Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dirty music, part 1

Why is a Tegan and Sara fan in this mosh pit?

For about two minutes, that was all I could think about. Nevermind that I, a more-than-infrequent listener of Tegan and Sara, was in the mosh pit as well. I couldn't wrap my mind around the presence of this demure-looking 20-something woman directly ahead of me, wearing her Tegan and Sara t-shirt and jumping around to Gogol Bordello with the rest of us. But she was excited. Lord, was she excited. Less so than the woman riding around on her boyfriend's (one assumes) shoulders, flashing the audience. Less so than the man in a superman cape and a translucent faceplate. But still, excited.

I'm an easily distractable person: the more things I have going on in my life at once, the better. If I'm focused on one thing, it's only a temporary condition until I decide to switch back to one of the five other tasks I have running in the background. It's overwhelming, sometimes.

So Coachella should be the perfect event for me. Camping out in a tent with your friends, you're woken up at 8 in the morning when the heat in your tent becomes unbearable. From then on, you have a day of pure, unstopping activity. Wander in to the stage area, and instantly you're presented with a plethora of things to do. Five stages, simultaneously showcasing music by five different bands. Myriad huge art displays, including a crazy multi-story tall bamboo sculpture and a pair of huge Tesla coils. Live DJs in a center stage, playing house music to accompany strange, choreographed modern dance pieces involving actors in nautically-themed circus makeup. Beer to drink. Food to eat. Thousands and thousands of people to watch.

"OK, so I'm going to spend a half-hour watching Devotchka, and then I'm going to walk over to see the last half of MGMT before checking out Stephen Malkmus, and then on to Death Cab For Cutie. Somewhere in there I need to get some food, too, and I think I might check out the Do Lab for a bit. If we time it right, I think we can get close to the stage for Portishead and then rush over to catch the last couple minutes of Flogging Molly before Prince starts up."

It was too much, even for me. By the end I gave up trying to plan, and just resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to be able to see all the bands I wanted to, and that was OK. If I just insisted on a few bands I really needed to see and just let the rest flow naturally, everything would work out alright. And it did.

I got to see Devotchka play, accompanied by an impressive pair of curtain acrobats (see: earlier post about clubbing experience. I can't think of a better description of them). The Breeders performed the only song of theirs that I (and, to all appearances, everyone else in the audience) knew. The Raconteurs, as uninteresting as their debut CD is, are enormously entertaining live.

And, much as I can't stand his blandness most of the time, it was weirdly relaxing being sung to sleep by Jack Johnson.

And Prince. Oh, my god, Prince. Before I saw his concert, I was woefully uneducated: I can't name a single Prince piece I'd heard other than Purple Rain. And, I suppose, the soundtrack to Batman -- but that doesn't count. So walking towards the elaborately constructed stage, preparing to be educated, I had no idea what to expect.

He introduced himself by saying "Congratulations, everbody. For the next two hours, you are going to be at the coolest place in the world." And he was right. I was overwhelmed. The man is a hell of an entertainer. I don't even know what he played -- I was so awash in spectacle and performance that I just couldn't keep track. Until very near the end, when a very familiar refrain hit my ear. I can recognize Radiohead anywhere. I don't think I've ever heard quite so unusual a cover of Creep before (hell, I don't think I've ever heard it covered at all), but there he was, up on stage, playing his own weirdly modified version. It was entrancing.

But even that couldn't compare to watching Portishead. Portishead is otherworldly in recorded form but live, they were almost more than I could take. I stood there for an hour, watching the stage, doing my utmost to keep my mind about me as I tried to take everything in, and just barely holding on. It was an incredible experience. I can barely even remember anything about the concert now, apart from the sheer, visceral sense of awe it inspired in me.

And so much for part one. Next post: a confusing incident involving a giant pig and shattered dreams.

Also maybe pictures, if L gets her photos developed and scanned. (who still uses film these days? Honestly!)


  1. Oddly enough, the China Daily covered Roger Waters' missing pig story. It was a bunch of briefs about, well, China, and then there was a thing about the missing inflatable pig. They must have a Floyd fan on the English language staff.

    Prince isn't a human being. He's some kinds of avatar of charisma. I don't even like Prince, yet I still like him. That's damn impressive.

    I have a hard time imagining a live Portishead show. I'm just getting this image of dancing mannequins jerked about on strings, moving in motion to fuzz audio tapes while a sunless half-light pervades a grey nightscape punctuated by the twitches of unnatural movement.

    Was it something like that?

  2. The Portishead concert may have been like that, I'm really not sure. All I remember was that there was a lot of gray, everywhere. I think they secreted a chemical that messed with my photo-receptors -- it's the only way I could explain it.

    I didn't actually realize the disappearing pig wasn't part of the act. I just figured they must have a helicopter or plane or something that was supposed to track the big and figure out where it landed. All Roger Waters said when it floated away was "Where's my pig?"

    Apparently you get $10,000 and free Coachella tickets for life if you find the pig. Pretty sweet deal.

  3. Hey, that sounds like a lot of fun! btw, I still use film, honestly. : P