Coachella 2016: Day 1 in the Desert

24 Apr

desertkidsI was in a mood as Zack and I drove through the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. Leading up to our trip out to the California desert, I was in high spirits — blinded by a particularly strong musical lineup (Miike Snow! Christine & the Queens! M83! Run the Jewels! LCD SOUNDSYSTEM!!), all I could think about was experiencing live music performed by my favorites, dancing and singing with Zack. But as our rental car’s odometer ticked up mile after mile from San Diego to Indio, the reality of a California camping festival starting to play mind games with me. Would it be freezing at night again, making us incapable of falling asleep? Would the festival be filled with skinny, tan fashionistas who would make fun of me like so many mean girls at so many cafeteria tables? Would we even be able to ENJOY the music we’d traveled so far to experience, with scenesters filling up the fields? WOULD I HAVE TO POOP IN A PORT-O-POTTY?!?!? 

I didn’t have nearly this many questions. I was more focused on: “We’re still going the correct way to Indio, right?” I knew Caitlin would have and was having those concerns, but I was hopeful we’d keep her warm and happy in the moment. Except for the port-o-potty moments. Those are more or less inevitable.

IMG_1459You’d think I’d have had a handle on the answers to most of these questions, since this was not Zack and my first Coachella-rodeo. But all I could really remember about the 2012 version was how it rained into our tent* and got many of the blankets meant to keep us warm very wet, and how tickled I was by brushing my teeth outside. I’d tried to beef up my self-esteem, promising myself that nobody was even paying attention to me, let alone judging my attire or bodily makeup, and if they were fuck them anyway. Also, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go**, and you do what you have to do (and carry hand sanitizer and a personal roll of toilet paper with you EVERYWHERE).

*This is why we practiced setting up our new tent in the apartment the night before we left. Scooby very much wanted to have a tent party with us, but we feared him scratching it up or filling it with dog fur before we used it once.

**As our boy Forrest Gump said, “When I had to go, I went.”

Despite rolling into the campgrounds at around 1PM California time on Friday (which I thought was pretty early), we were directed to set up our campgrounds near the back of one of the last available lots — perfect for us, since we learned from our first go-around that we needed to move the car Sunday to avoid being stuck inside the campgrounds until 2AM.

After we parked, we agreed to wait and set up our tent* later that night. There were wind advisories sending us worried pings on our phones, and we already saw some toppled tents of folks who had set up earlier, so we just locked the car and headed in for our first day of music.

*Also of note, they confiscated our metal tent stakes since they could injure the horses that typically take up the festival grounds, so we had to buy plastic ones that didn’t seem as sturdy.


Zack was adamant about catching Mavis Staples’ set, and I certainly won’t turn down the opportunity to see a legend, so we wandered into the Gobi tent and were taken to church. Apart from having a deep and gritty voice that grabs you by the neck, Mavis Staples is just a charming person to be around. She told a few stories*, called out her “cousins” in the audience, covered the Talking Heads and ended with a huge gospel-style sing-along of “I’ll Take You There.” What really impressed me was how much I loved her new material — songs from her latest, Living On a High Note, were just as gripping as ever. Being in the presence of a talented, brave, strong game-changer like Mavis Staples, who has been a social justice warrior since long before that latest phrase was coined, grounded me in good festival feelings** right away, and allowed me to relax from my body anxiety and be a Staples believer, instead.

*Mavis had one extended bit of banter where she noted there were chandeliers in the tent and it made her want to sing “that song” so she sang a few seconds of Sia before saying she better stop or that little girl would come after her.

**After getting energetic high fives from security as we walked onto festival grounds, Mavis lifted us higher and reminded us to focus on love and peace. Got us in the perfect head space on a hot, windy weekend in the desert.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.45.28 AMIf this Instagram from three years ago posted by some random person didn’t exist, I’d believe we made up “The Goddess” salad in our dreams. Not that we’re the kind of people who dream of salads.

The next thing I’m going to talk about is a salad. Not just any salad — this salad was called “The Goddess,” and Zack and I both ate one EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. because it was that life-changing. I know, pfff, salad, how, right?! BUT SERIOUSLY. It had baby greens, the freshest, juiciest pears I’ve ever sunk my teeth into, cherry tomatoes grown in an angel’s garden, candied walnuts worthy of Beyonce*, gorgonzola cheese because cheese, obviously, and balsamic vinaigrette. I know these just sound like regular ol’ salad ingredients, but NO. I’m telling you. This thing was magic, and probably the only source of nutrition I got outside of my granola breakfast bars all weekend. I have searched and searched for the source of these otherworldly fruits and veggies, and have yet to find where they came from. I’m almost willing to return to Coachella every year JUST to have this salad.

*Salad dressing in her bag, swag? (I’m sorry.)

In comparison, the next few afternoon acts that Zack and I saw were not nearly as good as the salad we had for lunch. Joey Bada$$ was a good rapper, but Zack and I didn’t know his stuff so it was hard to get amped. Goldroom was SUPER standard L.A. synth pop, pandering to the youth per usual (they have a song called “Fifteen” and the main dude behind the outfit is 32, so that’s kinda gross). We scooted close for Bob Moses, who may have been my least favorite* act of the entire weekend (droning songs with mind-numbingly boring lyrics), but it was all worth it for what came next.

*Yeah, this whole stretch was forgettable. Someone passed me a j during Bob Moses and for a bit I thought it would help me enjoy the mediocre band, but it didn’t really work. At least we got close for our girl.

One of my co-worker friends introduced me to Christine & the Queens via their live performance on the Daily Show, and it was instant love. The heart and soul of “Tilted” rang true for me, and the lead singer (whose name is actually Heloise) had so much style and the coolest dance moves so that she and her band became a must-see for me. Because of our patience, Zack and I were rewarded with against-the-rail front-row spots for the performance, and it was the first time during the festival that I got butterflies in my stomach. As soon as I saw Heloise, I squealed, and pointed to show Zack how much she looks like our baby cousin Emma (it’s crazy, I’m telling you).

christinesidebysideThis is a perfect time to tell you we got to crash with Emma and her parents, my cousin Jon and his wife Lynae, the night before Coachella. We got to their house just before midnight. Jon waited up for us and hung out for a bit and in the morning made me an amazing acai bowl that worked great as festival fuel. I took the picture on the left of Caitlin and Emma playing Friday morning. The picture on the right isn’t an image aging software prediction of what Emma will look like in 25 years, it’s a pic of Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Letissier. Spitting image, no?

Her guys were all dressed in white t-shirts and grey slacks, rolled just above the ankle, with white sneakers. All but one dancer had no socks on. I had guessed at what the band-cum-dance-troupe’s opener would be, and I felt like “iT” would be the most likely option. I was right. Through the song, Heloise claims to have “it — I’m a man now,” using her microphone as a stand-in phallus*, as her band teased back that she was lying. It’s a strange but charming song about power and identity, and a really fun opener that sets the tone for a theatric show.

*The tip of her belt extending down her leg without being tucked into the loop extended this visual.

While the combination of great electronic pop music and energizing choreography* really elevates Christine & the Queens, Eloise is the heart and soul of the operation. Her voice is lovely, and her personality is enchanting. She claimed to be on a first date with Coachella, and brought us a bouquet of flowers out to the stage. She introduced the group’s hit, “Tilted,” by saying it was a song about realizing that you’re weird, and that that’s not only OK, but a good thing to be.

Christine and The Queens are superb. A couple friends I showed the video to said they thought it was cool, but weren’t sure they’d ever listen without the visuals of her incredible dancers. Caitlin and I bought the record on vinyl this weekend and drive around listening to them, so obviously we think it helps, but isn’t essential.

She played a song where she mashes up a classic French song with Kanye West’s “Heartless” that got everyone in the crowd singing along, and another called “No Harm Is Done” that’s emotionally raw and still catchy. She stopped her set at one point to pick the bouquet of flowers back up and said, “You might wonder, what is this? Why am I on stage? Why are these flowers here? Well that’s the great thing about life. In this bouquet, this one [she pulled out a gorgeous pink rose] is a Beyonce, who gets to be on stage. And then this [she pulled out another fully blooming daisy] is a Rihanna, another diva of the stage. And then this [here, she pulls something vaguely resembling baby’s breath, but more hectic and bushy] — this is me. Sort of fluffy and weird. And the great thing is, we all get to be in the bouquet, and we all get to be on stage. So remember that this weekend, Coachella. You all get to be here, and you’re all beautiful.” It felt like Heloise knew exactly what I needed to hear. I felt so bonded to her in that moment, and so very, very grateful. 

IMG_1471To close her set, Heloise briefly disappeared from the stage, and when she reappeared, she was on stilts* and in a sparkly, sequined pantsuit. She offered to sing us a lullaby as a thank-you, and launched into the gorgeous “Saint Claude” as a musical wave goodbye. Suddenly, I was ready for anything the weekend brought. It was all worth it in that moment. Zack and I turned to each other with wide eyes, feeling rejuvenated and ready to go. Absolutely incredible show. I may love LCD more, but this was the most impressive performance I’ve seen all year.

*I later joked that she calls this part of her show “Stilted”

We stumbled back out into the field to catch a glimpse of another heroine of mine, Alison Mosshart of the Kills, and then had a much less successful trip to the food court for dinner (I could only score some quick tater tots* before we needed to head to the main stage and start making our way to the front for LCD Soundsystem. Also I burned my mouth on the tater tots like a goober.)

*Caitlin faced a rough pizza line and panicked into tater tots in a time crunch. I got a pretty great chicken sandwich, I’m not gonna lie.

We caught the hit from Of Monsters and Men (still SO boring, my god) before carving out a spot just a row away from the left-side railing for M83. What I mean by “left-side railing” is that there’s the biggest VIP pit I’ve ever seen in my life in front of the main stage, covering the first 15-20 feet from the stage to GA, so we were as close as we physically, possibly could get for being on the left side.

M83 have been a live favorite of mine for a number of years now, and I’ve been semi-obsessed with the band’s varying band members — particularly Morgan Kibby, who now fronts a project called White Sea. Her exit from M83 coupled with my underwhelming feelings about the latest singles I’d heard had me less excited for the band’s set, since I knew it would likely not match the magic of sets past. That said, I forced Zack to let me play their latest album, Junk, from top to bottom on the drive in, and that got me more excited for the set. They played a lot of older tunes, which made me happy, and still had a ton of energy and sounded great*. I was halfway won over by the “new Morgan” when she did the Zola Jesus solo in “Intro” — she was definitely spectacular, but I’m a Kibby girl for life. The other unfortunate aspect of this set was that we finally ran into the Coachella scenesters I’d dreaded from the jump. A noisy crew of mostly dudes talked through the second half of M83’s set about how boring the band was, and how they couldn’t wait for Ellie Goulding (up next). I had half a mind to just stand right behind them during Goulding’s set and talk about how boring she was, but it wasn’t worth it and I tried my best to just tune them out. That’s where I should have used the fancy headphones my mom bought us for the camping festival — my own fault for forgetting to charge them before the trip!

*It was a solid show, but the band doesn’t quite feel the same to me without Kibby and I think the new album, Junk, is appropriately named. I’ll likely only see them at festivals from now on.

Ellie Goulding was fine. She was overly dramatic in a theater kid kind of way that made me roll my eyes a bit, but her voice is good and her songs are solid and her stage show is entertaining, so she passed the time between M83 and LCD Soundsystem well. There was one song where Goulding’s figure was on the big screens, and then it turned into a bunch of green lines (like the beginnings of a sketch of a figure), and those turned into an owl, and I can’t say that my Labyrinth-ine heart wasn’t moved a bit. Plus, who ISN’T amused by a group of bros* in VIP holding each other and jumping in a circle during “Anything Can Happen”? It was fun, and while I’d never spend good money to just see Goulding, I’m actually glad I had the chance at Coachella.

*The bros were the best part. Ellie was undeniably talented and I enjoyed a couple of her singles, but I didn’t connect with the music that much.

It feels weird for the number one band on your “must-see” list to play on the first night* of a festival. I don’t say that lightly, either — the moment we heard LCD was reuniting at Coachella was the moment Zack and I decided we were going. I don’t recall even looking at the rest of the lineup**, because it wasn’t a question at that point. Once a band breaks up, you feel like you’d better see them whenever they’re back because you can’t be sure when the next hiatus might strike. So all of our energy and love and momentum over the past months and years, dreaming about this moment, built to now — and it was time. We had managed to scoot up right against the left-side railing, and the equipment was being hauled onto the stage (I’d forgotten how much stuff LCD Soundsystem has) and the lights dimmed and suddenly, James Murphy was back onstage and everything felt right.

*I actually liked that aspect. I have the most energy the first day/night and can feel free to explore more the rest of the weekend after getting what I came for.

**Though it certainly helped that we had Run The Jewels, Miike Snow, M83 and more favorites to look forward to.

The set list would have made our local cover band, All My Friends, very excited — it was full of their jammier, dance-y cuts like “Get Innocuous!” and “Yeah” and “Tribulations,” plus fan favorites like “Someone Great” and “Losing My Edge” and “Dance Yrself Clean.” “I Can Change” came third, which was a special moment for Zack and I*, but really the whole thing felt like a dream. I made sure to call my love Melissa during both “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” and “All My Friends,” and I left it all out on the field, banging my head and screaming lyrics with the friend I’d made to my left and dancing like there was no tomorrow. Stumbling back to our campsite, Zack and I were euphoric, singing LCD and Christine cuts, totally bewildered that after five years, we’d finally seen “our band” together live for the first time. Murphy almost broke my heart in half with his cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” — I hear they did Prince’s “Controversy” the second weekend — and all felt right with the world. There was nothing more I wanted or needed. I was home**.

*All My Friends did an incredible job playing our song at our engagement and wedding reception, but there’s nothing like hearing our song together from our band with my arms wrapped tightly around my love.

**Home in our tent, trying to stay warm and find the energy for two more days and nights in the desert. Stay tuned for parts two and three.


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