Hi, I’m Steve Sutherland and I’ve gatecrashed John’s Blog because I’m out in California covering the Coachella Music & Arts Festival for Uncut.Coachella is just over two hours’ drive inland from LA and the Festival, now in its eighth year, has become a favourite with Brit music fans for four good reasons.
1. Its location on the lush green fields of the Empire Polo Fields (one of Prince Charlie’s favourites to gallop around, apparently) in the shadow of the mountains is the best place to hold a Festival on earth.
2. It never, ever rains. Today, for example, the temperature was 102.
3. Coachella is an indie rather than “rock” festival, and favours Brit acts.
4. It’s the daddy festival for “Nowstalgia”, ace promoter Paul Tollett famously getting the Iggy & The Stooges, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Jane’s Addiction, Bauhaus, Gang Of Four and, most spectacularly of all, The Pixies, to reunite for previous occasions.
Today’s magic turn is the return, after eight years, of The Jesus And Mary Chain. OK, so no-one was actually on their knees begging for the Chain to come back from oblivion, but you know what? They were mostly awesome.
Playing on the main Stage just as dusk was falling, they’d hammered through (w)hol(l)y brutal versions of the dark, divine trinity of ‘Never Understand’, ‘Head On’ and ‘Far Gone & Out’ before anyone could catch their breath. They then eased into a cool ‘Sidewalking’ and, yeah, it was like they’d never been away. You didn’t even have to close your eyes to get the full whack, like you did when the creaky old Stooges played here a few years back. A cadaverous Jim still stalks the stage with the intensity of a dead-eyed assassin and William… well, OK, he looks a bit like Robert Smith in with a stocking pulled over his face but he still butchers that guitar.
Jesus and Mary Chain
About halfway through Jim asked: “Are you having fun?” The surprisingly massive crowd roared the traditional festival affirmative. “Well,” sneered Jim, “Let’s see what we can do about that.” It would have been the day’s best black comedy moment, but they topped it when paisley mini-skirted Hollywood screen goddess Scarlett Johansson, hidden under a trendy trilby, joined them for ‘Some Candy Talking’. What the fuck? Apparently William just called up her agent and she said yes. Simple as that. William’s now threatening to call up a new girl in every town on the rapidly expanding tour they’re planning. Last night, at a warm-up at the Glass House in Pomona, it was Annie Hardy of Giant Drag. They bowed out with a truly caustic ‘Reverence’. Really good to have them back. Oh, and Uncut’s picture researcher Phil King was on bass.
Other Uncut favourites doing turns during the day were Bjork, who was accompanied for her headline set mostly plucked from her new album, ‘Volta’, by a big brass band and all-female choir, Interpol who took us into the night with their Joy Division thing, and shamanic homeboy hero Perry Farrell and his new band full of girls who look like supermodels, Satellite Party. They played to a smallish crowd on the main stage during the blistering heat in the late afternoon and didn’t really get too much going except an unsurprisingly well received version of Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Stop Don’t Go’.
Arctic Monkeys also played the main stage and pulled a big-ish crowd of committed Brits and curious locals. The set was mostly the new stuff off ‘My Favourite Nightmare’ which confused the hell out the people around me who just didn’t know quite what to make of them. During the furious thrashy bits, several longhairs, tanned like gods, tried to head bang, only to be pulled up short when the verses kicked back in. Others resorted to air drumming. Weird.
Don’t get me wrong, they went down OK but Alex Turner’s passive-aggressive stance of wry, detatched amusement, as if he’s viewing somebody else’s gig rather than participating in his own, made it hard for Arctic virgins to get involved.
They did ‘Scummy Man’, ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ off the first album, and ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and some more off the newie, Alex pissing himself when a girl he’d pointed out who’d hauled herself onto her boyfriend’s shoulders flashed her tits at the stage.
The new stuff is great and all but, honestly, the tender sarcasm of the lyrics got a bit lost in translation, Alex stuck behind his guitar unable – reluctant maybe – to bring a theatrical life to the songs the way an un-encumbered Morrissey, Ian Brown or even Liam Gallagher can.
“Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen,” Alex signed off like a Bingo caller addressing a hall full of pensioners. “It’s been a pleasure. Really, it has. We’ve enjoyed ourselves. Enjoy the rest of the evening. Be careful. Wrap up.”
The real drama was happening over in a packed to bursting Gobi Tent where that magnificent creation Amy Winehouse was greeted like a conquering queen and was proceeding mightily to re-import some soul back where it originally came from until one of many beakers of vodka kicked in and things started to get a bit screwy. Claiming nerves, she fluffed her intros, bemused the crowd by threatening to steal their bags when it got dark, rambled on between numbers, forgot what she was doing and saying a whole lot of the time, andc was only transported to a good place, it seemed, when the songs took her over. My, ‘Valerie’ was awesome but there’s something very wrong going on with Amy and someone had best take Alex Turner’s advice and take good care of her.
Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you about The Good The Bad And The Queen, Arcade Fire, Kings Of Leon, LCD Soundsystem and Roky Erikson (really!) among others.
One down, two to go. Where’s the Factor 50?