Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival

The so-called Desert Cities are also famous for Spring Break hi-jinks, golf, tennis, a man-made saltwater sea that will likely disappear in a few years. But when April rolls around — as now — all eyes (and all EARS) turn toward music and a plethora of brilliant artists, many (mostly) largely unknown to anyone for whom Woodstock is and was a symbol of zenith for everything that came to be known as the counter-culture. To be sure, psychedelics shall also be consumed at Coachella, as they were at Woodstock. Pot will be smoked, and it will be far superior to what Coachella concert-goers’ grandparents smoked back in the day. And like that kind bud, the music will also be compelling — as compelling as the social-networking that has created a new tribalism without record label payola; without FM DJ jibber-jabber; and without a youth movement catalyzed by a fear of conscription shared by middle-class white kids getting ready for college (if their families had the means, and their grades had the gravitas), or going to Vietnam, or running off to Canada.

The same social-networking that manifested The Arab Spring last year, and China’s move toward centrism (despite what the neo-cons and right wing radio radical lunatics would have you believe), and the Tea Party and Occupy Whatever movement (neither of whom will be much considered or remembered at the political conventions this summer, despite what the left-leaning mass media would have you believe), has been the key to growing audiences for the stars of today and tomorrow — health care, reform, justice for all, and the environment be damned.

It’s not that this generation doesn’t care. But when Jefferson Airplane sang “We can Be Together” at Woodstock (they didn’t actually perform that song at Woodstock, it only seems like they did), they meant it, and their fans knew they meant it. It meant “something.” It meant we all had chips in the game. It meant the specter of thermonuclear war was still real. We remembered hiding under our desks and putting our grade-school butts to the window for atomic attack drills. Yes, 9/11 was bad; 9/11 was horrible. But the Cuban Missile crisis put the Black Clock at a minute to midnight, so sex, drugs and rock & roll were rough and desperate and primal and primitive in their manifestations, in those bygone, silly times.

Things at Coachella will be more organized, more programmed, more protected and prophylactic, perhaps — but the music will soar, buoyed on the creative energies of a generation set alight by greater connectivity and dexterity and utility of digital media, where anyone with enough focus and sweat equity can be their own Christopher Nolan, their own Dark Knight, their own Radiohead. When Thom Yorke leads those heroes from Oxfordshire to the stage to create their fantastic sonic soundscapes…when The Black Keys bask in the glory of their newly anointed rock godhood, playing the blues like it was just invented in their native Ohio (invented just for them, like they just discovered it, as Duane Allman and his brothers — literal and figurative — did for themselves and for their generation over 40 years ago)…when Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog check their rhymes with the authority of an expertise forged in longevity and the boredom of their affluence, trying to convince us as much as convince themselves that they are still badass dangerous motherf*****s, not blunted by time, middle-age or success…when 100 others — household names, indie darlings, and superstars a-borning — gather over the two middle weekends of April — then the great rock festival tradition that began in San Francisco when The Tribes Gathered will be renewed as if all us music-lovers (some young, some old) sipped from the cup that Josephus handed Harrison Ford in the last and likely last ever decent Indy film (made before Sean Connery retired to Scotland).

The complete line-up may be accessed here: http://www.coachella.com/lineup# But after my lengthy, self-indulgent ramble, I’ll move to cherry-pick what for me is most notable and what makes Coachella…well, Coachella.

Progressive house superstars Swedish House Mafia, hot on the heels of their terrific futuristic Absolut Vodka commercial (see it again here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UCwOTR_dHo), may have glitch-stepped their way to fame and fortune, but all eyes and ears on the consecutive Friday nights will be on M83, Spanish-French creator Anthony Gonzalez’s entity blowin’ up on the strength of that No. 1 iTunes electronica hit, “Midnight City,” which has already been covered and re-mixed and covered again. (Yeah, it’s that good and infectious, and I hipped you to it weeks ago.) Ditto for Amon Tobin, whose Isam production will be on display. I don’t get how something that mind-blowing can interpolate into a festival setting, wherein the bands are usually in thrall to communal festival production — but that is part of what makes Coachella so special. It is as uncompromising as The Soup Nazi. On those Fridays, classic ska (Madness) and reggae (Jimmy Cliff) are also slated. And semi-comeback Sister of The Year, Mazzy Star, returns to the scene after a lengthy hiatus — although band member Hope Sandoval’s vocal on Massive Attack’s 2010 hit, “Paradise Circus” from Heligoland, attests to the fact that Hope is still all there, and then some. If that weren’t enough, my favorite “new” (to me) band of 2011 (when they also toured supporting Bon Iver), Other Lives (from Stillwater, Okla.) will perform. I love this band, the way I loved The Eagles during Desperado, or Wishbone Ash during Argus. Other Lives is a moody, dirge-y, rockin’ band, weaving tapestries about rural imageries, not about love or angst. I almost missed their listing on the Coachella poster, in its tiny micro-font.

On consecutive Saturdays, the line-up is just plain sick. Under Radiohead is the Grammy-winning Bon Iver; The Shins (whose Port of Morrow let me down — you may recall, I was psyched for it); deckmasters David Guetta and Kaskade; and stars of the avant-pop, Miike Snow and Andrew Bird. This is a night so heavy, former New Wave darlings Squeeze appear in microscopic font type. Oh yeah, and Feist…I said it was sick.

On the Sundays under Dre and Snoop, Florence & The Machine will shine; the Bay Area’s own DJ Shadow (a personal favorite) will spin his magic; Santigold will sport tracks from her much anticipated new biscuit, Master of My Make-Believe (dropping May 1); and that world-wide phenom Gotye, who closed in on No. 1 on the Album Charts in recent weeks (now such a household name, even those GLEEksters covered “Somebody That I Used To Know” on this week’s episode of Glee) (can a Grateful Dead-style Phil & Friends/Furthur version be far behind?) will wow. And that my friends, is the “scratch the surface” preview of your Coachella 2012.

What’s Up

My Coachella playlist, perfect for driving up from L.A. this weekend to catch opening day at AT&T Park, with thoughts of sugar plums and a re-born Barry Zito dancing in my head, and the prospect of Jefferson Starship singing the National Anthem. The next best thing to being at Coachella (LOL), these tracks will keep it real and keep you Coachillin’.

  • The Black Keys: “Ten Cent Pistol”
  • Mazzy Star: “Look On Down From The Bridger”
  • Explosions In The Sky: “Did You Pass Through This Night?”
  • M83: “Midnight City”
  • Jimmy Cliff: “Trapped”
  • Radiohead: “House of Cards”
  • Bon Iver: “Holocene”
  • Kaskade: “Turn It Down” (Ice Mix)
  • Miike Snow: “San Soleil”
  • Other Lives: Tamer Animals, the entire album! (it’s a Pet Sounds)
  • Florence & The Machine: “Seven Devils”
  • DJ Shadow: “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1)”
  • Gotye: “State of the Art”
  • Santigold: “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” (w/Beastie Boys)
  • First Aid Kit: “I’ll Be Your Emmylou” (they’re from Sweden — really!)
  • Flying Lotus: “Pie Face”
  • Squeeze: “Cool For Cats”
  • Mark Ronson featuring Kasabian: “L.S.F.”
  • Gorillaz with Snoop: “Welcome To The World of The Plastic Beach”
  • N.W.A: “Straight Outta Compton” (which reminds me of The Airplane)
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