. I was happy to see they played my favourite song “Real Life,” the driving percussive tribal-tinged track off their Mixed Emotions album. I sat through Tame Impala, caught a bit of Franz Ferdinand, Simian Mobile Disco and OMD, as well as rock veterans Red Hot Chili Peppers and dance punkers The Faint.
It was James Blake’s late afternoon set that blew me away. Simply stunning and flawless, it was a display of some serious musical dexterity from the dubstep artiste. Clad in a grey tshirt and black pants, he sat on the right of the stage flanked by a drummer and guitarist, whom he later said were his schoolmates. Every song was an exercise in building tension, minimalism, layering soundscapes and mood creation. His strong and soulful voice lent emotional gravitas to the songs so they never felt cold or detached. “Limit To Your Love,” “CMYK” and new song “Digital Lion” were all excellent. “The Wilheim Scream” with its echo-ey underwater vibe and glitchy beats was a wonder to witness. Fall in indeed. Likewise on “I Never Learnt To Share,” where he sang over a looping recording of his voice and keyboards as they gradually built up to a climax. As James Blake launched into the opening strains of his last song “Retrograde” from his newly released sophomore album Overgrown, you could almost hear the contented sighs from the audience and yours truly.