The temptation of eating anything with even the slightest ties to Louisiana suckered me again and again during the Coachella festival. This sort of explains why I ate a flank steak with “Louisiana barbecue sauce” Saturday afternoon before encountering the festival’s 105-degree heat.
Word to the wise: Don’t eat flank steak before attending Coachella. It is akin to playing Russian Roulette.
Fortunately, my heavy meal, which also included mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, did not lead to repeat porta-potty visits. It did weigh me down for the day’s first few sets. As I reflect on it, Saturday’s lineup did not offer many opportunities for dancing. So maybe the day’s lesson is eat flank steak prior to attending Coachella ONLY if the day promises little dancing.
NOTE: You can read my Friday recap here.
tUne-yArDs (4:50 p.m., Outdoor Theatre)
Does the fact I risked life-altering sunburn to see tUnE-yArDs qualify me as a hipster? Or a face-painted weirdo? Or just a really big fan of the band’s single “Bizness”? I mean, I do really love the song “Bizness.” And there is something exciting about seeing frontwoman Merrill Garbus do vocal loops on the spot. Yet, I can’t say tUnE-yArDs’ set distanced itself from any of the two dozen other sets I saw over the weekend.
Andrew Bird (6:05 p.m., Outdoor Theatre)
My chief Andrew Bird memory is standing outside his sold-out show at Tipitina’s in New Orleans with a single ticket. My friends could not get tickets and suddenly I needed to sell my ticket. I announced this and a bidding war, a baby one, started. A woman from Mississippi paid me $60 for the $22 ticket. Um, I mention this because I finally saw Andrew Bird play on Saturday. Can’t say I cared. It was more fun dancing along with my festival date Kerry to his songs. We danced like hippie fairies.
Laura Marling (6:30 p.m., Gobi)
Bird’s current tourmate, Marling, possesses a nice combination of vocal and storytelling talent. On Saturday, she looked sullen. Don’t get me wrong. That’s how I expected her to look. Joy seems to be fleeting in Marling’s world — whether on wax or performing in person. Her set lacked energy, a cardinal sin at a festival. I love her song “Ghosts” even more after hearing her perform it live. Sadly, that was one of her set’s few memorable moments.
Jeff Mangum (7:20 p.m., Outdoor Theatre)
I am convinced Jeff Mangum should be nominated for indie rock sainthood. The latest reason why: He stopped his set Saturday night after witnessing a woman collapse near the front of the stage. He seemed genuinely concerned about her and made sure she received water before starting again. I failed to mention he had just finished performing “Naomi” and would soon play “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 1.” Prior to the latter song, a man two people to my left collapsed. At that point, I did not know whether people were falling out in awe, dehydration, or something else. Mangum’s set bordered on a religious experience in other ways. He sang with a conviction that is rarely seen. He played his acoustic guitar with a likewise conviction. His cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” was a highlight. So was hearing the crowd shout “I love you, Jesus Christ” on “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2-3.” What a sublime way to start the night!
The Shins (8:10 p.m., Main Stage)
I only caught a few Shins songs — “Simple Song”, “Phantom Limb”, I think “Saint Simon”, etc. What little I witnessed from a mile away did little to change an opinion developed years ago that this was a band I enjoyed much more on record than live. I have a hard time putting my finger on it. Their music is happy and fun but their live show just fails to bring out those emotions in me. It’s just kind of blah. Sorry, James Mercer.
Feist (8:40 p.m., Outdoor Theatre)
Kerry and I walked to the Outdoor Theatre expecting Bon Iver. We were premature. Instead, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist took the stage. Had it not been for this mistake we would have probably missed one of the weekend’s great performances. I have long (erroneously) considered Feist as precious and sugary. Her Coachella set, complete with a full orchestra and three backing singers, was anything but. Feist came out with just a drummer. She shredded on her guitar, thrashed her brunette hair around, and looked like a rock icon, instead of a person who famously appeared on “Sesame Street”. Soon after, the as-yet named orchestra came out. “Many hands make light work, people,” Feist informed the crowd. I knew few of Feist’s songs, but that did not stop her from rocking my face off. “My Moon, My Man” registered as one of my Saturday highlights. It sounded sweet, yet muscular. After the set, I took a piss in a porta-potty. Upon leaving, I encountered an Aussie couple. The woman informed me I had missed a good show. I asked her who. Feist, she said. So good, she said, I should illegally download Feist’s music. So good, I replied, I should pay for Feist’s music.
Bon Iver (9:30 p.m., Main Stage)
I have gone on record as a major fan of Bon Iver’s live show. That said, I came away from its Coachella set a tad bit disappointed. The reason being, the set traded muscle for intimacy. Gone were the sing-alongs that make Bon Iver shows so cathartic. In their place were extended jams in which frontman Justin Vernon looked like a teen impersonating a rock star in his garage. The set was heavy on cuts from Bon Iver’s eponymous album, which was not a surprise. Yet, I found it surprising their set had as many non-album tracks as For Emma, Forever Ago tracks (two). “Creature Fear” was an obvious choice, a song I heard Vernon describe as his band’s rock song when it was still just a four-piece live act. So too was “Skinny Love”, which produced the set’s lone moment of collective exultation. Bon Iver will undoubtedly be playing arenas the next decade. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean they lose the intimacy that got them there.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor (10 p.m., Mojave)
Godspeed, it is safe to say, put more people to sleep than any other act at Coachella. Mojave became the chillout tent during the Canadian post-rockers’ set. I would estimate around 200 people actually stood and watched their set. Others laid in the grass. It was unclear if they were resting after a long day, listening to the music, or dead. I stood for around five minutes. Their music was pretty — no surprise — but the musicians were devoid of any presence. In the nearby Gobi tent, the crowd waved glo-sticks maniacally as SBTRKT served up a dance platter. Kerry went to Miike Snow on the Outdoor Theatre stage. Either SBTRKT or Miike Snow would have been better than Goodsleep, I mean Godspeed.
Radiohead (11:05 p.m., Main Stage)
The tiny stick figure in the distance jack-knifed up and down and side to side like Pinocchio on Gepetto’s string. But, instead of a fake, here was a real, live rock’n'roll star. Kerry and I started out hundreds of feet from the stage, slowly inching up as the set progressed. Radiohead, as previously advertised, played a set heavy on their divisive most recent album, The King of Limbs. And while a part of me would have rathered a greatest hits-style set, who am I to argue with Radiohead? Their sound was flawless, their light show with cubes above the stage and on its sides was flawless, Yorke’s banter was flawlessly weird, etc. “I’d fancy a nice cup of tea,” he said midway through the set. “That would be smashing, wouldn’t it?” The set’s highlight for me came not from Radiohead but from the crowd. After “Karma Police” concluded, the crowd sang the chorus again for good measure. “This is what you get, when you mess with us,” tens of thousands of voices boomed in the night. Exceptional, sensational, Oh my Gosling. Pick a superlative. The moment gave me chills. I’ll toss out another term: life-affirming. Radiohead played two, three-song encores. In Rainbows standout “Reckoner” left me slack-jawed. What a beautiful song. What a beautiful night.