Thursday, April 9, 2009
Coachella turns 10, amid the usual rumors, grumbling
Festival organizers defend their choices and stave off speculation.
By BEN WENER
The Orange County Register
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SLIDE SHOW: The greatest Coachella performances of the first 10 years
SLIDE SHOW: A look at some acts that will be at Coachella 2009 and a few who won't
Every year it's the same thing.
Speculation starts well before Christmas, and soon Paul Tollett and his team at concert promoter Goldenvoice must fend off loopy rumors months ahead of revealing the lineup for the world-renowned Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which next weekend will take over the Empire Polo Field in Indio for the 10th time.
Will Radiohead return? (No.)
Will Pearl Jam play this time? (Nope.)
Maybe Bowie? (No again.)
As seems to happen annually, there was once again plenty of Internet buzz among people who claim to know everything (yet actually know nothing) that Tollett had pulled off the impossible for the fest's milestone anniversary: a Smiths reunion. That didn't come to pass either, though he has brought back Morrissey for the first time since the inaugural Coachella in October 1999.
Even after the 2009 promo poster was unveiled, with Paul McCartney, the Killers and the Cure topping the bill, typically hard-to-please Coachellans still insisted there had to be a surprise superstar in the works, à la Prince last year.
Might Bruce Springsteen bolster Saturday's fare, given a gaping hole in his itinerary? After all, as some observers' negative logic goes, the Killers can't possibly be a Saturday headliner.
That's nonsense. The Killers in '09 are no different than Coldplay in '05: a multiplatinum act three albums into its career that can (and will) sell out arenas on its own tour. If anything, Brandon Flowers and his band of Las Vegans are the ultimate Coachella success story.
"They played the tent in the Radiohead year," Tollett recalls of their debut in 2004. "We had done a lot with them in Vegas – they used to be the band you called if someone dropped out. Literally they were the last in on that show – they confirmed as we were going to print, and they were listed on the last line of the poster."
For the Killers to rise to headliner five years later is a feat like no other in Coachella's history. Yet that hasn't been enough to quell complainers, whose kvetching only grew louder when troubled Britsoul star Amy Winehouse predictably withdrew from the Saturday bill and was replaced by a less outrageous star, "Paper Planes" performer M.I.A.
Surely something else would have to be added to make the day worthwhile, they argue. Perhaps No Doubt? U2? Even Spinal Tap has been mentioned, with all seriousness, in Coachella message forums.
"They must be hurting," contend the naysayers. "Look at all those TV ads!"
Indeed, never before has Coachella boasted such an extensive advertising campaign, with spots airing regularly during late-night programming on all major networks.
All of which has fueled the ugliest rumor this year – that despite (or perhaps because of) McCartney's involvement, not to mention the perceived weakness of the Killers and the repetition of the Cure, this is winding up the worst-selling Coachella ever.
"Not at all," Tollett counters. "By far not. In relation to years past at this point, it's the third biggest-selling Coachella we've had. You can't buy single-day tickets for Friday night (McCartney's night) – they're sold out."
He figures "the whole thing would've blown out in the first week or so" if it weren't for the downturn in the economy. Even amid such financial strain, Coachella's country cousin Stagecoach – featuring Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire and Kid Rock the following weekend, April 25-26 – is on track to sell out in advance.
"(Stagecoach) really came around faster than Coachella in terms of capturing the minds of the crowd," Tollett explains. "In three years it's already an entity with nationwide appeal. It took Coachella until the Cure/Radiohead year (its fifth) for that to happen."
The difference, he says, is that Stagecoach attendees "aren't so particular about every last act. For them, it more or less boils down to the headliners and a few other artists. With the Coachella crowd, you can have 27 bands that are great, and they're bummed that 28, 29 and 30 aren't there."
IN DEFENSE OF SIR PAUL
Tollett is used to such nitpicking now. "We've gotten to the point where we build a show that we like – and obviously you hope it sells well, because you gotta pay the bills. But we judge the shows after the fact."
As opposed to what much of the indie elite has done: dismissed this Coachella based on the inclusion of a wrongly maligned legend.
Despite enlisting chief Foo Fighter Dave Grohl to drum (rumor has it Ringo also will show up for a few songs), Sir Paul's indefatigable good cheer can't seem to get respect from hipsters who think cranky dreamer Lennon was the only worthwhile Beatle. Apparently the stains left by "Ebony and Ivory" and "Say, Say, Say" have blotted out the raucousness of "Helter Skelter" or "Back in the U.S.S.R.," or the delicate pensiveness of "For No One" and "Eleanor Rigby."
Or, for that matter, the estimable and experimental work McCartney has created this decade alone, from moody excursions like 2005's Grammy-nominated "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" (recorded with fave Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich) to his most recent effort, "Electric Arguments," his second collaboration with former Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover (aka Youth), issued under the pseudonym the Fireman.
Not only is McCartney's influence on Coachella artistry deep and pervasive, but he has remained a vital and creatively restless forebear.
I asked Tollett if he knew booking McCartney was a risk. "Well, every band's a risk," he said. "The question is: Do they take it seriously? I know McCartney is. I've seen his set lists from across the world – from Kiev and Montreal and Liverpool – and they're just incredible. If we can get any facsimile of that, we will be in for a great experience."
He notes that, more than ever before, both headliners and undercard acts will be arriving with full-blown productions. "I know for sure that there will be moments this year that will be remembered for years to come," he boasts, "the way people remember Daft Punk (in 2006) or Arcade Fire (in 2005). There are all types of good Coachella lineups. But Leonard Cohen, Morrissey and Paul McCartney all in the same day? That's some serious songwriting.
"Imagine all those people out on that field singing along to (McCartney's) songs. You know, some people doubted the idea of Roger Waters at Coachella – and that turned out to be one of the greatest highlights we've ever had."
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