Coachella: Five thoughts from Day 1

Paul Westerberg (right) and Tommy Stinson of The Replacements played their fourth reunited show at Coachella 2014 Day 1.
Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP Photo

1. My 2014 Coachella experience actually started 12 hours early, with a late-night show in Pioneertown, California, roughly an hour from the festival grounds in Indio. I caught Pavement in Pomona the night before Coachella 2010, but this was my first time participating in promoter Goldenvoice’s official, expanded series of April California spillover shows in the dates surrounding the fest’s twin three-day weekends.

Despite the long, physically exhausting hours to come, I drove out to Pioneertown’s Western-themed venue, Pappy & Harriet’s, to catch Swedish band Goat, an act near the bottom of the Coachella poster. My decision proved to be a great one: Holy Wave from Austin (not on the Coachella bill proper) put together an eye-opening psych-rock set in the opening slot, then Goat grabbed hold of the crowd packed into the intimate space and didn’t let go until it was over around 2 a.m. The seven-piece group—all masked and dressed in strange costumes—combined elements of psych, tribal world music and even jazz over a series of rhythmic jams that kept bodies moving intensely despite the hour.

On Friday, I caught Goat at Coachella, at 1:25 p.m., and received further validation that I’d made a good choice staying up extra late. The band’s Coachella set was underattended, marred by a bassy sound mix and, of course, the group’s two female dancers were not shaking their tambourines directly in my face as they had on Thursday. I’m looking forward to my next “Localchella” show here in California—Mogwai with Factory Floor Thursday night in LA.

2. One troubling trend from Day 1: A lack of appreciation for veteran performers. Coachella is famous for booking important legacy acts along with its of-the-moment selections, but this year, fest-goers seem to have left their bucket lists at home.

And so it begins: Weekend 1, Coachella 2014.

And so it begins: Weekend 1, Coachella 2014.

The blues-rocking Jon Spencer Blues Explosion drew terribly for its 4:35 p.m. set in the Gobi Tent, alt-country singer Neko Case fared similarly at the Outdoor Theatre at 5:50, and resurrected alt-rockers The Afghan Whigs failed to fill the Mojave Tent at 6:40. That last transgression was the worst, considering the Whigs’ performance might have been the strongest, start to finish, I caught on Friday. Greg Dulli’s voice was in sparkling condition (particularly amazing considering the Whigs’ also played a Pappy & Harriet’s show one night earlier), the setlist combined songs from new album Do to the Beast and choice old tunes (including powerful capper “Miles Iz Dead”) and the sound crew nailed the tricky three-guitar mix.

Perhaps most shockingly, the reunited Replacements, playing just their fourth show back, were met with a relatively paltry reception at the Outdoor Theatre at 8:45. No matter. Despite banter that suggested he might not take the set seriously (“There’s been a lot of good music today; let’s put a stop to that.”), frontman Paul Westerberg spearheaded a sharp performance that saw the college-rock icons unload a slew of hits and deeper cuts, including “Left of the Dial,” “Androgynous,” “Alex Chilton,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Bastards of Young”

The only bummer? That the ’Mats overlapped with Bryan Ferry, who surely appeals to the same target demo. I raced over and caught his final five songs—Roxy Music classics “Love Is the Drug,” “Virginia Plain,” “Both Ends Burning” and “Editions of You,” and a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”—all of which sounded tremendous, both in terms of Ferry’s ageless voice and his crack band. If you’ve ever been a Roxy Music fan, and you don’t have a ticket for tonight’s Vegas show at the Pearl, spring into action.

3. The Replacements versus Ferry might have been Day 1’s most egregious conflict, but it wasn’t the lone scheduling snafu. While Case and the Dum Dum Girls played to sparse crowds at the wide-open Outdoor Theatre, in-vogue names like Jagwar Ma, Aloe Blacc and Bastille overflowed their tents, to the point where hundreds of fans were left on the outside looking in. The problem was especially significant at the Gobi Tent, which has its side flaps down this year, making viewing angles tough to find beyond the tent’s perimeter. My advice for tonight’s 8:50 p.m. Pixies set in the Mojave: Stake out a spot by 8 or don’t bother coming over.

4. Twelve hours later, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around The Knife’s Friday-night Outdoor Theatre performance. As expected, the Swedish experimentalists’ show included few truly “live” musical elements, instead relying heavily on dance routines (think: Euro-glam West Side Story), a variety of vocalists (who may or may not have been singing or lip-syncing) and (seemingly) recorded tracks from the group’s dark, synth-pop songbook. Was the strange affair intended to raise serious questions about the need for live musicianship in an era when laptop DJs command massive crowds and multimillion-dollar paydays? Or were siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer just playing, pushing boundaries to see what they could get away with, and who’d dare point out that the emperor might not have clothes? I can’t claim to know. But I will admit that as the set ended with 2006’s undeniably ebullient “Silent Shout,” I was near the front, bouncing along with the rest of the happily confused.

5. OutKast opened its first show in more than a decade with the song Pitchfork picked as the best of the 2000s’ first decade, “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad).” And then things got weird.

André 3000 seemed, at points, bored (see: turning his back on the crowd as he rapped), frustrated (see: complaining repeatedly about his monitors) and angry (see: his reaction when the Atlanta duo’s set halted at its predetermined 1 a.m. stop time with guest MC Killer Mike onstage about to start guesting. André also didn’t sound as good as the pre-hiatus version once did, and he derailed the middle portion of the set with a slow-jam solo segment that sent a fair chunk of the crowd toward the gates.

Still, OutKast was something to behold, mostly because its catalog is beyond reproach (yes, we got “Ms. Jackson,” “Rosa Parks,” “Hey Ya!”) and because Big Boi remains on top of his game, spitting out tricky, rapid-fire rhymes as effectively as he did in 1996.

Surely, André will grow more comfortable with his return to the stage as OutKast works its way through its massive upcoming festival schedule, and Friday’s rough edges will smooth. If nothing else, the debut made for quality entertainment, in several senses of the word.

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