Coachella Report

5.2.2006

By Matthew Breen

Like Madonna, I too was like a virgin'a Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival virgin. Neither the Material Girl nor I had ever been to the giant festival in Indio, Calif. (near Palm Springs), but this year we can both add that notch to our belts.

Having been to assorted dusty summer music festivals in the past, I was planning on an indie rock crowd dressed for comfort in the 90-degree heat'you know, wearing clothes that you don't mind sitting down on the ground in and possibly spilling your beer on. Perhaps owing to the spots on the bill for major mainstream acts like Madonna, James Blunt, Kanye West, Franz Ferdinand, and Depeche Mode, the crowd was a more mixed bag. There were plenty of tattoos, ironic music-geek-chic message T-shirts ('I Hate Your Favorite Band'), and white guys with dreds, but also lots of designer denim and Dior sunglasses. Maybe it was the influence of the venue'the vast green lawn is more often populated with the polo ponies of the rich. In any case, many attendees thought the presence of West, Madonna, and Blunt was a poke in the eye to the fest's alternative sensibilities.

But thank God for the heat. The soaring temperatures had guys stripping off all day and well into the evening. The hunky-and-shirtless quotient was through the roof. I was rubbernecking all weekend long, and while plenty of the beefcake appeared to be of the breeder variety, guys were clearly checking each other out all over the place. The location is so close to Palm Springs, the cruising is practically required.

For a festival of its size'95 music acts performing over two days'the festival event was largely well run. With the heat, the 60,000 music fans, and the long days, I expected to see fights and riots. Everyone was pretty well behaved, and even in crowded areas, revelers were considerate of those who had overdone their capacity to handle the sun (and the E, the booze, and the weed) and were passed out on the grass.

On Saturday, my queer contingent of nine guys and one gal caught sets from the Walkmen, Common, Kanye West, Sigur Ros, Franz Ferdinand, and Depeche Mode at the Coachella Stage, the large outdoor stage flanked by huge video screens. Kanye West got the whole'mostly white'crowd waving their arms in the air. He's clearly aiming for a share of the rock audience with his appearance at this festival and his plans to open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their upcoming tour. Still it was cool to see that he and sexy hip-hopper Common were interested in playing to this crowd, even if it did get a little MTV Spring Break'like when Common pulled a tipsy, sunburned bottle blonde from the crowd onto the stage for a little trashy bump-and-grind. It was a sight to see Kanye's preppy, sportswear attired fans filter out and pale indie-boy fans of Icelandic art-rockers Sigur Ros (and it's gay lead singer J'nsi) filter in.

In the VIP area, band members and queer and straight celebs including Viggo Mortenson, Scott Speedman, Jorja Fox, Scissor Sisters's Paddy Boom, Chl'e Sevigny, Norm Korpi, Nicky Hilton, Sanaa Lathan, and Kevin Connolly mingled and listened to the bands on the main stage from shaded pavillions.

Joey Beltram's afternoon DJ set in the Sahara tent (where Madonna would perform the next day) was a trip, with rave kids and queer, buffed circuit boys zoning in and out mingling to the thumping beats. Though the tents provided shade, they also produced a greenhouse effect, and the temperature regularly topped 100 degrees. In the nearby Mojave tent, Australian band Wolfmother had the crowd screaming with heavy guitar-riffing, '70s-influenced rock.

As the sun set, a more determined hipster crowd appeared for Franz Ferdinand. While they didn't sound or look like they were giving 100%, the band still hit the proverbial high notes, rocking 'This Fire' and 'Take Me Out.' The big production of the night was Depeche Mode who lit up the screens with custom visuals while Dave Gahan leapt and spun on stage like Mick Jagger. Knowing that festivals include both die-hard and casual fans, the band trotted out popular hits 'Personal Jesus' and 'Strangelove' as well as some newer material.

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