Coachella Weekend Two: Day One

22 April 2012 | 3:55 pm | Cambell Klose

Coachella wafts by on a heavy and hot cloud of pot smoke, soundtracked by Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Givers, M83, Breakbot, James and John Fogerty jamming with The Black Keys.

The secret to surviving a festival like Coachella is starting slowly before peaking as the sun goes down. The heat is unbelievable and it completely changes the way you have to approach the festival. No matter how much we huddle under our tarp there is no escaping the scorching heat.


It is 420 today and the whole festival is ablaze as California celebrates. Everywhere people are running around wishing each other a happy 420 before vanishing off into the heat. Going into the festival grounds, Louisinanna indie rock five-piece, Givers, pop my Coachella cherry. They are a lot of fun and their sax-infused pop rock has the sweaty crowd in the Mojave tent grooving. Vocalist-cum-percussionist, Tiffany Lamson, is a livewire and spends the entire set jumping from one part of the stage to the other, her face streaming with sweat. Hopping across to the Saharah tent, Breakbot are halfway through their set. It is way too hot in there though and I opt for the main stage instead to catch for English rockers, James, of Getting Away With It All (All Messed Up) and Sit Down fame.

The main stage is fairly bustling as I squeaze through to the front of the crowd. James appear on stage and I am surprised by how old they are. Age doesn't seem to have tempered their eccentricity however. The trumpet player appears wearing a flamboyant red dress and prances about the stage stomping his feet and honking his big trumpet. Lead singer, Tim Booth is quite a character. He has a striking resemblance to Voldemort and throws his body around the stage as though posessed, wriggling his torso and head like a cobra ready to strike. They introduce Getting Away With It All as their theme tune to a stifled cheer from the heat-struck crowd. Some shuffling and sweating ensues before everyone retreats to the water tents or shade. 


By now our token Dane has got heat stroke after a vigorous Sebastian set and a large group head back to the van to try and recoup. In the Mojave tent Grouplove are thrashing out an energetic set. Opening with Lovely Cup they follow it up with Itchin' On A Photograph. It is super fun and their sweet indie pop is perfectly in tune with the vibe of the festival. Their cover of I Want To Dance With Somebody is a huge hit and gets the Mojave heaving with energy and sweaty bodies. Taking advantage of the break we try and sneak over to get some water. Nearly everything about Coachella has been organised brilliantly. I could not imagine a better set-up, from the camping site with numbered streets, to the thousands of toilets scattered all around the festival - it has been planned out immaculately. But they really underestimated the number of water stations they would need. There are 140,000 people standing out in the scorching 40 degree heat all day and only three water stations in the festival grounds. It is wild and the lines are often hundreds of metres long. 

Sunset over Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys are probably the let down of the festival so far. Though not a huge fan I was still expecting something pretty special from them. Strutting onto stage Alex Turner drawls, "How're you doing, Coachellllllla?" before leaunching straight into Brianstorm. Maybe it was partly due to the heat, but the crowd were flat. No amount of "I want to fucking hear you scream, Coachellllla" could quite rouse them. With the exception of I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor it is a subdued lot of punters watching Arctic Monkeys go through the motions. The highlight of their set is when the sun finally set behind the mountains rimming the Indio Valley. Fluorescent Adolescent and R U Mine? wrap up a tepid set. As night falls the festival grounds light up. Lasers start flying from the stages, strobes are throbbing in the tents and the famous ferris wheel and other artistic creations, including the Opera House-esque Gateway, monument are all lit up. It's pretty stunning.

Pulp follow Artic Monkeys on the main stage.There couldn't be any greater contrast between the two English rock groups. Jarvis Cocker is a natural entertainer. Pulp have the crowd from the moment they step onto the stage - opening with Do You Remember The First Time, Cocker's showmanship is a class above as he dances around the stage, splaying his legs and flicking his floppy hair around his face, peering out at the crowd through his glasses. His humour carries the set, accompanied by the spectacular light show. The light and sound is phenomenal, and with five stages all in close proximity it is astounding there is nearly no bleeding of sound between the stages. Unfortunately one of the big screens breaks while Pulp are playing, but it is still the set of the day. They finish with Common People, and punters literally sprint from all around the festival grounds into the huge mosh. 

The Black Keys follow Pulp. Black Keys bluesy rock is incredible but I don't think they are a headline act, expecially when you have a band like Pulp preceeding them. Having said that... Black Keys have come a long way since they played a few years ago at Pyramid - they have grown in those intervening years. They have an exceptionally full sound that seems unnatural from a two-piece band. Opening with Howlin' For You they power through Next Girl and Gold On The Celing. Auerback and Carney have probably a third of the whole festival entranced by their mesmirising music and lights. Their show is topped of by a special appearance from Credence Clearwater Revival legend John Fogerty, and together they covered Levon Helm's, The Weight.

Exhausted I stumbled over to M83's set at the Mojave. By now the entire festival smells as though a pot farm had been set on fire. Their setlist was largely the same as last weekend's (as is the case with most acts), but it hardly mattered as they blaze through We Own The Sky and Couleurs. The easily identifiable intro to Midnight City elicits raucous applause from their passionate supporters. Midnight City spells the end of my night, and as I crawl, utterly exhausted and sunburnt, into my tent... I can hear Swedish House Mafia playing away at the main stage. 

Festivals definitely are about pacing yourself... so, tomorrow,  bring on Bon Iver and Radiohead.