30 April 2007

My Day in The Desert: Coachella

I woke up this morning on my friend Take's couch- as per usual when I am in Los Angeles and not sleeping in a room full of merch at Mush Records HQ- and felt a touch foggy from the desert festivities last night at the Coachella Valley Music Festival. My burning eyes remembered trying to keep their heavy lids from closing on our middle-of-the-night drive back home with midnight snacks from BP and J Dilla's "Donuts", then focused further back in time to the myriad images I can't believe were squeezed so impossibly into just one day.

I awoke on a different couch yesterday morning, one belonging to a nice young lady in Palm Desert, and unfortunately, one covered in dog hair from the reason my slumber prematurely ended: a pug named Ollie. She was kind enough to offer me a brand-new lint brush, but it did little to clean up the sinus congestion left behind by her cute puppy. With a goodbye and a fresh shirt, Busdriver and I escaped into the early morning heat and eventually found a cute health food store hidden among a depressing array of crappy restaurants. We bought delicious smoothies before finding what would become our gem for breakfast: Keedy's, a forties style diner just down the street. We had pancakes and read the Coachella run-down in the local paper, and since I was somehow managing to remain blissfully unaware that it was really happening, nervousness hadn't yet set in. Instead, we headed to the Renaissance Esmerelda Resort & Spa and a Spin Magazine gifting suite.

Drinking hibiscus tea or water flavored with melon, strawberries, and lemon, we chose whatever we liked from a selection of Mavi Jeans, Le Tigre shirts and hoodies, and a collection of Oakley sunglasses. I made away with all of the above (except for the sunglasses), and grabbed a Crunk juice from a bucket nearby. Wrong move! It tasted like Triaminic, except not as good. AntiMC and his girlfriend Sylvia met up with us, and we walked through the palacial lobby to the parking lot where I put on some obligatory sunblock. By this time in the early afternoon, it was already over 100 degrees!

I have a very sensitive system- especially when it comes to things endorsed by high-energy rappers- which begs the question as to why I continue to indulge like this... I was feeling heart-attack-y as we listened to Panda Bear and sat in traffic on the way to the artist parking lot, but it only got worse when I recalled a very important bit of information: my laptop was no longer at my feet. Fuck! My mind started racing- did I leave it on the ground in the hotel parking lot when Sylvia gave me sunblock? Did I leave it in their car? Or was it left impotently and alone on the hotel room couch since I had been all too focused on picking out all-over print hoodies? (Biggest question: how could I be such an idiot?) Only minutes away from parking, Regan calmly turned around and got on the phone with the folks at Spin. My mortification at my flakiness and potentially-fatal oversight was alleviated as I heard him say "yes, a bit of grey on the case; we'll be right there." Jesus.... I ran past bellhops asking me how I was doing today and embarrassedly entered the room where a whole new group of people were going through the tables of clothes. "Be honest, you just wanted more jeans," one guy joked. Well, that's partially true, but that's why the Mavi representative is sending additional pairs to me! I work magic, folks! Hehe.

Finally at the artist lot, we hid in the small bit of shade offered by the trailer and were taken via golf cart to the artist compound. It was a huge gated area composed of air-conditioned trailers spread out on the grass, and divided in rows by cute, white picket fences. Entering ours, my jaw dropped at a painting done just for Regan (Busdriver), depicting him driving in a school bus complete with his name on the top! It was way too hot outside and too early to start drinking, so I picked at our vegetable plate and stuck with water- lots of it. I shared a golf cart with the singer and manager of a great new band called Tokyo Police Club, and stashed my gear underneath the DJ table the stage manager had set aside for me at the Gobi tent.

The VIP area was a collection of tents within which were comfortable couches and an overpriced bar, and I found my friend Take milling about, waiting for me to bring him beer and water from our trailer. Throughout the day and that evening, I was able to successfully smuggle him into the artist area and onto the golf carts; otherwise, we would've had to walk through the stifling heat to the different stage areas like everyone else- ewwww!! No, but seriously, I can't understand how people put up with that! If I were them, I'd prefer to remain in one spot- in a little air-conditioned suit- and turn invisible. Alas, I had a fancy wristband, so I just watched my new golf cart buddy Dave from Tokyo Police Club sing his heart out to a receptive crowd, then retreated to the comfort of my little closed-off community to get a massage.

Soon afterward, we were whisked away in a large van to an off-site Motorola gifting suite, forced to listen to old Bon Jovi by its drivers. I had forgotten how bad "Living On A Prayer" really is, and I didn't really want nor need the reminder. Regardless, underneath a tent surrounded by silver trailers bearing the Motorola logo, we drank cocktails as a photographer documented us looking at the newest in Motorola's product line. Gulping down Absolut Kurant and Pom, I chose the blue K-Razr K1, which is the prettiest little phone I've ever seen. I'm not crazy about the ring tones, but you can't have it all, can you?

Amy Winehouse was playing in the Gobi tent when we returned, and I was excited to see my fellow Brooklynites the Dap-Kings backing her up. Having run into my friend Teal backstage, I can't say I really listened to a song she played but, at least peripherally, it sounded quite nice. I bought her album at Virgin the day before after hearing such significant buzz and being nerdily excited that my friend Nick Movshon had played bass on it, but haven't gotten it into my iPod yet for a listen. I have since read a couple reviews which panned her performance, and I think the backlash is probably unnecessary and just reactive to an overactive hype machine. OK, sure: originality is not her strong point, but I do think she has a strong voice.

I was full of nervous excitement as I ate a buffet style dinner adjacent to the main stage. The Arctic Monkeys were running through songs I have never really heard before, but I could hardly pay attention; I just tingled, watching the sky hold that rich, deep twilight signaling it was almost time for us to perform. And after hurriedly drinking a couple Heinekens to try and take off the edge, I was once again bouncing along on a golf cart tracing the festival's boundaries, admiring the bright lights lining the dusty back roads and trying not to spill beer as we crossed the yellow speed bumps. Once at Gobi, there was the final applause for the act before us, and a phone call with a friend helped to calm the somersaults my heart had been busy making. Yet, like always- from the moment I began- our set just flew by, accented with additional improvisation from AntiMC and a guest appearance from Regan's friend 2Mex.

Sweating profusely and feeling so happy upon completion, my smile widened to see my friend Colin and his girlfriend Sarah (both from the Arcade Fire) watching from backstage. Even in a sea of screaming people, one or two familiar faces make all the difference! We waited too long to get taken back to the artist area and, after finding no more beers in our trailer (boo!), we pilfered some from a nearby bucket as the familiar sound of Interpol hung in the comfortable night.

[Note: I later discovered that the thief of our beers was none other than Amy Winehouse, which explains why she acted so completely awkwardly when I met her later that night in front of our trailer. Bitch.]

Sonic Youth- one of the reasons I was most excited to be at Coachella- was about to begin their set, and our golf cart driver rushed us to their stage. With Coachella's headliners, you needed an extra wristband or badge of some sort to get on stage. I never quite figured it out, but didn't really bother: I had never seen Sonic Youth before, and I was determined to get right up there with them.

The area backstage was pretty huge, and had a number of people hanging out, drinking beer from plastic cups, and staring at- you guessed it!- the backs of the amplifiers onstage: not too exciting! The stage itself was sectioned off with three foot-long metal gates creating a small barrier, and guards were there to make sure no one got through. On the 4th of July a few years ago in New York, I hopped a fence in clear view of guards to make sure that my then-girlfriend and I had a romantic patch of grass for Yo La Tengo. The trick is to be on your cell phone, I swear! Exhibiting that sort of nonchalance makes it appear you are supposed to be there and that nothing is amiss. I wasn't going to hop the fence in this case because it wasn't necessary. Instead, I stood against the gates and, over the course of a minute, inched one of them back to create a little entrance for myself. Waiting for the guard to look the other way, I put my cell phone to my ear and waltzed right through. I don't even think I pretended to talk; I can't remember. Then, falling in behind four girls walking up onto the stage, I realized a guard was standing on top and doing the whole double-check thing. The girls flashed their wristbands one by one, and I looked the guard in the eye as I put up my empty wrist.

"Where's your wristband?"

I kept walking, half-looking at him...

"Oh, you're with them," he resigned.

I just smiled at him, and took my place stage right, directly next to their guitar tech and about 10 feet away from Lee Ranaldo. To my right- sitting on the table full of Fender Jazzmasters in different colors, and kept safe in place underneath a roll of electrical tape- was their set list, written in permanent marker on a sheet of white paper. I laughed reading the first line: it was "Candle," my favorite song from Daydream Nation! Thurston began the majestic opening arpeggio, and the realness of the moment was flickering in and out as if on a wick itself, with tens of thousands of anticipating eyes stretching back for what seemed like miles. And I suppose in all of this- the intense heat, the dust, the claustrophobic crowds, and the unbearable traffic- hearing a band you've been listening to for nearly twenty years playing your favorite song makes everything else just melt away.

I know it did for me.