May 2, 2012

Coachella 2012: The Best, the Worst and Everything in Between

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I’ve spent two weeks out of Indio’s desert sun, but the effects of Coachella withdrawal are still raging strong. How do I cope with the syndrome’s symptomatic inattention and melancholia? Hours and hours (and hours) of the Coachella Weekend Two live stream on Youtube. Strangely, very little has changed performance-wise between weekend one (holla!) and weekend two. Of course, half-listening to St. Vincent crowd surf to a never-debuted track while pumping out differential problem sets at my desk ain’t the same as the real thing, but it’s all I’ve got to keep me distracted before Slope shenanigans. So as I relive my week of truancy spent in the California sun, I solidify my list of the best sets, the worst sets and everything in between.

The Best

Jeff Mangum: So much was riding on this set — his first West Coast performance in over a decade. The J.D. Salinger of indie rock came aboard a barren stage (all photography and video were forbidden for this recluse) and the next 50 minutes were absolute perfection. Such earnestness. Such sincerity. A voice equal parts sour and sweet, like honey and struck sheet metal. Like a small tin horn stuck in Kurt Cobain’s throat. In other words, it was as mind-blowing as a single man singing over simple chord structures could ever be. As the flannel-clad Scott Spilane of Neutral Milk Hotel surprised the stage with several other brass and accordion players, Mangum broke into “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.” He shouted for the audience to join him in the strangest, most beautiful and most surreal sing-along there ever was. As I looked around the stammering crowd, I kid you not, there were tears on several fans’ faces.

Bon Iver: I love me some Justin Vernon, but I guess I never expected a spectacular live performance out of beardy prog-folk sound. I anticipated woolly ambience, something to soothe me after an exhausting Day Two, but what I received was orchestral and lushly arranged folk songs full of intimacy, power and drifting optimism. Needless to say, I am now contemplating a “Skinny Love”- inspired tattoo of “Be patient, be fine, be balanced be kind” on my ribcage.

The Worst

Frank Ocean: Don’t get me wrong. I want to have Frank Ocean’s babies. Dude’s a pimp — but his set was downright awkward. I had to leave M. Ward 20 minutes early just to squeeze through the packed crowd. I ended up standing next to Redfoo of LMFAO (with his Krusty the Clown hair to create a comfortable circumference from the pushy crowd) for the entire set, which started 30 minutes late. I don’t care if you’ve been resurrected from the dead; you don’t keep a sweaty crowd waiting for that long, cutting into the length of your set. Then throughout, Ocean, the notorious perfectionist, kept cutting off his band to adjust the monitors and check the sound. Okay, so it’s cool that Ocean kicked off the night with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Long Time Gone,” but I mean, let’s be honest, aren’t we all just gathered here so we can rage during that one line about Coachella during “Novacane?”

AWOLNATION: Because I was in the front row during the previous set, I wanted to keep my prized position on the main stage and so I stayed for the next act, AWOLNATION. I thought, “Hey, they can’t be that bad…I mean, I like that one song, “Sail.” Oh, how wrong I was. Zero visuals. Zero energy. Zero stage presence. Was I front row for the worst set ever? I was fucking front row for the worst set ever. Did I feign an oncoming heat stroke so I could get security to pull me over the front row barricade to escape their unbearable wailing? Perhaps …


Radiohead: Let’s start with the visuals — 18 screens hoisted above the band playing skittering close-ups of drumsticks and hands. Not the most stimulating of sights, especially after Swedish House Mafia had flamethrowers and Santigold had intergalactic spacemen with dancing horses on the same stage. Nevertheless, it’s Radiohead, so I persevered. What I got was two straight hours of placid almost-hits. As my friend puts it, “He’s fucking Thom Yorke; he can do whatever he wants, and if Thom Yorke wants to play two hours of his songs that are just sleepy re-utterances of five words just repeated over and over in a manner Pitchfork will probably describe as ‘haunting,’ then that’s what’s going to happen and I know we still won’t leave.” We didn’t leave and we were rewarded thrice with “Karma Police,” “Paranoid Android” and “Everything in its Right Place” but otherwise had to sit through a lot of the rhythmic, dub-infected The King of Limbs. Call me a cheap date but I really just wanted a rousing live performance of “High and Dry.” I mean, it’s not like I asked for “Creep.”

Pleasant Surprises

Childish Gambino: If it was possible to impregnate someone with eyesex, I’m pretty sure I’d be carrying Childish Gambino’s baby right now. Just a few sweaty Coachella-goers short of front row, I swooned a bit as we maintained some serious eye contact during the crowd-erupting cut of “You See Me” (where Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar surprised the stage). Considering Donald Glover has a well-documented case of yellow fever (“Forget these white girls / I need some variation / Especially if she very Asian”), I’d say I’m halfway in his pants already. But besides our intense spiritual (and physical and lyrical) connection, Gambino / Glover just oozes talent. He’s got immense character, and he plays to the crowd. Not only did the rapper-actor-writer triple threat play all the hits off Camp and his EP during his set, but he also did some throwbacks off Culdesac, which had all the Gambino-haters impressed by his crazy energy. Plus, Gambino loves to improv during his cuts, with the most memorable adlib at the end of “Heartbeat” when he goes, “I wish we never fucked, and I mean that, but not really ‘cause you let me eat you out at the back of the Coachella bus.”

Original Author: Alice Wang