by Josh Bis
on Tue, Apr 24, 2012 at 9:48 AM
Coachella, from the Grand Wheel (click to embiggen)
Clonechella? When Goldenvoice announced that they were going to put on two identical Coachella festivals on consecutive weekends, a lot of people were skeptical that they could pull it off. Yet, as far as I could tell, they more than made good on their promise. All the bands returned for sets at the same times, with many spending the intervening week playing shows elsewhere (e.g., Pulp went to San Francisco, Radiohead went to Mexico, Jeff Mangum visited Seattle) or just frolicking in the desert (the Head and the Heart retreated to Joshua Tree and covered Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name"). The whole thing came across like an massive theatrical production so confident in itself that no one needed to have, let alone call in, an understudy so that the show could go on without a hitch for a fresh audience hungry to see what they'd missed from the previous weekend's live broadcast.
The only difference, which turned out to be kind of major, was outside even Paul Tollett's hands: the extreme contrast in weather between the two events. While weekend one opened with fans bundled in hastily-procured hoodies and rain gear, by the second time around temperatures soared above 100 degrees at the peak of each scorching day, dramatically shaping the character of the twin weekends.
Some photos from & a few quick thoughts on Weekend Two after the jump.
Heat beating strategies
Hosing down the fans
Ace Hotel, Desert Gold
Heatwave mindset More than a few first weekend procrastinations were left unresolved in the face of the hot hot heatwave. In the spirit of self-preservation, we indulged in the phenomenon of the Coachella pool party scene rather than facing the most brutal hours of the day at the polo grounds. In previous years, with only one weekend to see everything, the thought of cowering in the shade or at the edge of the water never crossed my mind. However, with a more leisurely schedule, visiting friends at their resort for a couple hours to check in on their watermelon infusion experiments suddenly seemed like a great idea. Further, the slate of hotel-based events expanded to fill the void between the two Coachellas with the Palm Springs Ace hosting eleven days worth of events, including a mid-week evening with Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen playing Portlandia's games between songs and sunny afternoons with festivalgoers (and even a few shade-seeking dogs) flocking to score a spot by the swim club's pool. Elsewhere, VICE teamed up with Jansport to host one of their Bonfire Sessions at a ranch in the middle of the desert's date groves. Mercifully, the fire was only simulated, but the bands, lagoon, slip-and-slide, and refreshments were real. I can't see joining the ranks of invite-hungry who cycle through the parties rather than ever turning up at the festival, but spending a few hours on the periphery was a combination of hilarious, refreshing, and entertaining.
Bothchellas? Aside from the small percentage of ambitiously deranged completists, the scheme for making the festival more widely accessible worked, with the vast majority of attendees making it to only one of the two weekends. While it's fair to say that one Coachella is probably enough for most people, I'm still glad that I was able to indulge my curiosity about seeing the experiment for myself.
Knowing that I'd have a do-over took a little bit of the urgency of seeing everything during the first weekend and let the second one play out like a re-reading of a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Although I mostly wound up with the same satisfying conclusions like Radiohead and Dre & the Holograms, I arrived there by way of otherwise unlikely sidetrips (marveling at Jimmy Cliff, experiencing Death Grips' electro/rap/metal insanity, checking out Noel Gallagher's post-Oasis High Flying Birds, cozying up to the Shins and their new lineup, and catching various dance parties from Girl Talk's one-man mixtape band and Miike Snow's team effort around a jackalope-emblazoned synth octagon).
Neon Infinite Jesters?
Re-runs There were plenty of MVPs from the first weekend that I couldn't miss seeing a second time. The Rapture's dance-punk revival worked every bit as well in a big tent as it did the first time I saw them at Graceland; it's been forever since I can remember Beirut playing in Seattle (as far as I can recall, the last time was at the old Crocodile when Zach Condon was too young to be allowed anywhere in the bar except on stage) so I'll see their old-world-infused melodies, horns, accordions, and enchanting vocals any chance I get. M83 remained mind-blowing on second viewing, this time with a bigger light show and Anthony Gonzalez covering more the guitar parts himself. Jarvis Cocker and a reunited Pulp were still mandatory viewing, as was the chance to hear Jeff Mangum recreating the magic of Neutral Milk Hotel at sunset. And, seeing nearly every attendee gathered around the Mainstage waving their hands in the air as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and their guests (holographic and otherwise) closing the festival was an amazing spectacle even in reruns.
My co-conspirators for each weekend were each first time attendees. I asked each of them for quick takes on the experience. Of Weekend One, Carinna, a history teacher at Highline High School said: "I had to suspend my judgement of bikini and high heel wearers. And I really wanted to ride in that flower. And it's maybe the only experience I've ever described unhyperbolically as epic. Especially when all of those people were waving their hands, I thought "Snoop has more power than anyone else in the world right now. And Andrew Bird's performance stuck with me more than anyone else's, for some reason. I became a total celeb with the teens and that random ones were running into my class to ask if Tupac was really alive." Ellen reviewed Weekend Two: "Overall I am really impressed with the organizers - that is a ton of people and by and large the whole thing was seamless. That's pretty amazing. But also the personal touches - like the person holding a caribeener that is tied to the balloons and walking in the crowd - it doesn't seem like an event for 80,000 (or whatever) people. And thank god for the mental resting space of VIP." Yes, as I mentioned previously, the organizers are to be blessed a million times for locating the press tent in the VIP zone. Please: more of this at other fests.
From the large scale installations to the transitory but effective arcs of hand-curated balloon arcs, the art always adds special character to the festival so I was excited to hear that Susan Robb's giant black toobs were slated to appear. Although they did make brief appearances (picture 3 in this slideshow) I never got to the grounds in time to see them. Maybe the delicate structures didn't survive the wind or the curious crowds?
The most offensive accessory, a seizure-inducing wand that strobed between red, green, and blue neon appeared to be Kasabian branded.
LAX on Monday afternoon looked a little like a repatriation waystation from that Onion article with with exhausted-looking still-wristbanded kids sprawled out at gates waiting for flights to take them back to beds and showers. I almost felt like a traitor for having maintained regular bathing schedule and removed all of my own festival wristbands within minutes of leaving the grounds. In solidarity, though, I'll likely be coughing up stray dust particles for the rest of this week.
Oh, celebwatch! The terms of my photo credential forbid me from snapping pictures, but if you care about this sort of thing, during weekend two, we spotted the Winklevoss twins, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Emma Roberts, David Walton, Kelly Osbourne, Dita Von Teese, and Alexander Skarsgard.
From the strength of its lineup to the dramatic setting and including its surprisingly well-behaved fans, Coachella remains the bar by which I judge other festivals and I have yet to find another that entirely measures up. But maybe there's some form of imprinting? Certainly, after going for several years, some part of my enjoyment is in the nostalgia around every corner and maybe someone whose first big festival was Bonnaroo would crave muddy late-night humidity over the dry heat and lingering hope of Daft Punk someday returning in their giant pyramid to claim the mainstage that Justice kept warm for them last weekend.
(note: this post has been edited a few times since its original posting to correct glaring omissions resulting from in flight and late night writing.)