1. On Sunday, I spoke to more than a dozen Coachella attendees about their experiences, and the festival’s logistics seemed to have impressed even more than the music or the party atmosphere. Two Frenchmen, in particular, praised the weekend for being “well organized,” and from my vantage point they were right. Apart from some poor exit-traffic planning Friday night (which seemed to have been corrected for Saturday and Sunday), Coachella 2014 appeared to run smoothly even as it extended its physical footprint in year 15. Stages ran on time, sound was generally strong and long lines were hardly a hallmark. Food, and in particular, beer options were expanded, making the fest more comfortable than it has been in years. Of course, temperatures staying well below 100 degrees didn’t hurt, either.
2. My Seize-the-Moment Set award goes to STRFKR, which brought a zany bag of props to its 2:55 Outdoor Theatre performance. As the electro-pop quartet played, a parade of dancers bounced in spacesuits, inflatable Sumo suits and colorful bodysuits, while fans near the front held handout blow-up dolls high over their heads. The spectacle matched the fun music, and seemed to attract might-be walkers-by to bolster an already big crowd.
3. Conversely, I happened to walk past Chance the Rapper’s main-stage set while Justin Bieber was … doing whatever he was doing up there, and it did not deter me from my quest for chips and salsa.
4. I had to sit down after seeing Neutral Milk Hotel at the Outdoor Theatre Sunday evening, and not because I’d spent 90 minutes holding down a good spot in close quarters. I’d just fulfilled a significant musical dream, and I needed a few minutes to adjust to my new reality: one without Neutral Milk Hotel at the top of my concert bucket list. I missed out on the band the first time around, landing in Las Vegas around the time of its only performance there—a 1998 house show I wouldn’t hear of till a year or two later—and though I caught several Jeff Mangum solo shows in 2011 and ’12, Sunday would mark my first chance to see him with old bandmates Julian Koster, Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes.
I can’t say the set was perfect. Instruments were unbalanced in the mix, Mangum’s vocals were turned too low for the first half and “Oh Comely” went unplayed. But those are correctable issues, not unexpected in a festival setting. More importantly, when everything did click the music hit me just like I wanted, with the sort of uncomfortable, disorienting emotion that makes Mangum’s songs so important to so many listeners. For me, the standouts were “Ferris Wheel on Fire” and “Snow Song, Pt. 1,” plus “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. Two,” performed solo. Other highlights: Mangum’s beard, seeing Spillane mouth the lyrics to every word Mangum sang, and hearing Koster’s soaring saw after envisioning it all these years. Can’t wait to see the group headline its own show tomorrow in Phoenix.
5. After three days of domination by electronic music (see, especially: Calvin Harris’ massive main-stage crowd on Sunday), we came away with a resounding reminder that rock still has a home at the Empire Polo Club. Arcade Fire’s Sunday headlining show had everything fans of the Canadian band could ask for—unstoppable momentum, a well-chosen setlist featuring songs from all four albums, a surprise appearance by Blondie’s Debbie Harry (she sang “Heart of Glass” and guested on “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”) and a classic ending that saw the group descend into the crowd and continue performing “Wake Up” (with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) after power to the stage had been cut.
Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler also offered some sharp commentary, taking on the VIP experience (“People dream of being there, and it super sucks, so don’t worry about it”) and, seemingly, EDM, offering a “shout-out to all the bands still playing instruments.”