Photo: Splash News
Aside from the familiar names on the line-up, in some ways Coachella really couldn’t be more polar opposite from the vast majority of European festivals. First up is the heat. Averaging well over 100 degrees every day, the unforgiving onslaught from the glowing orb in the sky sometimes makes trudging round in knee-deep mud on Worthy Farm seem like, well, a walk in the park. Then there’s the booze. While Brits pride themselves on cracking open the beers at 9am, at Coachella tight liquor laws scupper debauchery at almost every turn. Bag searches for the ‘demon booze’ on entering the camp site are ridiculously thorough, while designated one-way drinking areas for the over 21s resemble concentration camps, complete with two fences and a security guard patrolling the inner no man’s land.
The result of such stringent measures (admittedly not Coachella’s fault) is an often flat atmosphere – most notably during Yeah Yeah Yeahs and M.I.A’s stunning sets – plus revellers resorting to other narcotics, prescription or otherwise, to get their kicks. Yet away from these differences Coachella can be sheer magic.
Escaping my furnace-like tent at 8am, my first task of the Friday morning was to seek shade. Just like Benicassim, every shaded area at Coachella is precious with festival-goers hunched together like warped emperor penguins. A few hours of cowering later, it’s on to my first act of the day - Noah & The Whale on the Outdoor Theatre. Sweating profusely in the baking peak day sun, a lesson swiftly learned was to seek out the tents during the most relentless hours. Cage The Elephant in the Mojave tent were typically exuberant, while the typically intense White Lies were fervently received, perhaps hinting they can replicate their success at home on this side of the pond. Already making seismic waves over here are The Ting Tings, whose early evening set at Sahara was at least 20 deep outside - so packed, I decided to skip over to Franz Ferdinand on the Coachella stage who belted out a hit-laden set.
During Leonard Cohen half an hour later came my Coachella epiphany. With darkness descending, the polo field in Indio transforms into a place of wonder. Awash with colour, strobes, lit-up palm trees and the stunning backdrop as the sun disappears behind the mountains, the festival setting is truly second to none. That’s before we mention the hypnotic art installations such as the Serpent Mother and Bamboo Starscraper dotted around the site. All this coupled with Leonard Cohen’s devastating brilliant music, the moment was nothing short of perfect.
More morose, belligerent and self-deprecating than ever, Morrissey, however, was clearly not in the same spirit. Entering after a poignant piano rendition of 'You’ll Never Walk Alone', Mozza was unhappy from the offset. Plagued by sound difficulties, ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ was almost abandoned early while the “smell of burning animal flesh” in the air from burger stalls turns Mozza green with disgust. Only a pulsating ‘How Soon Is Now’ saved an otherwise disappointing set. Ever jubilant, Paul McCartney is a stark juxtaposition to the miserablist, bashing out Beatles classics – including a gorgeous ‘Long And Winding Road’ – alongside solo stuff for well over two-and-a-half hours.
Braving the elements, the first act of Saturday was Liars on the Outdoor Theatre. Positively smashing out their edgy tunes, they excel and even detract away from the blistering elements. George Harrison’s son Dhani fails to impress with his band Thenewno2 at Mojave, while Michael Shanti & Spearhead on the Coachella Stage were just plain awful. Solace of sorts was found in the backstage area where Agyness Deyn, Remi Nicole, Nick Grimshaw, Daisy Lowe and co. made it seem like Shoreditch twats on tour rather than a festival in the sun. As always with Coachella, an epiphany or two is never far away. On day two it came courtesy of TV on the Radio, who positively shone at sunset – ‘Golden Age’ lived up to its name for one. Then an extremely nervy Fleet Foxes proved they really have nothing to be nervous about with a stunning lesson in vocal harmonies on the Outdoor Theatre.
After topping up on a few exorbitantly priced half-pint beers alongside pissed-up Beverly Hills rich kids’ in the VIP area, it was time for some M.I.A. Coming back with more than just power, power after child birth, Coachella’s heroin triumphed in every possible sense. Theatrical, energetic and bombarding us with killer tune after killer tune, Ms Arulpragasam peaked with a stage invasion and a then a weekend-defining ‘Paper Planes’. Realising The Killers couldn’t match such a dizzy zenith even if they re-wrote their irksome material, the beguiling of sounds of Gang Gang Dance proved a fitting alternative to end Saturday night. Quite why the Gobi tent was only quarter full is beyond me.
Slightly weary from the persistent heat, Sunday was to be a day of shade. Thank fuck all the best bands were inside anyway. An astonishingly awesome Friendly Fires inspired a rave-up in Gobi, Sebastien Tellier saved an otherwise tired set with a gorgeous ‘La Ritournelle’, while M.A.N.D.Y twisted some tired heads with a lesson in trippy electro in Sahara. Such highs continued later courtesy of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who, armed with material from the stunning ‘It’s Blitz!’ managed to excel their already lofty standards. Only the aforementioned strangely sedated atmosphere detracted away from the moment. My Bloody Valentine clearly didn’t let this bother them as they blitzed Coachella with walls and walls of white noise, leaving some of the passing music fans bewildered.
Having seen The Cure a handful of times already in the past year, my worthy festival climax came courtesy of Etienne De Cracy at Sahara. Complete with his innovative cube lighting (very much a ketamine trip gone wrong) and wonky electro, the Frenchman provided a suitably trippy ending to an otherwise straight-edged event. Coachella, then – an impeccable line-up and glorious setting, it’s a festival that has to be experienced. Just don’t get your hopes up for a weekend of debauchery.