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Friday, day one:
Woke up hazy in the "fancy" hotel, Renaissance Esmerelda. We'd played our first show in North America in Pomona the night before (it went great) and then drove for two hours after load-out (ouch) to Indian Wells so we could wake up near the festival. The hotel is pretty basic, but with an insane pool that has a beach! They had little bottles of Maker's Mark in the mini-bar too. I found out when I checked out that they were $10.50 apiece (ouch).
Jumped in the van to go see Baroness, but I had no idea that it would take almost two hours to get there from the hotel. The Cribs couldn't make it because of the volcano. Walked past the Specials while they were starting, and my jaw dropped. They sounded amazing, and I was really far away! I knew they were good, but I didn't know it was going to be like that! They ended up being the best-sounding band all day. It's the second year that Rat Sound has had the L-Acoustics K1 system at Coachella, and it's the best PA I've ever heard.
I ran over to see Gil Scott-Heron, and after that set I'll never miss a show of his again. He sat down at his Rhodes piano and said, surprised, "Oh, they got me a real one." He played most of the set solo and as the sun went down he added some percussion and sax. I'd love to have an excuse to hang out with him someday. Jay-Z and Beyonce were on the side of the stage.
I've seen Grizzly Bear a few times lately, and I've really loved their show. The band is great, the lights are great, and they always sound killer. Their sound man, Drew Malamud, refused to work on a digital desk, so he was at Coachella at 9 AM setting up his rented Midas. He's really crazy about his show, but who can argue when they always sound so good?
Them Crooked Vultures had the best light show at Coachella, other than Pavement's festoons of course. Their lighting designer, Dan Hadley, also works for Queens of the Stone Age, and we've been on many Sonic Youth tours together. He is one of the best people I've ever met and his shows are always great.
The changeover between LCD Soundsystem and Jay-Z was 50 minutes, during which time everyone went over to see Vampire Weekend. I decided to have a beer and wait. Everyone was getting really excited, and the tension doubled once they put a huge Hollywood-style bomb-countdown timer on the Jumbotrons.
The timers hit zero, and Jay-Z rose up through the stage with arms folded. Totally badass. He had video screens that were shaped like the New York City skyline, and he could make them look like buildings or like an iTunes screen saver or whatever—during "99 Problems" they looked like three stories of amps. Imagine Jay-Z fronting Sunn 0))). It was pretty great! After a few songs (I had no idea how many songs of his I actually knew) we ran over to catch one of my favorite bands, Public Image Limited. It was the late-era lineup, and I was worried that they'd disappoint me as badly as Throbbing Gristle did last year. (I saw the TG reunion show in Brooklyn, and it was a pretty serious letdown. I heard they got better by the time they played Chicago, but it'd already been ruined for me.)
PIL sounded great, but they were only playing songs from records I didn't know. Oh well, I thought, better get outta here before half a million people try to leave after Jay-Z. And that's when they played "Public Image," "Religion," and "Rise." They may be the best three songs I see all year.
Saturday, day two:
I got an e-mail that Sonic Youth's manager was hosting brunch at his house, and that sounded like a lot more fun than commuting out to the festival site. Amazing catered Mexican and a few margaritas by the pool (you had to ask for no Red Bull in your drink, weirdly) and I had no intention of heading out to the grounds. After a whole day of music the day before, it was really wonderful to recharge playing wiffle ball and watching dogs swim in the pool and hanging out with friends.
Lots of people end up renting houses around the festival for the weekend, and there are like a thousand parties every night. I ended up going to a few of them, but the later they went on, the older I felt . . .
I got an e-mail from my friends at Rat Sound while I was out saying that the Pavement crew had a scheduled time to come in and "make noise" on Sunday morning. What? We can come in and tune monitors and set up the risers? (All the amps and drums go on little slabs with wheels under them, so you can get everything all set up backstage and then wheel it all out into place in a flash.)
That was news to me, and I'd been super anxious for a sound check! (Er, line check. It's called a "sound check" when you have the band and a line check when it's just roadies.) Things really seemed to be going my way!
I later heard that Dead Weather (who headlined Saturday against Devo) was the best thing of the festival. I guess I'll never know . . .
Sunday, day three:
So, I've been to Coachella twice before, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Sonic Youth, and they were both really tough days. Very hot, no sound check, feedback, not very fun. They give you 30 minutes to get a band off the stage and another one on, which ought to be about two hours of work. You basically have to throw the band onstage.
During the changeover between bands two years ago, the live feed from Coachella.com was from our stage. You could have listened in on me, very stressed, trying to get things sorted (the guy helping me onstage did not understand the PM5D mixing console) while the tour manager was hanging over me asking, "Can they go on?" Ugh. When I first saw the Coachella date on the Pavement tour calendar months ago, I was determined that this year would be different. It was a matter of professional pride. I knew it would probably be the biggest show Pavement ever played, and wanted to make it right. This had been in the back of my head for months.
Got to the site before doors opened, we set up amps, and hooked up all the mikes. I had a chance to spend a half hour tweaking the monitors for everyone. It really came together quickly because we were using my favorite new microphones (Chicago's own Shure KSM9) and my favorite monitors (D&B Audiotechnik d2s, if you're keeping score) and they really work well together. Even though the festival uses a console I like, which can recall my mixes, the sound of things can really change from stage to stage. Having some time to get it all together beforehand is crucial.
After the doors opened we went back to the freak scene known as the artist area. Lots of terrible tattoos and midriffs. (I saw two Star Wars logos.) Perry Farrell is really strange looking in person, for the record, and his plastic stripper girlfriend creeped me out for hours.
Caught some Sunny Day Real Estate, and they were great! For someone who knows the first two records backward, I sure didn't recognize a lot of the songs . . .
Charlotte Gainsbourg was all right. I like the record, but it's pretty apparent that she hasn't played live very much and isn't too comfortable onstage.
What happened to Sly Stone? He refused to go on in his assigned time slot, and from what I heard, lawyers had to get involved in a hotel lobby or something? All my info is secondhand, and he ended up going on later that night, sort of.
Spoon was really good! They smashed a piano onstage, and the mikes were still in it. I'm going to fill in on monitors for them in Barcelona. Should be fun.
And then Spoon was done, Pavement was setting up, and it was finally time for my moment of truth.
The monitor desk was really far away from the band, because the Gorillaz had all their own stuff and they were blocking me.
Fifteen people were all running around plugging in cables and setting everything back up like in the morning. I checked everything again (a few times) and had ten minutes to spare. The band came out and the place went nuts. Three of them didn't even look at me the entire set! (That's good, 'cause if I'm doing my job right, they can't even tell I'm there.) A little less kick drum in the second song, a little less Spiral to Mark, and that was it. Not a hint of feedback! I hit all my cues! They had to cut their set short one song, but that way they ended with "Cut Your Hair" and everything was right with the world. I've been waiting two years to conquer Coachella, and I nailed it.
I just found out I'll be at Coachella next year too, so . . . See you there?
Jeremy also posts on Twitter and is probably on the road right now. . . .