To paraphrase Wu Tang Clan, a Coachella hangover ain't nuthin' to fuck with.
And when we say "hangover," we don't mean the alcohol variety. For who the hell has time to imbibe and impair their motor skills and mobility when there's nearly 60 performers and only 12 hours a day? No, we mean that sensation that's part eye-bulging fatigue, part massage-demanding soreness, and part comedown from a weekend full of musical spoils and bliss.
The final day of the last weekend of Coachella 2013 offered too much at any given hour, a vast improvement on the day before and more consistently pleasing than Friday's kickoff. Previous editions have typically waned on the final day, but not this time. Coachella ended with an exclamation point, a confirmation of the fest's programming prowess. And it especially triumphed in three particular areas — with an additional honorable mention.
SINGER-SONGWRITERS: Coachella Sunday is perfect for taking in artists with a knack for lyrical narratives and/or intricate songcraft because that's the day your exhausted self just wants to stand or sit still and let someone's performance sink in. Yesterday offered two great opportunities for that.
Kurt Vile looked relatively miserable taking the Outdoor Theatre stage just before 4 p.m., the sun beating down on he — completely covered in what looked like desert-unfriendly clothing — and his four backing musicians, The Violators. A little gruffness even surface toward the beginning of his 50-minute set when a fan suggested he turn down the bass and sharply retorted, "No! You turn down the bass!" Nonetheless, Vile and crew rose to the occasion, highlighting material from their excellent new album Walkin' on a Pretty Daze and 2011's equally great Smoke Ring For My Halo. The quintet may be the closest thing we have to a new-school Neil Young and Crazy Horse: an amplification of folk, with less of the blues bluster of Young's band, and more keyboard atmospherics and obfuscation of the guitar pedals. Some of Vile's songs built their way toward walls of sound, and other remained straightforward strummers, merely accelerating to highwayman tempos. The only disappointment was Vile's oft-mumbled vocals; his vocals sounded clearer during his 2011 set at the Cosmopolitan pool, where he and the Violators can return to play anytime, as far as I'm concerned.
I wasn't expecting much from Father John Misty three hours later in the Gobi tent. Though I have enjoyed last year's Fear Fun record, I hadn't done the homework on Joshua Tillman's act, which he rounds out with five other musicians. That the band played a stirring and able set of throwback folk and country rock — with a slight psychedelic edge — did not surprise me.
What did take me back was the showman skills of Tillman himself. You might glean his sense of humor and brutal honesty from the song for which he's most renowned, "Hollywood Forever Cemetery," but it hardly hints at his hilarious onstage banter, a barrage of sardonic one-liners and observational humor that made his Sunday set all the more immersive. "Shut up," he dryly said after some applause. "It's not the Ecstasy, it's just that everything is really awesome." Another riff had him explaining how he and Vampire Weekend, playing at the exact same time on the main stage, had long-planned to precisely synchronize the notes and tones up of their sets "to create, without hyperbole, the voice of God." During the actual songs, he'd kick up his legs, sashay across the stage, pantomine the lyrics and reach into the crowd, among other things. Tillman's display seemed to merge Bill Murray and Mick Jagger, and thankfully subverted the archetype of the indie rocker who takes himself way too seriously.
THE SAHARA TENT: I had spent little time in the large dance tent, mostly because the other stages were better programmed. But Sunday offered two sets worthy of my time. At 5 p.m., I wandered into the one-fourth-full space to check out Paul Kalkbrenner, who I have never seen perform. Turns out he's a dutiful devotee of progressive house — and I mean real progressive house, where producers and DJs send you off to space with synth effects, evocative chord progressions and ambience, but still ground you with subterreanean basslines that remain loyal to the African-American roots of house music. Some of the nu-school crowd didn't know what to do with his largely vocal-less musical meditations. But the veterans in the crowd grooved along happily, as if they were reclaiming a space that was previously theirs before the EDM/bass music onslaught took over both Coachella and club culture in general. Before what could be called an encore, he peaked with the highlight track of the set, his own "Sky and Sand."
Feeling as if I'd still hadn't taken in any adequate amount of the dance music program, I decided to bail on Wu Tang Clan's otherwise spirited throwdown — and, more remarkably, a well-choreographed synthesis of eight MCs — and give Sahara closer Eric Prydz a shot. I'm on the fence with the Swedish producer and DJ. He veers a little closer to the trance subgenre than I'd prefer, but unlike most of his EDM peers, he isn't afraid of instrumental tracks, and I've generally liked his remixes, which, like those of Jacques Lu Cont, find just the right balance of source material and reinterpretation. Maybe it was having stood or sat down for much of the day, maybe it was my lack of boogie over the weekend, or maybe it was the green tea I'd just downed to ensure I'd go the distance and stay awake for the drive back to my hotel room, but my body miraculously threw down for the entirety of Prydz's set. He largely peddled European trance, but it was largely without the obvious audience cues, the sharp attention-deficit shifts in song structure, and the excessive arpeggios that plague that style of electronic dance music. And once I phased out all the kids around me either taking or reveling in (or offering me) their drugs, I absorbed the set — and ended my Coachella on an exhilarating note.
THE BUZZ ACTS: Having their tracks downloaded and songs played on satellite radio and being blogged about all year, these performers are often the ones that keep the indie faithful coming to the festival. And Sunday featured three biggies.
Psych/garage rock act Thee Oh Sees were even more animated than during its Neon Reverb set last year — a noteworthy feat given the near-triple-digit temperatures. Guitarist/singer John Dywer was as spastic as his band's often unpredictable music, playing with what looked and sounded like orgasmic glee during many of the band's unrelenting rawk jams. Toward the set's end, he swung his guitar like a pendulum in front of his amp to create whooshing effects, one of several moves that made his rock 'n' roll scientist shtick a greater joy to watch.
I pulled myself away from Kurt Vile's otherwise enjoyable set to finally catch electro pop act Grimes, the nom de plume of Claire Boucher. Inside an entirely-too-crowded Gobi tent, both she and crowd regaled in her one-woman band act, working her sequencers and synths one moment, then stepping out to offer her peppy vocals the next. She could have easily hired someone to work the hardware and be left alone to sing, which is what the giant crowd seemed to enjoy the most. But her work ethic was refreshing to observe, even if a couple of stretches of downtempo beats and ambience caused lulls.
There was no lost momentum, however, with Australia's Tame Impala, which laid down 50 minutes of glorious, superbly crafted acid rock that improved upon its studio incarnation. A huge throng cheered the well-oiled quintet on as it put a decidedly new-school spin on '60s psychedelic rock and R&B and '70s blues rock. Sometimes its short instrumentals, mini-jams and adjoining vignettes were nearly as interesting at the actual songs, which themselves gave equal consideration to songwriting and arrangement. There was no better example of this than "Elephant," which you thought was over by the start of a new, wah-wah-drenched hallucination until the band went right back into the single's signature chord progression. Tame Impala has handily earned its hype.
HONORABLE MENTION: There's no reducing Nick Cave to any musical compartments. Astonishingly, he and the Bad Seeds trumped Friday's Grindrman set, during which Cave sleazed it up with laments about, you know, pussy and his lack thereof. Sunday's main stage set — taken in by entirely too many chatty assholes just waiting for headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers — still felt a little like Satan's cabaret, but Cave and company dialed down the debauchery a little and worked in a little more heartbreak, and even a little more soul. Opener "Jubille Street" featured classic macho Cave lines like "the problem was she had a little black book/And my name was written on every page," but they were offset by the dramatic incorporation of a string section and a choir of children from the Silverlake Conservatory, most of them endearlingly sporting their own "Bad Seed" shirts.
Just when you thought the band had blown its payoff wad too early, it charged forward with a mix of tempestuous ballads, wily rockers and, in the case of "The Ship Song," rock-opera showstoppers, all allowing Cave to ham it up, often in the crowd and singing directly to fans, as he also did during an epic go at "Stagger Lee" (and wasn't it hilarious to watch Coachella's new main-stage American Sign Language interpreter use her hands to translate lyrical phrases like "suck my dick" and "I'll crawl over 50 good pussies just to get one fat boy's asshole"). Cave and the Seeds ended with the hymnal "Push the Sky Away," bringing the kids back out, fully bookending his set with some transcendence — and humbling every other Coachella 2013 performer.