Why the hell would 30,000 kids who barely see the sun want to spend a weekend out in the middle of the desert? On any other day you could ask a person that and they could not come up with a logical conclusion, but every year in the Indio desert, it happens.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has been happening for over three years now and is showing no signs of going anywhere; always boasting a lineup of the coolest independent and not so independent artists from hip hop, DJs, and of course all the hippest indie rock bands of the moment. Most of the time, actually, ninety percent of the time, the event is just another schmooze fest, but nonetheless, my small group of friends decided to make our way out to the desert for the 2004 edition.
This being my first year at Coachella, I was not fully prepared for the heat, crowds and lack of hotel rooms. Fortunately, everything ran smoothly and I had one hell of a weekend. Rather than pick apart every single thing about Coachella that I loved and/or hated, we can do this in list form:
- MASSIVE amounts of people, which I normally would hate but it was pretty neat watching this many people support artistic freedom and creativity.
- Cheap water!
- The amount of bands that I wanted to see was staggering and in my opinion the best lineup they have seen.
- Ample parking.
- Alright food.
- The obvious one, heat.
- WAY too many people wearing sweatshirts or silly costumes, some sets conflicted with each other.
- The side tents were hotter than outside.
- They ran OUT of veggie burgers.
Now, on to the bands in the order in which I saw them (sorry if I missed some of the bands you, the reader wanted to see, I tried):
The Sounds – We arrived during the last few songs of their set and I was wowed at the size of the main stage. They looked like ants from far back but that was to be expected. This European dance meets Blondie group had no luck igniting a dance party, but they did look like they were putting their all into it; a good way to start things off.
Sahara Hotnights – These girls know how to play while demanding your attention. Why people have not embraced the Swedish rock like The Hellacopters, Backyard Babies and these young ladies is beyond me but they had this boy’s attention. Unfortunately the tent was hotter than the surface of the sun so we left before they wrapped things up.
The Evens – I was contemplating on how it came about that Ian MacKaye’s new band got on. Did he just call Goldenvoice (the company booking and promoting this festival) and say, “Hey, this is Ian MacKaye and I want to play with my new band.” Who can say no to that? The Evens is his project while Fugazi is on hiatus this year and while it is much mellower, you can’t help but compare them to a lo-fi Fugazi. They were met with a large crowd and an enthusiastic response after every song.
The Stills – Yes, these guys are played in every Urban Outfitters across America and even my mom would like them; but they still execute their music flawlessly. Even playing in the middle of the heat soaked afternoon they ran through most of their Logic Will Break Your Heart which is quite an impressive record but an even more engrossing live experience. One of my favorite performances of the whole weekend.
Hieroglyphics – We ran over to catch a few songs from this very talented hip-hop group. Unfortunately they did nothing for me as looking at them on the huge main stage; I felt no connection at all. I am sure in a small club they would be electrifying but at this particular moment, they were not.
…Trail Of Dead – My biggest disappointment of the whole weekend. Having never seen them live I was expecting an instrument smashing good time but they just all looked tired and worn out. Mostly playing new material off of their upcoming record it gave the fans something to look forward to but sitting in the hot sun just made them fade into the back of my memory banks as they played.
Beck – I attempted to see him. That was a bad idea since they decided to throw him in one of the side tents which it seemed like the whole festival tried to fit in so we decided to leave. I heard he was great.
Death Cab For Cutie – Coming from a person that hates this band’s older material, they smoked most of the bands for the whole weekend. They joked with the crowd, played a good selection of songs and above all, looked like they had fun. Their Promise Ring influenced indie-pop was ringing through my head the rest of the day.
Sparta – I think I am in the minority but I know a few people share my opinion so I will go ahead and say it. I like Sparta better than Mars Volta. Yep, I know Sparta is simplistic but I can’t wrap my head around what the other half of At The Drive-In is doing. To me this band should be larger than life having their songs played on the radio rather than most of this garbage right now. They played a solid set that had some new songs from their latest full-length Porcelain.
Pixies – Rather than writing a longwinded description of what was played and how each person looked, I will spare you the details and say this. The Pixies are a legendary band for a reason. They created music that inspired, influenced and transcended different generations of music. Hearing some of these songs in the live environment was impressive but overall, Frank Black (pictured) looked disinterested and was just going through the motions. It did not floor me but I would definitely say that I am glad I saw it.
Eyedea & Abilities – Yes, I know most of you are asking, “What about Radiohead?” Plain and simple, I have seen them twice before and they put on the SAME EXACT SHOW EVERYTIME. Yes obviously it is one of the better rock shows I have seen but if you have seen them once, you don’t need to come back again and again. Plus they are becoming the counterpart of Dave Matthews Band in your stereotypical college student’s collection which is not a bad thing, just ironic. Regardless I was more excited about this underground hip-hop DJ and crew. Playing in front of 200 people, they put on one of the most electrifying examples of punk rock ethos I have seen. Understanding everyone was watching Radiohead, he plowed through a set full of jumps, call outs and some impressive DJ work. I think this was the highlight of my weekend.
!!! – After getting beat up in the sun the day prior we made a late appearance but just in enough time we were able to catch the funk jams of Touch And Go’s new party machine Chik Chik Chik (!!!). Even in the heat they had some people dancing their hearts out and they even played what I like to call ‘The Best Song Ever’ off of their first release on GSL. If you were watching them and not smiling, you are dumb.
Broken Social Scene – I had high expectations for this Canadian group of three guitarists and rotating musicians but unfortunately they were very dull and boring. They just seemed to go through the motions. On record this band is incredible but for the time being you should pass on their live experience.
Muse – Hands down, this is one of the best bands around right now, regardless of musical preference. The UK three-piece got up and owned every single piece of that stage and worked the crowd like nothing I have seen for a long time. Also, they were the heaviest three-piece I have ever seen. The singer went back and forth between his guitar and piano making sure that the songs sounded as flawless as the do on record. Probably the best of the weekend.
Atmosphere – I will go on record saying that hip-hop will be the new trend in these next few years. Many people were anticipating Slug’s performance all weekend and even with the technical difficulties of his DJ’s records melting, he managed to work the crowd and have a few good things to say as well. While not being as inspiring as Eyedea & Abilities, he came a close second.
Thursday – We caught a few songs of Thursday on the main stage and even though I think they are one of the better bands out there right now, apparently no one else really did and gave them very little energy to feed off of. Add to the fact that Geoff the singer was extremely ill and even passed out on stage during one of the songs; it was a very difficult performance to watch when I know the band is better than what they showed.
Sage Francis -The poet turned rapper who is on the new wave of hip-hop artists being recognized outside of their normal fan base, he shredded through a few songs of politically motivated rap armed only with a beat box and no crew like many other hip-hop artists employ. While he held my interest, the hot tent that he played in drove me out after a few songs.
Cursive – Never ceasing to impress me, these Omaha veterans showed why they are getting so much mainstream attention and wowed the large crowd at the side stage by playing a healthy mix of songs from their most recent full-length The Ugly Organ and their previous one, Domestica. Tim Kasher and company show that determination will pay off.
Bright Eyes – Always letting his show speak for himself, Conor and his group of touring musicians (a who’s who of Omaha, and featuring the guitarist from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) left no jaw dropped. This was one of the best performances of the weekend as he played most of the songs off his Lifted… record. Simply put, this man will make a difference with the music that he makes.
Mogwai – Do I really need to tell you how amazing they were? How loud five men from Europe can be? Well, if I do then you need to experience the show that Mogwai puts on. They will place you in a trance that many can not shake even after the show is over. One of the best times I have seen them play.
The Cure – Sorry Mr. Smith, you are old, your voice is great but I think we should leave those songs alone. It was insane how many people we watching them but my interest was lost long before they hit the stage. I always have a hard time getting into the 400th version of a band and this is no exception. I would rather listen to their records.All in all this was quite an experience and to those ever thinking about taking something like this on, I urge you to as you might have as much fun as I did. The key word being might.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.