Editor’s Note: Obviously the people who write in this space love music. Conversely, we have friends that also love music and go to see great shows. Our correspondent Lauren Smalley had another music loving friend who attended the Coachella festival in California a couple of weeks ago. Please welcome Shelia Moore as she checks in with her thoughts of the festival’s first weekend. – Scott
By Shelia Moore
My experience at Coachella 2012 can really be summed up with three words: Refused. Hologram Tupac. But I’ll get to that a little later.
Walking into Coachella on the first day I was both excited and nervous. While getting through security proved be a trying experience - one in which I was forced to throw out my Excedrin, walk half a mile through the campgrounds only to have to go through another security check – we managed to find our way to main festival grounds. Although it was a little rainy and quite chilly – low 60s during the day – there was no shortage of shirtless bros, girls sporting high-waisted super short shorts (showing under-butt, no less) paired with shirts that appeared to be made from their grandmother’s doilies, and the occasional group of girls who laughed in the face of pneumonia with their bikini-clad bodies leaving little to the imagination. We were officially out of Illinois and in some weird hipster realm where showing as much skin as possible and smoking a joint in front of security was the norm.
Having attended multiple music festivals, my husband and I have become pseudo professionals in navigating the multiple stages, overlapping performances, where to stand for the best view, finding the quickest route to food/drinks/bathrooms, and most importantly, not losing each other in the process. When we first arrived to the festival grounds we checked out the lay of the land and got our bearings. We had one mission for the day: get a good spot for the Refused performance – which wasn’t until 11:20 that night. For the next several hours on that chilly afternoon we meandered around checking out all the stages and catching a few performances. We quickly learned that the tent covered stages were where almost all of the DJs were performing and to steer clear of the area – unless we wanted to be swept up in an ecstasy fueled dance party accompanied by seizure inducing light displays. Not really our scene.
We caught the end of Yuck’s set- which I rather enjoyed. I was not the biggest fan before the festival but hearing the last few songs “The Base of a Dream is Empty” and “Rubber” I was impressed and made a note to listen to their album when I got home. We walked over to the Main Stage in time to watch the Arctic Monkeys. My husband is a new-found fan after seeing them at Lollapalooza last year and was excited to see them again. Opening with the fast-paced, raucous “Brainstorm” off Favourite Worst Nightmare they immediately got the crowds’ attention. Even though it was obvious not everyone in the crowd was familiar with their songs they still managed to get everyone bobbing their hands and clapping along. Halfway through their set broke into the hit “I bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” to jubilant cheers. After their 50 minute set the air was still buzzing with excitement from new and old fans.
Making our way through the crowd we were able to catch most of M. Ward’s set. Who, if you ever have a chance, go see him even if you don’t know his music. He has worked with a slew of respected musicians and was impressive live. After M. Ward we decided to start scoping out a place to stand for Refused. We still had a few hours before they went on but in our experience it is best to claim a spot early for the bands you really want to see. We got to the Outdoor Stage for Mazzy Star’s set- which we found boring and dreadful. It probably didn’t help that we were tired and didn’t know any of their music but I also think it speaks volumes about a band if they can’t win over non-fans during a stage performance. Explosions in the Sky was up next and while I’m not really into strictly instrumental music I was truly impressed and found them engaging.
After hours of waiting, one of the reasons we flew to California was finally happening. The fucking REFUSED. I can’t even begin to explain the anticipation we were feeling as the intro to “The Shape of Punk to Come” started. The band had it recorded so it was playing in a loop before the members came on-stage. The lead singer, Dennis Lyxzén, came out first and started in with “Hey baby! you never felt this good” after a few seconds the rest of the band ran on stage and started in with the pulse-pounding drum and guitar parts. It was truly amazing to see them play with the precision and energy that many young bands find hard to muster. I could not wipe the smile off my face hearing how good the vocals and music sounded given that they haven’t played a Refused show in 14 years. The set list was exactly what you would expect – most of the songs were off The Shape of Punk to Come with just a few off Songs To Fan the Flames of Discontent. I would like to say that the crowd went apeshit and people starting moshing, I probably would have joined in, but everyone I could see from where I was standing was surprisingly nonplussed. Maybe everyone was just taking it in. Lyxzén was charismatic telling the crowd how they wanted to start a punk, anti-capitalist revolution when they started back in the 90s. He was sincere and overwhelmed by fans’ support saying that they helped make the reunion possible. At one point an older gentleman – probably in his 50s – walked up to an equally older gentlemen and said “I don’t know these guys, but they are great!” Indeed sir, indeed.