The baking American desert plays host to one mighty cool festival - let's get sweaty. Indio, California (April 25-27)
There’s Arctic-Monkeys-in-2005 hot, there’s The-Hawley-Arms-on-February-9-of-this-year hot and then there’s Coachella hot. Taking place on an immaculate polo field in the middle of Indio, California, it’s 101 degrees in the shade and everyone is wearing sombreros. In a spectacle to make Michael Eavis weep, there’s one stage on which the crowd are kept cool by gigantic hoses. Physical activity of the slightest kind – lifting a margarita to your mouth, say – is exhausting. One man seems immune to this sweltering heat, however – Tim Harrington. Pretty much the first thing NME sees as we arrive onsite is the Les Savy Fav singer scaling the 30-foot lighting rig of the Outdoor Theatre stage, as he bellows ‘We Rock The Party’. You can almost hear security thinking, “Are all the bands going to be this crazy?”
They needn’t worry: over on the main stage, The Breeders are anything but. The Deal sisters make three false starts before building to ‘Cannonball’, which lacks the fire of old. Far better are festival virgins Vampire Weekend, who draw a huge crowd back at the Outdoor Theatre. ‘The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance’ benefits immeasurably from a backdrop of palm trees, and singer Ezra Koenig’s pink shorts are pretty tasty, too. As the sun goes down, The Raconteurs play a set filled with The Who-style guitar histrionics back on the main stage. It’s not without flaws – Brendan-sung waltz ‘Many Shades Of Black’ is awful – but as a manic Jack White incites crowd participation during ‘Steady, As She Goes’, it feels like the party’s started.
Santogold, over in the tiny Gobi Tent, takes on this torch. An amazing version of ‘LES Artistes’ sets us up nicely for The Verve, who are the ultimate festival band ever. Who else, at their first festival for 10 years, would dare follow a climax of their three biggest anthems – ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, ‘Lucky Man’ and ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ – with the live debut of a new song? ‘Love Is Noise’ sounds like a shamanic LCD Soundsystem, laden with unforgettable hooks and conclusive proof that both the reunion and that Glastonbury booking were definitely a good idea. The fact that Jack Johnson is headlining above such majesty seems insulting, so over to the Mojave Tent, where Black Lips are playing a sparky set ending with them burning their guitars during ‘Juvenile’. Security now look really fucked off, so we wander off into the desert in search of parties…
“We’re gonna do samfink cheeky. This being America, we’re gonna try and play the blues!” Saturday afternoon, and in the Gobi Tent Mick Jones is being a cuddly living punk-rock legend with Carbon/Silicon. MGMT, though less experienced outdoors-players, look certain to be one of the festival bands this summer judging by the number of admirers in the Mojave Tent. Kate Nash follows, charming the crowd into submission. Back at the Outdoor Theatre, Mark Ronson has brought along celebrity pals – Ricky Wilson for ‘Oh My God’, Tim Burgess on ‘The Only One I Know’ and Jamie Klaxons for a “rough and ready” version of ‘Stop Me’ – but his set is sabotaged by MIA, who plays a riot-inciting set of hip-hop punk in a packed Sahara Tent. It’s the weekend’s most genuinely exciting and dangerous performance.
Today, though, is all about the three main stage headliners. Kraftwerk, seemingly playing a four-way game of Scrabble on their laptops, are so cold they counteract the heat but the visuals accompanying ‘Tour De France’, ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Radio-Activity’ are stunning. It’s a unique festival experience, and tees up Portishead nicely. Their set’s been cut short at the behest of tonight’s main headliner and so, even by their standards, they’re impossibly doomy. They’d have been better off topping the bill in a smaller tent, but ‘Glory Box’, an almost-a capella ‘Wandering Star’ and all the best bits of ‘Third’ are still impressive.
Prince kind of blows it, kind of doesn’t. Half an hour late, he starts with an aimless funk workout, barely emerging from behind his amps. Even when he delivers ‘Little Red Corvette, ‘Cream’ and ‘Controversy’, their impact is dampened by widdling from his backing musicians. The centrepiece is a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ (bizarrely, he changes the words to, “But you’re a creep”), which should feel like more of an event than it does. But when he plays ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, all is forgiven and the site empties to cries of “What an absolute legend!”
Sunday is less eventful. Save for party-startin’ sets by The Cool Kids, and Does It Offend You, Yeah?, the afternoon is sparse. Early evening sees one of Jason Pierce’s last Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline performances dogged by initial sound problems but still tear-jerking. My Morning Jacket are solid if unspectacular, and Roger Waters plays ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, bookended by other Floyd ‘classics’ and augmented by an inflatable pig. It’s laughable, stoner nonsense so we head to the Sahara Tent, where Simian Mobile Disco, Chromeo and Justice finish Coachella ’08 in a more fittingly debauched fashion. Now, how the hell do you get out of the desert?