I know a thing or two about big festivals. The most important thing I know is that I can't endure 3 days on my feet in the blistering sun.
I'm setting off to Southern California with one goal...don't burn yourself out to the point you can't enjoy the trip. With that in mind, I'm doing only two days and limiting myself to bands I really want to see.
That means I'll be in early (GIRLS and Dragonette) and out early (sorry Black Keys and Radiohead).
Sunday is reserved for the mountains and valley and a little time alone.
I haven't travelled on my own since...well, never now that I think about it. It's going to be a challenge navigating without my trusty companion. It's been a long year dealing with health issues and she's not able to join me on this trip.
Think I'll stay on the main roads.
The set times aren't out as I pre-write in this space. My schedule looks like this...barring conflicts.
Friday : Arctic Monkeys, GIRLS, James, Jimmy Cliff, Madness, Mazzy Star, PULP, and The Sheepdogs. Madness is the 'can't miss' set.
Saturday : Azealia Banks, Buzzcocks, Dragonette, Jeff Mangum, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Squeeze and We Were Promised Jetpacks. Jeff Mangum is the 'can't miss' set.
My own personal favourite is Squeeze. Saw them open for Costello in '78, 'bout time I got another listen. Jimmy Cliff and Arctic Monkeys I've seen before and will enjoy their sets I am sure. After that comes a half of Oasis, so you know I'm running out of enthusiasm for the acts.
But I'm going to find a space to rejuvenate and enjoy. It's my mission.
Meet up with Doug, Eric and Susan...from NC, Seattle and San Francisco, respectively. Palm Springs has closed off a good 10 blocks of their main strip and converted it into a pedestrian mall. We find our way to a bar named Hair of the Dog, where a night of drinking (including an on-the-house flaming shot glass dropped into a glass of beer) came out to only $28.00. Happy hour runs from 11 am to whenever. Gotta like that.
I start by doing what I do best on the road; I see dead people.
So the set times are out. Conflicts? Yes, Mangum and Squeeze are at the same time. But let's see what happens.
First off a tip of the hat to the organizers. This venue is wonderful.
You know that song, It Never Rains In Southern California? Well, it's wrong. It hasn't rained in 13 years of Coachella, until Friday April 13, 2012. Coincidence? I think not. In this case it wasn't bad luck...it's the sun that will kill you in the desert. The wind was brutal! Even that wasn't bad news because it freed me from taping and made the whole event a lot more fun.
In early, that's my motto, and I always pull out before it's over. I don't advertise that part so much.
Friday starts with Mea in the Sahara tent. This is the dance tent that most of the kids stay in until 2 am. Dance ain't my strong suit. It's not even my sweatsuit. The tent was half full, which wasn't bad for the first and only act on at this time. The lead singer was a cutie. Time well wasted. Glanced briefly at Abe Vigoda, who I thought was dead, before I settled in for a complete set by The Sheepdogs.
Remember The Sheepdogs? They won some kind of populist rural wanna be The Guess Who contest that landed them on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Keep riding that wave while you can boys. I suspect when the summer festival season comes to a close we won't see you outside Saskatchewan for awhile.
Caught a bit of another band with a cutie in front, honeyhoney. You got a chick with a mandolin and a fiddle...what more could you want. Decent pop music, easy to absorb, great background music at a fondue night.
Then things start getting good.
James was getting Laid on the main stage. What a feel-good set. Second song in, Sit Down,was the highlight with the lead singer in the audience getting his bald head rubbed by adoring fans while singing, " those who feel the breath of sadness, sit down next to me / those who find they're touched by madness, sit down next to me / Those who find themselves ridiculous, sit down next to me..." Makes you feel all Woodstocky inside.
Laid from youtube
Jimmy Cliff's set was threatened by the howlin' winds. For a moment there I didn't think he'd take the stage. But he did. And his set was bombastic. A light sprinkling of rain and some dark clouds didn't dampen the mood at all. In fact, his rendition of I Can See Clearly Now was a joyous FUCK YOU to the weather gods. My personal favourite was a tear-inducing version of Many Rivers To Cross. This guy still has a voice. Don't mistake him for an artifact. His political passion is as strong now as it was when he rode the charts with The Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall. His current topical song Vietnam (and Afghanistan) is as valid as anything spewed out in the '60's. A strong One More closed the show.
I slide over a stage to listen a bit to GIRLS but didn't hear anything that was enticing me to stay so it was a quick break before lining up for 3 Arctic Monkeys songs. I've seen the Chilly Chimps plenty of times so I wasn't going to miss Madness to catch all their set.
One Step Beyond indeed.
Ska is so joyous.
And Madness brought the whole catalogue.
During It Must Be Love, I ran into a little bit of the trials and tribulations of stealth taping. The ska circle had been growing throughout the show and during this song one of the more exuberant dancers, part of a couple dressed in safari gear and pith helmets, came over to my position to pull me into the circle. I insisted I wasn't moving, which I thought was a big concession on my part because when I'm taping I seldom talk. He was persistent. And friendly. I think he mistook my white-guy-taping-bob-and-weave as a sign I wanted to let loose, without realizing that was me letting loose. Finally pulled me out. I grabbed my recorder out of my pocket (excuse the mic bumps) and held it over my head as I was swept around the circle...doing my best to point at a PA system.
After the set I texted my son to let him in on the happenings only to find him at a 4th wave ska show featuring the Planet Smashers and about to enter the pit himself. Go figure.
Here's some sound samples from my back up rig, internal mics, I usually only use it in acoustic small venue shows, a bit bassy but that may be my old ears...oh,and lots of phasing.
One Step Beyond
Sun and the Rain
Bed and Breakfast Man
House of Fun
Wings of A Dove
It Must Be Love
Night Boat to Cairo
Up bright and early for a short photo trip up to Desert Hot Springs and along the valley road. Just being here is wonderful...if windy.
On my way back to the hotel I find the canyon valley road and it leads me into the windmill farm that covers the pass between the mountains...where all the wind goes.
At the venue for gate-opening and I'm at the Mojave Tent to see The Tijuana Panthers . Great start to the day. A mix of influences, from punk to ska to surf. Am adding them to my list of 'bands to see if they come through town'...though on first look it seems they don't stray too far from the west coast. Maybe when they're finished school.
Catch ten minutes of a lively pop group called honeyhoney before I set up in front of Australian band Suedehead for their set. Good time waster but nothing to write home about.
A brief stop at the Heineken tent for some libations while I wait for We Were Promised Jet Packs to come on the 2nd stage. They open with a shoe-gazer so I'm
off to visit the Gobi Tent where aged punk-rockers (you'll notice a pattern soon) The Vaccines take the stage to The Ramones Rock n Roll Radio. This was a fun set, rapid paced 3 minute songs, one after the other. Just like it should be.
I hang around for the break-out act of this year's Coachella. This weekend used to create the buzz for bands. It's past that now, it's simply a glorious event...no longer a stage for the new wave of music gods. In fact, since around 2006, it usually celebrates the old wave. What was once unique (festivals) is now how summer music is done. That hasn't helped as the demand to fill the Lollapaloozers, Bonnaroo's etc. has watered down the festivals somewhat and taken the shine off the possibility of finding the next gem of an artist.
But they are still out there. This year it's in the guise of internet phenom Azealia Banks. She catapulted to this mid-afternoon slot on the strength of her million hits for the youtube version of 212. She left this weekend after landing a management contract with Lady Ga Ga's manager. She has arrived. Drop your socks and ... get ready to be wowed.
The instant she stepped on stage she was taken aback by the raucous cheers of a way too exuberant early day crowd. It put her on her heels a bit, she stuttered, she laughed, she thanks the crowd and launches into her set. It is concussively loud. Terrific song about Barbie...not the doll, but the dolls they are trying to sell you on TV and concert stages... the ones with all too much plastic. I had to leave the tent shortly after this to make sure my ears weren't bleeding. The BASS was moving the ground.
212 was a love-fest to close, Azealia almost in tears as the crowd treats the song like it's Stairway to Heaven, singing back the rapid rap rhymes to the artist.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were doing a nice imitation of a Melissa Etheridge/Joan Jett clone...good hard rock with a female lead. And they were close to the Heineken tent too.
While sitting there, preparing for what was going to be a busy close to the night, I caught wind of Childish Gambino's X-rated set on the main stage. That guy has a dirty mouth. Keep your daughter's away from him.
Back to the Gobi tent for an aged punk rock band, fIREHOSE, onstage in front of another aged punk band, Buzzcocks.
Diggle and Shelley. Orgasm Addict, I Believe and Homosapiens...without all the synth background that ruined a thousand good songs in the early '80's.
I Believe video from youtube
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds waited a long fucking time to play a recognizable Oasis song. Not only will I not look back in anger, I won't look back at all.
So all week I've been fretting over the choice between recluse Jeff Mangum and seeing Squeeze. Changed my mind a dozen times. Finally settled on half a set each. And that was a wrap for the night.
Jeff Mangum Aeroplane Over the Sea from youtube
A full breakfast at 7 am and I'm on the road, up a narrow mountain path with banked curves and not much margin for error. I think I've been up this road before...once or thrice. I expect I'll meet my demise on a road like this and my last thoughts will be..."Damn, I thought there was more room on the shoulder." They may get me, but it won't be here, and it won't be today.
While stopping for lunch I found out that Elvis' honeymoon shack was located in Palm Springs. I found it.
I've been toying with the idea of taking the Tramway 6,000 ft up into the San Jacinto mountains. While I'm not big on heights I thought it would provide a nice opportunity for photos from a unique perspective. Fortunately I watch a tram leave before I bought my ticket.
They were packed in there like sardines and if there's one thing I hate more than heights, it's being enclosed in small places. I passed and made my way to Joshua Tree for more dead people.
I was in New Orleans back in 2010 and took a trip to Gram Parsons grave. There were people who didn't want him to be buried there and that makes Joshua Tree National Park, Cap Rock, a uniquely special place in the rock pantheon.
The cement slab he was semi-cremated on has been moved to the Joshua Tree Inn, a few miles from the park itself. It is a little morbid for a family outing. At Cap Rock fans persist in marking their territory.
The rest of the park is lovely too...and big. You could spend a day in here just driving to the different locations.
So that's a wrap. Two of my favourite things in one weekend. Live music and a little road time. Now I'm going home to get a little of the third of my favourite things.