Coachella Music And Arts Festival

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Last Reviewed August 20th, 2006
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Coachella Rules!!!
Venue/Date: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (Indio, CA)
Concert Date:  
April 29th, 2007
Reviewer: aceshooter

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A Rock Festival Whose Hallmark Is Taste

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Published: May 1, 2007

INDIO, Calif., April 30 — The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival may have to start sharpening its identity.

It began in 1999 as a rock festival with taste — one that made a point of going deep in bringing together the bigger alternative-rock acts with dance music, and particularly bent itself toward white America’s leisure class. And right after the looting and burning at Woodstock ’99, Coachella seemed remarkably safe and conscientiously run.

It still is. And Coachella still has taste, that elusive thing. With 122 different sets across five stages this year, it still managed to go fairly deep into new or cult-music territory. This year’s festival, which ran through the weekend, has grown more than twice as big as it was in the first year, with a third day added and daily crowds of 50,000 to 60,000.

Over the last few years, however, more single-location festivals have cropped up with similar consumers in mind, including Lollapalooza and the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago; Bonnaroo in Tennessee; Vegoose in Las Vegas; and Virgin Festival in Baltimore. Coachella isn’t a breeze to get to; it’s two hours away from Los Angeles, and with all its camping, it remains a pilgrimage, of a kind.

But despite its successful trademark of putting on newsmaking reunions — this year’s included the Jesus and Mary Chain, Crowded House and Rage Against the Machine — Coachella’s lineup of bands is starting to look fairly standardized within the new pop-festival market. Without politics, religion or recreational drugs acting as some kind of centrifugal force, it’s getting harder to know what the special thing is that you’re making your pilgrimage toward. The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Ghostface Killah?

For Coachella, the special thing could be the desert. Twilight shows here remain stunning for natural reasons. No matter what your degree of festival glaze, when the sun lowers, the air feels fresh, the sky seems endless, and music sounds better. But the sundown slot, before the headliner, is an unmistakably important one for a band, given the size of the crowd and the concentration of media within it. This is when bands put on their best game.

On Friday evening the Scottish band the Jesus and Mary Chain, middle-aged and reunited after eight years, cast their dour gloss on 1960s bubblegum pop with its old clouds of noise and fuzz much reduced. The set was streamlined, dogged and shrewdly withheld; the force of the slow tempos and the guitar feedback was just powerful enough. Scarlett Johansson, one of a handful of famous actresses hanging out at the festival this year, joined the band for “Just Like Honey.”

But it was no big thing. The big thing was the band’s singer, Jim Reid, and the rigor of his acid blankness; the corners of his mouth almost never turned above a flat line. “Are you having fun?” he asked the crowd, after singing “Sidewalking.” The crowd said yes. “Well, we’ll see what we can do about that,” he said.

At twilight on Saturday, the much more positive Arcade Fire worked its best hand — lustrous, world’s-end romantic poetry in Springsteen overdrive — in much the same way. Blankness, committedness: they were battling each other throughout the weekend.

A certain amount of leftist politics were on display, but so was deep-dish navel-gazing. Tom Morello, performing a solo voice-and-guitar set under his new moniker the Nightwatchman, sang his new song, “One Man Revolution,” hammering home revolutionary agitprop with little groove or ornament..
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