A friend of mine last year waxed poetic about the post-thesis malaise and OFI moment that collided resulting in a group excursion from New Jersey out to San Diego then up to Indio for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. He said "the amount of substances people put in their bodies when they go on vacation is amazing. We ordered beers at the hotel bar. Xanax popped out of pre-flight anxiety. We split a joint on the Ferris Wheel, rolling through Kaskade to Guetta and coming down to Sia. The pregame at Newark could only be justified in the same vein as the post-game party bus."
While the extent of which this is true remains up for debate, lost in a verifiable cloud, we all found ourselves at the Polo fields transfixed like kids in a candy store, wide-eyed staring forward at stars such as Florence Welch bellowing on a dusty, scorching Sunday afternoon. We sweated as Tiesto spun and James Murphy cemented his place in Indie lore. For us, the dog days did indeed seem to be over. College was winding down and we felt that funny feeling one gets when they never want to go back because they know it'll never be the same. But despite the perfection and the sappy sentiments, a few of us scraped together returning to Indio this past weekend for festivals 12th rendition.
While last years line-up seemed arguably stronger, this year's did far from disappoint. With few disruptions, scanners down and a series of minor incidents, the security step-up was seamless, crowds ebbed and flowed without hassle.
Coming off a techno-trance kick mostly satiated a few weeks prior at Ultra in Miami, our motley crew eschewed the Sahara tent for the majority of the time, save for irresistible acts like Jack Beats, Afro-Jack, and Boys Noize who, as one friend so aptly put it, "hit me in the face wit' some drum and base." Coachella, unlike Stagecoach, Ultra, ECD, or Bonnaroo features such a range of musical acts and seemingly bizarre manifestations of art and design that it's impossible not to suffer from stimulus overload. From the omni-present Ferris wheel to the luminous dandelions that separate stages to the Oasis Dome, Coachella's delights have become an epileptic's nightmare. With the notion of a mellow, California festival annihilated, concert goers are given little choice but to venture in the garden of earthly delights, watching people swivel around, catching glimpses of flat bellies and throbbing cellulite, infants in aviators and giant pink headphones and geriatrics in safari hats.
Acts like Bright Eyes and the Black Keys had their moments. Conor Oberst sounded perfectly anxious in "Lover" and laid it down with "Road to Joy." Empire of the Sun performed with aplomb, playing one album with a disturbing charisma that kept tens of thousands at bay. Cut Copy may have put on one of the best shows of the weekend, playing an extended version of "Lights and Music" at the Mojave tent after Sleigh Bells and Yacht who both, to put it simply, killed it. Alexis Krauss of the former, decked in a tight, red throwback jersey spasmed and gyrated across the stage as guitarist Derek Miller stood behind in solidarity. Irish band Two Door Cinema Club debuted a few new songs wile keeping the crowd with "Eat that Up" and "I Can Talk."
Bringing up the rear in two of the most spectacularly fun acts of the weekend were Yelle and Ellie Goulding who drew the most attractive crowds. Goulding, most renown for remixes of her ballads "Starry Eyed," "Under the Sheets," "and "Lights" took Florence's spot, sweating and screaming to fans on their feet at Gobi. While Ariel Pink had a breakdown, Alice from Crystal Castles, still recovering from a broken foot, ran the crowd down with "We Are Not in Love" and built it back up with "Vanished."
The headliners were as anticipated. People bobbed their heads to Kings of Leon and made out. Animal Collective baffled the crowds, playing few of their most accessible songs but made up for it with an lights show and three seemingly magical dice dangling over their heads. Julian Casablancas played with even more apathy than usual donning sunglasses and a vintage mesh hat. Kanye lept and strutted, domineering but in the end couldn't surmount the fact that he just can't sing. He's a remarkable producer and unquestionably power re-mastered. While his personality is endlessly entertaining, as live performer, he lacks lustre. In the end, apathy seems to be what the shows all about. The California "cool" aura is found infectious. People stagger 'round the grounds with a certain disposition, adorably enthusiastic girls and some frighteningly naïve, roid-raged bros bump and grind, pilled out tweens with pacifiers screech and scream.
Mumford and Sons, who played after dusk Saturday night, brought the crowd around with ballads like "White Blank Page" before conjuring up a ten thousand-person circle dance banging a banjo through "Little Lion Man." And moments like that, cajoling a band into one more or prancing round a circle with strangers, trying your best to recall the steps to Cotton Eye Joe, when you want to be stuck and you remember just why you're coming back--because it'll never be the same.