Not Coachillin’

Pub date May 8, 2007
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer


SONIC REDUCER “I can’t believe you slept through the police helicopter above the tent at 3 a.m. and the megaphone going, ‘Disperse immediately or you’ll all be arrested,'” tentmate Fluffy marveled the day after another ear-busting night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s unofficial after-party scene in the campgrounds. It was only 8 a.m., though the sun was already beating down relentlessly like our heedless neighborhood drum circle.

I’ve snoozed through my share of lousy plays, bad bands, and crappy circuses, but I never thought I’d slumber through the 24-7 thrills at the Empire Polo Fields. And the chopper was just the chaser to April 28 trance headliner Tiesto, who began his loud set, pompously booming out over our not-so-fair tent city of spring breakers and Euro tourists, with “In the beginning there was the earth….”

We’re gonna have to sleep through the history of the planet, was my last thought as I drifted off.

O Coachella, don’t you cry for me, ’cause I’ve come from Alabama Street with a heat rash on my knee — and doubts about making the scene at the festival despite the fact that about 160,000 brave music fans were expected to face down the desert swelter as the event swelled to three days.

At this juncture, Coachella might be described as a music festival on steroids: it’s a carnival for 18 and overs with rides, art installations, dancers, and completely insane people wearing full-body chicken costumes in the 110-degree heat, though still boasting a comprehensive bill of today’s so-called hot bands. It’s your one-stop smorgasbord for music lovers, who will happily chat you up about the performer they deemed the most mind-blowing the previous night or the last Rage Against the Machine show they caught.

And they got what they came for: the Björk shroom headdress; the crazed buzz rising from such festival circuiteers as Amy Winehouse and Klaxons; solid pop from Jarvis Cocker and Peter Bjorn and John; show-stopping performances by DJ Shadow, CSS, Arcade Fire, and Konono No. 1; and the rattle of reunion bones by an amped and antic Rage Against the Machine, glowering and balding Jesus and Mary Chain, and, er, Crowded House. You couldn’t go amiss if you stuck to the desert to-do’s rave roots and entrenched yourself beneath the mirror ball, video screens, and pink and blue lights of the Sahara tent: the performances there by Justice and LCD Soundsystem connected with the crowd with a screw-it-all exuberance.

But the untold story lay far away from the press tent and Palm Springs love nests — in the crowded, brutal heat of the campgrounds next to the performance area. Is it possible to review a camping trip? In what seemed like a dusty, straw-strewn football field with thousands of other wake ‘n’ bakers? I spent far too much time taking refuge from the nonstop heat at the campground’s cybercafé, where hundreds of shirtless boys and bikinied girls would miserably crouch, recharging their cells at a bank of outlets, sit stunned watching the Coachella film on a loop, or lie on the ground like clammy, comatose dead fish, waiting out the morning before the acts began in early afternoon.

The southerly discomfort led most campers on a lengthy hike from the tent city, past the obscenely grassy country clubs surrounding the polo grounds, to find refrigerated refuge and 40s at Ralph’s, the nearest supermarket, where people were literally chillin’ on store lawn furniture. Coachella: the fest that inspired global warming — and a post–<\d>Earth Day longing for air-con.

Organizers Golden Voice had a clue: they gave away free water sporadically and provided campers with free Internet use and showers. But there were too few laptops, the wi-fi was too erratic, and the showers were locked down too early — and you knew there was too little shade in general when audience members broiled in the sparse shadows of lemonade stands.

The crowd — weighted with Rage Against the Machine fans eager to see the band’s first concert in more than five years — was also heavy on the testosterone. But maybe that’s just the state of Rage love: the band never really seemed too underground to me but has historically worked to surface activist subversion via modern rock radio. And their audience was still boiling — and amazingly good-natured despite the sleepless nights. As for myself, I finally woke up hours after the helicopter early April 29 to the sound of a random dude shouting, “Whoo!” and yammering loudly in Portuguese to the tentizens the next flap over. Later I was tempted to put my own spin on Zack de la Rocha’s onstage suggestion that Bush and Cheney be “tried for war crimes and shot.” I know the 12-hour roller coaster ride of quality hallucinogens can be a bitch — but then, so can I: is it so wrong to want the early morning shouters and the dude with the air horn to be tried for crimes against humanity’s sleep schedule and shot? I’d settle for finding out where they were dozing it off and delivering a special whoo-gram of my own.

BOB DYLAN STUDIED HERE That’s the rumor, anyway, at the Blue Bear School of Music, which has seen Tracy Chapman and more than 20,000 other musicians come through its doors in the past 36 years. Executive director Kevin Marlatt told me the nonprofit’s second annual fundraiser — showcasing 2007 Grammy Lifetime Achievement winner Booker T. Jones as well as Blue Bear staffer Bonnie Hayes and Sista Monica — will include an appearance by the James Lick Middle School Band, the result of the organization’s efforts in the last year to get more involved in public school music education. Since it took over the James Lick music program and brought in 30 guitars, he says, more than a dozen bands have popped up at just that school. So Stax around for a good cause. *


Sat/12, 8 p.m., $45–$125

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF