A few thoughts from the first of three days on Weekend 1 of this year's SoCal desert music fest:
1. April 13, 2012 will go down in history as the first day it rained at Coachella, after 12 dry editions. But Day 1 will hardly be remembered, weather-wise, for the occasional drizzles. Chilly temperatures and gusting winds turned a gorgeous sunny morning into a biting gray afternoon before things settled down at night. Biggest beneficiary? The merchandise booth, which experienced a wild run on hoodies and blankets. Other winners: folks who wanted to get close to their favorite bands, as the festival felt far less full than usual by evening, most likely the result of shorts-wearing pass holders bolting early to warm up.
2. The scariest thing I saw: A young Coachella-goer, who had been treating a massive wooden art sculpture near the Sahara dance tent as a rock-climbing device, slipped and plummeted to the ground from high above. Fortunately, the crowd that had gathered below to watch the stunt appeared to soften his fall, and he showed no obvious signs of distress afterwards. Whew.
3. Musically speaking, experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips and reunited Swedish hardcore band Refused we're the stars of Day 1 for me. Both were as unrelenting as the cold wind, Death Grips with its propulsive beats and frighteningly intense vocals, and Refused with its calm-to-intense compositional shifts and politically charged lyrics. Someone needs to mash these guys up.
4. Vegas music heads on the fence about Sunday's James show at Hard Rock Cafe (Strip), buy tickets. The veteran British alt-rockers were a main stage highlight on Day 1. Yes they played "Laid," but it was the rest of a tight, thoughtfully constructed set that actually opened a lot of eyes and ears on the Empire Polo Fields on Friday.
5. If organizers change anything, schedule-wise, for Weekend 2, they should move M83 from the Mojave tent, where they played last night, to an outdoor stage that can handle their hype. The crowd spilled way beyond the tent's edges on both sides and behind for a performance that left me wanting. Anthony Gonzalez, frontman for the dream-poppy French outfit, arrived onstage late and saved most of his dancier tracks (including indie hit "Midnight City") for the end, sacrificing lots of energy and some of his audience. Gonzalez also ought to consider changing things up for Weekend 2.
Look in Thursday's print edition of Las Vegas Weekly for Spencer Patterson's full festival account.