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:
[Links go to band websites.]
I had arrived a little early so I walked around a bit and checked out the art installations. (Some pictures of these will be posted.) Some of the interactive ones weren’t up and running yet, and many of these (involving light, fire, or electricity) would only come on at night. Eventually I joined the group of people using the Mojave tent simply for shade, as the music hadn’t started yet. I did want to see the first act at that stage:
Noisettes: Not that I knew the slightest thing about them, but they opened for TV on the Radio last month at the Fillmore, and I wanted to make up for missing them then (we were late and arrived during intermission). Both music and musicians were very energetic, with frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa jumping frantically around the stage despite the heat. At one point she was playing guitar with one leg hooked over the neck, and I thought “she’s using Star Power!” But despite the Star Power I didn’t really get into it, and the music seemed like standard garage rock. Afterwards I stayed put for the next band in the Mojave tent, another one I didn’t really know, but had heard some buzz about:
Tokyo Police Club: I liked the name, and the rave reviews I’d seen of their records made it sound like something to investigate. I liked them better than the Noisettes, and remember really liking one song, but for the most part it sounded like… more standard garage rock. Plus the tent was feeling stifling as people crammed in. After the set I headed over to the beer garden, already feeling tired and not really looking forward to standing out in the sun for Of Montreal. While at the beer garden I overheard Satellite Party playing “Stop” on the main stage; I didn’t know at the time, but their frontman is Perry Farrell, who played in Jane’s Addiction.
Of Montreal: This band has been around a while but I only became acquainted with them through their recent album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. It’s a weird but great synth-pop album that I would have recommended had I been posting any music reviews in the last four months. (Hmm, maybe I should do a roundup.) I turned up at the Outdoor Theater not really knowing what to expect from a live performance, but at least knowing I liked the music.
The word for the band’s visual style, and frontman Kevin Barnes in particular, is “flamboyant”. They came out to some dramatic orchestral music wearing flashy, shiny costumes, with Barnes in an all-white ruffled outfit and bright splashes of colorful makeup on his face. They leapt into Hissing Fauna opener “Suffer for Fashion” with gusto, as Barnes strutted around and generally owned the stage. Individually all the different elements might have seemed off-puttingly strange, but together they melded together in a way that made it all make sense—the flashy costumes, the weird, catchy music, and the passionate delivery. My enthusiasm, waning during the previous two shows, suddenly returned: this is what I came for.
The show just got better. “Suffer for Fashion” moved seamlessly into “Sink the Seine” as it does on the record, and in fact there was never a break between songs—each one was bridged into the next, even when Barnes went offstage to change costumes. All but one of the songs were from the newest album, and I found myself enjoying even the ones I didn’t like in their recorded versions. When a performance is this good I feel like I gain deeper insight into the songs, and when I listen to them again I feel like I’m hearing them at a different level. This is becoming my criterion for a great performance, and is why this set was my favorite of the festival.
When Of Montreal left the stage I made my way past the crowd of frat boys rushing in to see Stephen Marley, and to the main stage for England’s hot band of the moment,
Arctic Monkeys: They had a new CD out just last week, which I listened to in the car on the way down. It’s solid, much like their last album. They played songs from both records in their set, which was competent and enjoyable but unremarkable. I was more interested in the next show on the main stage, one of several bands that had reunited to play the festival:
Jesus and Mary Chain: I’m a big fan of shoegaze and noise pop, so I wasn’t about to miss the reunion of this influential band. But I was a little disappointed: they weren’t shoegazy enough! Where was all the noise and distortion and feedback that appears on their records? Still, it was a good set, with a few highlights. The festival grounds are ringed with spotlights aimed at the sky that converge on a central point (here’s my photo of it from last year). JAMC played at twilight, and right as they were playing “Head On” I looked over and saw that the lights had started to become visible, spearing up into the air. Somehow it fit the song perfectly and was one of my favorite moments of the festival. Later, there was the much-remarked on performance of “Just Like Honey”, for which they invited none other than Scarlett Johansson on stage to do the female vocals. I didn’t know at the time (because I haven’t seen the movie) but this song is on the soundtrack of Lost in Translation, which makes it somewhat less random than I first thought.
Interpol were next at the main stage, but I’m not much of a fan. (Plus I saw them on Valentine’s Day two years ago at the Warfield, because Blonde Redhead was opening. Blonde Redhead themselves played a set at Coachella, which I’ll discuss in the next post.) Instead I went back to the Outdoor Theater, for
Jarvis Cocker: Jarvis was the frontman of Britpop band Pulp, which I love. I haven’t been as impressed by his solo work, but he’s an entertaining personality so I wanted to see his set just for that. He did a lot of talking between songs and it was fun to watch, although he didn’t do anything outrageous. I (and I’m pretty sure several others) wanted to hear some Pulp songs, but I didn’t really expect him to play any, and indeed he did not.
During this set I found myself near a ground of devoted Jarvis fans from Britain, and I stood out in my Mind The Gap shirt (an unmistakable mark of someone who visited Britain as a tourist). A spacey British woman separate from that group perhaps mistook the meaning of my shirt, and asked:
Brit: Is he from London?
Me: He’s from Sheffield. [I happened to know this since a friend of mine studied in Sheffield.]
Jarvis fans, cheering: Sheffield!
Brit: Oh, have you been there?
Brit: I have!
Jarvis, to crowd: Did you see the Arctic Monkeys? They’re from Sheffield, there’s something special going on there.
Jarvis fans, cheering: Sheffield!
Yeah, well, Def Leppard is also from Sheffield. (Here’s Wikipedia’s list of Music from Sheffield.)
Sonic Youth: Why not see two legendary noise rock bands in one day? Sonic Youth came on after Jarvis at the Outdoor Theater. Thurston Moore introduced the band with “we’re called the Sonic Youth”, speaking sincerely as if no one there would have heard of them. Then, trouble: they couldn’t find Kim Gordon! After a few minutes she showed up; apparently she had trouble convincing security to let her on the stage. So maybe at least some people there hadn’t heard of them.
They opened with a song from Daydream Nation; I thought Moore said it was “Teen Age Riot” but Pitchfork reports it was “Candle”, which makes more sense since it didn’t sound like “Teen Age Riot”. After that it was mostly songs from last year’s Rather Ripped, with a few old ones thrown in. By this point I was seriously feeling my exhaustion, and watched the set in a daze, but I’d never seen Sonic Youth and I’m glad I took the opportunity.
Björk had already started her set by the time Sonic Youth finished. I went over to the main stage with the intent of watching it, but found I could barely stand or keep my eyes open, much less figure out what on earth Björk was doing. I gave in and headed back to my tent, where I found I could feel the pounding bass through the ground. I’m a light sleeper and it takes me a long time to fall asleep in the best of conditions, so I figured I’d be lying awake for a while. Instead I was asleep within seconds, and slept deeply until the heat woke me the next morning.