Coachella Music and Arts Festival Road Trip 2002
Idaho Springs to Las Vegas
Friday, 26 April 2002
About a week before we left, I stopped by Auntie M’s to pick up a bag of bricked-up ditch weed, and to get a few pointers on the art of rolling joints. “By the fifth one, you’ll be an expert,” my sage aunt assured me. After many hours of practice I had built a semblance of competence in the ancient art, and had ten marijuana cigarettes of varying length and thickness sitting before me. The trick is grinding the bricky shit down to near nothing, then packing those babies as tight as possible, twisting the ends. The fun stuff was secured, the kitty was packed off safely if not happily to Grandma’s, and all we had to do was select sixty-four of our favorite CDs and pack clothes and supplies for four days on the road to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival.
My trusty companion and I left home the next morning at 8 in our rented white Hyundai Sonata along westbound Interstate 70 to the beautiful and life-affirming Verve classic Urban Hymns, fortified for the balance of the day by a couple of early morning bong hits. Within 20 miles, we learned the car’s windshield washer didn’t work, but trivialities like that would not be allowed to stop us. Just before the clock hit noon, we crossed the Utah border and stopped for gas and lunch in Green River (town motto: “no services next 110 miles”). At the counter of the only Arby’s for hundreds of miles was the gruffest of old ladies with a glass eye who yelled out “Fifty-nine! Sixty!” and then gave a massive scowl when the customer failed to show, stuck in the line in the woman’s restroom. When she called “Sixty-two!” I dutifully stepped up, handed her my receipt with a smile, and spun away with my order, quick to depart. You can’t be too careful not to offend the Arby’s Nazi, upon whom we were wholly dependent for our Beef ‘n’ Cheddars, when you’re hundreds of miles from civilization; every one of the hungry tourists waiting in line with us knew implicitly that people have been left to die in this desert for far less. Exactly 333 miles from home is a breathtaking ridge of sandstone that the highway snakes through on its way across the desert. I-70 makes its way over a pair of mountain ranges bounding the Sevier Valley, then abruptly ends when it meets north-south Interstate 15, as if to say “there’s nothing more that way” and turn us south. We continued through the bustling St George area, and then emerged from Arizona’s awesome Virgin River Gorge onto the desert plain of Nevada, where we claimed our bonus hour from the always-generous Pacific Time Zone. By six o’clock that night we were driving down the notorious Las Vegas Strip. We pulled into the Paris Hotel and Casino, without a place to stay but willing to splurge, and within a half hour we were in our $250 room – the most I’ve ever paid for a night’s stay, but time was of the issue – with one goal in mind: Oasis at the Hard Rock tonight.
Oasis and Cornershop
Friday, 26 April 2002 - The Joint, Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
Besides U2, Oasis is our favorite band, and the fact that they were headlining Coachella was a central reason for this whole adventure. We learned during the planning phases of the trip that Oasis was going to play at a small venue in Vegas the same day we’d be driving through town on the way to Southern California. Alas, the show had sold out long ago, and tickets were going for as much as $370 a pair on eBay. I like Oasis, but paying that much for a show would be unconscionable, what with all the starving kids in Ethiopia. Our only hope of getting in rested precariously on a successful application of the untested (for us anyway) Lang Theory: that fifty bucks cash a half hour before any rock show will, with some probability, gain admittance. Things looked bleak as we bravely set out on foot in the general direction of the Hard Rock, not even entirely sure where it was or how far, deminishing our chances and our hopes. A Mexican guy standing outside his apartment somehow sensed our distress and where we were going and encouraged us along; we perservered. After walking for half an hour, we finally arrived and awkwardly approached a couple of dudes who looked like scalpers. They were, but had sold all their tickets and so had their friends, so with our expectations fading, we sulked around the lobby pathetically for a few minutes. But finally the gods smiled upon us in the form of a couple who were selling two tickets - yes two tickets, at face value mind you, which we lapped up like leppers at a miracle. I lamely asked him if it was legal to do this here, in broad daylight in a crowded casino as I exchanged five twenties with him for the precious tickets. He pointed out the tickets were face value, and I reflected that I had been willing to pay considerably more. It's my fathers dumb luck I tell you. We were both more than a little surprised to be inside the Joint a few minutes later, offering our benefactor a beer.
Cornershop entered the stage one or two at a time, until finally lead singer Tjinder Singh stepped up to an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Apparently, they opened for Oasis on 1996 tour of the States, and so we well known by the people there. Tjinder struck me as one of the least likely front men I could imagine. The Indian seemed demure and even awkward when he put down his guitar and sung with his arms straight at his sides, his hands halfway retracted into the sleeves of his trademark pinstripe jacket. The overall effect was downright disarming and they pleasantly surprised me – they were everything I could hope for in an opening band. Their Indian flavored alt-country sound soon had my mind reflecting on the day’s long drive and the circumstances that found us there. The only song of theirs that I recognized was “Brimful of Asha”, a catchy tune that’s been echoing in my head for the last week.
The thousand-plus people in attendance at the Joint that night constituted the most partisan fans I’ve ever seen at a concert. We met a couple of guys who had driven from Alberta and were also headed for Coachella who were so full of youthful energy and enthusiasm they could rightly be said to be “mad fer it”. There were numerous women offering themselves to one or the other Gallagher brother, and chanting of their names began well before their now traditional entrance tune Fuckin In The Bushes started up. Beneath The Joint’s motto “Humanity Is Instrumental” the Boys took to the stage to immense crowd approval and unceremoniously launched into Go Let It Out. The band took a very long time between sets, indicating that they’re a little rusty, and at one point early on an impatient Liam inquired as to the hold up saying, “We should’ve finished six songs by now.” The sound wasn’t as good as it should’ve been, but it was appropriately loud, and the crowd seemed to love every minute of it, singing enthusiastically to every song, including the new ones. That prompted Noel to dryly criticize the crowd for the obvious theft of the new songs off the internet. But everyone knew that rabid fans like these will be the first to buy the new album when it’s released in July. Besides, Oasis fans expect a certain tongue-in-cheek abuse hurled at them from the stage, something people unfamiliar with the group have a difficult time grasping, as was painfully obvious at their performance at Coachella two days later. But for tonight Oasis shined, playing a satisfying mix of old crowd pleasers and new tunes. The Hindu Times is classic Oasis, a soul-searching ode with a dash of vague drug reference, all tied together in a moving rock ‘n’ roll package.
Here’s the set list for the Joint gig:
Fuckin’ in the Bushes
Go Let It Out
What’s The Story Morning Glory?
Force of Nature
The Hindu Times
Cigarettes & Alcohol / Whole Lotta Love
Hung in a Bad Place
Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Don’t Look Back in Anger
I Am The Walrus
The crowd poured out of the Joint chanting “Oasis! Oasis!” as if to spread their partisan enthusiasm with the gamblers in the Hard Rock’s casino. We made our way around the gambling floor once or twice just because we’d never seen so many cutthroat Beautiful People in one place at one time. There were creepy older men pretending to be 20 years younger with beautiful women on their arms, and lots of twenty- and thirty-somethings who were there to see and be seen, all looking eachother over in that Cesspool of Sleazy Cool. Enthralled but thoroughly disgusted and a little frightened, we caught the first cab back to Paris, and spent the rest of the fine evening there until we finally went to bed around 2:30 in the morning.
Coachella, Day One: Bjork, Chemical Brothers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Queens of the Stone Age, Charlatans UK
Saturday, 27 April 2002 - Indio, CA
About twelve hours later we finally arrived at the Travellodge at the Highway 101 armpit in Palm Springs, California. We quickly packed our fanny pack, applied the sunscreen, and started the 30-minute drive to Indio. We knew we were getting close when we hit the stop and go traffic. Within an hour of leaving Palm Springs we were parked, and began the walk to the field, the now-familiar sounds of Cornershop echoing toward us from the Outdoor Theater. After another half hour of waiting in one line or another, we were finally on the closely mowed lawn of the Empire Polo Field. The setting was beautiful, with the green grass surrounded by tall palm trees against a backdrop of stoic desert mountains. In one corner was the main Coachella Stage, where most of the big acts played. In an adjacent corner was the Outdoor Theater, and opposite the main stage in an isolated corner was the Mojave Tent and behind it the gigantic Sahara Tent. Beer drinkers were confined to a few scattered cup-littered fenced-off areas, and vendors’ booths and bank of Port-o-johns lined the perimeter of the field.
We made our way past a bunch of people banging on a mobile scrap metal sculpture over to the Outdoor Theater where the Charlatans UK were being set up. One of the first things we noticed was the highly visible police presence, as several times over the next two hours they escorted young men in handcuffs past us and off the grounds. Ecstasy dealers, we suspected, as we assumed a very guarded nature over our contraband and how we would choose to exercise it over the next two days. I honestly don’t remember much of the Charlatans, though they played the one song I know, Love Is The Key. That was around when we saw good ol' Tjinder Singh and his buddies from Cornershop mingling with the crowd at the Outdoor Theater right in front of us. He was very friendly by the numerous people who recognized him and came up and talked to him. To be honest, I would not have recognised them myself, had it not been for the smiley Indian dude in the pinstripe jacket brushing his black mop aside. Neither would anyone else, though, and many people happily asked the Other Cornershop Dudes to snap their picture. We hung around for the first half of Queens Of The Stone Age, not noticing that Dave Grohl was drumming for them, and not really caring that much either. They played Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, so my cohort finally knows what I’m referring to when I sing to her in my tone deaf way “C-C-C-C-C-Cocaaaaiiiinne!” Otherwise we weren’t overly impressed with their heavy high energy set. After seeing the Trail of Dead a few weeks ago, our standards in this sub genre are high.
Siouxsie and the Banshees kicked off their reunion tour at the Coachella Stage, and I wanted to be there to see it. “Bizarre” is the one word summary of their set. Siouxsie was almost belligerent on stage, but the crowd was responding well to it. At one point she took off her shirt and performed the rest of the time in a bra. Her swearing onstage might match the Gallaghers, and the music was, well just what you’d expect at a reunioun for a band that always seemed to relish more in the bizarre than the popular, or the good for that matter. Not much melody or inspiration, but quite the spectacle nonetheless. The Banshees stayed too long for my taste; we were there, in fact most were there, for what would follow: the fabled Bjork.
My faithful companion and I maneuvered our way to what we thought was a strategic spot where we might be able to see but still retreat easily from if necessary. By the time Bjork made it on stage, we were deep into a still-compacting crowd, everyone straining on the tips of their toes to see the stage. From what I could see – which wasn’t much – she was dressed in white and had the spotlight on her from above the whole time, making her appear to glow. Musically, it sounded better than what I was expecting. Visually, I could only catch brief glimpses of her on stage, between the thousands of people each of them craning for a sight of the singer. I felt bad for my cohort since she’s shorter than I and saw a lot less. Ironically, I think the situation suited Bjork to a tee: it was as if her glowing sprightly form could only be glimpsed a half second at a time, out of the corner of the eye. Bjork captivated the audience the whole time. When after each song she gave an almost impossibly childlike “Sank you!” the crowd responded with adoring gasps bordering on adulation. When I did catch sight of her, she looked otherworldly, especially when she returned to the stage for the encore. She had a huge white collar-like garment that surrounded her head and torso, blowing in the breeze and encompassing her like a humongous leaf. The sprightly effect was only amplified and was simply stunning coupled with the beautiful and progressive nature of her music. I was wondering how she would pull of a big stage concert after being impressed with footage of her performing in a church with angelic effect. Despite the lack of a view, we were amazed by this show. Bjork successfully combined original music and imagery into a breathtaking show, and more than lived up to the hype.
After that we stuck around for the Chemical Brothers, who had an incredible opening that included the slow landing of a huge glowing UFO right there on the Coachella Stage. I was duly impressed. The only other thing I will say about them is their set kicked some serious ass there under the stars in the desert.
Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Day Two: Oasis, Prodigy, Paul Oakenfold, The Strokes
Sunday, 28 April 2002 - Indio, CA
Getting to the venue on the second day was much easier than the first. We left in plenty of time, and there was no stop and go traffic. We did have to endure another long line to get in, arguing with a tyrannical security dude who wouldn’t let us take in the two unopened bottles of water we were assured we could take in the day before. Bastard. You have to expect this sort of arbitrary power trip from the small-minded little Napoleons they hire to pat down thousands and sift through their fanny packs. Undaunted, we moved on to where the Strokes were being set up on the Coachella Stage, and settled down in the sun for some people-watching. The entire two days at the music festival provided ample opportunity for watching all the interesting folks there. The average age was in the early 20s, with plenty of good looking people, but not the sort that dwelled excessively on appearance; most of the people there were fans of rock and/or techno music, the sort of fans who were willing to endure at least a 120 mile drive besides all the crowds. This second day, though, the crowd at the Coachella Stage seemed like a more distant and disconnected lot, showing little more than muted response to the acts on that stage. Perhaps they were saturated after a full day Saturday, or maybe it was a mostly different crowd more interested in techno or the possibility of a Beck show. I don’t know, but none of the Coachella Stage shows that day resonated with the crowd the way Bjork did.
First up for us was the Strokes, who we’d seen in a much smaller setting last year where they shined. Here, though, they didn’t make much of an impact. I imagine it can be difficult to really get things going as a rock ‘n’ roll band when you’re playing outdoors in the afternoon sun when ideally you don’t even get up until then. Oh, the trials and tribulations of being a rock star! Lead singer Julian Casablancas sounded thoroughly smashed when he thanked the audience for their meager applause. “I really mean it, it means a lot to us. Thanks.” When we saw them last year, they played straight through the songs on their album, Is This It, in a short but blistering set. Here, they mixed it up a bit, playing most of the songs from that album with two or three new songs thrown in. They started off with The Modern Age and also played New York City Cops. The new songs sounded, well, a lot like the old ones only less catchy. Hopefully they’ll spend some of their much-heralded work ethic polishing those babies up and infusing them with some originality, or a least some spark. I thought they played a good set overall and was disappointed with the lukewarm crowd response.
As the Strokes were finishing up, we made our way toward the Sahara Tent to catch Paul Oakenfold, who had already begun spinning his magic. We last saw him at the New Years’ 2001 in Hollywood, CA, and loved it then. We found a corner of the immense tent, which was packed with sweaty dancing kids, and smoked a joint in relative seclusion. That was the highest I got at the entire festival, and Oakenfold played no small part. He mixed Radiohead, Bjork, and William Orbit, among others, to an infectious and engaging beat. The light show was impressive as well, despite the sun still being up, and the crowd was very much into the music. The people-watching opportunities abounded, and a couple of lax looking security folk walked through a few times, but didn’t cause any trouble. I watched the sunlight rise against the test wall as the sun went down and eventually faded away. After what seemed like a very long but blissful time, we emerged from the tent, and after getting some overpriced grub, we made our way back across the field to the Coachella Stage, having missed the Foo Fighters with Chris Black, which neither of us would have cared for anyway.
The Prodigy was next up on the main stage. They started out with lots of energy, but they are more of a spectacle than musicians, in my opinion, and there’s only so much of that kind of screaming and menacing beat that one can take. I thought the crowd responded more to them than anyone else on that stage that day, so maybe it was me that was the problem. We left that set halfway through to hit the bathrooms one more time before the Boys, and to meander around the interesting Coachella grounds. We passed by the impressive static electricity exhibit, and elsewhere a genuine Performance Artiste looked about ready to set fire to a crucified robot before a large and interested crowd. When we passed by a little later, there was a plywood boy being molested by a large plywood priest who’d had his crotch bitten out by Pincher Robot of Justice. That must have been quite a show! We missed out on that to walk through the awesome Tunnel Of Light with light-polarizing glasses. We eventually made it back to the Coachella Stage and settled into a more distant but less densely packed spot to await what I was sure to be the Triumph of the Boys.
Fresh from the Oasis triumph in Las Vegas two nights before, I had confidently predicted they would tear the place apart. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oasis bombed at Coachella, and there’s nothing quite like seeing your favorite band play a bad show before a hostile audience. They opened, predictably, with the pre-recorded Fuckin In The Bushes, after which they strutted onstage to start – you guessed it – Go Let It Out. I thought the sound was noticeably off from the start. Liam’s vocals sounded off key, and the rest of the band couldn’t really get it going. The crowd response started tepid, and got more belligerent as the show progressed. Americans have a difficult time grasping the decidedly British sense of humor that the Gallagher brothers project onstage. Both brothers usually have an aggressively pissed attitude that would put off any Americans unfamiliar with their shtick, as they shower the crowd with taunts and boasts. But the proud brothers were unwilling to pander to get the crowd on their side either. Just like at Vegas, they took a long time between songs. Liam, introducing one of the songs, rather matter-of-factly said, “This is a new one. Go buy the record”. After each song, the audience reaction was minimal, and at one point Noel sarcastically thanked the crowd for their response. Within twenty minutes, people began to abandon Oasis, as they made for the parking lots hoping to avoid the inevitable traffic jam. I’d say roughly half the crowd left before the Oasis set was over, and we were able to maneuver much closer to the stage than we ever got at Bjork the night before. In response to the crowd, Oasis played an abbreviated set that was probably two-thirds the length of the Las Vegas gig. Gone was Champagne Supernova as well as the entire encore. Noel played a special version of She’s Electric, changing the words on this caustic occasion to She’s a Septic. None of this did anything to warm the crowd over, of course, and people were throwing things toward the end of the show, as Liam taunted the throwers and tried to point out to the sound crew an amp that was out. To their credit, however, the Gallaghers never lost their cool and finished the set with Rock And Roll Star, retiring without an encore. So it was that Oasis went down in flames at Coachella Twenty-Aught-Two. We hung around Ground Zero in front of the stage as the crowd dispersed, hoping against hope one of the Boys would make a showing, but eventually we had to admit defeat and made for the parking lots pondering a very interesting day.
Palm Springs to Idaho Springs
Monday, 29 April 2002
The next day on the long drive back home we had a lot to talk about and process. Overall, we were immensely satisfied with our Coachella trip and the adventures it entailed. The highlight was the Oasis gig at the Joint. It was a pleasure to be introduced to Cornershop, whose Brimful Of Asha has been stuck in my head ever since. As for the Best of Coachella, Bjork deserved that honor on Saturday, and Paul Oakenfold on Sunday, with honorable mentions to the Chemical Brothers. But there were lots of other highlights. We were immensely entertained to see Oasis bomb on the main stage, and the other acts proved to be interesting in the very least. These sorts of music festivals are like all-you-can-eat banquets for music lovers: you have your favorites that you target, with plenty of opportunity to get your fill of new treats, leaving when you’re done to explore something else. I think the people who ran Coachella this year did a decent job. Lines for the bathrooms were long in places, but non-existent elsewhere once you learned where to go. Vendors were overpriced, but what do you expect? I thought it was ridiculous to confine the beer drinkers to small fenced-in areas. That just means people were sneaking beer over the fences to their friends, or otherwise partaking in their drug-of-choice out on the field unhindered as usual. A consistently enforced policy on what we could take in would have been nice, as we left our bottled water behind the first day when we were told unopened bottles were allowed. The second day, of course, we had to leave our water in a big pile at the feet of that motherfucker at the entrance. Again, these sorts of things have to be expected at large musical festivals like this, and overall, we were quite satisfied.
The drive back through five states and one thousand miles of desert and mountains was thoroughly enjoyable. Over small desert roads in Southern California past countless signs advertising choice desert real estate, we made our way to the wrong highway at Barstow, a town that got us twice this trip. Well past Zzyzx Road, we could see the monoliths of Las Vegas for half an hour before we crawled past them at 60 miles per hour. Back through the Virgin River Gorge up to the high desert of Utah, we continued past Zion’s Kolob Canyons, over the Sevier mountain valley back into the desert where the setting sun put us in a profoundly humble place. We drove through the desert and up and over the mountains of Colorado to our lovely home. We'd smoked six of our original ten joints in the last four days and were feeling almost beat.