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Confessions of a Coachella Webcast Viewer

by Rob Slater on April 15, 2014

This weekend, I ventured into the magical land of selfies, neon tanktops and Aaron Paul rocking out to Lana Del Rey. Of course, I'm referring to Coachella. However, I wasn't on the dusty grounds of Indio, CA, instead I was in my cozy one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment perched in front of my television ingesting hours of the live webcast. I about watched the whole bleepin' thing, I'm ashamed to admit. It wasn't my proudest moment, but I came away with a few surprising takeaways that I'd like to share.

Some may shock you, some may not, but I figure a discussion on the state of Coachella is necessary given the perception of it in some circles. The verdict? Coachella isn't all that scary and damning to culture as a whole. Go ahead and see for yourself.

Coachella is becoming a hotbed for collaborations

Paul McCartney danced on stage with Girl Talk, OutKast and Pharrell brought out damn near everybody, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Debbie Harry jammed with Arcade Fire, Jay Z and Nas collaborated and that was just on the webcast! With the amount of musical talent both on the lineup and in the crowd, Coachella is quickly becoming a meeting point for musicians of all genres. It seems like a no-brainer, really, that the proximity to Los Angeles would breed one-time-only sit-ins. For a traditionally non-jamband festival, the collaborations certainly made it feel like one. You can debate the quality of such collabs until you're blue in the face, but now what good would that do?

Capital Cities is going to be just fine

Before festival season kicked off, there was a lot of chatter about the LA indie pop rockers' ability to fill their respective time slot. Well, so far so good. The band's ten-song set included plenty of acid-jazz jams on popular songs "Kangaroo Court," "I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo" and of course "Safe and Sound." They covered Prince, Weezer and offered up a monster remix dance jam at the end of the show that had the crowd in stitches. Seriously, they're going to be a great late-afternoon slot to get you revved up for the nighttime festivities.

The Coachella crowd is actually pretty great

The next time I hear someone say "no one goes to Coachella for the music," it will be met with laughter. I was one of those people once upon a time and then progressively dug deeper into the webcast year after year, discovering one of the rowdiest, most energetic and dedicated crowds on the festival circuit. Now, if you're a grizzled old music vet, you probably won't like it. There's nothing wrong with that, but lose me with the "these kids don't get it" stuff. Are there kids Instagramming every second of their experience? Absolutely. Are the A-listers running around with photographers following them? Of course. Does any of that detract from the energy radiating from the crowd in front of the stage? Definitely not. As you'll see in this video of budding electronic act Disclosure with the absurdly talented Sam Smith, Coachella comes to party regardless of what you think.

The (probably harsh) reality is that Coachella remains one of the truest snapshots of pop culture in the younger generation, and that may scare people who are used to doing festivals a certain way. But at the heart of the festival remains an organic, true sense of spirit that is a product of its crowd. Coachella is different, but a good kind of different. A healthy respect was born through my late nights this weekend as I watched thousands gather to watch musicians spanning all genres and give them everything they had despite dust storms, high winds and mud.

The Head and the Heart is Arcade Fire circa 2007

Hear me out on this one: Following the release of Neon Bible, the band's sophomore effort, Arcade Fire established themselves as infectious songwriters who could easily woo a crowd into their unique brand of "indie" (that word is the worst) rock. They'd do it unconventionally, with violins, percussion, acoustic guitar and multiple lead vocalists, but they'd do it well and they'd make you believe it was something you had never seen before. Enter, The Head and the Heart. The similarities are eerie, and it hit me while watching their small, devoted West Coast following jump, scream and clap along to tunes from their own sophomore effort Let's Be Still. Involving themselves like this band was theirs, and theirs alone, much like the Arcade Fire faithful did years ago.

From a business perspective, Neon Bible gave Arcade Fire the national exposure they desired and, quite frankly, deserved. The band played SNL for the first time that year (The Head and the Heart made their TV debut this year, too) and also garnered critical acclaim on the festival circuit with appearances at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Coachella, Lollapalooza and more. Not to freak you out too much, but The Head and the Heart will make appearances at Bonnaroo, Governor's Ball, Lollapalooza and Summerfest in the coming months. The key for Arcade Fire, however, was their third effort The Suburbs which launched them into the rock and roll stratosphere. We shall see if these lovable Seattle roots rockers have the same fate. For all of our sakes, we can only hope so.

Speaking of Arcade Fire- they are king

Don't even bother trying to go up against these guys and girls. While I waited up all night for OutKast's triumphant return on night one, they didn't quite captivate me like I expected. Arcade Fire had me kicking myself for going to sleep at 3:30 AM and missing the tail end of their set. They're that good right now. The theatrics, performance and musicianship is astounding, making them one of the few "can't miss" bands on the festival circuit this summer. Win Butler is in full frontman mode (check out his jab at the VIP culture of Coachella) and the band is a powerhouse rolling downhill, simply getting stronger at every turn. You ever see the movie Unstoppable where Denzel Washington and the guy from Star Trek (the new, lesser movies) try to stop that giant train? Well, right now, Arcade Fire is the train. Unstoppable.


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