Coachella 2015 Overview

Best of Lists, Live Show Reviews, Mouse's Musings, Music

Overall, this wasn’t my favorite edition of Coachella. That was my experience. Someone else could have gone to different sets with a different mindset and had the best year in a decade. Hell, someone else could have gone to the same sets. It’s all subjective, right?

There were a couple mind-blowers (Swans, Father John Misty) and a few perfect renditions of bands that made me love them even more (Ride, Drive Like Jehu), and sets that helped me really dig what I already kinda liked (Cloud Nothings, Parquet Courts)… but it wasn’t the embarrassment of riches I’m accustomed to every April in Indio. S’okay. Still wanna go next year. It will probably take two consecutive “off years” to really make me second-guess going again.

Over the last decade there’s been a lot of analysis about Coachella becoming too big, or too corporate, or too mainstream, or too celebrity… but what if it’s just become too old? They’ve done 16 of these things. It’s just not as big of a deal to gather all these artists together anymore. There’s a dozen major weekend festivals. Everyone reunites for the money now. Nobody needs a festival to discover a new band or validate a taste. It’s not a problem; live music and incredible art installations are still wonderful things worth paying for…

…but I do wonder if Coachella has an identity crisis. When the fest nixed one-day passes, I praised the move as creating a weekend long “culture,” a special place where everyone with a ticket was equally invested and along for the whole journey together. That’s true… but now it’s homoginized the crowd year-to-year.

It used to be the attendee makeup would change with the bill; Bauhaus and NIN brought goths, Daft Punk brought ravers, etc. But now there is a “Coachella self-identity” brewing, people who live for the festival year-round… and they’re not especially diverse in background. They all kind of like a little of everything. They take drugs. They love EDM and electro, and will check out a band… but they’re not especially passionate for a particular style or era of bands. It’s all samples to be sampled to them.  If Pixies reunited for the first time next year, instead of how they did in 2004, it would be a poor Main Stage showing on par with Pavement.

That’s not exactly a judgement so much as an observation. Coachella has kept pace with the times, and we live in times where digital distribution has de-commodified music — with infinite availability of nigh-infinite songs or shows, no particular show necessarily matters from another. A bro might want to see Kaskade over Alt-J, but he’s gonna bro-out with his squad either way, really.

Coachella has changed so much since I first attended in 2005… and so has Coachella coverage. When I first went, there was no Twitter. There weren’t even smart phones. Newspapers’s online outlets and blogs covered the festival so people could know what happened there. And even after smart phones, but before Twitter, the immediate data of what has just taken place was not really available until it went up online.

Now everyone knows what happened at Drake’s set before the writer can even jot it down in an analog notepad. It begs the question why anyone bothers to write posts and articles about a show the morning after. If someone isn’t tweeting it, Coachella is streaming it on YouTube for anyone to watch as it happens.

I really miss the time, 2005-2011 for me, maybe, when part of the fun of Coachella was reading what everyone else thought about the different sets the next day. You could find five to ten perspectives on every set, offering some sort of observation or insight. This year I could barely find three reviews of some fairly major acts. There’s just not much demand or need for it. So it goes, but it made it harder to try to write stuff people would want to read. I’m not sure I really did.

Anyways, it was still a blast to write under deadline, to have a purpose beyond fun at Coachella. I banged out a few good ones! I’m happy with the Swans and Drive Like Jehu bits, particularly. And the whole fest was still a lovely vacation. Alas. On with the overview!

The Good

  • The Lineup – The lineup was fairly weak. I’d heard an unsubstantiated rumor AC/DC was paid $7 million, and maybe that caused a budget crunch? Goldenvoice is always playing The Game Within The Game, and I wonder if they purposefully did an underwhelming lineup this year, knowing it would still sell out but snakebite scalpers. At any rate, not having the most hyped lineup made for a less unpleasantly intense fest! Thanks subpar Coachella, lineup!
  • Lot 4 Camping – Lot 10 is the camping lot that surrounds the main camping drag that leads into the festival. It’s the lot that gets filled-in first and where all the early-arriver diehard “Coachella culture” types wind up. It’s madness. Since I came late Friday night, I got put into Lot 4. It’s further away from the entrance with fewer bathrooms, but is populated with People Who Had Jobs On Friday and otherwise lower-key attendees. Loved my neighbors.
  • The Weather – Sunday was hot, but not deadly, and the other two days were lovely.
  • The Crowd – Seriously! I only saw two Native head dresses all weekend. I had no bad encounters with aggressive bros. The teenagers were pretty polite!
  • Rock Bands! – This makes “The Good” column every year. Every year I seem surprised I saw so many good rock bands. You’d think I’d learn. I think there was only one two-hour stretch all weekend where there wasn’t a band I was at least curious about. As detractors and Coachella vets (ahem) complain like a broken record about how EDM has taken over, Coachella books really cool post-rock, post-hardcore, punk, indierock, and Americana acts that stimulated the mind beyond base primal beats all weekend long.

The Bad

  • The Lineup – For the same reasons the underwhelming lineup kept the crowd kindly, the underwhelming lineup… underwhelmed. The headliners were great, the bottom tier was great, but the 2nd and 3rd line undercard was wanting. There was no Can’t Miss Legend like McCartney, Scott-Herron, Cohen or Booker T. 80’s new wave and post-punk, usually a surefire get at Coachella, were pretty absent. 90’s indierock had Built to Spill and Ride, and that was about it. Friday and Saturday were largely subpar, and only Saturday lived up to my Coachella expectations, music-wise.
  • $12 for six bites of granola in warm milk– Come on.
  • The Art Landscape – The Caterpillar / Butterfly was fine, but The Giant Roving Art Piece is starting to feel tired. Loved Corporate Headquarters, but beyond those two, the landscape art was kinda meh.

The Ugly

  • Buzz Bands Down! – We had all sorts of hiccups on all fronts, technical and personal, and didn’t get to publish coverage as timely as we like. For my part… I don’t think I did my best work this year. I’ve never been a great or most knowledgable music writer, but I feel like I stumble on the occasional sharp insight. It was so hard just to hack my way through it this year. No idea why. Feels like I’m almost out of words about music.
  • The Camping Bathrooms – Festival toilets were cleaned regularly all weekend. The camping bathrooms were a warzone. Ugh. Coverage

Top 10 Favorite Sets at Coachella 2014

  1. Father John Misty
  2. Swans
  3. AC/DC
  4. Drive Like Jehu
  5. Ride
  6. Built to Spill
  7. Parquet Courts
  8. Cloud Nothings
  9. Saint Motel
  10. Joyce Manor

Shout-out to Jack White, who didn’t even make my Top 5 that day, but was really something interesting. And I really enjoyed Belle and Sebastian and Ryan Adams, too.

Some Personal Favorite Moments of Coachella 2015

  • Father John Misty, generally – All-time list. Oh, honeybear…
  • Fanboy Rejection – After Mac DeMarco, comedian Eric Andre exited the VIP area with his giant dildo, I heard later to make mischief in the polo fields. A fan boy behind me started freaking out “Oh my god! Eric Andre! Eric Andre!” he chased down the object of his adoration, who rudely shooed him away with the dildo. Hilarious.
  • “Woke Up in a Car,” Andrew McMahon – I probably hadn’t heard that song in over a decade. Took me back.
  • “You Shook Me All Night Long,” AC/DC – Super fun crowd moment.
  • “You want some blow?”  – As said to me to sweet looking blonde girls who could not yet have been 20. I said no thanks, but it was funny to me.
  • Corporate Headquarters – The only thing more amusing than the giant performance art was watching people’s reactions to it.
  • “Hey! Descendents Shirt!” – I wore my Mae Shi shirt on Day 1, and for the first time in seven years, no one high-fived me for it. But the shirt merch guy that shouted out my Descendents tee, well, good people there.

Coachella 2016 Wishlist…

Never gonna happen, dream on…

  • Talking Heads
  • R.E.M.
  • KISS (original lineup)
  • The Smiths
  • Oingo Boingo

Never Played…

  • David Byrne and Brian Eno
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Psychadelic Furs
  • Hum
  • Garbage
  • Bob Pollard, any project

Bring ‘Em Back!

  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Gogol Bordello
  • Bob Mould, any project


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