Review of Coachella 09
by Rebecca Bachman


The experience of each of the 50,000-60,000 people who attended Coachella over the three days this year (April 17-19) was tremendously distinctive. The adventure of each individual depended on a million different variables, including who you were with, what music you’re into, how you function in crowds, what shows you attended, how distracted you got by all the really cool sculptures, how much money you brought, and what drugs you were on. And that’s where magic comes in: at Coachella, you can do anything.

Perhaps the most widely known fact about this year’s Coachella festival is that Paul McCartney headlined it. But for the average attendee, that was only a tiny aspect of the day. By the time his performance came around, most people were so exhausted from all the other stuff they did that day that they didn’t go. Day 1, Friday, April 17, included many singer-songwriters in addition to the expected large variety. Performers ranged from Leonard Cohen and The Black Keys to energetic Crystal Castles, Girl Talk, and The Ting Tings. People Under the Stairs, an L.A. group, was the unique hip-hop performance of the weekend. A stand-out performance of the day was Beirut, who offered an outstanding presentation of brass: trumpets, trombones, and a French horn, along with a variety of other instruments ranging from a ukulele to a baritone sax. A learning experience and lesson in acceptance came on Friday in the form of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. Conor Oberst’s new band is just that: new. It is not Bright Eyes, it never plays Bright Eyes’ music, and does not even remotely embody the charming Bright Eyes spirit. A highlight in the Electro tent came in the form of Australians. The Presets had everybody jumping around, including a proud Australian who currently resides in I.V. and was inspired to stand on his friend’s shoulders while waving an enormous Australian flag around and desperately trying not to fall on top of jumping fans. The day came to a close on the main stage with Paul McCartney’s much anticipated performance, which solely attracted a significant number of fans that cared about nothing else. These Coachella-goers generally stood out, and were at least a decade older than the average person, but McCartney’s performance nonetheless got everyone’s attention. Whether it was because it was the only thing still going for about an hour Friday night or because McCartney filled the second half of his set with drunken Beatles hits, he certainly had the main stage lawn packed. The day predictably came to a close with a dramatically drawn out “Hey Jude,” complete with the waving of literally thousands of light-up devices.
The second day of the Coachella Festival, Saturday, April 18, was just as filled with variety and liveliness as the first. A stand out performance was Amanda Palmer, a Boston native who plays a mean piano, has a friend named Zoe who plays a mean cello, and is generally inspiringly badass with her wine and controversial lyrics. After a considerable amount of wine, she epically ended her performance with an impressive and heroic crowd surf from the stage to the very back of the tent, where she magnificently performed  “Creep” by Radiohead on the Ukulele. TV on the Radio offered an amazing performance later in the day on the main stage, followed by Thievery Corporation, who inspired people to dance to their unique songs, including their beautiful rendition of “Lebanese Blonde.” Saturday also enjoyed performances by Cloud Cult, Gang Gang Dance, James Morrison, Liars and Dr. Dog, to name only a few. The Bloody Beetroots and Fleet Foxes were other popular Saturday performances. Saturday night was torn between the day’s headliner “The Killers” on the main stage and MSTRKRFT in the Electro Tent. The Killers performed many songs off their newest album but did not neglect their older, more classic crowd pleasers like “Somebody Told Me” and “All These Things That I’ve Done,” which was the perfect ending to the main set before The Killers’ return for a three song encore. MSTRKRFT was the last band playing, pumping energetic, jump-inducing electro into the exhausted-but-not-quite-finished crowd. Their remix of D.A.N.C.E. was epic, as always, but complaints were made that they spent too much time on too many covers and not enough time showing off their own talent. Either way, MSTRKRFT had the Electro Tent filled till late in the night despite the long, hot day that preceded their performance.
Those who survived the first two days of Coachella only to brave the third are to be congratulated: not only did Sunday happen after the gruelingly incredible Friday and Saturday, but it was the hottest day of three brutally hot days, with temperatures teasing to climb to 100 degrees. Sunday, April 19 was headlined by The Cure, who had the privilege of gracing Coachella’s crowds with the final performance of this year’s festival. Some of the more popular performances on Sunday included the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who returned from last year, Lupe Fiasco, and Jenny Lewis. A unique and unexpected aspect of Sunday’s line up was Public Enemy, who attracted and engaged a crowd despite their unusual genre compared with the rest of the line up. In true Coachella form, the outstandingly peaceful and beautiful Peter Bjorn and John set was contrasted successfully with My Bloody Valentine, who were quite possibly louder and angrier than any other band of the weekend.
Since the first hint of Coachella with Pearl Jam’s 1993 protest show (Coachella’s location is obscure; Pearl Jam wished to protest the popular Ticketmaster-controlled venues that were all in big cities at least five hours away) and Coachella’s first official festival in October of 1999, the festival has only grown. Somehow it has managed to hold onto its unique crowds and line-ups, perhaps a sign that the first slap in the face to traditional concerts in big cities in ’93 was a success; only dedicated fans and independent-minded performers are willing to brave the remote 100 degree desert weather in the spring for the exhaustingly and extraordinarily exhilarating festival.