Thursday, April 22, 2010

Coachella 2010: People Watching is Best Done in Dense Crowds

Whether you did drugs or not – and the guy who screamed “I’M ON DRUGS” at four in the morning clearly did – the 2010 Coachella Music and Arts Festival was amazing.

The impressively eclectic grouping of musicians - ranging from Jay-Z to Them Crooked Vultures to countless techno/rave/electro groups I have never heard of, and likely never will, drew some 75,000 people for each of the experiences’ three days. It was crowded to say the least, and deservedly so. The limitless people watching in itself was worth the price of admission, but the headliners and everyone else filled in quite nicely amongst the drunks, druggies, and fedoras.

Of course Jay-Z killed. You take for granted how many hits the guy has put out but when he can play a twelve-year old song and have the crowd believing they too have lived a “Hard Knock Life” you’re a superstar. And when you can roll out your spouse to duet with you and her name is Beyonce, well, you’re a megastar.
 I was blown away by the sheer rock power of Muse. The London-based group conducted an uber-show on the Coachella main stage Saturday night in front of what seemed to be one of the larger crowds of the weekend. The band’s front man, Matthew Bellamy, went absolutely rock star on the guitar, drifting into Hendrix’s National Anthem and a Rage tribute, sky-rocketing my Muse fandom.

A band I was very excited to see was Vampire Weekend and the quartet did not let me down. They played a high energy, move-your-hips-and-bob-your-head set that left a smile on everyone’s face and made me regret not yet purchasing their newest album, Contra.

Conversely, bands like MGMT and Phoenix were disappointing despite their popularity. MGMT showed little interest in playing and seemed to hammer through their set with a clock in, clock out, blah-like enthusiasm. Phoenix put on a fair show but left much to the imagination. They might as well have popped their CD in and danced on stage.

We skipped the final headliner, The Gorrilaz, to hustle out of the campgrounds but Thom Yorke was arguably headliner enough for day three. I didn’t know who Thom Yorke was one week before Coachella but I wont soon forget him now. The Radiohead front man, playing on his own, put on quite the festival closing show. He and his super group played yet another high energy show that, despite not knowing a single song, had me moving and impressed. His bassist, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was a gyrating riot. Incredible.

But while I’d heard of most of the headliners and bigger bands to play, the meat and potatoes of such an experience lies in the umpteen other bands that piece the days together. These bands play between noon and 5:30 under the beating sun and draw smaller crowds of hyper-loyal followers. Often, these are some of the most exciting and memorable shows. Also, at $7 an onsite beer, people tend to be drunker, earlier courtesy of their off-site pre-gaming, adding to the excitement of the smaller groups.

Of the non-headliners I was impressed by Hockey, Edward Sharpe, As Tall as Lions, The Avett Brothers, Matt & Kim, De La Soul, and Die Antwoord. Some of these bands I’d been previously exposed to (The Avett Brothers, Matt & Kim) and I may be biased. I will say that Matt & Kim played the most energetic show – so much that they prompted a streaker – I saw and I was absolutely thrilled to see them fill far beyond the parameters of the Mojave tent.
The Avett Brothers performing "I and Love and You" (brief)

Die Antwoord played a twenty-minute set at 11:34 pm on Saturday night that I absorbed slack jawed. I have no words to describe what this South African Rap/DJ group is or performs and there are no groups like them. Their front man goes by the name Ninja. Perhaps his name can shed some light on the absurdity that is this group. Coachella was their US debut after gaining viral popularity via a self-produced video. Be prepared for strange if you click here.

On the people-watching front, my two favorites occurred Saturday night. First, it was amazing to watch any person’s face having a transcendent moment courtesy of the meandering Transcenders. The Transcenders is the name I’ve given to the guys who walk through the venue with colorful LED lights on their fingertips and perform a lights show for willing observers. As the fingertip lights go zipping around, the seated observer becomes fascinated by the visual facade of streaking lights and god-knows what else. The look on their face becomes one of absolute entrancement and joy. Needless to say, there was no shortage of observers. I must admit that even as a third party observer, those were some crazy lights.

The second best people watching occurred during the Muse concert just a few feet from us. As the band destroyed it, the couple to our left was quite a site. He was a shirtless, five-foot-five, Latino in skinny jeans and barefoot. She was a five-foot-ten redhead in pretty standard garb. What made them the people-watching experience of the trip was that he stood behind her, groping any and every part of her he could get his hands on, while he moved, danced, and humped away at her back half. While he did his thing, she not only towered above him, but paid him absolutely no mind. It was like watching a puppy hump Shaquille O’Neal’s leg. Proof of her utter disregard culminated when she calmly sent a series of text messages as he continued to go at her behind.

So while music, drugs, and liquor maybe don’t bring out the best in people, it certainly brings out the fun in them. Coachella 2010 was a cleanly run event that provided fun for all and an astonishingly safe atmosphere for 75,000 people to unapologetically engage in otherwise inappropriate behavior. Kudos to the staff and event producers for a job well done.

When you leave Coachella, you leave dirty, dehydrated, malnourished, exhausted and ready to do it all over again. It’s by no means a concert. It’s by all means an experience. And if indeed we are to experience life, try Coachella. The experience only further whet my appetite for live music, shared adventures, and the hopefully seldom but always fun pre-noon Jack Daniel’s.

If You Go:

Camping is undoubtedly the way to take in the three-day experience. Arrive early and provide your own shade. Outside of pills, shade is perhaps the most sought after commodity at Coachella. Our group was lucky that I had a 12’x12’ sunburn saving, pop-up cover. Tents are good to have too but don’t expect to sleep much regardless. Bring plenty of whatever you want to consume because on site anything is expensive. Be warned that campground parties become ubiquitous as the night progresses and don't wear a fedora unless you want to look like everyone else. Other than that, tune on, tune in, drop out, and enjoy!


  1. I'm sorry, I thought you said you didn't know who Thom Yorke was.

  2. I also can't name all 5 Beatles.