Coachella 2009’s Top 10 Moments

Coachella 2009 is over, and thanks to my obsessive-compulsive slathering of SPF 100 sunscreen (yes, such a thing exists) throughout the weekend, the festival is already a faded memory for me, since I didn’t even return from Indio with a residual suntan.

But some Coachella memories do remain seared in my brain like a second-degree sunburn. Here are my picks for Coachella 2009’s top 10 most magical and memorable desert sessions, in ascending order of overall awesomeness:


10) Franz Ferdinand Take Coachella Out

Is there any better song to kick Coachella into high gear on Friday afternoon than “Take Me Out”? If there is, I haven’t heard it. Yes, Franz Ferdinand had many other indie arena anthems in their arsenal (“Do You Want To” and “No You Girls” were both especially effective party-starters), but this perennial crowd-pleaser was still the song that made the festivalgoers start tossing beachballs and tossing back beers in earnest.

9) Yeah Yeah Yeahs Create A Buzz With “Human Fly”

On the main stage on Sunday, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gave an eye-catching performance–literally, as they played in front of an Outer Limits-style giant eyeball while fans in the front bounced an eyeball-beachball to and fro. Adding to the visual appeal was the YYYs’ always dressed-to-impress (and dressed-to-excess) frontwoman Karen O, all gussied up in a chainmail go-go dress and blue Superwoman tights. One of most dynamic lead singers currently working in all of rock ‘n’ roll, Karen’s characteristically unhinged performance added some much-needed muscle to the new and unfamiliar songs from the YYYs’ flabby third album It’s Blitz!, although the highlight of the band’s set came when they covered “Human Fly” by the Cramps. The dearly departed Lux Interior–one of the most dynamic lead singers EVER–surely would have been honored by Karen’s tribute. “This one goes out to Lux!”

8) Paul Weller’s Set Gets (Johnny) Marred

The Modfather drew a disappointingly small audience to the Outdoor Stage on Sunday (he was competing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Late Of The Pier), but it was a rabid audience nonetheless. And despite technical difficulties and 35-degree heat, Paul always managed to keep his cool. Then the coolness factor was upped considerably when Weller was joined onstage during “A Town Called Malice” by the one-and-only Johnny Marr. With Morrissey also on this year’s bill (he played Friday), it was as close to a Coachella Smiths reunion as we may ever see. (Moz and Marr breathed the same recirculated desert air!) Too bad there weren’t more people around to witness it.

7) M.I.A. Flies Like Paper Through The Audience
The moment the Coachella 2009 lineup was revealed, I saw Amy Winehouse‘s name listed for Saturday and thought, “Yeah, right. That’s so not gonna happen.” And sure enough, a few weeks later it was announced that the famously flaky Amy’s Coachella appearance had been cancelled due to her typical U.S. visa issues. That was no surprise. What was surprising was the subsequent announcement that Amy’s main stage replacement for Coachella Saturday would be M.I.A.–a woman who ironically once dealt with visa problems herself, and who had a baby less than two months ago. As it turned out, M.I.A. performed with a ferocity that Amy probably wouldn’t be capable of these days, so it all worked out for the best. And although M.I.A. frequently voiced her yearning for the close contact of more intimate venues and “missing the sweat” during her main stage set, she ultimately got some up-close-and-personal contact with her fans by finishing her show with a piggyback ride on a roadie’s shoulders through the crowd during “Paper Planes.” Yep, no one at Coachella had swagga like M.I.A.

6) Leonard Cohen Has Fans Shouting, “Hallelujah!”

Coachella has always been home to reunion and heritage acts, and this year the lineup skewed especially older (possibly because more “mature” music fans have the disposable income to attend Coachella during these recessionistic times), featuring veterans like Throbbing Gristle, X, Bob Mould, the Orb, Henry Rollins, and Superchunk. But 75-years-young Leonard Cohen was the eldest elder statesman on the bill, and also one of the best. A huge crowd of music fans–many of whom were young enough to be Leonard’s grandchildren–turned up for his Friday set, possibly because the adjacent main stage remained dark and vacant during Leonard’s performance (out of respect for the elderly, possibly?), or maybe because Leonard’s recent comeback shows have been so hyped. Well, Leonard definitely lived up to the hype. When he crooned “Hallelujah” against a backdrop of gently breeze-bent palm trees, while everyone in the audience sang along and some spectators even slow-danced, it was the first big “moment” of the festival.

5) My Bloody Valentine Bring The Noise

My bloody eardrums! Yes, the reclusive, reunited shoegaze band (or should I say sandal-gaze, since they were playing an outdoor festival in this case) is famous for playing at face-melting, hallucination-inducing, bowel-quaking volumes, but I foolishly assumed that in an open-air setting, My Bloody Valentine‘s din would be diminished. Wrong. The moment their first cacophonous note squalled across the field on Sunday night, I was frantically reaching for my earplugs–the first time I’d had to do so all weekend long. Then I pushed those foam plugs into my ear canals so far and so forcefully, they practically came out my nose. Understandably, no band played in the same timeslot on the neighboring Outdoor Stage for the duration of MBV’s cranked-to-1100 set, as any competing performer would have been completely drowned out. And while I was bummed that Late Of The Pier and the Horrors were respectively playing at the same time in the more distant Sahara and Mojave tents (though I probably wasn’t as bummed as, you know, Late Of The Pier and the Horrors themselves), I honestly could have watched LOTP way over on the other side of the field and still heard MBV. Yes, they were that loud. And that awesome. MBV’s set ended with a bloody preposterous 10-minute finale that consisted entirely of just shrieking guitars, which continued even as Public Enemy (more on them later) finally hit the nearby Outdoor Stage at their scheduled time–thus creating an unexpected and surprisingly enjoyable MBV/PE mashup. (Flavor Flav rapping over a Kevin Shields racket? Amazing!)

4) Paul McCartney Remembers Linda

Some indie purists balked when they first heard that Sir Paul McCartney was headlining this year’s Coachella. But I never doubted that Paul would some real Macca magic at Coachella ’09. I knew if he crafted his setlist wisely, by the end of his Friday headlining concert he’d have the entire Empire Polo Field–indie purists included–holding their mobiles aloft and singing “Let It Be” or the na-na-na’s of “Hey Jude” in unison. Which of course happened, but there were some even more moving, and much more unexpected, moments during his set. Actually, when he first came out and saw the massive audience, I dare say he seemed overwhelmed and even a little nervous–this despite the fact that he’s a guy who’s played stadiums, been knighted by the Queen, was a BEATLE, etc. Paul’s onstage banter was so odd and loopy, in fact, I wondered if he was suffering from heatstroke, had imbibed one too many pints of Guinness backstage, or was just having too much fun to keep a straight face. But then I soon understood why he might’ve been such a jumble of nerves: It turned out that Coachella Friday, April 17, was the anniversary of his first wife Linda McCartney‘s death. He played “My Love” in her honor that night, and there wasn’t a dry eye on the field.

3) The Cure’s Post-Curfew Concert Comes To A Grinding Halt

Wrapping up the festival on Sunday were veteran Coachella headliners the Cure, who initially made the same mistake they made when they played Coachella in 2004: Frontloading their set with a bunch of new or later-period songs that, frankly, only the most diehard, deep-catalog Cure fans had any interest in hearing. It almost made me wonder if the Coachella bookers put Robert Smith up to this, as some sort of crowd-control strategy, advising him to deliberately drive people off the field and into their cars at an early hour so that the festival would wrap up before Indio’s midnight curfew. Well, if that was the case, it sure backfired. Eventually the band picked up steam, and then it seemed Robert just didn’t want to leave. Coming out for his second encore, already well past the midnight hour, he announced, “They say we can only play one song. Ha. Are we fuck.” He then proceeded to do what he did in 2004: play and play and play, until the plug was literally pulled. The house lights came on after “Three Imaginary Boys” and “Fire In Cairo,” then the actual sound was cut off and the jumbotrons went black. (Funny…Coachella authorities didn’t do that to Paul McCartney when he ran past curfew on Friday night.) But the Cure kept chugging along, and the fans just ran closer to the stage so they could hear semi-unplugged-by-default versions of “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” and, most fittingly, “Grinding Halt.”

2) Public Enemy Play ‘Nation Of Millions,’ Rock A Festival Of Thousands

While My Bloody Valentine’s white noise was still screeching across the field, Public Enemy hit the Outdoor Stage and announced that, once all the MBV commotion had finally died down to a faintly shimmering hum, they would be playing their classic album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. In its entirety. Track for track. Start to finish. For the first time in 16 years. Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod. And believe the hype: This was THE best overall show I saw during all three days of Coachella (and I never expected to be typing that). PE’s music still sounded so fresh, so relevant–if only today’s hip-hop artists sounded like this. It’s no wonder Chuck D told the audience, “The record business is OVER.” It’s because no rappers today are making music as important as It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Then they encored with “Fight The Power,” and what was left of my post-MBV caved-in head pretty much exploded.

1) Paul McCartney Remembers George
Of course Macca made this list twice, and snagged the number-one spot. He’s a fucking Beatle! Honestly, he could have made it several other times–for his “A Day In The Life/”Give Peace A Chance” medley (the first time Paul had ever played the latter song live), for “Live And Let Die” accompanied by an arena-rock fireworks display, for his acoustic “Yesterday” encore, for his John Lennon tribute “Here Today,” etc. But it was when he picked up a ukulele once owned by his other late bandmate, George Harrison, and strummed an acoustic cover of George’s “Something”–then gave a sweet shout-out to George’s widow, Olivia, who was in the audience–that I felt chillbumps raise all up and down by body, despite the desert heat.

Read my full Friday Coachella blog
Read my full Saturday Coachella blog
Read my full Sunday Coachella blog

All concert photos by my esteemed colleague Mike Orlosky. For more of Mike’s Coachella pics, click HERE.