As I approached the opening day of the now world-famous Coachella festival with my trusted wife and photographer Laura, I was inevitably filled with questions. Could the festival live up to the hype? How were we going to cope with the heat? Did I bring the correct footwear? Most importantly for readers of the blog, how would we deal with some of the more brutal band clashes over the weekend? Why don’t teleporters exist yet? We had three days in the desert to have those questions answered.
We had the pleasure of opening our Friday with an LA band in the shape of the genre-defying Io Echo. Frontwoman Ioanna Gika certainly came dressed for the occasion in denim shorts and what was basically a cape, and the band’s wide-ranging and expansive sound was just the thing to blow the cobwebs away and allow the appreciative crowd to remember where they were. The sound was less of a sonic assault and more a large but gentle wave, a bombastic sound that the listener could simply bathe in. Seeing as it was a little too early for a lot of dancing and most people were still finding their way around the festival, this set was the ideal start to the day.
From there we headed to the Sahara Tent for the first and last time. I grew up believing a tent was something you grew increasingly angry with as you attempted to pitch it at a campsite. The Sahara Tent, in that sense, was badly misnamed. This was a mega structure designed for the sole purpose of holding the EDM-loving hordes for a weekend of non-stop dancing, and if that’s your thing, it really was the place to be for the weekend.
We limited our time there to catching C2C on the recommendation of a fellow LA Music Blog writer, and they were well worth the time. The team of four French DJs relied on an old-school mix of scratching and mixing skills for their show, and they delivered a set of real chemistry, both with each other and with a massive early afternoon crowd. In an era of laptops and lazy programming, how nice to see some genuine talent on the decks, and their show was a mash-up crowd pleaser worthy of a tip of the hat.
In the guise of Youth Lagoon, the wonderfully gifted Trevor Powers is responsible for one of the year’s finest releases so far, but his talents are not the kind to whip up hype levels and draw enormous crowds. Wondrous Bughouse was a gorgeous slow-burner, and in truth, its lush details did not quite translate to a festival tent with all of their powers intact.
Utilizing a full band, the fresh-faced Powers worked hard to draw the crowd in, but his music deserves time and immersion, and a forty minute festival set does not provide him with the opportunity to do that. Having said that, both “Mute” and “Dropla” sounded fantastic and certainly went down well with those who stuck around for the set.
Towards the end of Youth Lagoon’s set we dashed to the Outdoor Theater where UK beat boxer Beardyman was working his magic on a crowd that was now fully awake and ready to party. Using the frankly awesome Beardytron machine I wrote about last week, he built a set that ploughed through hip-hop, drum and bass, and dubstep with the wit and timing of a great comedian before the machine rudely crashed on him.
Equipment failure is surely a performer’s worst nightmare at a festival, but Beardyman simply took the microphone to the front of the stage where he proceeded to offer an astonishing demonstration of the vocal skills that have earned him such a reputation. For those people around me who had not caught on to what the Beardytron was, the realization of this man’s talents was a genuine jaw dropper, and it was a real pleasure seeing the expression on some of those faces. With that, we had our first great festival moment.
Polica’s set in the Gobi Tent was a little more low-key, but that is simply the nature of a quietly seductive band whose use of two drummers with military precision gives their songs an unusual rhythm. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (who had just performed with The Shouting Matches in the Gobi Tent) stuck around to watch a band he once described as the best he had ever heard, and while that might be overstating it, the Minneapolis act already has one stunning song in their repertoire with “Lay Your Cards Out,” which got an airing here.
Channy Leaneagh’s vocals on record have garnered some criticism due to the overuse of auto-tune, and hearing her live, it is probably fair to say that those criticisms are justified. Her vocals are so strong that overtreating them with post-production on record does her a disservice. Polica proved to be a strong live group, and it will be fascinating to see where they go next.
The last time I saw Vancouver’s Japandroids at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, it was without any exaggeration the best show I’d been to in years. The Gobi Tent was packed for their early-evening set, and their live reputation clearly preceded them. They ended up being plagued by some sound issues throughout, and guitarist Brian King managed to break a string on his guitar before the first song had finished, but the duo plays with such energy and passion that sound issues become a lot less important.
When you’re whipping up a dustbowl in front of the stage as the band tears through “Younger Us” (as I was with some ecstatic strangers), you don’t care if the sound is a little off. They dropped “The House That Heaven Built” to a huge response, and, as usual, they managed to be frantically animated and wholly appreciative in their short space of time on stage. Japandroids are always an act worth seeing.