Due to matters beyond your correspondent’s control, there will be no commentary on the many amazing acts that opened up the 2014 Coachella Music Festival. The many bands missed (as snafus, traffic, and assorted delays cropped into the day) include: Waxahatchee, Dum Dum Girls, Kate Nash, Afghan Whigs, Wye Oak, MS MR, Haim, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Let’s look at the big story: what happened with Outkast? Originally, the group was slated to take the stage at 11:30pm. Then, mid-day, a blast announcement was sent to the official Coachella mobile app that indicated the group would take the stage at 11:05 because they had a lot to play. Rumors ran rampant that Jay-Z would join the band for the conclusion of their reunion set. So, en-masse, festival-goers left other stages early to head over for Outkast…and got silence. Finally, the band took the stage as originally scheduled, after The Knife had concluded their awesome, avant garde set on the adjacent Outdoor Stage. (For this Indio postcard, forgive us for largely skipping over the wonderfully messy rock and roll carnival that was The Replacements, playing one of their few gigs in the past decade plus. It was a fantastic set, merging the lesser known punk burners with the more marketable numbers that inspired passionate sing-a-longs from the harmonically challenged long-time fans assembled to hear Paul Westerberg ramble goofy asides amidst churning, loose, ready-to-go-off-the-rails-rock-and-roll).
The aesthetically intriguing rectangular mesh cage that held Big Boi and Andre 3000 – probably about 25 feet square at the bottom and reaching 50 feet high – was turned into a 3-D screen of sorts, adding to the dimensionality of the show and the vitality of the standard, scripted LED screen behind them. But, it also seemed a strange commentary on the dichotomy of the festival lifestyle with a seeming allusion to race and incarceration as white kids from the suburbs looked on from a distance, entertained by the African-American men in a box.
The duo paced about a kitchen table and chairs in their self-imposed prison, a reference to how they first started finding their flow back in the 404, symbolically seeking to find it once again in the desert (sans peyote) before they embark upon a series of gigs at pretty much every major music festival.
So, they arrived to pent-up frustration that immediately turned to self-indulgent dancing, at least in the observable environs. People on twitter, no doubt watching at home on the video pieced together in real-time for the live feed, seemed to think that insufficient energy from hipsters indicated a lack of respect. You know, versus the lack of respect inherent in forcing approximately 90,000 people to cool their heels for 30 minutes, those people having abandoned other bands pointlessly left behind for .… silence. (Side note to the twitterverse: while there are undoubtedly some hipsters at Coachella, better wholesale pejorative descriptors for this annual event’s attendees include “Scenesters,” “trust fund kids gone wild,” and “tweens.”
Sound problems ensue, more on stage than on the polo field, and Andre 3000 politely requested more of his vocals in his monitor, each of the four or so times in an increasingly terse tone. Whatever the reason, he ended up spending half the set with his back to the audience and that facilitated a different sort of flow, with large chunks of the audience leaving the show early. Lost in the shuffle: a tremendous cameo from the incomparable Janelle Monae, now on the big stage for a few wild minutes after her tent-burning set in 2013 about 400 yards from the Coachella Stage.
Now, to be clear, leaving early isn’t a phenomenon particular to this moment in time; it is par for the course at the end of a music festival as the tired, the hungry, and the increasingly poor call it a day knowing they have two consecutive marathons ahead. But, the twitterverse and Outkast superfans took this as an insult, apparently.
But not as big of an insult as having their mics cut at 1am as Andre 3000 verbalized that they weren’t going to stop, despite his indication that they had a clear mandate from festival organizers that 1am was a hard stop (which no doubt had spurred the earlier announcement that they were going on earlier than scheduled). (Speculation: festival organizers have around $70 million / year riding on local approvals, and the festival’s conditional continuance likely includes a specified hard stop to festivities each evening).
So, as one well-compensated man decided to poke his finger in the eye of the golden goose, The Man at Goldenvoice showed the men in a box what it takes to be The Man. It all made for a messy and bizarre and unnecessary display of ego and avarice, of the best-laid plans being laid waste by hubris and a failure to communicate. At its core, the episode was a metaphor for the state of the music industry. On display for posterity and live on the Internet, we saw the eternal clash between art and commerce. We saw the conflict between the necessitudes of large-scale organization and the free-wheeling attitudes of artists and the masses that exist within all aspects of the industry’s adaptation to a digital world.