To Coachella or not to Coachella?

Gas prices suck, the California desert is hot as hell,
and Radiohead isn’t playing. Here’s why you still ought to bother.

Spencer Patterson

1. So you can say you were there when. Daft Punk’s pyramid unveiling. Rage Against the Machine’s first reunion show. Madonna’s first festival performance. Tool’s return to the stage. Basement Jaxx’s gorilla costumes. Win Butler’s Arcade Fire stage dive. For the past decade, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has consistently been home to some of the most talked-about moments in modern music.

“I love the excitement before the festival, but it’s also about the excitement after,” says Goldenvoice promoter Paul Tollett, the man principally responsible for booking the event. “You don’t get that at too many other concerts or festivals.”

What will snare the spotlight this year? How about Pink Floyd great Roger Waters performing The Dark Side of the Moon under the stars? (The same stage show slayed an MGM crowd last summer; just imagine what it might do outdoors.) Or maybe British trip-hop trio Portishead’s first U.S. set in more than 10 years? And what of the first festival appearance by that most purplish of pop icons, Prince? Tough to predict, considering well over 100 acts will grace the fest’s three stages from April 25 through 27 at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, California, though the guess here is that the transcendent moment probably won’t occur during Jack Johnson’s Friday night headlining slot.

2. Where else are you gonna find an electronic lineup like that? Let’s see … we’ve got German genre godfathers Kraftwerk, back for their second helping of Coachella (after 2004), this time on the main stage. And seldom-seen British techno maestro Aphex Twin, performing on U.S. soil for the first time in lord knows how long. And the aforementioned Portishead, touring behind new album Third and playing its only U.S. show of 2008. And British sound-collage wizard Fatboy Slim, making one of only three scheduled worldwide appearances this year. And preeminent British DJ duo Sasha & John Digweed, whose work together has become rara avis since the early 2000s.

And if that’s not enough, how about über-hip French pair Justice returning to the scene of their first live show (in 2007), and rarely observed acts such as buzzed-about German duo Modeselektor and Australian drum-and-bass crew Pendulum, not to mention a gaggle of respected DJs such as Danny Tenaglia, Dimitri From Paris, Adam Freeland, Junkie XL, Erol Alkan, Busy P and the Institubes collective, just to name a few?

“The first year [1999 ] we started with the dance tent it was a little ahead of the curve, which I was a little sad about. We had all this stuff and people were like, ‘What is this?’” Tollett says. “Now, nine years later, it’s one of our strongest [elements]. This year’s tent is incredible, really action-packed.”

3. To fall back in love with an old favorite band. Still play your old Love and Rockets LPs all the time, wondering why alt-rock from the ’80s sounds so much fresher than a lot of what’s followed? The moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived, when the post-Bauhaus U.K. trio reunites for its first full show since 1999.

The festival that has lured the Pixies, Gang of Four, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Jesus and Mary Chain out from hiatus has plenty of long-time-no-see entries in 2008. Brit-Pop faves The Verve are back (odds of a “Bittersweet Symphony” set-closer stand at even money), as are American alt-rock vets The Breeders (get ready to scream “Want you! Koo-koo! Cannonball!” again). Want more? Coachella ’08 has U.K. dronesters Spiritualized (allegedly with an acoustic format … strange, but intriguing nonetheless), and semi-forgotten British shoegazers Swervedriver, who popped up on the Coachella poster just a couple of weeks before showtime.

4. To discover your new favorite band. Ultimately, this is what Coachella is really all about. You go there to see Nine Inch Nails and leave singing a Midlake song, drive up listening to Interpol and spend the trip home spinning the Silversun Pickups disc you snagged in the Virgin tent.

This year’s Coachella lineup appears packed with such possibilities, loaded as it is with smaller acts only the most dedicated blogosphere seeker has likely researched. A few of our recommendations: Montreal indie rockers Islands, Manhattan dance-punkers Professor Murder, Philly experimentalists Man Man, Brooklyn soul-popsters MGMT and Toronto electro improvisers Holy Fuck.

But mostly, we leave the hunting to you. Get on YouTube and MySpace and sample for free. Wander into random tents. Ask strangers what they’re excited about. At Coachella, you’re almost guaranteed to stumble onto something you’ll be fanatical about when next year’s festival rolls around, and it’s time to do it all over again.

Click here to browse the full 2008 Coachella schedule.

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