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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Into the distance, a ribbon of classic rock”

    I was struggling to sleep in the back of my friend’s minivan when the car mounted one last hill and a blinding, blue spotlight jabbed at us through the windshield. The light shifted, and I squinted as the city of Indio, California bloomed into view in the valley below. “”You think they’re bright now,”” my friend smiled, “”wait until you’re underneath them.””

    It is in this southern California town, under those spotlights, that the 3-day Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival occurs every year in the third week of April, and would occur again come the break of dawn, now just a few hours away. Following the festival’s signature Coachella lights, we pulled into the Empire Field polo pitch at 2 a.m., Friday morning, April 25 and began the last long trek to the concert’s camping grounds.

    We dredged towards the gate like warriors, hauling tents, sleeping bags and backpacks equipped with only the necessary few provisions a college student requires to survive a weekend concert festival. Our journey thus far required 7 hours of driving through the pitch-black plains of Nowhere, USA, and cost over $400 for gas, tickets and camping passes, but the payoff would be phenomenal: 3 days of mindless musical indulgence and a cry back to the throes of the ’60s hippie revolution. Coachella is kind of like Woodstock, in that way. But it’s Woodstock for middle-class college kids with nothing to rebel against.

    It was my first concert campout experience, and the year’s lineup, despite criticisms, excited me greatly. The list of artists included something for everybody: for Joe and Jane College, there’s Jack Johnson, M.I.A. and Death Cab for Cutie; for the hipsters, Islands, Gogol Bordello and Cold War Kids; for the rockers, Flogging Molly, Serj Tankian and The Raconteurs; for the ravers, Fatboy Slim, Portishead and Justice; and for the vastly outnumbered old-school flower children, there’s The Artist himself, Prince, and Mr. Roger Waters.

    We awoke in our tent at 8 a.m. by command of the sun, which would be our greatest antagonist that weekend. I emerged in crisp daylight to see the full campgrounds that I only briefly observed the night before. I was adrift in an ocean of flapping vinyl, flanked by row upon row of tents in every shape, size, color, and, unfortunately, odor. The lineup offered something for everyone, and everyone was there.

    In the time to kill before the festival gates opened, we met some of our pro-temp neighbors, devoured a feast of PB&Js and avoided already-reeking port-o-potties and public showers. There was a strong sense of community at the campgrounds: everyone was there for the same purpose of having a good time.

    Soon, we crossed the campgrounds and entered the concert grounds. Beyond the entrance lay a sprawling, grassy horseshoe rimmed by five enormous stages, beginning with the mammoth Coachella stage, upon which headliners Jack Johnson, Prince, and Roger Waters would play.

    The first stage I got to know intimately was the Sahara “”Rave”” Tent. I watched a set by DJ Sebastian–clad in black and chain-smoking demonically as he worked turntable magic, remixing songs from Prodigy, the White Stripes and Daft Punk. The tent was nowhere near capacity but brimming with energy as contented ravers smoked and danced in place all day. I would not know why Sahara is called the Rave Tent until that night.

    As the sun began to set, The Raconteurs took the main stage, led by White Stripes front man Jack White and singer-songwriter Brendan Benson. Their set rarely deviated from catchy, guitar-driven tracks off of their newest album “”Consolers of The Lonely,”” save to play the band’s former hit “”Steady as She Goes””. The set ended powerfully with White’s southern folk ballad “”Carolina Drama,”” showcasing his undeniable guitar prowess and blues-rock soulfulness.

    Halfway through the Raconteurs set, the sunset and the Coachella Lights erupted from the ground in a broad circle around the polo pitch. Staring straight up into the focal point of the spotlights was breathtaking: a swatch, gouged into the night sky in the name of ROCK! I missed them dearly, come Monday.

    Night fell and I returned to the Sahara Tent where a set by Fatboy Slim would soon begin, having to pass up the show on the Coachella stage where bro-heartthrob Jack Johnson headlined the first evening. What I found was a rave tent worthy of the title “”Rave Tent””.

    Slim stood on an elevated platform with his turntables in front of a huge LCD screen. He spouted beats while the Sahara tent spouted fog, lasers, strobe lights, confetti, psychedelic projections and bass out the ass. The crowd went wild as a single organism, writhing and swelling in unison to remixed versions of “”Bird of Prey”” and “”Going Out of My Head”” and dancing for over two hours until concert officials asked Slim to stop playing. The Sahara tent had become an instant sensory explosion, and I still wonder how Jack Johnson got through his whole set without Fatboy Slim’s show interrupting it in the distance. I walked back to our tent, exhausted at the end of day one.

    The campgrounds were even more chaotic when I awoke on Saturday. This was Prince’s night, and all his fans shoved their ways into the campsite anxiously. Crossing the campgrounds towards the gate, I saw some additions to the community of the campsite. The alleyways between solid walls of camping tents became the flower-child equivalent of a Marrakech bazaar; some of the more enterprising hippies even offered affordable payment plans for the purchase of all manner of psychoactive plants.

    Highlights of Saturday include the set from soul-rock quartet Cold War Kids, who belted out a rollercoaster performance on the main stage, shifting from hard-hitting rock to rhythmic spirituals before you could cry out “”Old Saint John on death row!”” Other than the powerhouse performance from the Kids, Saturday proved mostly uneventful until the sunset, and I defaulted to the Sahara Tent to catch the set by Sri Lankan hip-hop personality, M.I.A.

    I was shocked to find the crowd for M.I.A. impenetrable 30 minutes before her set began. The Sahara Tent bulged with tweens and ravers– Hannah Montana memorabilia and glowsticks pouring onto the polo pitch through the narrow cracks between adolescent girls and tweaked-out electrophiles. The set itself was underwhelming. Constant delays from the set starting 20 minutes late, being paused 20 minutes to allow a few audience members to dance onstage, and an additional, arbitrary 10-minute buildup to her hit “”Paper Planes”” made the set less enjoyable than it could’ve been.

    Next, I faced the difficult choice of watching trip/hop goddess Beth Gibbons and Portishead at the main stage or Irish rockers Flogging Molly at the Outdoor Theater. I settled on Flogging Molly, craving rock. Once they began, the Outdoor Theater was transformed from a sedentary audience into a Celtic pub brawl within seconds. I made the rookie mistake of wearing sandals into the explosive mosh-pit, but miraculously escaped with ten toes in tact at the end of the hour. The band played old favorites and new. The show was brief, but it oozed raw energy and brilliant musicianship, despite their tendency to produce songs that all sound the same.

    I emerged in a daze from the sweat-drenched battlefield that was left in the wake of Flogging Molly’s set. I wandered the grounds for half an hour, looking for the comrades I had lost to the crowds at the last two shows, eventually relenting to the main stage to watch The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

    Prince was added to the Coachella lineup only a few weeks earlier as a sort of last-ditch effort to beef up ticket sales. Whether or not sales spiked after Prince was added, the size of the crowd was noticeably vaster than any I had seen over the previous two days. It was an older demographic, populated chiefly by couples, hippies and anyone in need of a little funkadelic, sexual healing.

    Never has an artist so frequently declared that a venue was “”Prince’s house now”” and boasted that “”this song is so funky I can’t even sleep with myself!”” Nor has an artist provided so much soul and musical talent to satisfy his egomania. Prince and his massive band charged through soulful ballads, funky ’80s anthems, love-makin’ grooves and blistering guitar solos.

    His encore included an extended rendition of “”Purple Rain,”” laden with extra spoonfuls of Prince’s wailing falsetto and explosive guitar shreddery, inspiring 50,000 people to sing in unison and chill the desert night under swaying spotlights. The enjoyment I got from Prince’s set was one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire weekend. Day three, however, would provide the most grandiose concert of my life.

    On Sunday I awoke to still more tents sprouting up around the campgrounds, now a fully functional civilization. That night Roger Waters closed out the festival by performing the entirety of “”Dark Side of the Moon,”” a show that hippies and hipsters alike can go crazy for. As they say: “”you don’t need drugs to enjoy it; just to enhance it.””

    Everyone worth seeing on day three was playing on the main Coachella stage, creating an epic, escalating build-up to the festival’s end that culminated in sets from Gogol Bordello, My Morning Jacket, and Waters.

    The gypsy punk orchestra, Gogol Bordello, took the stage in the late afternoon and unleashed a wild performance. Singer Eugene Hutz’s unruly moustache must have released some sort of punk rock pheromone that turns mild-manner audiences into howler monkeys, because the resulting mosh-pit raged the entire set and forced me back 20 feet from where I stood at the beginning of the show. They rocked hits like “”Mishto”” and “”Start Wearing Purple,”” which would have been more enjoyable if I could’ve concentrated on the music instead of wondering whether or not I was going to be trampled.

    Next to take the stage was Kentucky rock band My Morning Jacket. I wasn’t familiar with the band before watching them, but their heavy, largely improvised jamming made me an instant convert. They embellished their hit “”Off the Record”” with incendiary guitar solos, pounding drum beats and chilling synth rhythms, performing one of the most impressive and surprising sets I witnessed all weekend. Energized by their rampage of rock, I waited anxiously for the final show of the weekend.

    Coachella headliners are notorious for providing an over-the-top show to close out the festival memorably. I can safely say that the set by Pink Floyd singer and bassist Roger Waters and his incredible band was the most spectacular, over-the-top show I have ever seen.

    Waters opened with “”In the Flesh,”” the intimidating overture from The Wall. His band masterfully proceeded to recreate his solo hits as well as Pink Floyd’s later hits, including a haunting rendition of “”Another Brick in The Wall”” that got the entire audience singing along. There is nothing so liberating as 70,000 people yelling, “”we don’t need no education!”” in unison.

    While Waters and the band blasted an epic version of “”Sheep”” to close the first half of the set, the signature Pink Floyd pig balloon emerged from behind the stage and began patrolling the audience. While the song reached its climax and the Coachella lights danced erratically to the beat, the cables holding the pig were released, and it soared away into the stratosphere. During the intermission, the pig could still be seen floating heaven-bound, recreating the famous Animals album cover. What I didn’t learn until after the festival is that the pig was not supposed to fly away, but was released by mistake. The most surreal, spectacular show I had ever seen was purely accidental.

    Waters came back to play the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon, much to the pleasure of 70,000 audience members who wailed and danced nonstop for the next hour. The encore was a bone-chilling version of “”Comfortably Numb,”” topped off with the most legendary guitar solo in rock ‘n’ roll history being played on a violin.

    The set was a Pink Floyd nut’s dream–the perfect ending to a long and glorious weekend of rocking, raving and rapture. As I returned to the tent, the techno band Justice began the night’s last set on the Outdoor Theater while the Coachella lights slashed across the sky in synch. I fell asleep staring out of my tent, mesmerized by a phenomenal weekend, hypnotized by swaying lights.

    Rock on.

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