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Coachella '11 Webcast | Day 1

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We live in an age of wonders, people. Now that the Internet has been a part of mainstream life for over a decade it’s easy to take all this technology for granted. But really, take a step back and gaze in awe at what is available to us. People can carry thousands of albums in their pocket while having a video chat with a friend across the globe while lounging on a beach. What’s next?

Streaming concerts? The Arcade Fire, The Roots, The National, LCD Soundsystem, and Belle and Sebastian are just some of the major acts that had solo concerts webcast this past year. It doesn’t take much effort to find special presentations of live performances by a ton of bands on websites from NPR, MTV (!), Rolling Stone, Paste, and quality independent radio stations (KEXP.org out of Seattle, The Current out of Minneapolis, KCRW out of LA, just to name a few). In 2010, I watched festival performances from Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza.

A couple weeks back, thousands of music fans traveled to the 2011 Coachella Festival in the California desert. Meanwhile, across the globe, thousands more were firing up their web browsers to check out Coachella’s live webcast on Youtube. True, attending a festival far outweighs the experience of watching a band’s set from home. You’re not going to feel the collective energy of the crowd or the hairs on your arm vibrate from the thump of speakers twice your height. You won’t feel the refreshing breeze as the sun goes down or watch Coachella’s festival grounds light up the desert like an otherworldly carnival.  

You WILL get to dance around your living room (or wherever) without fighting a crowd for a good view. Admission is free, drinks and food are cheap, and in between sets you can be productive with household tasks, take the kids to the park, or run an errand. Sounds like a normal weekend, but with a concert in the background—how awesome is that? (Hint: very awesome).

And speaking of kids for a second, we love music in our house. Our kids, ages 3 and 5, have been to many concerts and listen to a variety of music. They have even been with us to a festival or two. While that is rewarding challenge that we fully support, it is a challenge indeed, and sometimes we want to expose them to a variety of music without such an undertaking. Thanks, Internet.

!!! got the party started for us. It was an unusually crisp and sunny Friday afternoon in Seattle, seeming to mimic the desert sun in California (it’s much colder in Seattle). After throwing a ball around with my 5-year-old daughter, Daisy and her 7-year-old friend, we went inside to watch and participate in !!!’s crazy dance party. The manic energy of lead singer, Nic Offer was represented well on the small screen, and our 3-year-old son Riley got up from his nap and tried to copy Offer’s pelvic thrusting dance moves.

The Drums were pretty disappointing though—a perfect example of why webcasting is great. Live, lead singer Jonathan Pierce’s vocals are delivered with a lazy punk sneer, which might not have bothered me if I hadn’t been charmed by the album’s overdubbed vocal melodies that seem to meld ‘50s doo wop with new wave synth pop. Without the overdubbed melodies the songs sound shallow and lack something special. Now that I have seen what they can do live, I will skip The Drums at Sasquatch Festival, which I will attend over Memorial Day.

Another benefit of seeing the show from home was that I didn’t have to fight a crowd to watch Cee-Lo come out late and have a tantrum onstage. Apparently there were some sound problems, but whatever. Not cool. He did sort of apologize for being late, but fortunately the Mountain Goats weighed in via their Twitter, “Dear artists who get invited to Coachella & then get mad/refuse to sing, call us next time.” Anyhow, the Internet allowed me to access all of that information, find some better performances of Cee-Lo not having a tantrum, and reminded me—and the world—that everyone has a bad day sometimes.

The kids and my wife headed out to the park while I descended into my Man Cave to organize my office while dancing to Moving Units. I had never heard of these guys before, and they blew my mind, bringing out their “motherfucking Italian disco for your ass,” whatever that meant. They did make me dance; that’s for sure. Those guys are excellent performers, having fun onstage while trying to include the crowd in every second of their party.

This was followed by another dance party, care of the multiplayer Latino hip-hop flavored collective known as Ozomatli. Like !!! and Moving Units, they know how to whip a festival audience into a frenzy, ending their set with a New Orleans style march into the crowd.

Although I had not previously been able to get excited about Cold War Kids, they have now gotten my attention. Their recorded material has been consistently underwhelming for me. I heard their live show is impressive, and with a celebratory communal spirit that took me off guard, I agree that their hyped reputation is deserved. The lead singer’s voice has always been an acquired taste, and I finally seemed to appreciate the Jeff Buckley-esque soulfulness to his rock wail, something I hadn’t noticed before.

For Titus Andronicus I was riveted. The pacing of the set, the energy of the singer, the professional orchestral rock and roll mess that is the music, and the roiling mass of the crowd made it both a blessing and curse to be watching it from the safety of home. I saw their set on a webcast from one of last year’s summer festivals. They continue to tour in support of 2010’s Civil War/growing-up-in-New Jersey concept album, The Monitor, and they do not seem burned out in the least by the effort.

Unfortunately, real life intervened, and I missed out on Ms. Lauryn Hill. It was time to put the kids to bed. Sorry Ms. Hill, another time.

Then came the interesting contrast of Tame Impala vs. Kings of Leon vs. The Black Keys. I loved the first couple albums from Kings of Leon. Their anthemic, dirty, southern blues-rock was energizing and fascinating. Then they shifted away from the southern blues and jumped right into the stadium anthems, which sounds as if Coldplay had a baby with the early Black Crowes. They are totally pleasant to listen to, but seeing them actually sing passionately a song like “Sex on Fire” is just ridiculous. This feeling is only amplified as I sit in my basement and watch this from a comfy chair, away from the energy of the crowd and lights. Soon I get really annoyed at the webcast for not allowing me to watch another set, even for a few minutes. Then I feel guilty for my animosity toward the Kings of Leon as they fulfilled their dreams and do their jobs, ending with a smattering of self-loathing for over-thinking the whole thing.

Fortunately I didn’t have to live in this shame spiral for long, since Tame Impala was coming on to pull me out of it. Here is a band of young guys from Australia, and they seem to be drawing on many of the same southern rock influences as the Kings of Leon. I have heard their album but felt there were too many solos or something (I’m a lyrics guy) so I didn’t spend too much time with it. However, on stage they were incredible.

Tame Impala looked hungry, focused, and happy to be there. Kings of Leon looked bored (or perhaps I was projecting my own feelings). Whereas the Kings of Leon leaned toward arena rock, Tame Impala brought in the psychedelica. Based on their recorded work this was to be expected, but I was surprised by the wide spectrum of styles they incorporated, as well as the level of musicianship and how hard they rocked when they returned from the musical breaks. The sound shifted seamlessly from gentle folk to rock chaos. Sometimes a song would sound like it was falling apart, only to have it reform into the next song.     

The day ended for me with the Black Keys, and they are always exciting to watch. Their raw take on the blues feels much more authentic than the pop-bombast of the Kings of Leon. While they don’t have something to prove like the young Tame Impala, they have a youthful enthusiasm and genuine passion that seemed lacking from Kings of Leon. | Tony Van Zeyl

 

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