Friday, April 17, 2009

Coachella, April 17 - 19 in Indio

The Coachella festival has gone on for 10 years and I've been there for 10 years. By this time it's become familiar to me but I can't imagine it will ever be "just another festival." Anticipation for next year's line-up starts just around the hangover for the current year's festival goes away and it really starts to heat up at the turn of the year, when bands are starting to get their tour dates together and it's becoming clear where they might be in mid-April. When the actual line-up is announced is a hotly anticipated date, never at the same time every year and sometimes announced quietly, until the blogs get ahold of it. This year it was said to have been announced -- by KROQ, no less -- on a certain date and then that didn't happen and it was some time later, everyone slavering at the thought of who was be appearing. For my own experience, I think I was told that the acts would be announced on the following day and I thought they might release the line-up around midnight so I stayed online and pawed around sites, hoping to catch it when it came out, mostly by hawking on Twitter, where I was following various blogs. As I was preparing a few e-mails with guesses about the line-up (but also about when the line-up would actually get announced) I was doing some research on Wikipedia and came across the entry for 2009's festival. There was a line-up on it that including Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, My Bloody Valentine, the Cure, Henry Rollins, Public Enemy, on and on. I couldn't believe what bands they had listed -- and didn't, since I'd seen these get faked before -- but what a great line-up that would be! Maybe less than a minute later I was on Twitter and the link to the line-up was released -- and the line-up that was on Wikipedia was the actual line-up! It was way too much to take in at one time. An incredible line-up, to understate it. A few acts I might add, including a stronger headliner for Saturday night, but I never would have suspected there would be McCartney and Cohen there.

I would have bought my tickets the year before -- sight unseen -- so luckily my friends were on board too. Vanessa had done the festival with us the year before (as well as one day the year before that), Jerry has gone every year since '04 (even if Radiohead isn't playing), and Andrew pledged his allegiance to go to the festival so they're the core of my Coachella crew, but this year Rachel came along, as well as Noa and Jonathon, as well as Jen and Natalie and some of their friends who took the second hotel room I'd booked but we didn't see them as much as I thought we might. I really couldn't say that I would still go to the festival if I had no one else to go with me but it sure is nice to have friends along, even if you don't always hang around them all day. The people I see the show with are all music-heads and want to see their own acts so it's not a big deal for everyone to split up, maybe meet up for an act or to have a beer and hang out, but the only definite is riding in and riding out every day. Though having phones to send text-messages (and a reliable telephone connection out there to send them with) sure makes it easy, and I wonder how people did these festivals before such communication was so available.

The weather had been more mild than it had been in previous years, for the most part. I think only one day did it get up to 100 degrees. The nights were even more pleasant than I thought they would be and the show keeps up its high standards of comfort and accommodations. This year they also instituted a program where you could buy a plastic water-bottle for $10 and get it refilled for free throughout the festival. I don't know how much this turned a profit for them (as they just had 10-gallon jugs of water in the tents to refill) but it was brilliant for the concert-goers. At $2 for a regular bottle of water -- and that's not a bad price, compared to other events -- and figuring you'd down at least five bottles a day, you're already saving money. The bummer is that sometimes the water-refill tents -- of which there were only two or three -- would have a line that any time spent waiting for water would be time you wouldn't be seeing a band (whereas there was never a line for new bottles of water). And it was only enough water to get you to the next water-refill tent. And you never knew how much to tip the people refilling the water; they had signs that said that they were working for tips but if you tipped them a buck for each visit, suddenly you the consumer are losing money on it. I suppose I solved this by consistently going to the same tents (and the girl at the tent near the main stage that I fell in love with) and tipped them every two or three visits. That's fair, right?

Anyway, it was Friday and we jumped right into it. (Also, as I'm looking at the schedule while writing this, I notice some holes in what I remember doing. I offer no reason for these unexplained spaces but you can chalk it up to beer, the heat fucking with my head, or taking a break from seeing bands to hang out with friends). We saw a bit of We Are Scientists walking in, just as a warm-up, and it was probably a fine set but we shrugged them off en route to elsewhere; after seeing a forgettable bit of Los Campesinos! I wandered in to check out the Hold Steady, who I'd gotten some stuff by but they'd already worn out my curiosity with their albums. I'd read of comparisons to the Replacements and Springsteen but on CD I just couldn't hear it. But I thought I'd give their live show a chance, if only just a few minutes. Once I saw them on the stage, I understood the comparisons. The Replacements comparison was still a little vague, since there's only so sloppy you can be with a band of five or six members, but anthems a la Springsteen were clear. I'm surprised they put them in a tent to play because they could have blown the top off the place if they'd wished. Now I'm disappointed to hear their studio stuff, which I have more of an appreciation for now, but in comparison to their live show, their recorded stuff is nothing; I had gotten into White Lies a bit before the show and they provided a fine mid-day performance, even if they're just another fringey British band that will be forgotten once they're off the festival circuit; the most notable thing about the Crystal Castles performance was that, as I was wandering around the far side of the dance tent (a much easier way to get into it than going the direct route, through the side, as well as being able to see the stage head-on), a place I'd never ventured during the festival, the incident with the naked wizard guy with the police happened. Yes, I was there for all of it (and if you look really close in that video you can seem me in the background). As if on cue, once that ended Crystal Castles went on and they were just noise, with the admittedly cute lead singer jumping around and yelping, but nothing more than that so I had no reason to stick around; I had seen Leonard Cohen only a week before but his set, just after sunset when the heat of the day washed away and the white lights from the stage seemed like a cooler sun for the nightly hours of the festival, would have been just as magical. He simply played the first half of the set he's touring, which just goes to show that he front-loads his concerts. I would have been satisfied with the truncated set he played for Coachella but I'm glad there was more to it when he did a full show; Morrissey does enough shows, some just can't be as good as others. He seemed tired, which wouldn't have been a crime, but the band seemed energized, overplaying a few tracks that should have gone straight. He also got prissy after making a show that he could smell cooking meat from the food stands and wished that it was human flesh, enough to turn off the crowd if they weren't so fanatical but it also gave him his own excuse to act pissy for the rest of the set. Even if this wasn't his best show, he could be forgiven after his superior showing at the first Coachella. I suppose; as excited as I was to see McCartney, I was so excited to see Girl Talk that I almost -- almost -- would have traded away Macca. Girl Talk had played Coachella a few years before and I remember walking by a tent and hearing a mash-up of -- from what I could discern -- at least three songs and it sounded amazing. His albums are completely incredible and I was looking forward to him topping that live. Unfortunately, it was a lot of the same loops he'd used from the albums and in concert he'd just trigger them, albeit in probably different order, and made a big collage of sound that would be great for anyone dancing into the night but I was just there for the performance and there wasn't much to it. Luckily it gave me some time to head to the main stages early; Walking back from there I happened by the Silversun Pickups, who I love but I hadn't gotten their new album yet or heard the new stuff and I figured I'd see them at a local show, though as I passed by I made a silent prayer that they would play "Kissing Families" at that moment -- fat chance since it's a track from an E.P., probably played for more years than they'd care to stretch it, and what are the odds that it would happen just then? But then it happened. With timing that could not have been better, I walked right into it and it sounded wonderful (later to realize that they play it at pretty much every show, though I'm not complaining). I didn't watch the rest of the set since I wanted to get into position at the main stage but for just that night and just that one song, it was enough and it was perfect; Paul McCartney is a legend and he still puts on a great show, surely more than he's expected to, with enough Beatles songs to satisfy anyone (though "The Long and Winding Road" a little too early), a minimum of new stuff to satisfy me (since there wasn't much of it), fireworks during "Live and Let Die", three encores of mostly Beatles anthems, and having played for about two hours, more than anyone would ask for and you really couldn't ask for in one day of a festival. We'd planned for Friday to be the big day and we were right, though the other days had some remarkable highlights as well.

Saturday was a much slower day, which I can't fault the organizers for. That's the day more people will be able to make it so you already have most of your audience there and don't need to go to pains to stack that deck, instead spreading it to the adjacent days to get a crowd more reluctant to go on those days. It's the only way I can explain the Killers headlining, at least. This day also had a lot of breaks from me, more of wandering around and hanging out with friends and just enjoying the weather and the event for what they were, which I usually don't get to do. I only saw full sets from three acts from that day but it was enough to make the whole day worth it, and then some. I've been a fan of Bob Mould for years, for Sugar, a band I was fairly obsessive about, and a bit of his solo stuff but I didn't know Husker Du in the least (despite being contemporaries of my beloved Replacements) and I'd never seen him live. I knew he'd said that he was putting a lot of his past stuff behind him but maybe more out of respect than curiosity I went to see his set, confoundedly in the smallest tent at the beginning of the day. Then he opened with not one but three Sugar songs and not pretty loud but very loud. That got a dedicated crowd going then he went into some new, solo stuff, which also sounded great, then, from what I could tell from the crowd losing their minds, Husker Du material, which was enough for me to hunt down their stuff when I got home (more than I had in the past, which I'd planned to do but was pretty half-assed about it). Absolutely the most blistering set of the weekend, louder, faster, and a lot more powerful than you would have expected from an old dude rocking harder than these kids playing bigger stages; Dr. Dog might have been okay but I don't know since I took their set as the chance to take a nap; it would seem odd to get someone to do spoken-word at a music festival but if you're going to do it you could do worse than Henry Rollins. Rollins doing something at the festival was something I'd wished for for years and it was worth it. Hey, if you're going to hear someone speak, at least they can have something to say and be entertaining about it; with Glasvegas canceling their set (see below), that left me with a hole in the schedule, which was mostly filled with wandering and more about having a beer with the girls in the beer garden on the side of the main stage rather than seeing TV on the Radio, who I'd already seen a few months before and didn't need to see again so soon, especially since their sound was just as fuzzed-out sitting where I was, and there was more stuff to see anyway; I saw the end of the TRV$SDJ-AM set and it was pretty impressive, for being a DJ and a live drummer (albeit one of the best drummers around today); could M.I.A. pull off a performance as notorious and obnoxious as last year, this time on the main stage? Mostly, actually. I don't think she fits the big stage quite yet (though she did a lot better than Amy Winehouse, who she replaced, would have done) but she had dancers and day-glow visuals and noise, which might have been fine for a crowd who didn't know what to expect or were just patiently waiting for the Killers to go on, but it wore on me and I had no reason that I had to stay so I moved on; I've seen the Chemcial Brothers before at Coachella but when I went to see them this time, there were only two dudes who were apparently getting the stage ready for Tom & Ed; I couldn't convince anyone to see Glass Candy with me, even my gay friends, even though it was a performance packed with gays in the audience, beyond what I would have expected, for some reason I don't really know. It might be because of Glass Candy's kitchy/glitchy glam-techno and a chick who looked like she walked right out of the '80s to continue her jazzercizing just for us, on stage. And balloons. It was just as cheesy as the music is but still it was a fun, flashy performance (not that I could convince anyone else of that); the rest of my evening was split between Mastodon, Turbonegro, and Gang Gang Dance, three bands I wanted to check out but wasn't so dedicated to stick around to see complete sets by so I just wandered through the near-empty tents, sampled a bit here and there, and moved to the next one. If I had to pick between any of them I'd go with Turbonegro, for a goofy, glammy stage-show, if nothing else; and I eventually watched the Killers, as if I had much of a choice. I didn't find out until we got there that half of my friends were there to see them and I had to stick around until they were done. There are worse fates but I still don't understand how the Killers got to be headliners for 60,000-person festival. There were all sorts of rumors of a real headlining band showing up to play Saturday night (my favorite, though preposterous, was the Beastie Boys to play) but, no, the Killers were supposed to play and play they did. It seems the organizers were more impressed that a band that had played at the beginning of the day in a tent in 2004 was now headliner-worthy. I understand they're big now, though I'm baffled at how they can keep momentum going off of one good debut album and two crappy ones following it. What I saw of the set was completely inconsistent, as they tease with just enough of stuff from the first album to keep the crowd going through the crappy stuff (off their newest album, which all seemed fairly slow), just like any good concert band, but then at the end, in the encore, did they finally do a few good tunes one after the other. If they had done that throughout, I might have been tempted to stay. As it was, I contented myself to just ride out the high I was still on from the Bob Mould performance.

Sunday wasn't Friday but it was a good cap to three days of the festival. I've done the festival enough to know to conserve my energy at the beginning of the second and third days (as if I have a choice. My body is like, You're doing this again?), and it's easy because it's the hottest part of the day anyway. Note that became important later: they were handing out ear-plugs at the entrance, something I'd never seen and something I thought I would never see, being a festival of mostly rock music, after all. But I knew why. I sat to watch some of No Age though I think I slept through some of it. They're loud but there's a point when it all becomes the same noise and you can block it out; I saw some of the Gaslight Anthem and decided they should either play at night or on a bigger stage or have a longer set instead of what they got (the opposite of all of those). Enough to make me want to see them at another festival (which didn't happen) but maybe not to rush out to see a full show of just them; I'll admit it: I was hoping that there would be a melt-down on stage during the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I've seen Dig! and I know crazy people. It could have happened. And you can't tell me that most of the people watching them weren't also waiting for the same thing. Instead, what we got was a tight, shambling performance, likely as perfect (and drama-free) as those guys get. And guest-star Zia during -- you guessed it -- "Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth." Though I still don't know why they needed 17 guitarists on stage for; the only thing more surprising than Antony and the Johnsons playing a festival in the desert is seeing them playing during the day. It was actually only Antony playing with pre-recorded music (some of which occasionally worked like it was supposed to), making you wonder who the Johnsons are in the first place. But he/she/it didn't melt at the hottest part of the day, making you wonder if the schedulers knew who they were scheduling. To see Antony and the Johnsons performing live is a glorious thing, even more in the sun, an event which may never, ever happen again; got over to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who drew a crowd gigantic beyond what the usual weirdo-art-rock band should pull. Sonic Youth playing at the same time wouldn't get even half the amount of people so I clearly don't know what's going on with them; I was looking forward to seeing Paul Weller as I have great respect for him, being a huge influence on many of my favorite British bands, but when I got there I realized that I didn't know any of his solo stuff and he wasn't playing any Jam singles, the only stuff by him I know, and relying on the songs to captivate the audience, which was completely acceptable, but he didn't have much of a stage show, which was also cool but wasn't much to see if you didn't already know the songs, apparently. I might have stuck around if I had known that he had had Johnny Marr on guitar. But then again, maybe not; I had seen My Bloody Valentine the year before, and they played an identical but shorter set (though still including the 20-minute long, one-note "You Made Me Realize") but something drew me to them, perhaps because their sheer volume couldn't be avoided (and since the only stages to conflict with them -- and their noise -- were the two stages that were the farthest-possible tents, certainly planned in advance). And oh, that's why they had the ear-plugs. I'm still not a fan of their live version of "When You Sleep", mostly because of the drums, but the rest of the set was great. I also admit my distraction during the set when I became pre-occupied beyond recognition with the girl at the water-refill booth; at that point, mostly because of the girl, I needed some angry music and militant rap fit the bill. I'm not a hardcore Public Enemy fan but I'd never seen them and I respect them as the legends they are. As it turns out, they were celebrating the anniversary of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by playing the album in its entirety, which they hadn't done at any U.S. dates to that point, and I was actually familiar with about half of it, and, like any good hip-hop show, you get carried away by the energy of the performer, which reflects on the audience, reflecting back again, making for a performance that can often go beyond the traditional rock show. And Chuck D and Flavor Flav brought it, playing the angry black dude and the clown, which they developed their legend on, and it was part the music and part them, which was sluggish in parts but mark it up to them being old. Still, to hear and watch them perform a seminal album was impressive enough and it was just what I had asked for; I can't really say I saw Throbbing Gristle. I was taking a break from the rest of the festival and I was wandering the tents, and I had wondered what these guys were about, hearing they were legends, enough to rate being billed fourth on the Sunday line-up. What I saw in the tent were about 15 people in the audience, certainly all the reporters who wrote about the set, and a bunch of old people on stage on their Macs, checking their e-mail for as much as I knew, including some creature which may or may not have been male or female or human, mewling into a microphone. I have no idea what it was about and I have no interest in investigating further; a festival is the sole place that the Cure's marathon sets work against them. They headlined Coachella in '04, having to follow the first night of the Pixies and Radiohead, and it was then that they get away with one of their usual, lengthy sets. This year it wasn't happening. The set was nothing spectacular, the good parts of it probably too similar to the last time they played, the bad parts of it being material from the most recent album. A three-hour set after three hot, solid days of music was just too much to ask by then, especially with mop-rock, and the band flagrantly defied the curfew and kept playing until they had their plug pulled -- literally, with even their PAs stripped of power. Or so I read. By that time we were already gone, exhausted and burnt-out but already planning to be there next year.

missed: Airborne Toxic Event (who I figured, since they were a local band, I could see later, not knowing that I would become OBSESSED with them a short time later and coming to regret not seeing them, even though I can't figure out what other band conflicted with them); M. Ward (losing out in a conflict with the Hold Steady. I'm reasonably sure I made the right decision); the Ting Tings (one of my live favorites from last year's Lollapalooza, and would have been a great before or instead of White Lies but they still hadn't come to the stage for 15 after they were supposed to so I took off, though I heard, from a few people who had the patience to stick around, that it was a great set); Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes had been wearing on me lately so I had no reason to see his new stuff, which wasn't even Bright Eyes); Franz Ferdinand (who I decided to skip since I'd seen them when they played the festival two years before, a set which completely satisfied me for their concert, as far as I knew (until seeing them a few months later, as well as finding an appreciation for their new stuff), though if I'd known what Crystal Castles would have been like I would have seen Franz instead); Ghostland Observatory (that I should see one of these days, after friends going crazy for their live show, and they've been at a lot of festivals I've been at but I've missed them); the Presets (no way I would have missed McCartney for them but Andrew said the crowd was going crazy for them, as well they should); Patton & Rahzel (might have been interesting to see what those two cooked up but they were also right in that McCartney-opposite time-slot); Ida Maria (just didn't get there in time, though it was just barely); Glasvegas (what I expected to be a Saturday highlight but they canceled at the last minute, literally when I was standing close enough to touch the stage, waiting for them); Amanda Palmer (conflict with Rollins, and though I still regret missing the Dresden Dolls years before, I would probably still have skipped her, though I heard later that she was a highlight of the festival); Michael Franti & Spearhead (same conflict); Tinariwen (Middle-Eastern guitarists that I didn't know anything about but I read later that were the best-kept secret of the festival that everyone missed and I cursed myself for not being as adventurous with the unfamiliar as I make myself out to be); Jenny Lewis (as much of a Rilo Kiley fan as I am, I couldn't get into her new album and just decided to skip it altogether, though she did "Silver Lining"); Vivian Girls (a big disappointment from the weekend, since I got really into their album but they played too early for us to get to together to get there in time); K'Naan (who had had a great set at Outside Lands but I couldn't get around to seeing it again. I heard that he also had an extra-long set, as he filled in for another band that had to drop out); Lupe Fiasco (who plays well at festivals but I'd put other acts over him. This also made me realize that I hadn't seen much hip-hop at the festival, which is a shame, as I appreciate that the organizers fill out the line-up with some world-class rap artists); Peter Bjorn and John (not a big loss, since the crowd would probably only care about "that whistling song" and then brush off the rest, just like they did two years before, and I don't even need to hear that song in the first place); Fucked Up (they weren't what I expected on their album but I read they put on a career-defining performance); Murder City Devils (I don't know a thing about them but they were good enough to get added to the bill after the organizer had seem them a week before and that would be enough for me. Besides, Natalie was getting a tattoo of them and that's recommendation enough to check them out. But I didn't); X (who I had seen at Street Scene, so I could go see someone else instead); the Kills (the one time I had seen them a few years before at Coachella they didn't impress me then, and their newest album didn't really turn me on, so I found something else to do). But I think I made the right choice with the bands I saw... mostly.

The Hold Steady's set-list:

"Constructive Summer"
"Hot Soft Lights"
"Navy Sheets"
"Chips Ahoy"
"Sequestered in Memphis"
"Jokes About Jamaica"
track the revcorder didn't recognize
"Little Hoodrat Friend"
"Stuck Between Stations"
"Stay Positive"
"Lord, I'm Discouraged"
"Hornets! Hornets!"
"Slapped Actress"

White Lies' set-list:

"Farewell To The Fairground"
"To Lose My Life"
"From The Stars"
"A Place To Hide"
"Unfinished Business"
"Fifty On Our Foreheads"
"The Price Of Love"
"Nothing To Give"

Leonard Cohen's set-list:

"Dance with Me to the End of Love"
"The Future"
"Ain't No Cure for Love"
"Bird on a Wire"
"Everybody Knows"
"Who By Fire"
"First, We Take Manhattan"
"I'm Your Man"

Morrissey's set-list:

"This Charming Man"
"First of the Gang to Die"
"Black Cloud"
"Girlfriend in a Coma"
"Irish Blood, English Heart"
"How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?"
"When I Last Spoke to Carol"
"Some Girls are Bigger than Others"
"I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris"
"Seasick, Yet Still Docked"
"The Loop"
"Sorry Doesn’t Help"
"Let Me Kiss You"
"How Soon is Now?"

Paul McCartney's set-list:

"Drive My Car"
"Only Mama Knows"
"Flaming Pie"
"Got to Get You Into My Life"
"Let Me Roll It" (with a coda of "Foxy Lady")
"Honey Hush"
"The Long and Winding Road"
"My Love"
"Here Today"
"Dance Tonight"
"Calico Skies"
"Mrs. Vanderbilt"
"Eleanor Rigby"
"Sing the Changes"
"Band on the Run"
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
"I’ve Got a Feeling"
"Paperback Writer"
"A Day in the Life" into "Give Peace a Chance"
"Let It Be"
"Live and Let Die"
"Hey Jude"
"Can’t Buy Me Love"
"Lady Madonna"
"Helter Skelter"
"Get Back"
"Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"
"The End"

Glass Candy's set-list:

"Digital Versicolor"
"Candy Castles"
"Feeling Without Touching"
"Mrs. Broadway"
"Life After Sundown"
"Geto Boys"
"Animal Imagination"

The Killers' set-list:

"Somebody Told Me"
"For Reasons Unknown"
"This Is Your Life"
"Bling (Confession of a King)"
"Smile Like You Mean It"
"A Dustland Fairytale"
"Sam's Town"
"Read My Mind"
"Mr. Brightside"
"All These Things That I've Done"
"Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine"
"When You Were Young"

Brian Jonestown Massacres' set-list:

"Whoever You Are"
"Vacuum Boots"
"Got My Eye on You"
"Not if You Were the Last Dandy on Earth"
"That Girl Suicide"
"When Jokers Attack"
"Oh Lord"

Yeah Yeah Yeahs' set-list:

"Dull Life"
"Gold Lion"
"Honey Bear"
"Black Tongue"
"Human Fly"
"Cheated Hearts"
"Soft Shock"
"Heads Will Roll"
"Y Control"

My Bloody Valentines' set-list:

"I Only Said"
"When You Sleep"
"You Never Should"
"Cigarette In Your Bed"
"Only Shallow"
"Nothing Much To Lose"
"To Here Knows When"
"Feed Me With Your Kiss"
"You Made Me Realise"

Public Enemy's set-list:

"Let's Lose Control"
"Bring the Noise"
"Don't Believe the Hype"
"Cold Lampin' with Flavor"
"Terminator X to the Edge of Panic"
"Mind Terrorist"
"Louder Than A Bomb"
"Caught, Can We Get A Witness?"
"Show Em' Whatcha Got"
"She Watch Channel Zero"
"Night of the Living Baseheads"
"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
"Security of the First World"
"Rebel Without A Pause"
"Prophets of Rage"
"Party for Your Right to Fight"
"Welcome to the Terrordome"
"Fight the Power"
"Fight the Power (Soul Power)"

The Cure's set-list:

"Underneath The Stars"
"Prayers For Rain"
"A Strange Day"
"The End of the World"
"To Wish Impossible Things"
"Pictures of You"
"From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea"
"The Perfect Boy"
"Wrong Number"
"Inbetween Days"
"Just Like Heaven"
"Shake Dog Shake"
"The Hungry Ghost"
"One Hundred Years"
"It's Over"
"If Only Tonight We Could Sleep"
"The Kiss"
"At Night"
"Play For Today"
"A Forest"
"Three Imaginary Boys"
"Fire In Cairo"
"Boys Don't Cry"
"Jumping Someone Else's Train"
"Grinding Halt"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Leonard Cohen, April 10 at the Nokia Theatre

I got into Leonard Cohen's music in the '90s, and, even more oddly, through Trent Reznor's soundtrack to Natural Born Killers. I bought The Future years ago and always had it on as background music or late at night when I was doing something else and it never was completely my thing, other than the lyrics to "The Future" and maybe "Waiting for the Miracle" and I'm not sure why I never got rid of it (like I did the NBK CD) but over time it crept into my brain and stuck with me. The Cohen best-ofs are plentiful and I got a few so I had an overview of a chunk of his stuff. The announcement that he was playing Coachella '09 is as big a shock in concert announcements as I've ever gotten. He was the absolute top performer I wanted to see out there, so much that I didn't want to have to deal with a scheduling conflict or see a truncated performance so, luckily, as part of his tour he played L.A. the week before. I had a so-so ticket in the mezzanine of the Nokia Theatre but it was enough. I had never been to the Nokia Theatre but it was nicer than I thought it would be (after being disappointed by Club Nokia a few months before): the sound was good, the stage effects and lighting was excellent, and, similar to the Universal/Gibson Amphitheater, none of the seats were truly bad. But the real highlight was Cohen himself, at 75 performing like he was a third that age. By this age (older than any other performer I would see), he's got his show down to a science, backed by a crack band of professionals, in a set that was as spotless as the Nokia Theatre itself but certainly crowd-pleasing, for all the fans looking on in reverence and respect; if there weren't already fans there, Cohen would have won them over by charm alone. Of course most of the band were wearing fedoras and of course the back-up singers were hotties. The band was a little heavy on the Spanish guitar but that was only one interpretation of his music. The three-hour set (with an intermission in the middle. When was the last time I went to a show that had an intermission?) was also a crowd-pleaser, doing the more accessible stuff in the first half and the second half a bit more obscure, with Cohen himself playing a song on guitar then one on piano with only the back-up singers behind him, then building to the stuff that everyone should know in the encores, of which there were plenty, or at least it was with the band and Cohen interchangeably leaving the stage between songs, to gallop back to ecstatic audience response, usually in a standing ovation. Cohen spent much of the set armed with only a microphone and kneeling, like he was dedicating each song to the band, rarely facing the audience to sing to them, like a lover who was blinded by the object of his affection. Cohen is still in fine form and there's no reason he couldn't keep going until age 100. That he still connects with a crowd, perhaps even gaining an entire new generation of fans, enough to play Coachella, is a miracle in itself. But even Cohen admits that it's about his songs, covered a thousand times and loved more than a million times, that will go on past his life and the deep, dark croon that he's cultivated over the years and could never be matched by any peer. The story goes that Cohen was forced to tour after his manager stole millions of his money that was meant for retirement. Such a fate is a tragedy for a legend but his loss is our gain when he performs magic for us, which is more than we probably deserve.

Leonard Cohen's set:
"Dance Me to the End of Love"
"The Future"
"Ain’t No Cure for Love"
"Bird on a Wire"
"Everybody Knows"
"In My Secret Life"
"Who by Fire"
"Chelsea Hotel #2"
"Waiting for the Miracle"
"Tower of Song"
"The Gypsy’s Wife"
"The Partisan"
"Boogie Street"
"I’m Your Man"
"A Thousand Kisses Deep" (recitation)
"Take This Waltz"
(multiple encores)
"So Long, Marianne"
"First We Take Manhattan"
"Famous Blue Raincoat"
"If It Be Your Will"
"That Don’t Make It Junk"
"Closing Time"
"I Tried to Leave You"
"Whither Thou Goest"