This was my fourth Coachella (2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 w1), and the first I didn't cover as a journalist. It was also my favorite Coachella, partly because I wasn't beholden to any media outlets, partly because a friend helped arrange guest passes, and partly because I went with my amazing fiancee.
Favorite Performance of the Weekend: Blur (Friday, Coachella Stage)
Last summer's Blur show at the Margate Winter Gardens on the southeastern coast of England was one of my all-time favorite gigs. While I was thrilled to have that chance to catch a set in a small venue, a part of me longed to experience the group with a huge crowd all singing along as loudly and badly as humanly possible. I'd bought a ticket to see one of Blur's massive headlining shows in Hyde Park in 2009, but wasn't to make it over. And we were already back in Brooklyn when the band's 2012 Olympic-linked Hyde Park gig happened. Blur - with Graham Coxon back in the fold on guitar - hadn't played a proper US gig in well over a decade, but even if they had there was no way I was going to miss another opportunity to see them. And while the Coachella set was around half the length of Margate and didn't have the same OHMYFUCKINGGODICAN'TBELIEVEI'MEXPERIENCINGTHIS!!! euphoria I felt last summer, it was still absolutely brilliant. Shouting along to "Parklife" and "Tender" (with Damon running over to hug the sign language interpreter) will be a fond memory for a very long time. They played maybe half of 13 and added one classic - "There's No Other Way" - that I didn't hear at Margate. Hopefully a few more US dates will be forthcoming before it all goes tits-up again.
Second-Favorite Performance of the Weekend: Grizzly Bear (Saturday, Mojave)
We'd last seen Grizzly Bear perform on the Williamsburg Waterfront a few years ago, and after nearly falling asleep to support act Beach House I went into the set a little on the woozy side. Not this time, though. Brooklyn's own delivered a gorgeous performance on a beautifully lit Mojave stage.
Most-Deflating Yet Not the Worst Performance of the Weekend: The Stone Roses (Friday, Coachella Stage)
I'd been waiting 24 years to see the Stone Roses, ever since reading about them in the NME and picking up their debut album on cassette (an early US issue prior to the inclusion of "Fools Gold"). Two trips to the U.S. during their heyday were apparently planned and then scrapped. By the time they did finally make it over, Reni was gone and Robbie Maddix was fucking up all their beats, and the rest of the group seemed - at least based on what little footage of that tour exists - to not be enjoying themselves at all. I love that debut album as much today as I did then, and when the group reunited last year I thought I might finally get the chance to hear the songs performed live. The footage from the Heaton Park shows and dates elsewhere around the world was promising. Ian's voice was sometimes not off-key, and the band sounded amazing. The same was true on Friday night, though with one missing ingredient: They didn't seem to be having any fun. Ian's vocal limitations have been the topic of heated discourse for decades, so it wasn't a surprise to hear him struggling. What sank the set wasn't his voice though, which was perfectly fine on a transcendent "This is the One," but rather his demeanor. He seemed lost in outer space, shaking his bells, throwing odd shoulder shrugs and trying to replicate David Blaine's "levitation" trick. I longed for the joyous performances in the trailer for the Shane Meadows documentary, but none of that was forthcoming. The best moments of the set were those when Ian wasn't singing at all - the extended intro to "Fools Gold"; the classic second half of "I Am the Resurrection" - and the band was locked in. Still, I wound up throwing some dough at the Legacy Edition of the debut album in the Zia Records tent even though I'm pretty much completely off CD's. There's no reasonably priced vinyl option available at the moment, and this came with a DVD of the live show from Blackpool in 1989. Ian's voice wasn't great then either, but there's something really special about what those performances meant back then. I wish I'd felt a bit of that on Friday night.
Best Lazy Late-Afternoon Set: Kurt Vile & the Violators (Sunday, Outdoor Theatre)
As has been my wont from 2008 on, I hit the festival not long after the gates open on Friday. On Saturday, the earliest sets I'd considered starting my day with slip quietly away and I swing by a couple hours later. By Sunday, I'm pretty wiped out, and regardless of when I turn up, I'll need the sort of set I can use to ease myself back into the madness. Kurt Vile & the Violators (with Beachwood Sparks' Farmer Dave Scher on lap steel) was the perfect set at the right time. On the way to the festival earlier that day, "Jesus Fever" came up on my iPod, and I told my fiancee we'd probably wind up hearing it. Sure enough...
Most Fun With Friends: OMD (Sunday, Gobi)
I'd seen OMD before - opening for the Power Station in 1985 when I was a kid, and again a couple of years ago - and thought they were great fun. Same again in 2013, and with at least one excellent tune ("Metroland") from their new record that fit in perfectly alongside the classics. The tent was jammed as well. It was the Coachella Bear Jamboree in there, too. Loads of big hairy men dancing provocatively and kissing each other. And Andy McCluskey, for all his super-dorky dancing, is one of the most enteraining frontmen in the business.
Best Performance I Already Remember Precious Little About: Johnny Marr (Friday, Mojave)
Marr's band was great, his songs were agreeable and his guitars sounded like you want them to if you've been a fan for 30 years. And then he closed his set with a pretty terrific version of the Smiths' "How Soon is Now" and everything that happened before was washed away.
Least-Favorite Performance of the Weekend: New Order (Saturday, Mojave)
I last saw New Order at the Meadowlands in 1989 on a tour with the Sugarcubes and Public Image, Ltd. I'd seen both support acts before, and while neither were as good this time around they still blew New Order off the stage. Flash forward 24 years, and New Order are on the Coachella bill in a three-way clusteruck with Phoenix and Sigur Ros. Figuring there would be plenty of sound bleed at the Outdoor Theatre, we were left to decide between Phoenix and New Order. We made the wrong choice. Somehow, New Order got even duller live. I still love their first four or five albums and associated singles, but I'll probably wait another 24 years to try and see them again.
Best Set By the Worst-Looking Act: Violent Femmes (Saturday, Coachella Stage)
I realize the Violent Femmes were never a bunch of glamour-pusses, but man did they look terrible. But as they tore through their classic debut song-by-song, it became clear that only this goofy looking bunch could pull off this genius stuff. Great fun in the hot sun.
Most Under-Appreciated Genius: The Make-Up (Saturday, Gobi)
I get that the Make-Up were never hugely popular, but the Gobi was less than 1/4 full when their blistering set began. We'd seen them in New York last year and were left breathless. They were even better in the desert, with Ian Svenonius committing to every single second. Though Ian gets most of the press, the rest of the group are so fucking tight it's ridiculous. By the end of their performance, the tent was a bit more crowded and I'd like to think people were walking by, heard the Make-Up and just had to see what was happening. We spoke to Ian later and thanked him for the set and he was unbelievably gracious. So happy to see this group getting some belated love.
Best Performance By a Group I Was Disappointed By Last Time Around: Tie between Tame Impala and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Sunday, Outdoor Theatre and Friday, Coachella Stage)
I should preface this by saying that in the case of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs it's more my fault than theirs. Their performance on the Coachella Stage in 2009 was probably great, but I was so hot and miserable by the time they took the stage that I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have. This time they were on later, I was in a better mood and it made all the difference. Sometimes I find Karen O's voice a bit much, but there's no denying how great she is as a performer. Heat was a factor in Tame Impala's 2011 set as well: The first half of the set back then was sluggish, like they were all on cough syrup. This year, they were wonderful, in part I think because their drummer moved over to keyboards and they've got a new dude behind the kit who absolutely slayed. The songs were great, the psychedelic sounds perfect for that stage as the sun set.
Oddest Performance of the Weekend: Sparks (Friday, Mojave)
I've been a fan on the margins for a long time, but I'd never seen Sparks until last weekend. It was just the Mael brothers up there, and it was a genius bit of weirdo theater. But we didn't stick it out to the end. "A little Sparks goes a long way," I think I said. I also called Russell a sixty-year-old-five-year-old. I also really enjoyed it right up until it was time to move on.
Best Duo: Japandroids (Friday, Gobi)
There's nothing about Japandroids I haven't seen or heard before, but that hardly matters. I love their records and they were such good fun live that I'll try and catch them again when they're in NYC later this year.
Classic Artist I Missed Twice and I'm Totally Fine With It: Nick Cave (w/ Grinderman on Friday in the Mojave; w/ the Bad Seeds on Sunday on the Coachella Stage)
Look, I like Nick Cave just fine. I would even say I've enjoyed some of his music quite a bit over the years. And from what I gather, the fella puts on a great show. But I wasn't about to bail on my favorite group on Friday or a totally fun set on Sunday. Had there been no conflicts, I'd have been there in a heartbeat. But I'm still totally fine with having missed him twice, and hearing "Man, you done fucked up!" from you chin-stroking old-timey indie nerds isn't going to change that.
Best Artist Who Used to Stand Up at Shows But Now Only Sits Down: Spiritualized (Saturday, Gobi)
I've seen Spiritualized several times over the years, but until the Acoustic Mainline set at Coachella in 2008 I'd never experienced a seated Jason Pierce. At the time, I figured it was just because of the whole toned-down acoustic thing, but there he was on Saturday, sitting down and facing sideways. Maybe he has a bad back from carrying all those heavy, heavy tunes. Great set, by the way. Nothing will ever approach how good they were the two times I saw them on the original Ladies & Gentlemen... tour, but this was quite good. Not Grizzly Bear good, who we'd just come from. Nowhere near, I'm afraid. But I do love Spiritualized and it was great to see them again.
Best Jaw-Droppingly Awesome Combination of Soul and Showmanship: Janelle MonŠe (Saturday, Gobi)
I had high expectations for MonŠe after seeing her perform on television a few times, and she (and her band) totally delivered. She can belt out the tunes and dance at the same time, and that shit is hard! There was a bit of worry as stagehands, roadies and well-groomed musicians scrambled around trying to solve an issue with the keyboards, but all it did was slightly delay the awesomeness. I would love to see her at her own show some time.
Set I Enjoyed, But So What?: Franz Ferdinand (Saturday, Mojave)
There was something intangibly ho-hum about Franz Ferdinand this year, and I'm not completely certain I can put my finger on it. The songs are still killer, and the group debonair. But it all felt a little samey to me. Hopefully I'll feel differently next time I see them.
Weirdest Response to the Absence of a Famous Father: James McCartney (Friday, Gobi)
Given Sir Paul has been spotted at the festival each year since playing Coachella in 2009, there was some hope he might turn up for a few numbers with his son. It's not unthinkable, as he's done the same a few times before. But one glance into the mostly empty tent made it perfectly clear Macca hadn't shown. As we got closer we heard a familiar song. McCartney (James, 'natch) was playing Neil Young's "Old Man." No subtext there. No, sir.
Best Reminder I Actually Like a Band: Vampire Weekend (Sunday, Coachella Stage)
They're fellow New Yorkers, they're into African music and they're a ton of fun. I never understood the backlash, but I also hadn't really listened to them much in a while, either. Their set was a blast, too.
Most Insufferably Arcade Fire-Lite Act of the Weekend: The Lumineers
We also missed a bunch of acts I'd have liked to see: Jurassic 5, Band of Horses, Foals, Palma Violets, the Wombats, Theophilus London, Hot Chip, Savages, the Selecter, Yeasayer, Sigur Ros, Phoenix, the Postal Service (though we did hear "Such Great Heights" and it was lovely), Deap Vally, Smith Westerns, the Three O'Clock, James Blake, Grimes, Social Distortion, Wu-Tang Clan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ghost B.C., Dead Can Dance, Rodriguez, Father John Misty. I can understand the appeal of going to both weekends of the festival, but it would probably kill me.
This Coachella was also special for all the time we got to spend with friends, all the people we ran into at the festival and the pretty primo access we had thanks to Steve. It was the most special because I spent the entire time with Eve, and I think it was important for us to have a positive, wonderful festival experience after that fucking Bonnaroo mess.
I must also mention the legendary shutterbug, Mike Ivankay, for not only taking a couple of great pictures of Eve and me, but also being a constant friendly face over the course of the festival. We had such fun every time we ran into him.
Also a big shout out to Steve, who I met for the first time as I jumped on a golf cart on Thursday night. Steve was a true friend well before we shook hands, helping arrange the guest passes and making us feel totally welcome. And his family is beautiful, too. No amount of gratitude could begin to approach what his gesture meant to us, though we hope a package heading off to California will help.
It took me forever to put this summary together. There was travel (planes, trains and shitty automobiles), and then work deadlines and exhaustion and the dreaded Coachella Flu. And I guess I wasn't totally ready to look back on the weekend because that meant it was really over.
Best Coachella of the four years I've gone thanks to my friends, my family, the best-organized festival I've ever attended and the incredible music. And the free popsicles in the artists' camp didn't hurt, either.