Our Denver contingent arrived at the Coachella campgrounds Thursday night to set up; we quickly became known as the "Denverites who came with the Hawaiians." The entire festival was amazing, but here are some of the highlights:
Friday: Brother Ali, Digitalism, Tokyo Police Club, Faithless and Interpol. Porn-electro diva Peaches was introduced by Ron Jeremy, and she put on a fantastic show, despite numerous sound problems interfering with her set. The scent of marijuana burning was rife during Stephen Marley's set (which featured Jr. Gong), but one hapless -- yet enterprising -- listener walked through the crowd with a handmade sign reading "For fuck's sake -- does anybody have any WEED?!" Bjork is the sweetest, cutest, kindest little elf you'll ever have the pleasure of seeing perform; you couldn't help but smile when she declared, "It is lovely to be here in the desert with all of you." And DJ Shadow, who closed down the secondary outdoor stage during Bjork, kept playing music until his power was cut off.
Saturday: Walking past the tent where Ozomatli played, it was hard not to stop and listen. But we had a mission -- to the Sahara tent, the electronic music tent, where UK breakbeat act Justice was tearing up the decks. While listening to Justice, our Denver/Hawaii contingent saw two men who were clearly famous, but we couldn't figure out who they were. The more prominent of the two was wearing a Detroit Tigers cap, a nice pair of jeans, expensive Pumas and a gold watch. He had a mustache and kept playing with his chin-length hair, but our confirmation that he was, indeed, someone famous was the fact that he was drinking Heineken out of a can outside the beer garden (and anyway, you couldn't buy canned Heineken at the fest). He graciously took pictures with several fans, donning a hockey mask a la Jason for a couple of them, but he mostly concentrated on grooving to the sounds of Justice. When that set was over, we walked over to the main stage where the Red Hot Chili Peppers were scheduled to play. The Peppers (sans Anthony Kiedis) came out and jammed for about five minutes before their lead singer finally appeared, having changed into a vest. Imagine our shock when we realized we'd been standing five feet away from Anthony Kiedis, the beer-drinking celebrity getting down to Justice, and didn't even know it. And the man with him? None other than guitarist John Frusciante.
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Sunday: Everyone was geared up for the last show of the festival -- Rage Against the Machine's first show in seven years. And that included the local police. Early Sunday morning, about 2:30 a.m., this correspondent was walking back to camp when I ran across what looked like some bizarre cult's initiation ritual. About 200 people were gathered in the middle of camp -- including the dude with the skull head who made the front page of Saturday's Los Angeles Times -- chanting and shouting and generally acting odd. They called it a "pep rally" and allegedly had gathered to celebrate Friday night's Vancouver Canuck's hockey win against the Anaheim Ducks. Meanwhile, about two rows away from our tents, a local band decided to hold an impromptu concert, freestyling such lyrics as "All I need is four C batteries" so they could play their album to the gathered crowd. But before they could get their four C batteries, the sounds of sirens filled the air as helicopters flew overhead, bellowing such instructions into the PA as "Don't jump the fence!" and spotlighting the "rioters" for the SWAT team.
The music on Sunday was arguably the best lineup of the festival. Mika, Lupe Fiasco, the Roots and Willie Nelson -- who was celebrating his birthday -- rocked the main stage. The Kooks gathered quite a crowd to their tent, including listeners like myself who were unfamiliar with their work but drawn in by the sound nevertheless. Placebo, Kid Beyond, Cut Chemist and Soul Wax Nite Versions all played enjoyable sets, and every Australian in earshot was present for the Crowded House reunion, also taking place on the main stage, which turned into one big sing-along for those present. Richie Hawtin threw down a minimalist techno set, to the delight of some and dismay of others, and perhaps the biggest surprise of the festival was Air -- they were absolutely phenomenal live; their studio work does not do them justice.
But the end of the night brought the moment we all had been waiting for: Rage. The crowd was pumped and gave the band a scorching welcome; after about forty minutes or so of music, Zack De La Rocha began a tirade against the American Presidency. Every American President since the turn of the century should have been tried for war crimes, hung up and shot, he said, and then launched into an intense critique of the current administration that also involved hanging and shooting. The tirade became "Wake Up," but after the song was over, the band left the stage -- no "goodnights," no "thanks for coming." Nothing. And they still had another fifteen minutes to go in their set! I thought for sure that we'd seen the end of Rage for the night -- that's what happens when Zack says that shooting George Dub might be a good plan. But perhaps the organizers were more worried about the crowd being denied more Rage and rioting than they were worried about someone actually going out and assassinating an elected official, because after about five minutes of intense screaming and cajoling by the listeners, the band came back out to play a few more songs before the night was over.
Afterward, our Denver-Hawaii representatives went our separate ways. But it was truly a weekend to remember and to savor. -- Amber Taufen