The 'weekend' began early: I was up at 4am on Wednesday so that I could take J. to the airport for a 6.30am flight. (That is: his alarm went off at 4. The airline recommends being there at 5.30, it's a 40 minute or so drive, he needs breakfast and time to get ready ...). I went to work, after, and didn't finish the things I was supposed to get done because of an emergency which pushed them off the main stack into the 'later' stack, which I imagine they'll pop off of on Wednesday unless other things have superceded them. This is my job; it's not surprising, and it was actually quite nice to have the stress of trying to finish them plucked off my back by something outside of my control. (It was, as it often is, something stupid, but ... it doesn't matter).
I left work at 4 and drove to Palmdale.
I wanted to be in Indio, the site of the venue, by noonish on Thursday. I didn't want to spend the night in LA, and I certainly didn't want to drive straight shot from home leaving at 3am. So I plotted out as far as I thought I could reasonably make it after work on a day where I was getting up at 4am, rented a cheap motel room, and aimed myself at it. That would be palmdale, in the deserts north of Los Angeles.
I almost didn't make it. The last hour or so of the drive was really rough; as much as I love the empty spaces along 138 between 5 and Lancaster, it was dark, and I was tired, and getting through it was a slog. I got to the motel, checked in, and basically crashed immediately.
My alarm kicked me up early the next morning. I walked to Starbucks, drove to the local gym and worked out, grabbed some ice, and was on the road.
Palmdale has the feeling of a place where the economy crashed hard and hasn't come back; advertisements everywhere for dealing with foreclosure problems, combined with large numbers of for sale signs and many empty storefronts. I'm not really quite sure what the economy is based on, but it doesn't seem to be working.
I met up with my friends from the message board at just before 1. (I was late. Others were later). We met at a local supermarket, then caravaned into the staging area for entry (this was a bit of a nuisance, as the original directions for how to get there had been changed, and we ended up going basically completely around the venue and having to turn around in mid-road). Unfortunately, at the entry to the staging area, we got split into two groups (one of four cars, one of three) each of which were sheperded into different staging areas. This meant that we would end up camping in two different sites instead of together as one group; disappointing, that.
We proceeded to spend on the order of two hours in line waiting for the cars in front of us to get searched. We'd move a little, get out of the cars and talk, move a little more, etc. (That said, the actual search was ... borderline pointless? I could have hidden glass bottles, hard alcohol, any quantity i desired of most illegal drugs, and guns in my car and they wouldn't have found them. Which sucks: if i'm going to sit in line for two hours on a hot sunny afternoon for security, at least make the security purposeful, please).
It turned out that we ended up only two dozen or so campsites from the rest of our group, so we established a hang out area in one spot, and proceeded to hang out there and drink until midnight or so. We did some walking around, looking at other campsites and the stuff (pinball machines, swings, roller rink) set up in the campground; but really it was just low-key do-nothing hangout time.
You have no idea - well, maybe ni does, or lm (and stacky and clock probably do, too, for different reasons ) - how appealing this concept is.
I went into the venue early on Friday; I had planned on it being a busy day. I checked out Metaphase, because he was there next to where I got breakfast. I think it was decent enough but nothing to write home about, but I'm not sure, because I don't remember much at all, which says that it probably wasn't something to write home about, if it's gone already.
Next up was the Rural Alberta Advantage, a rock band from Toronto. They were pretty good (it probably helped that I thought Paul Banwatt was cute); a high energy rocking set that set just the right tone for the start of the day.
After, I moved to see Moving Units. who were not what I expected. Their frontman, dressed in an elaborate white suit with a black headband, reminded me of nothing so much as the frontman from a crazy band R343l and I saw a few years ago whose name I can never remember; high energy and downright crazy. But ... despite wikipedia's claim that it was dance punk, there was surprisingly little dancing, and it didn't feel very punk, either. I wasn't really quite sure what to make of it, so I just treated as an opener for
Ozomatli. I was originally not going to see them, as I've seen them multiple times and my general preference is to see new bands at Coachella; but they ended up scheduled at a time where there was simply nothing else I gave a shit about. They put on a good show, as always; I was up close enough that they walked right by me during their closing parade. A member of the Pogues came out and joined them for a song, mixing his accordion into their music with great style. :)
(In between, I tried to check out Emicida, a brazilian rapper; but either he was mis-represented as a rapper when he was in fact a duo of (hot half-naked) DJs, he wasn't there, and the DJs, while hot, didn't hold my interest musically.
Then came a block where I cared about nothing. (Can you say nothing, boys and girls? I knew you could). So I went and did homework, returning to catch the end of Afrojack. It was some good pounding dance music. He was followed by Erick Morillo, a Columbian DJ whose music was ok but a little too poppy for me; I stayed for a bit and then wandered off to catch
The Black Keys who were, to be honest, the biggest disappointment of the whole weekend. They're supposed to be really good, but the energy level just wasn't there, and I wasn't feeling it. (At first I thought that this was because I'm not used to seeing bands at this venue while wearing earplugs, and I hadn't adjusted my sense of energy and crowd enthusiasm for it; but other people I've talked to who were also disappointed have largely disabused me of that notion).
I skipped Kings of Leon, because I'd seen them before, and went to see some of Magnetic Man, who had what sounded like awesome drum and bass going on; I danced out to that for half an hour or so before it ended. Then I wandered off, skipping Sasha (whom I had really wanted to see before the set times were released) in favor of
Legendary Mexican rock band Caifanes, who reunited after sixteen years for two shows. They rocked the fuck out, and the crowd was really into it. Most of the show was awesome for that experience: the crowd was deeply moved, every song had intense meaning for those who had come, who could sing all the words by heart and were excited and moved by the act of doing so in the presence of their long-broken-up band. It was like "Hallelujah" two years ago, only more so, for almost the entire set. (Although, things did turn sour when the band left without playing one of their most important, from the fans' perspective, hits; there was lots of grumbling. I didn't understand it, of course, as this was also the one crowd I was in all weekend where I was the only native English speaker within my hearing range; a fact which would have made the experience fun and notworthy even on its own).
Next up were Scala and the Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian band consiting of a drummer, a keyboardist, and ... a choir of 24 women. Who sing haunting remixes of pop songs. They were on at the same time as the Chemical Brothers and Boyz Noise, meaning (a) the crowd which showed up for them was tiny, numbering maybe a couple of hundred; (b) it was occasionally a struggle to hear them over the beating from across the field. But, still, they were awesome; they carried the atmosphere incredibly well, showing a range which involved both the unnerving and spooky and the epitomy of the empowered woman. They were a great note to close the night on.
Except that they didn't close the night; they ended at 12.45, and the Chemical Brothers continued until 1.15 at the earliest, and I had to walk by them on the way out, so I went and danced to the end of the Chemical Brothers set - an absolutely amazing set, totally different from what I saw two years ago (which was one of the highlights of that year, albeit for reasons independent of the music), with stunning visuals. I almost wished I'd seen the whole thing, but that would have meant not seeing Scala, which wouldn't have been worth it.
I was up until 4 probably, on the buzz from that, wandering around the campgrounds, talking to people and drinking. I paid for it later.
Saturday was high energy dance day. I was, again, in the venue early, and somewhat surprised to see so many fewer people. I went to see Trampled by Turtles, a bluegrass band who were good, but not great; they were fun, and their music sounded good, but I couldn't stop comparing them (negatively) to the late, lamented Nickel Creek. That said, someone started up circle and line dancing, and I joined in, and it was an absolute blast.
After that was Bomba Estereo, which I also expected to be dancy, but wasn't so much. And ... while the music was good, I found the lead singer annoying.
Then came Gogol Bordello, whom I've seen before (a couple of times), and always really enjoy. There's nothing like leaving the concert drenched in the sweat of dozens of your new closest friends, and there's something about this band in particular which invites stunningly high energy dancing. It was a blast. I lost an earplug.
So I kept dancing until the end of the set, then went to get a replacement (I had a spare in teh campground), thereby missing Joachim Garraud, who had been high on my list. After, I went to see Chuckie, a great South American DJ I've wanted to see for sometime.
Let's review, shall we? I was up until 4, and wake up no later than 8 because of the way the sun beats on the tent. I danced, in front of the mainstage, in the sun, at high intensity, for at least an hour and a half (Gogol Bordello & Trampled by Turtles), plus some (less intense) dancing during Bomba Estereo and just generally being in the sun, in 96 degree heat, for five hours at this time.
I tried to dance to Chuckie.
My body told me to go fuck myself.
I tried to ignore it.
We ended up compromising: I laid down on the grass outside the tent, zoning out and listening to the music. I spent the rest of Chuckie's set and all of Laidback Luke (another DJ I've wanted to see for some time) doing that. Zoning out, half napping, half staring into space, really only marginally processing the music. In retrospect, I'm convinced that I was suffering from borderline heat exhaustion. (I drank two liters of water during the gogol bordello set, was still thirsty, and didn't need to piss; the 95+ air outside the pit was making me shiver intermittently, I came close to passing out.) So I lay there, getting up periodically for more water and, eventually, for food (did I mention I'd also failed to eat anything? I'm not very bright sometimes), until sunset. At that point I had the strength and energy to wander across the crowds to the mainstage, where I sidled up the side - carefully staying to the edge of the crowd, not wanting to get hemmed in where I could feel the heat from other people's bodies, because that was very, very, very bad - to see
Mumford & Sons. Mumford & Sons are an English band who unexpectedly blew up last year on the strength of their big hit song, which it seems you can't go anywhere these days without hearing. (This drew an annoying element in the crowd. They left after the song was played).
They were, quite simply, awesome. The music was beautiful, expertly played; and their frontman's voice carried the emotion of the lyrics beyond all reasonable expectations. They made Trampled by Turtles seem like rank amateurs by comparison ... and throughout, they were carried by an evident joy at being there, which is always helpful. It was one of the best sets of the weekend.
As they were finishing, and I was wandering out, I ran into two girls carrying their passed-out (male) friend out of the crowd. This was awkward; they were trying to carry him and ward off the part of the crowd pushing in for the next act. So I walked alongside them and ran crowd interference (basically, at some points, shoving people out of the way when they weren't getting the message - bad crowd etiquette when not playing pit wall, but not bad etiquette in a medical emergency). One of them called me the nicest man she'd ever met; I thought it was just what any reasonable person would have done.
After getting them settled, I went to see Empire of the Sun who turned out to feel much like an 80s glam rock band: the epitomy of everything punk was a rebellion against. (I'm actually shocked to find that they're not an 80s band). As such, they were really not my cup of tea, and I wandered off about halfway through and went to crash.
I slept through Arcade Fire. I got a good two hours of deep sleep before the neighbors in the campsite next to my group's started up their all-night laughing and talking about inanities party at 1.30. I finally managed to fall back asleep around 4.
Sunday was, by design, a slow day. I woke up fine, but I was aware that I'd overpushed on Saturday, and there was some stuff I really wanted to see Sunday night, so I had a lazy afternoon; I finished reading The Half-Made World, which was fantastic, and then read Guilty Pleasures, which I'd never read before. It was nice, again, to have a couple hours of hanging out with no responsibility to anyone except myself; and, under the shade of the canopy, the heat wasn't even a problem. :)
I wandered in in time to catch Sven Vaeth, an old school German DJ. He was impressive; his music was very sparse and spartan, but still kept the beat going, and the crowd was into it; it was fun to dance to for 90 minutes.
After him came Trentemoeller.
I don't even know where to start on this. Live music is good for a lot of different things. It's good for the experience of immerseing yourself in a crowd that loves the music (see Caifanes above, or Leonard Cohen in 2009); it's good for the joy of physical exertion in the company of peers who share that joy (see Gogol Bordello, above). Sometimes it's good for the experience of a new sound (Battles, three years ago); sometimes it's all about letting yourself be directed by a master showman (Paul McCartney, for example). Sometimes it's just that the shit sounds good, or it has a particular emotional resonance for you (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Paul Simon). Sometimes it's fun because the lyrics say something to you spiritually, or the music has a good beat, or any of countless other things.
And sometimes ...
every once in a while, the music and the crowd and the setting come together, and it's just perfect: the perfect realization of beauty in the hands of humans. That was this show. I've described it elsewhere as being like touching the face of God, and I'm not exaggerating. I could describe it to a stoner as inducing - without drugs - a high that leaves you blazing like you've never blazed before; I can point to the perfection of the crowd, which was more energetic than the Gogol Bordello crowd but at the same time almost completely peaceful; I can point to the beauty of the scenery, the backdrop of the lights coming on against the setting sun and the wind picking up after a long, hot weekend; I could point to the beauty of the music and the power of the band's instrumentation. But what I cannot do is capture the moment in anything which doesn't sound trite or insipid. It was beautiful, it was amazing, it was a moment of pure beauty and pure joy unlike almost anything else I've ever dreamed of experiencing. It was the kind of thing where, for as long as it was going on, nothing else existed - not the heat, not my tired feet, not hunger, not worries about school or work or moving or life, nothing but the bueaty of the sound and the joy of the dance. It was, hands down, the best set I've experienced, anywhere. It was amazing enough that I'm still spinning, somewhat, from it, more than a day later and hundreds of miles away.
I say it was like touching the face of God. I've never known anything like it.
They were followed by Ratatat, whose music was similar enough that it kept the same mood, and the same feel in the crowd (who were largely, although not entirely, the same people). It's hard for me to seperate them out, in my memory, as a seperate thing. They were very, very, very good; not as good as Trentemoeller (who was?), but good enough that absent Trentemoeller, they might well have been my favorite set of the weekend.
The two of them back-to-back was just mindblowing.
Afterwards, I went to see The Bloody Beetroots and their new act, which seeks to remake their electronic music with live instrumentation. It was pretty cool, and very danceable, but about halfway through my body started to rebel again (90 mins of Sven Vaeth, 90 minutes of trentemoeller and ratatat combined ... i'm getting tired here). Still, it wasn't the wipeout from the previous day; it was a happy mellow decision to go hang out and listen to the music from the side of the venue, totally riveted by the sound just unwilling/unable to make my body move.
I'd intended to check out Axwell afterwards (he's part of Swedish House Mafia), and started to do so. But ... what he chose to play Sunday night was hard techno stuff (in the proper sense of the word as a discrete subgenre of electronic dance music, not as an umbrella term); totally the wrong sound and energy for the post-trentemoeller mood. So I headed back to the campground.
I did not go see the headliner, Kanye West. But I heard a fair amount of his set; the sound carried (more so than it had for Arcade Fire the previous night). None of us at the campground were paying that much attention - we were busy drinking and talking - but then he popped out with the theme song from Chariots of Fire, which drew derisive comments. It turned out later that he was playing this as the backdrop to an act where he basically changed his outfit on stage.
Chariots of Fire, like Also Sprach Zarathustra, simply cannot be used in this way without the person so using it appearing to be a pompous asshole. Maybe it could be done ironically, but I can't give Kanye that credit.
Two years ago, one of the members of my camping group (who wasn't there this year) asked everyone what the highlight of the event was for them. This year, for me, there's no question that it was Trentemoeller. But there's a second, single song, which just blew me away, on Friday night. In the middle of the Scala & Kolacny brothers set: their cover of Everlong. There's something riveting about the song to begin with, but their rendition was just incredible.
Some other time, perhaps, I can go into why it is the lyrics to that song move me so much. :)
In the meantime, the story of the weekend is done, and it's time for bed. :) Peace to you, my brothers and sisters, and love; and may the time between now and my next writing bring you as much joy as this weekend has brought me. :)
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