• Rob Spectre
  • 28
  • Apr
  • 07
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Coachella

The long awaited return of Rage Against The Machine is this very weekend, and (d)N0T is there to catch their first show at Coachella. Joining a crew of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells at a conveniently located HQ, this first on location assignment for the blog bringing Gonzo back to American journalism started with a bang.

Fresh off an hour long plane ride of speed cubing, my Lebanese comrade and I had surprisingly little problem going through airport security. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we bopped down to the baggage claim getting ready for the hour drive to the burning desert where the concert of the year was to be held. Evidently, Majed had made a friend.

“Hey dude, these guys are going to Palm Springs.”

I look to his right and the college couple that were sitting next to him on the flight looked at me with a sort of desperate hopefulness.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah dude,” Majed declared. “Do you mind if we give them a ride?”

The spirit of punk rock overwhelming my better judgment, I reply, “Sure! That’s where we’re going.”

Charlie and Sarah were biology majors from University of California Santa-Cruz, which should have been my first tipoff. A pair of hippie majors at a hippie school trying to hitch a ride with two complete strangers. Only in California would this ever make sense.

We embark on the journey, quickly procuring the ride that our humble blog could afford. The Chevrolet Impala’s mileage read 2700, but it already looked twenty years old, such was the sad testament to the engineering produced by 21st century Detroit. Immediately we were cracking jokes about the size of its trunk and its capacity to store human bodies. Surprisingly, our hitches did not balk in the slightest.

It takes us an hour and a half to get to an area that looks remotely like Palm Springs, and Charlie begins to pipe up with the directions. We quickly wind our way through the town of 46k, finding ourselves rapidly into the suburb of suburbs. It was at this point that I began to suspect something was awry. I had accepted their request for assistance as I thought they were college kids trying to make the biggest concert of the year on their meager budgets. After all, I was once a college kid who tried desperately to make big ticket concerts on a Ramen budget. However, the neighborhoods that we were approaching did not suggest the sort of budget from which a hitchhiking request would emerge.

“Turn right here.”

“Into the gated community?” I asked.

“Yeah dude,” he said. “This is it.”

It took me quite a few minutes to stop shaking in anger as we dropped him off. This trust fund baby took us 30 minutes out of our way in order to drop him and his hanger-on to his “dad’s place in Palm Springs.” Property they “only owned because of the golf courses.”

Fuck that.

Typical California gave way to typical California as we arrived to Coachella right after Day One lets out landing us in the middle of a shitstorm of traffic. It took us an additional two hours to finally get the twelve blocks to the HQ. Fortunately, (d)N0T operative Nate had us fully accomadated in the style we deserve.

Sipping on a Caucasian with my feet propped up next to a jacuzzi comfortably seated next to the sixth hole on The Palms golf course, the day’s adventure already seems an eternity ago. There’s a magic that was once America. I sit now in a place that my grandparents cannot even conceive to hear rock and roll they could never imagine coming from the roots they laid. The majesty of my life shines brighter than the three-quarter moon over a still desert night. 2am on a Friday night on a marble patio surrounded by an impossible paradise it is clear that the American Dream remains alive, if only for the people that want to write about it so.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 28
  • Apr
  • 07
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Coachella

After the first mildly raucous evening, we awoke from a fitful slumber to the sound of sprinklers in the golf course that was our backyard and the faint soundcheck of the concert’s main stage. Today’s agenda is packed. The Nightwatchman, Fountains of Wayne, Ozomatli, Travis, and the Chili Peppers as well as a handful of suggestions from the assembled crew.

The crew itself is a motley sort. We’re the sort of crowd that barely have any earthly business in a house this nice. Rancid blares over crappy laptop speakers as the weak nurse their hangovers and the strong check their email.

No earthly business staying in a place that has no earthly business existing. Centered quite literally in the middle of the goddamned desert, one wouldn’t know except for the desert hills. Green, meticulously maintained grass extends as far as one can see. However upon closer examination, the grass seems more like a carpet. A genetically engineered turf that is tucked in neatly next to brick and marble patios speaks to a loosely veiled illusion louder than the faux Spanish architecture ever could.

One of the boys already snapped off a sprinkler head on the front lawn. I’m pretty sure the screen door to the backyard is in its final days. The neighbors load up their clubs into their carts while whistling John Test. I pick up broken glass while singing along to American Idiot.

They give me a look like I don’t belong, blissfully unaware of the ridiculousness upon which they stand.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 29
  • Apr
  • 07
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Coachella

The real headliner of the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival is the burning sun. Unrelenting, it mercilessly roasts with an intensity that feels very personal. It is as though our furnace in the sky is looking down upon the 60,000 person crowd and finding you – you above anyone – to focus with a hatred you can feel. The natives say it is a dry heat, somehow making its sustained triple digits less significant. Though to the non-indigenous this consolation provides the same comfort as the soft look of a puppy that just shit in your cornflakes. By the time the walk through the festival’s labyrinthian admittance process is complete all the women are in their underwear, all the men have pit stains, and all the event staff have a patience worn razor thin from the ridiculous heat and an ever growing pile of confiscated drug paraphernalia.

The first set was Tom Morello’s alt-folk acoustic project called The Nightwatchman. Located in the compartively diminuitive Gobi tent, the crowd spilled out the back and along the sides as hippies and rockers crammed next to each other to catch the first glimpse of Sunday’s headliner. The set was a a meager 45 minutes and fraught with tuning difficulties. Clearly fresh from rehearsals with Rage, Morello struck his classical guitar with an overplayed strum that frequently buzzed and clanged. The combination proved that the veteran rockstar had a genuine naked vulnerability behind the acoustic guitar. Playing a host of covers and tunes from the debut record, the gathered would-be revolutionaires pumped fisted and screamed more at Morello’s furious rhetoric than his 60’s style protest ballads. Tom Morello is an absolute incendiary on the soapbox. The set culiminated to a fever pitch when he introduced Perry Ferrell and Boots Riley (from counterculture hiphop act The Coup) for a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Morello was quick to warn the audience that, “to call this song under-rehearsed is a complete understatement.”

What was delivered was one of those magical moments over the course of one’s life that makes you fall in love with rock and roll all over again. The three have so little in common musically, but united in outrage they delivered a spectacularly occasional event.

Shortly thereafter the crew grabbed a bite and happened upon Pitchfork writer Daphne Carr on assignment at Coachella. She and Amy Phillips delivered a writeup on the festival as well as an upcoming interview with Cornelius. We chatted about some of the acts we saw, the less-than-glamorous side of entertainment writing, and of course the desert heat. I quite nearly confessed my adoration for her criticism, but somehow managed to best the fanboy impulse and played it off awkwardly. The writeup they produced is brief but accurate.
Further wandering produced a remarkable find in the form of a San Francisco “bike rodeo and human-powered carnival” called Cyclecide. Featuring pedal-powered contraptions of various sizes and risks of personal harm, they produced several moments of near catastrophe. To my everlasting embarrassment, many were documented in photograph.

After a few near spills, we soaked our egos in some $6 Heineken and caught Ghostface Killah from a distance. I may be just a white boy from Kansas, but I can’t find a single rap outfit that can produce a compelling live performance. A brief discussion was had on the causes, and I believe the conclusion was with the element of improvisation missing, engagement with an audience is not going to be as successful as rock and roll.

The Mayor of Coachella came out to introduce Ozomatli at the next stop, who delivered one of the highlight performances of the weekend. Executing a 45 minute set loaded with new material off of Don’t Mess With The Dragon, Ozo loaded Gobi with diehard fans chanting “Ya se fue.” The band is consistently disappointing on record, and their set cemented their superiority as a live act.

By the time our shaken and stirred ensemble drifted to catch Saturday’s headlining Red Hot Chili Peppers, we were foot sore and heat drunk. They took their sweet time taking the stage and by the fourth or fifth song about California, I had my fill. The omnipresent complaint around the main stage is that the sound was very empty, and the victim of the greatest cruelity of this failure was clearly Chad Smith. Even had the sound been resolved midset, the performance fell far short from compelling, giving urge to investigate the other late night performers.

Gotan Project was on the second main stage and a complete unknown to me. A fairly large flamenco ensemble from Argentina combines with two Parisian electronica DJs to from the sound, much of which corresponds with pre-produced video. Again, the absence of improvisation made it difficult for anyone to get too excited. But, Gotan Project did deliver one of the few truly original performances of the weekend.

Our first day closed out with The Rapture and Tiesto. The former being a competent electonic rock ensemble hailing from across the Atlantic and the latter being total goddamned rubbish. The superiority of Tiesto’s sound to the Chili Peppers was frequently mentioned as a near criminal trespass. I was quick to remind folks that Tiesto’s set was hardly a difficult mix as it could quite possibly be the CD on an iPod at the board. Green lasers and scattered ass on a five story video screen I guess is all it takes to make it in Holland and the global electronica scene. However, we had sandwiches and beer at HQ, and a tolerance for shit music worn thin by a day of desert heat and unbelievable rock and roll.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 01
  • May
  • 07
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Coachella

Pressed up against a dozen or so odd people, I waited with baited breath for Rage Against The Machine to take the stage. Over, in front, and around our small cadre was 40,000 people – a sea of electric humanity steaming as a cool breeze swept over the desert. We were at the third barricade in a festival audience design clearly catered to hard rock revolutionaires. A gentleman over my right shoulder commented, “I just hope he doesn’t say anything about Bush.”

Naturally, I had to ask, “What do you mean?”

He replied with the practiced douchebaggery of a native Californian, “Well, I don’t think Zack de la Rocha needs to say anything about Bush. It’s like, we all know he’s bad okay? It’s been said enough.”

Unable to turn around due to the crowd, I quickly replied, “Expecting Zack de la Rocha not to say something about George W. Bush is like expecting Pat Robertson not to say something about Jesus.”

Stammering, he responded, “I’m just saying it’s been done, okay?”

“I know what you mean,” I replied. “It’s been two thousand years since the guy bit it and everyone is still on about him.”

Shortly thereafter I farted into his fannypack from the Gap. It was the only appropriate response to such apathy.

The sleep the night before was restless and difficult. Each of us were sun soaked and hungover, fluffy hair and stinking of the hippies in which we were neck deep. Rich white men teed off in front of us while we listened to Rancid and checked our email. Mildly annoyed, they commented from their golf carts that the neighborhood might be going to hell. I’m not sure what they meant, after all *we* weren’t the assholes that decided to but a golf course in the middle of the damned desert.

The crowd had taken a far more aggressive bent in the last day of the festival. The day before had been populated mostly by patcholi stinking hippies and Ecstasy crunching ravers. Today they were replaced by very angry twenty somethings wearing large boots and small tanktops. A dry, hot current ran through the crowd and it wasn’t the local meterology. You looked at the man next to you and didn’t wonder whether or not he had a pocket with a stash; you wondered if he had brass knuckles.

The Roots were first up on the main stage. I don’t envy the performers during the day. Gathering the motivation to get up and walk to the beer garden was quite nearly insurmountable; mustering the strength to rock would require a fortitude I’m not sure we can fairly expect from mere mortals. The set was passable, my first for the ensemble, but I’m not entirely sure judging any group’s competency live in 110 degree heat is fair.

We hung around the main stage to catch Willie Nelson. Any bill that included Rage Against The Machine anywhere else in the world and it would be easy to draw the conclusion that he might be a fish out of water. Such was the singular event that is the Coachella Arts and Music Festival where 20,000 hard rockers would be slapping their knees and telling all available mamas that they shouldn’t let their babies grow up to be cowboys. Unbeknownst to me, Willie Nelson can actually shred. Capably handling the majority of the guitar solos during the half hour set, Nelson evidenced himself as quite the picker. By the time their cover of Texas Flood was delivered, all in attendance I think were thoroughly floored.

Placebo would be great, if it weren’t for the fact that they attracted Placebo fans. The same could be said for Paul Van Dyk. In a moment of charity that should be counted among any of those that are argued as evidence of Mother Theresa’s sainthood, some raver popped me in the mouth with a glowstick on a string. He walked away with a shirt covered in glowstick juice instead of his own blood. We both felt it was an equitable solution to the disagreement, given the circumstances.

The big surprise find of the weekend was electronica outfit from Manhattan called The Teddy Bears. Outfitted by two drummers in shades and skinny ties with three front men with large teddy bear helmets. As the screen behind them would reveal, these guys are definitely into Teddy Bears. The passable house they played made for reasonable entertainment, but the real treat was the montage of classic films with heads replaced with the image of a teddy bear. Reservoir Dogs, The Shining, Spinal Tap, and even GoodFellas were all included in their teddification.

After this brief exposure, we joined another 40,000 people for Rage Against The Machine. Little would be the same afterwards.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 02
  • May
  • 07
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Coachella

Rage Against The Machine opened with Testify and the exodus began. Simultaneously the 40,000 in attendance began to riot and streams of terrified hippies and children struggled to make it past. Napalm firebombs of mosh pits tore upon sections of the half-acre crowd at random, catching many of the hapless Birkenstock crowd completely unawares. A sea of humanity steamed like it was less a group of individuals, but one large, terribly angry thing respirating wildly under the strain of unmatched exertion. They struggled in small groups; peaceful refugees suddenly in a sea of anger. Some were bleeding, most were bruised, but they all left clearly broken. Enormous men with shaved heads had finally their druthers. The crowd raged, and by the third song People of the Sun, the sprawling throng had concentrated having purged fully a third of the crowd through fear alone.

Having a fair amount of experience in this, most mosh pits are like a 15 year old boy with his first girlfriend. A few frenetic fits of violent shaking in the tight confines of a parent’s sedan and the the load is spent, followed by an hour of awkward half-attempts at recapturing the virile fury of the evening’s opening moments. Mosh pits are very quick to lose their zeal. By the fourth or fifth song, you’ve likely seen the worst of what was to come. Such an exception was Rage. By the time we were rolling down Rodeo with a shotgun with the sixth song of the night, though people were fainting around us the pits only got larger and more violent.

It was around this time in the middle of the mayhem that I noticed that Zack de la Rocha wasn’t saying anything. He began the night with a terse greeting, “Good evening, we’re Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles, California.” Not a word until the final tune of the regular set where they busted out an instrumental break with “Wake Up” did even a little conversation pepper the set. No mention of where the eff they’ve been for the past 7 years. No new songs or talk about a new record. Fully zero of anything at all except a token tirade against Bush Administration, which, until now they have all conveniently missed. In interviews leading up to the event, Tom Morello mentioned the reunion shows were in response to the “right wing purgatory” into which the country has descended. I wondered in the middle of that chaos if the descent might have been slowed by the grapes of wrath these four gents were so adept at feeding us.

The break before encore gave the Coachella staff an opportunity to (literally) hose everyone down before a most pit the size of a football field opened up as they opened the encore with Freedom.

I finally emerged after Killing in the Name to find the comrades I had so quickly lost. I had a frozen lemonade on my chin to curb the swelling from an errant kick in the face. Drenched through and stinking of the worst kind, I felt I had raged indeed. And during the long surprisingly peaceful dissemination of the crowd through the festival’s labyrinthian gut, I wondered if we would yet again. And if that is what our country needs most right now.