From top: Lady Sovereign, My Morning Jacket, Sigur Ros, Daft Punk. Photos (c) Jeff Miller.
Coachella Music Festival 2006, Day One
April 29 at Empire Polo Field, Indio, CA
Each year, my favorite moment at the Coachella Music festival -- California’s hipster convention, now 60,000 strong in its seventh year -- is always at same. As the sun goes down on the festival’s first day, the desert air turns a glowing red. Dust hits the atmosphere at the same time as nerves, excitement, and the weather cool, and a band -- usually a band that walks the line between rock and atmosphere, a band that knows the true meaning of the word ambient -- provides the soundtrack for the festival’s magic hour, the moment when the new-band discovery of the daytime (this year: Lady Sovereign! Rad! Nine Black Alps! Not so much!) turns into headliner-status groups like Depeche Mode and the kids lose focus on the music, instead finding out that the ability to light spliffs without an interruption from security goes way up as the sun goes down.
This year, it was Sigur Ros who were placed in the 7-7:55 slot, blasting atmospheric Hopleandic cool to an audience that started out lackluster and became more and more wrapped up in the band’s intensity. Though some Bro-types didn’t quite get it (note to the guys breakdancing during one of the band’s violin-string-breaking-wails: we know you don’t like this band. Go watch Carl Cox in the dance tent, dick), dyed-haired couples held each other and slow-danced like depressed prom dates, wispy and wimpy and oh-so cute, all at the same time.
Elsewhere on the field, My Morning Jacket had the unenviable task of being scheduled against last-minute-addition Kanye West; unsurprisingly, the pride of Louisiana throttled the shit out of Kanye, who repeated the "this is the only time white people can say nigger" schtick he’s been throwing out before "Golddigger" all year while Jim James let his hair fly in his eyes during the Clash-on-acid "Off The Record" and its super-extended, beyond-rowdy solo. Daft Punk played their first US show in nearly a decade, clad head-to-toe in robot suits sitting atop a pyramid lifted straight from the dollar bill (if George's backside came with fancy laser lights). Franz Ferdinand proved that poppy dancepunk works way better in front of 60,000 people than it does in front of 6,000, and Chan Marshall didn’t go crazy onstage, which was simultaneously a relief and, frankly, a disappointment.
But mostly what happened at the first day of this year’s Coachella was proof that the festival’s anything-goes aesthetic is still intact, an attribute that will be tested by the addition of Madonna to today’s bill. Will she play “Like A Virgin?” My guess is no. But I’ll be sure to let you know.
-- Jeff Miller