2011 was another amazing year at the Indio Valley Polo field, the hosting venue of the Coachella Music festival. It's difficult to recall all the great music that happens at the event in the heat and the exhaustion - my post is an attempt to give a brief description of virtually every band that I saw, no matter how long I stayed for the set.
To my mind, this year was the smoothest Coachella I have participated in. Access and parking were extremely easy, and leaving the festival (as long as you don't stay for the last big name) was incredibly easy. Goldenvoice, the organizers, recognized that 2010's event was plagued with problems that reduced the quality of the event - to their credit, they fixed most of these problems. Given that the event would sell out whether or not problems with the festival would be fixed (and in fact, this year's Coachella sold out in a record 7 days), Goldenvoice deserves major kudos for improving the event.
We arrived on Friday to catch Cee Lo Green and watched artist drama unfold. Cee Lo was late by about 20 to 30 minutes, and was unceremoniously cut off when he tried to play past his end time. The band kept rocking - without amplification - but a sweaty Cee Lo exited stage right. Lauryn Hill played next with a huge band and did her best to rock the main stage in 100 degree heat. I walked by Outdoor Theatre on my way to Sleigh Bells and I was impressed by the Cold War Kids sound. They are definitely borrowing a page from the Black Keys, and that is a good thing. Sleigh Bells had a loud stage set-up that could've been fun if the songs did not sound exactly like their album. Admittedly I have listened to album front to back greater than 20 times, but the set was just too predictable and was not an improvement over rocking the album on headphones, despite the array of Marshall amps on stage. The aforementioned Black Keys were the highlight of the evening. The addition of a keyboard player brought an already amazing sound to greater heights. This casual fan became a hardcore Black Keys fan after the set. Exhausted from the week, I entered a Coachella Day 1 coma and awoke the next day.
On Saturday, we arrived in the afternoon to catch Two Door Cinema Club, a poppy punk trio from Ireland. The tent was too sweaty and dominated by heat-venting shirtless dudes, but the band rocked it and their new songs some good (though similar to current material.) French artist Yelle threw up a groovy disco set that had the crowd enthralled despite (or because of) the French lyrics. Her set was energetic and I felt like I was in a European discotec. I only caught a few songs of Mumford & Sons but they sounded tight live, and I was impressed at the size of their following. Will they be one hit wonders? One Day as a Lion is Zach de la Rocha's side band, and an anticipated set for the evening. This incredibly loud 3 piece band (with Zach on occasional keyboards) created a wall of intensely complicated sound. It was the finest of math rock metal and it fucking killed. Much of the initial crowd dissipated as they realized that there was no "Bulls on Parade" coming around the corner, leaving room for the hard core or newly initiated fans like myself behind to spread out. This was a welcome development. The Animal Collective were a main stage disappointment as they lacked energy and would've been better suited for a tent to fully appreciate their weirdness. Finally, Raphael Saadiq brought out a huge band with a brass section and played his hit "Heart Attack." The rest of the set wore on, potentially because of the lateness of the set and the lack of a big crowd.
Our Sunday started with Nas & Damien Marley, who provided a nice interplay of reggae and rap. Trentemoller was the highlight of the day with his live, electronic jams that got the Mojave tent crowd dancing and cheering. His compositions of techno music translated very nicely to a live show and he received an ovation long after he left the stage. Chromeo played their discofunk on the Outdoor Theatre and enthralled many fans - I was bored, but was also far back. PJ Harvey started up a no-nonsense set at 10 PM at the Outdoor Theatre stage as well - her musicality shined, and her band fit her sound perfectly. Kanye West had a crappy set in which he talked about himself quite a bit between songs - he was the perfect counterpoint to PJ Harvey. And that brought the official Coachella 2011 to a close. A great year and I cant wait til next year!