I’m a little late blogging this, but the Coachella 2008 lineup has been announced. However, is it just me or is the lineup weaker this year? Or maybe I’m just getting old and don’t know who the cool bands are anymore. (There are certainly a lot of unknown-to-me names on the list.) I may skip it this year and just catch Stars on whatever tour date is closest to wherever I happen to be in April. (I’ve been on a major Stars kick lately—partly their new album from last year and partly a new appreciation of Heart, on which several songs are more relevant than they used to be. They put on an amazing show the one time I saw them live, which was two years ago.)
Last year, when all the high-profile Coachella reunions were announced, I declared at the lunch table that My Bloody Valentine should reunite for Coachella 2008. Then they did reunite last year, and they were rumored to be playing Coachella, but they’re not on the list so it looks like I don’t get my wish.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a video so here’s “Elevator Love Letter” by Stars, from Heart. (Set Yourself on Fire remains their best album, however.)
I haven’t reviewed any of these yet, but for context I want to list my top five albums of 2007 so far:
1. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
2. !!!, Myth Takes
3. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
4. Blonde Redhead, 23
5. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Living with the Living
Four of these bands played at Coachella this year; three of them were on Saturday. Throw in the New Pornographers and the Decemberists and this was easily my favorite day of the festival, even if I had to skip !!!’s set. Sets I saw Saturday: Hot Chip, the New Pornographers, the Decemberists, the Arcade Fire, Blonde Redhead
Details below the fold:
Didn’t get much sleep Thursday night, partly because I arrived late at the campsite, but mostly because other, very loud people continued to arrive even later at the campsite. This was not a problem the next three nights; as everyone was exhausted from the day’s events, the nights were very quiet. By about 9 am it became too hot to sleep, and I felt like I was baking in my tent. I spent the brutally hot morning hiding in the shade reading Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and sometime after noon ventured into the festival. Sets I saw Friday: Noisettes, Tokyo Police Club, Of Montreal, Arctic Monkeys, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Jarvis Cocker, Sonic Youth.
Details below the fold:
(Posted first so it’s up while I work on the detailed report.)
(And here’s last year’s.)
Obviously, this only applies to the artists that I saw; I’m sure I missed a lot of good stuff. Instruments category: Best vocals: Win Butler (Arcade Fire) Best guitar (electric division): Mike Stroud (Ratatat) Best guitar (acoustic division): Rodrigo Sanchez (Rodrigo y Gabriela) Best bass: This has to be Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), right? Best synth: Hot Chip Best violin section: The Arcade Fire Best brass section: Lily Allen Flair category: Best audience participation: The Decemberists Best band name: Travis No, seriously: !!! (“chk chk chk”) Best costumes (general): Of Montreal Best costumes (cetacean division): The Decemberists Most endearing display of modesty: Thurston Moore introducing the band and the lead song as if no one had ever heard of Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation, or “Teen Age Riot”. Most endearing display of immodesty: Carl Newman (The New Pornographers): “Bow before our new album cover!” Best celebrity cameo: Scarlett Johansson with the Jesus and Mary Chain on “Just Like Honey” Organization category: Best stage: Outdoor Theater Best day’s lineup: Saturday Most agonizing schedule conflict: !!! vs. The Decemberists Song category: Best cover: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” played by Rodrigo y Gabriela Bands playing songs that appear in Guitar Hero:
Satellite Party covering “Stop”
The Willie Nelson Family Band covering “Texas Flood”
Rage against the Machine playing “Killing in the Name Of”
(Did RHCP play “Higher Ground”?) Best performance of a single song: The Decemberists, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” Band category: Best band I’d never even heard of: The Feeling Best band I’d heard of but never really looked into before: Hot Chip Best band at the festival: Arcade Fire Best overall performance: Of Montreal
Saw the major Coachella news last night, but today the full lineup has been posted. Not only is Rage Against the Machine reuniting for the festival, so is Jesus and Mary Chain.
If I go for just one day it’ll probably be Saturday, which has several of my favorite bands. If two days, Friday and Saturday.
Live: The Hold Steady with Sean Na Na and Black Fur at the Great American Music Hall: I arrived about ten minutes before the nominal start time of 8 pm and found about ten other people there. This did not give me confidence in the opening band; I was unaware that Black Fur were even on the bill and was expecting Sean Na Na to be the first act. In any case, the lack of people on the floor when I arrived allowed me to get very close to the stage. Black Fur did come across as unprofessional, with problems such as forgetting to plug in the guitarist’s pedals and some indeterminate flakiness in the bassist’s amp, and their drummer was a jackass who at one point spat beer into the audience. But despite this I actually enjoyed their set (once they got their equipment working). Certainly they sucked far less than the opening act at last year’s Hold Steady show. They were followed by Sean Na Na, who didn’t make much of an impression on me and I can’t really even remember what they sounded like.
The Hold Steady then came on and proceeded to play an outstanding set. Maybe it’s just that I was closer to the stage this time, but it felt like they had a stronger stage presence than last year and there was more interplay with the audience. All the songs sounded terrific, although during the first few Craig Finn was almost inaudible until they turned up his mike. Highlights: Of the new songs, I probably enjoyed “Massive Nights” the most—it was in the middle of the set when they were well warmed up and they gave it a great treatment. At the beginning of “Don’t Let Me Explode”, Finn told the story of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara, who is apparently the patron saint of Not Letting Things Explode (really), hence the line in the song: Saint Barbara I’m calling your name. As the second to last song they played a blistering rendition of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”, during which a string broke on the bass, and the rest of the band improvised while the bassist replaced it, after which they picked up where they had left off.
This was all eclipsed by the encore, where “Hornets! Hornets!” was followed by “Most People Are DJs” during which the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. The song then transitioned smoothly into “Killer Parties”, the lead guitarist pulled someone out of the front row and put him on guitar, and then the band members started pulling people on stage as fast as they could. And did I mention I was up in front? As the show ended I was up on the stage with the Hold Steady and a crowd of other audience members, all dancing and singing along to the last lines of the song: I remember we departed from our bodies. We woke up in Ybor City…
It seems to me that any concert that ends this way should get a perfect score. Rating: 5/5
Hold Steady setlist below the fold (I was close enough that I could read it off Craig Finn’s copy):
Hmm, maybe I should have bought tickets to see one of Yo La Tengo’s shows this week as well, they’ve got three consecutive nights at the Fillmore. But that would give me no time to devote to Valkyrie Profile. Tonight I’ll see the Hold Steady, almost exactly a year after the last time I saw them. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain: This album has been widely hailed as a breakthrough record for TV on the Radio, a substantial leap over their previous work. Basically, I agree with all of that, so I can outsource my review to the various glowing pieces that have appeared in music publications. The opening track, “I Was A Lover” is a bit weak, but is followed by “Hours” which is the first of a number of awesome songs. My other favorites are “A Method”, “Dirtywhirl”, and especially “Wolf Like Me” on which David Bowie makes an appearance (listen here). One of the best CDs of the year. Their live show is also spectacular; they were my favorite act from Coachella this year. Rating: 4.5/5 Live: Ladytron with CSS at the Fillmore: CSS is a band I’d heard of but not actually heard before last night. They are from Brazil and are nearly an all-girl group, with a 1:5 male/female ratio. The music was competent dance rock with a synth and usually three guitars (sometimes two guitars and two basses). Their singer was very bouncy and jumped into the crowd several times, quite the opposite of Ladytron’s reserved demeanor. What I could make out of the lyrics sounded pretty amusing, as if Art Brut songs were rendered in broken English.
Ladytron started out with “High Rise”, a perfect opening song but performed somewhat anemically. They didn’t sound warmed up until they played “Evil” a couple songs later, but from there they were able to keep the energy level pretty high. When I saw them at Coachella the band members maintained an air of aloofness, but here they were a bit more relaxed and interactive, Helen Marnie even dancing around the stage during her singing parts. The bands I’ve seen at the Fillmore are always overwhelmed by the history and prestige of the venue, and Ladytron were clearly not immune to this.
The setlist was fairly straightforward, most of Witching Hour plus older singles. The only thing really out of left field was a cover of “Send Me A Postcard” by Shocking Blue, a perky song that one wouldn’t ordinarily associate with Ladytron, but they did include the original on their compilation CD Softcore Jukebox. “Soft Power” was a highlight: the band had a collection of lights on stage which might have been primarily intended for this song, red arc lights and warm yellow bulbs suggestive of candlelight. The combination of the eerie lighting and the strength of the musical performance really brought out the witching hour aspect of the song, making it feel like an incantation drawing out magical energies. “Beauty*2″ came close to this effect as well. They saved “Destroy Everything You Touch” for the very end and pulled out all the stops for a spectacular ending to a strong show. Rating: 4/5
Ladytron setlist below the fold:
In which I review something from almost every media category (but I should read more books) and give them all the same rating. Maybe I should go to increments of 0.1 instead of 0.5, so I can make finer distinctions: I would rate Asobi Seksu’s Citrus (reviewed last week) slightly higher than The Knife’s Silent Shout (in this post) for example. The Descent: A heartwarming British film in which six women forge strong bonds of friendship during a spelunking expedition. At least, that’s what it looks like until monsters show up and start eating them. Hell yes. I mean, we’ve all been stuck in boring dramas where we wish it would turn into a monster movie and kill off the most annoying characters, and this movie actually does it. Except that it’s not boring at all; one thing this film excels at is ratcheting up the tension well before the monsters show up, with a series of plausible but legitimately scary or shocking events leading up to the gory climax. The cave where most of the movie takes place is itself a source of much of this tension, filmed in a way that conveys the claustrophobia and disorientation of the spelunkers. The descent referred to in the title isn’t just the literal descent into the cave but also the descent into madness of one of the characters, and this is paralleled in the increasing chaos and confusion as the caving party disintegrates. Overall, a very well-done horror movie. Rating: 4/5 Arrested Development – Season One: I kept hearing that this show was excellent, but didn’t really know much about it. Josh was happy to educate me, and we fairly rapidly went through the first season’s worth of episodes. The show is best watched in bursts of several 22-minute episodes at a time; it is very self-referential and excels at recurring jokes. Arrested Development centers around the Bluth family, most of whom have freeloaded off the wealthy patriarch George Sr., until (in the first episode) he is arrested for massive fraud. Most of the episodes have Michael Bluth, as the voice of responsibility and moderation, trying to rein in his flakier relatives. It’s the quality of the writing that makes the show stand out; the dialogue is very funny on several levels, and a narrative voiceover (by Ron Howard) is used to create an ironic interplay between an omniscient observer and the very self-unaware characters. Rating: 4/5 Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: The portable Castlevania games have been improving incrementally since Circle of the Moon on the GBA, and Dawn of Sorrow is the latest iteration, a refinement of (and direct sequel to) Aria of Sorrow. As with its predecessors it is a side-scrolling dungeon crawl, and preserves Aria’s mechanic of earning new abilities from defeated monsters. There are a few token uses of the DS’s touch screen (admittedly, finishing off boss monsters by drawing a magic seal is especially satisfying) but otherwise the gameplay will be familiar to veterans of the series. This installment does an especially good job with an interesting dungeon layout, smooth control, and challenging but not frustrating difficulty. The free-fall boss battle is particularly inspired. Rating: 4/5 The Knife: Silent Shout: The Knife, mentioned in yesterday’s post, has a new album out this year. Different in mood from “Heartbeats”, it’s a dark and ghostly record, perhaps another candidate for a Call of Cthulhu game soundtrack. Indeed, Josh and I listened to this in the car before and after seeing The Descent, and it was creepily appropriate to a claustrophobic horror movie. This one strikes a stronger emotional resonance than the similar atmosphere of Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead, and is also more danceable. Listen to “Like A Pen” and “Silent Shout” at their MySpace page; in further recent-post-synergy, the latter track appears to be a free download for Facebook members this week. Rating: 4/5 Live: Zero 7 with Jose Gonzalez at the Fillmore: Sure, I panned their latest album, but their earlier work is really good and I love going to the Fillmore. (I am ignoring Jessica’s suggestion that I post an entry titled “I Went to Zero 7 with Three Hot Girls”, but this might also have had something to do with it.) Jose Gonzalez’s opening set was a mellow and competent performance on acoustic guitar; afterwards he did vocals for Zero 7 along with Sia Furler. (The band proper is just two British guys on synths, but here they had a backing band and the two vocalists. The lack of their other singers meant certain songs couldn’t be played; “In the Waiting Line”, which appeared on the Garden State soundtrack, was particularly missed.) Naturally much of the set was devoted to songs from The Garden, but there was a good fraction of older stuff as well so I can’t complain too much. Sia seemed pretty drunk (or otherwise chemically enhanced) and her vocals were much more slurred than in the recordings, which detracted a bit. Fortunately they played a number of instrumental pieces, which tend to be my favorites out of Zero 7’s catalog. It would have been nice to hear “Speed Dial No. 2″, though. Rating: 3.5/5