Coachella 2011

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Coachella 2011, as per usual, brought a mix of established acts and cutting edge artists of all genres. It was 90-100 degrees while we were there. I know they say “well it’s a dry heat so it’s not as bad”. I guess it’s not AS bad as a 90 degree 90% humidity day at Bonnaroo but 100 degrees is still Africa hot not matter whether in a cow pasture in Tennessee or a polo grounds near Palm Springs.

I always find SOME sort of trend in these festivals. One year it seemed like everyone had a Wurlitzer Electronic piano on stage…another brought the acoustic phase that is now de rigueur and last year it seemed that everyone had bought old analog synths at a used music instruments store.

Some noticeable trends of this year…well, at least this year so far…

80’s “new wave” and techno” are “IN”. So many of the really good acts are electronic based, have that 80’s new wave groove and are eminently danceable. Even the punk acts are harkening back to the proliferation of the post-punk the 80’s brought us. It’s as if everyone is rushing to fill the void left by the departure of LCD Soundsystem.

While certainly we had our music consortia a la The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, we now seem to have quite the influx of much smaller duos and trios that are making a lot of noise…some of them literally making noise. Sleigh Bells, The Joy Formidable, The Black Keys, The Kills and others are picking up on what Jack and Meg White reminded us of some years back…a lot of good music can be made without a lot of people.

Gloria Steinem would be proud as MANY of the hot groups contain really talented women. What may have been a sort of novelty at one point seems to now be coming down to who has the right musical vision and can bring it forth with a complete blind eye to gender. It is also noticeable that this blind eye has rendered many very attractive AND talented women. It’s as if Elite Models opened up a model music training division and you must be the prerequisite amount of hot but now also be extremely talented to get in and the job placement department is putting in overtime! See The Kills, Crystal Castles, The Joy Formidable, the backing band for Kele, Sleigh Bells and my personal favorite Warpaint if you doubt.

And now to the music itself…

I’ll list the superlatives first and give just a list of the artists written about below for the time challenged. Rather than muse on all of the 25 or so acts I saw, I will give you a bit on the ones I really liked and those I recommend you see live and dig their music.

Cut Copy

Guy Garvey / Ms. Lauren Hill

Warpaint with their dreamy, artsy odd version of 60s classic My Guy

Mumford and Sons

Crystal Castles

Ms. Lauryn Hill

The Joy Formidable

Cut Copy

Sleigh Bells

!!! (Pronounced chk, chk, chk)
Crystal Castles (but brace yourself and guys… wear a jockstrap)
Cut Copy
The Joy Formidable
The Kills
Sleigh Bells
Tame Impala
Two Door Cinema Club

For some more in depth info…

I won’t say much about the acts you all know. The Black Keys brought their normal white boy yet funky Akron, Ohio jam and Erykah Badu was sufficiently cool, funky and groovy. The Kings of Leon brought their usual kick-ass-alt-rock-by-way of-NashVegas jam and probably 30k-40k people showed up for their set but everyone seems to be a bit over them…too big too quick? Who knows…I still dig Caleb and the boys. Cee-Lo Green caused a stir by starting 30mins late (you just can’t do that to a stage crew that has to deal with 7 headlining acts and a MASSIVE main stage set-up to deal with). When his time was up it was like The Oscars starting the orchestra over acceptance speeches, the sound was cut off 30 seconds into Cee-Lo’s cover of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing (which seemed odd anyway). The surprise was Ms. Lauren Hill who brought a TIGHT uber-funky set. Make no mistake…even though she speaks some lyrics this is NO hip-hop act. Ms. Hill has transformed herself into more of a “soulstress” than she ever was. The voice is deeper a bit huskier and a lot more like Gladys Knight than it was when she wowed the world in Sister Act 2 and the subsequent jams of The Fugees. But now she shows her staying power with a controlled, well orchestrated, well crafted act. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long to hear from her again.

What can you say…just an unforgettable musical experience. So much passion, so much great music, and so much great singing. I have seen them 3 times in the last 10 months and they just get better and better. Little Lion Man, The Cave, Winter Winds and all the other songs from Sigh No More as well as some new material could not have been more enjoyable. It was a great way for me to end my Coachella 2011 on Saturday night as I had to get back to New York (I had a 1.30am flight) for a Broadway opening…one of the few things that could have pulled me away.

Watch out for these Aussies! I would say these guys are leading the way or at least the flag bearers of the moment in the aforementioned 80s new wave revival. I could swear I heard The Thompson Twins and New Order woven into the sound. A VERY impressive set that kept the whole pavilion movin’. One of if not the best overall acts of the festival.

Just imagine (in a good way if that’s possible) musically having your face taken off for 50 minutes…not in a heavy metal way just sheer blistering energy from the performers and their music…that’s Sleigh Bells. The most talked about act of last year’s Coachella have busted out and now come back polished, stage savvy and with a stack of Marshall amps where a small speaker with a mic set in front of it used to exist. Success has not affected the raw, gutsy power of Sleigh Bells however. A two-person, male-female operation (guitar and vocals) with low tech, borderline distorted (on purpose) beats pumped in. Their hit Rill, Rill gave us the only chance to breathe in their 50 minutes. After last year’s breakout, a mistimed freshman album release could/may have cost them some popularity but you wouldn’t know that from the crowd crammed into the pavilion as if Sarah Palin were having a Tea Party rally. One wonders why these indie, alt rock darlings were not on one of the bigger stages. Some of the music of Sleigh Bells harkens back to Prince when he created dance hits (When Doves Cry and Kiss) without a bass line…you did know there was no bass on either of those right? If not go back and listen and pick up or download a copy of Sleigh Bells’ Treats while you’re at it.

My earlier writing on these ladies from LA and my fondness for what they do has probably rendered any objective opinion null and void so I’ll just say do yourself a favor and listen to their 2010 release The Fool. Ambient, ethereal, groovy, trippy, funky, oddly beautiful…all of these describe Warpaint. Even if you couldn’t see these hip ladies, “sexy” would definitely be the word to describe the sounds you hear. OK…so I said more than I meant to…just couldn’t help it.

This is a great new power trio (following this years trend of groups including attractive and talented women) from Wales with the very feminine yet aggressive Ritzy Bryan in a Kurt Cobain style guitar and lead vocals role. A nice mix of indie rock and post punk that adds up to an very energetic and wonderfully musical whole. I want more!

If U2 and Vampire Weekend made a musical love child I think this would be it. The U2 influence is obvious in bass grooves and oh-so-Edge-like rhythm guitar textures. The Vampire Weekend part is a bit harder to hear but for me it mostly comes from the quick tempos and the higher octave arpegiated lead guitar riffs(these of course derived from West Indian and West African styles). But these Irishmen make it all their own and they became one of the “smaller print acts you should see” that folks were talking about even before Coachella began. I won’t go so far as to say they are this year’s Sleigh Bells but we should hear more from them.

(Pronounced chk, chk, chk) like LCD Soundsystem, intelligent 70s electro-funk dance groves are what these guys are about. They’ve been around since ’04 but are starting to really catch some notice now. A fun show with a lead singer whose stage persona is somewhere between Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips and Dee-Lite. It was a great time to get your groove on.

They really should sell t-shirts saying, “ I went to a Crystal Castles concert and all I got was aurally assaulted”. But oh yes Mr. Mellencamp…it hurts so good!  Like Sleigh Bells and The Kills this is a one-man one-woman operation (although Crystal Castles has added their mixmaster onstage). It’s electronica and it’s danceable but it’s DARK…maybe the kind of stuff that might be the soundtrack for some psycho-thriller-murder-mystery movie. You could also say it’s like the 70s instrumental hit Popcorn (by Hot Butter)…ON CRACK!!! I have seen them a couple of times now and will do it again…kind of like going on a intense roller coaster in that it’s scary while happening but you can’t wait to get back on it. It’s a lot of ambient yet piercing vocals in your face and beats and bass notes so loud, low and deep that you’ll find ALL your body parts (especially male lower extremities) vibrating.

For those wondering where Jack White got his great female singer for The Dead Weather, the answer is he borrowed her from The Kills. Another one guitar man and chic singer duo, The Kills are back together and touring on the strength of a well received new album. It’s a bit like Sleigh Bells but with a touch of Ritalin just to calm things down a bit. It’s still a high-energy show with singer Allison Mosshart (in voice, look and presence) taking us back to the female singer vibe of Anne Wilson and Janis Joplin.

Many critics called their 2010 album, InnerSpeaker, one of the year’s best and these young Aussies are still touring the states on it’s popularity. After all the hype I was anxious to see them and they did not disappoint…actually they were one of my favorites of the festival. This is a trip thru psychedelia that would make Hendrix proud but never gets too far out. A VERY tight and musical act from youngsters who have obviously been schooled well in the music of the time of Timothy Leary.

You will hear words like “math rock” and “intricate” to describe Foals’ music and I suppose it could be true but I find it all totally accessible alt/indie rock/pop. Guitar lines intertwine and layer over one another a bit like Built To Spill but there is great energy in this music while still challenging the ear if just but a bit. Last years’ album Total Life Forever has garnered them great notice here across the pond from their native England.

Elbow is one of those bands that I have known about for some time and meant to check out but just haven’t gotten around to it so I was thrilled to see they were going to be at Coachella. It turned out to be one of my favorite sets and lead singer Guy Garvy had my favorite voice at Coachella this year. Elbow is admittedly influenced by Genesis and Radiohead (Garvy was quoted as saying “there would be no Elbow if there was no Radiohead). I suppose I hear that in what they do but for me it was a lush, more art rock sound with shades of Roxy Music. While not massively popular here, the Brits are wild for them with Elbow selling millions of records and winning the much-coveted Mercury Award (2008) beating out Adele, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss and ironically Radiohead. That is ironic isn’t it? I’ll have to ask Alainis, she’ll know…no wait…now THAT’S ironic…or is it?…AHHHHHH!

Up next…The Sasquatch Festival May 28-31st!

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Clem emerged from the underbelly of NashVegas where he began his love of ALL things musical. College found him in the commercial music program at the University of Miami where he actually learned what the hell he was doing. New York was next and whether he “made it there” is still up for debate. From playing in the honky-tonks of Nashville and the dance clubs of Miami to Broadway and theatrical stages around the country, to Carnegie Hall (while practicing one day somebody told him how to get there) and the recording studios of New York and L.A., Clem’s variety of musical experience has transcended the boundaries of genre. He owns a production company, lectures on music in colleges across the country and is on the visiting faculty of Elon Univ. He has a port-o-johns named after him at Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza.