It was the morning after our first day at the Coachella festival, and time for a system check. The shoulders were a little burned, but other than that, the sunblock was doing its job, and the feet were holding up surprisingly well for both myself and my photographer. We were a little delayed in getting ready, however, and hit the dreaded rush at noon as we tried to make our way in. A lesson learned and one worth stressing and underlining — always get there early — but the delay did nothing to dampen our mood. This was a Saturday at Coachella. The festival was already in full swing, and the energy levels hit their peak as 75,000 people got caught up in the ongoing adrenaline.
Our arrival time was about right to catch Shovels and Rope in the Gobi Tent. The South Carolina country-folk husband and wife duo were a complete blind pick, but they were clearly delighted to be at Coachella, and they gave a full-blooded and upbeat performance of old-fashioned Southern fried soul with just enough grit to keep it interesting. Their set was a reminder that half of the fun of festivals is the music you had no idea you would hear and the celebration of that discovery regardless of origin or flavor.
Three o’clock in the afternoon is a strange time to bear witness to a legend in bloom, but that was when London’s Savages took to the stage for a blistering half-hour set. The all-female post-punk group has a debut album release in a couple of weeks, and the few songs I’d heard had led me to believe the band might be on the verge of greatness. Their Coachella set convinced me that they are already there.
Savage’s mastery of the dynamics of tension is second to none, and their self-belief is evident in the taut, ferocious songs they played in the afternoon heat. With singer Jehnny Beth giving the audience her best “do not mess with me” stare and drummer Fay Milton swinging the sticks as hard as anybody else all weekend, Savages’ manifesto of “reconnecting with the emotional and physical self” seems less like a self-consciously artistic statement and more like a vital call to arms. Theirs is an utterly convincing and rare power.
From that darkness we headed out into the light in the form of Dropkick Murphys on the Main Stage. The Boston Irish punk band has played several festivals I’ve been to, and I have either missed them or skipped them, mainly because I’ve never been convinced by their Celtic punk leanings. On this day, however, it seemed most appropriate to grab a beer in the sunshine and toast the Boston spirit, and the band members’ sincerity when they discussed getting home to their families after a long tour and a traumatic week for the city generated a lot of rightful good will from those watching.
The music was great fun as well. No wonder they play so many of these festivals, as it is such a natural environment for their heavy but celebratory sound. Of course they finished with “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” which basically makes you want to drink, fight, and kiss somebody at the same time — as all good music should.
Someone else who has never quite convinced me on record is Bat For Lashes, aka Natasha Khan, whose mystical side has never really been to my tastes. This was my second time catching her live, and she does put on a great show. Khan looked happier to be at the festival than anyone else we saw, and adorned in the most Coachella outfit imaginable, she delivered the finest cuts from her three albums so far in the Mojave Tent where we were beginning a mini residency that would last the remainder of the afternoon.