Coachella attendees who braved Saturday’s hot temperatures got some great music to enjoy, including the day’s headliner, Lady Gaga.
I must admit that I am not a big fan of pop divas, but I promised myself I would keep an open mind as I took in Gaga’s performance, rather than doing my usual full embrace of the “music snob” title that some have bestowed upon me.
As for that performance: After Bon Iver’s Main Stage set finished a little before 10 p.m., most of the area was dead, as attendees crammed the Outdoor Stage area to take in DJ Snake’s performance. That let Gaga’s die-hard fans grab spots close to the stage.
Gaga was scheduled for 11:10 p.m., and even though the stage seemed set well before that, she did not take the stage until after 11:30.
I watched parts of last weekend’s Gaga show on the live YouTube stream. While it was an impressive spectacle, some moments fell flat (a sentiment I heard from people who were there, too). The costume changes were over-long, meaning her backing musicians had to play lengthy solos before she would finally reappear.
This week, she tightened things up. Her default costume appeared to be a pair of decorated Spandex shorts over a leotard, with stars next to her eyes and on her temples. While her appearance may have changed a bit, the set list was rather similar. Her banter with the audience at times seemed to fall flat—although she admitted to the audience that she felt a little nervous, in part because her parents were in attendance.
She also told a story about how she arrived in Los Angeles from New York wearing all leather, and was told that it was too hot to wear leather. She added that she still loves leather and that she was bringing leather to the desert. I’m sure the small group of bears I saw earlier in the evening walking around with leather harnesses and aviator sunglasses were in that sea of 100,000 people screaming, “YOU GO GIRL!”
Many of the visuals that accompanied the performance were not included all that much on the live stream last week—and in person, the visuals were indeed stunning and well-done.
Lady Gaga ain’t my cup of tea, but I appreciate the energy that her music puts out, and that she has fans from all walks of life. While the performance was a little rough around the edges for my tastes, her appearance will be remembered fondly by most.
Other Saturday highlights
• Local band the Yip Yops were an early afternoon delight in the Gobi Tent, with many people coming through to check them out. Their evolving and futuristic sound definitely made them stand out. Of course, the Yip Yops were ready for the Coachella stage two years ago.
• Chicano Batman performed to a large and fantastically diverse crowd at the Outdoor Stage on Saturday afternoon. Despite temperatures at almost 100 degrees, the band still played in ruffled shirts and new navy suits. This band is truly on the rise and drew a much larger crowd than they did when they played in 2015.
• The Heineken House was the place to be on Saturday, thanks to the air conditioning and the never-ending flowing of cold, delicious beer. Late in the afternoon, the protopunk band Death, the subject of a documentary titled A Band Called Death, performed in the tent. While it may have annoyed the typical Heineken House audience of people who like house and trap music, the rock crowd that turned out to hear them play—myself included—loved every minute of it. One has to wonder why they were not put in the Sonora Tent instead.
• Bon Iver’s co-headlining Main Stage performance was nothing short of fantastic. The band’s indie-folk sound has evolved in a big way, and the show was nothing like the group’s Coachella 2012 performance. There was a lot of live sampling and layering during the performance, along with some pretty trippy visuals. Also, Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis appeared with front man Justin Vernon at the end of his set. Vernon, wearing a T-shirt that said “PEOPLE” across the front of it, declared toward the end of his set: “If you don’t have close friends, you don’t have shit.”
Photo credits (below): Death, by Brian Blueskye; Bon Iver, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; Chicano Batman, by Erik Voake/Goldenvoice; Yip Yops, by Quinn Tucker/Goldenvoice
Camping accommodations at Coachella are pretty sweet—if you like to party.
But what if you aren’t into partying, are Jewish, and are attending Coachella? Shabbat Tent has you covered.
Coachella and Passover tend to overlap at times—as was the case last weekend. This weekend, on Saturday morning—during the Sabbath—I noticed Shabbat Tent and decided to stop in. There, I met Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.
Before the service, Rabbi Bookstein’s volunteers offered attendees grape juice, wine or whiskey to drink during the service. One of the attendees raised his hand and said, “WHISKEY PLEASE!” He then added: “I LOVE JUDAISM!”
During the brief Sabbath service, Rabbi Bookstein discussed giving freely to others without expecting anything in return, as well as the meaning of establishing healthy boundaries.
Shabbat Tent doesn’t only show up at Coachella. When you look at the Shabbat Tent website, you’ll see it has appeared at numerous U.S. music festivals, both small and large. The tent is not only a place observe together; it’s also a place where people can get hot meals, water and even some entertainment.
“The idea of Shabbat Tent started in 1999,” Rabbi Bookstein told me after he finished the service. “A couple friends of mine noticed a lot of people of Jewish background going to these festivals. They want to observe some of their Jewish rituals together. They wanted to have a themed tent where they could get together. That was the original idea. They’re going to be there on Friday night during Shabbat, ‘So let’s do Shabbat together.’”
Bookstein told me that everyone is welcome in the tent. His wife, Rachel, and all the volunteers are very hospitable toward all.
Bookstein said Shabbat Tent organizers quickly learned they were on to something. “There are the people who want to come together. But then there are hundreds (of people), or at some festivals even thousands, who also want to benefit and participate. Maybe they have a Jewish background; maybe they want to do Shabbat.
“Then there’s another element, which is opening a hospitality tent. You can’t just make it for Jewish people; you have to make it for everybody. It’s got to be universal. Shabbat Tent became a universal tent to create a place of chill and community in the middle of the craziness of a music festival.
“Coachella is more of a party scene than any of the other festivals that I can think of. Some people have asked us, ‘Why would you go to Coachella? It’s nothing but a big party.’ Actually, that’s why we need to be here more than ever. Because Coachella is such a party atmosphere, there are not a lot of places for people to chill and relax. Here, I feel we’re a necessity as to what’s going on, to provide people with a safe and chill area.”
The Shabbat Tent was of great service to Coachella attendees who found themselves in distress this weekend, as a rash of robberies hit the festival.
“People here get robbed. Who else is going to give them water and food?” Bookstein said. “They just can’t walk over to any of those vendors and say, ‘Hey, my wallet got stolen. Can I have a burger?’ They can come to Shabbat Tent, and we’ll give them water and food. We had a few people sleeping here last night who had their tent stolen, and a couple of people had their friends leave and abandon them. They had no place to sleep and no food, so they slept here at the Shabbat Tent.
“There’s another element, which we never planned for, which is Coachella not serving Kosher food. We have a Kosher kitchen here.”
Is Rabbi Bookstein excited to see any of the acts at Coachella? He laughed when I asked him and he described himself as more of a bluegrass fan.
“This is not my kind of music,” he said. “I appreciate the people, and there are some really talented people here. There is somebody playing on Sunday who I want to see: Toots and the Maytals. But this is not my lineup. A couple of years ago, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, my wife and I went and saw them a little bit, which is was fun. I grew up a few decades ago, so that was the music I remembered from high school.”
Radiohead’s Weekend 1 Coachella performance was, by all accounts, a disaster.
That was on everybody’s mind as the Friday headliner prepared to take the stage for Weekend 2.
I wasn’t at Coachella last weekend, but I certainly heard about the sound issues, intense audio feedback and other problems that forced the band off stage twice during the set.
Also … the band played “Creep” last weekend—a song the group almost never plays. Was it planned for the set list, or was it added as a consolation for fans who braved the technical difficulties?
I may never get the answer to that last question, but all of my other queries and concerns were washed away: Radiohead’s Weekend 2 performance was fantastic.
Ambient and atmospheric sounds emanated from giant poles, with speakers positioned throughout the Main Stage crowd area, before the band took the stage; it reminded me of Roger Waters’ Desert Trip performance. Speakers like this can really complement sound effects—or make a band’s sound schizophrenic.
Radiohead took the stage with a surprising lack of visuals: The video walls to the left and were not on, and a large round oval—visible as a non-operational backdrop throughout the entire day—remained non-operational. (This is called foreshadowing, kids!) During the first two songs—“Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk”—the only visual effects were lights shining upward on the stage.
Then came “Ful Stop,” the third song—where all the problems started last week. Suddenly, visuals on the sides of the stage started—and the aforementioned large, round oval in the background came to life.
It was like a cosmic blast.
The speakers throughout the field in the Main Stage area began to add layers and little noises to Radiohead’s music. Thom Yorke was energetic, although he avoided conversation with the audience, other than quipping that Radiohead was ready for a residency in Las Vegas.
While the Weekend 2 crowd didn’t get to hear “Creep,” we were treated to “Fake Plastic Trees,” another song the band almost never plays live.
Radiohead’s Friday night set was indeed a beautiful thing, and Weekend 2 attendees—who tend to be more of a music-aficionado crowd than the Weekend 1 group—left the Empire Polo Club on Friday night quite happy.
Other Friday highlights
• Local band Kayves absolutely rocked the Gobi tent. A nice crowd came to catch a glimpse of the band, which was received well. I had to laugh when Nick Hernandez explained that Kayves was on Spotify; this led a man to scream, “WHERE ARE YOU FROM!?” Alas, his shout went unheard by the band.
• The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s second appearance at Coachella was also well-received—which, considering the group was performing traditional jazz, was a beautiful thing. The group played some material from its new album, So It Is, and praised the crowd for “getting (their) asses out of bed early” to see them—even though it was after 3 p.m.
• King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (say that 10 times fast!) is a psychedelic rock band that includes elements of garage rock and metal. Also … I swear there’s a touch of Indian music for which Ravi Shankar was so famous—even though nobody plays sitar in that band. Anyway, the band turned in a fantastic afternoon set, while saying that the band’s Weekend 2 crowd was better than last week’s group. Pretty far out, man.
• The Interrupters performed an energetic, upbeat and wildly fun performance in the new, punk-and-garage-leaning Sonora Tent during the early evening—one of several new additions to Coachella this year that boosted capacity to a whopping 125,000 people. (Good news: The tent’s air-conditioned. Bad news: It looks like Nickelodeon threw up in there.) The Interrupters gained a huge mosh pit and knowledgeable fans who knew the lyrics to the songs—screaming along with Aimee Interrupter. At the end of the performance, guitarist Kevin Bivona told the crowd he wanted some audience participation, and asked if anyone knew how to play guitar. In response, a guy got up onstage; when asked what his name was, he replied “Tim” in a gruff voice, before a crew member handed him a worn-down black Gretsch guitar. That not-so-random audience member: Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who played two songs with the group and then went back into the crowd, where he took selfies with attendees who couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Photo credits (below): Kayves, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice; The Interrupters, by Everett Fitzpatrick/Goldenvoice.
You’ve probably never heard of Klangstof. If that’s indeed the case … you really need to change that.
From Amsterdam, the group has been performing together since 2015, and is now signed with Warner Bros. This year, Klangstof became the first Dutch group to ever play at Coachella.
Front man Koen van de Wardt stopped by the media tent on Friday, April 21, and chatted with me about his Coachella experience.
“It’s been amazing,” van de Wardt said, beaming with a smile. “It’s been everything I expected and a little bit more. It’s our first United States festival date, and it’s a very cool one as a first experience. Everything has been so overwhelming. All these people are walking around. Obviously, the heat is horrible, but you try to deal with it.”
Van de Wardt said the band has played at festivals in Europe—but the experience here is rather different.
“American crowds are very honest,” he said. “If they don’t like anything, they’ll (complain) right away. If they love it, they’ll be screaming. In Europe, it’s like people wear a mask. You can’t really read them as you would American people. I really love playing Coachella—because whenever you play a good song, people notice it right away. You can really feel the vibe of the audience right away.”
Klangstof’s indie sound may be a tough sell in America, but van de Wardt said he hopes people will keep an open mind.
“I wouldn’t call it a struggle, but we definitely need to work a lot harder playing in America,” he said. “We have to take way more extra steps to get going here. But I think if we work hard to get that done, people will understand at last. We’ll get there.”
Klangstof will soon go on tour with the Flaming Lips—one of the craziest live psychedelic-rock bands in the world. A look of excitement came over van de Wardt’s face when I asked him about it.
“I’ve never seen them live before, so that’s going to be a first for me. I really can’t wait to see the unicorns, the confetti and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I also like to tour with a band that inspires me—the bands you watch and say, ‘Now I’m inspired to write new music.’ I think the Flaming Lips are the perfect band to go on tour with, because they’re so different. They really do their own thing, and I’m looking forward to asking them how they do it and how they record their music. For me, it’s going to be a great learning process.”
Van de Wardt also talked about Radiohead’s glitch-filled performance last week.
“I really enjoyed Radiohead last week, even though they had all those sound problems,” he said. “I’ve seen a perfect Radiohead show before so many times, and I was curious to see how they coped with such a big problem. It was inspiring and very cool to watch a band cope with such a problem.”
I asked him what he thought about the cult of Lady Gaga, which is most definitely present at Coachella this year. He said he understood it—even if he doesn’t share warm feelings for the Saturday headliner’s music.
“I actually fell asleep during Lady Gaga because I was so tired,” he said. “That's definitely some kind of music I don’t understand myself, but I do understand it’s poppy and catchy, and people love it. But I always find it hard to trigger me. I do understand why she’s popular. I was awake for it for about 15 minutes, and I understand that it really works—how she does it onstage, and every move she makes. It’s very well-thought through, and it works great.”
Klangstof said the band is already booked through December.
“We’re doing the Flaming Lips tour first, going through the United States as well, and then we’re going to run through some festivals in Europe. After that, I want to rent a cabin in Norway, get the band in, set up our equipment and be there for three months.”
The name Justin Townes Earle tells several stories. The middle name pays homage to Townes Van Zandt, and his last name … well, yes, he’s Steve Earle’s son.
But Justin Townes Earle has made a name for himself; his music is truly his own. Like his father, he’s a country musician who frequently strays from the Nashville mainstream. Like both his father and his father’s mentor, Townes Van Zandt, he’s battled drug addiction.
He’ll be returning to Stagecoach on Friday, April 28.
His most recent albums, released in 2014 and 2015 respectively, were titled Single Mothers and Absent Fathers. During a recent phone interview, Earle talked about the differences between the similar albums.
“I ended up getting frustrated with the first record, Single Mothers,” Earle said. “I ended up writing Absent Fathers during (a) second year. They ended up coming together, because they were written really close to each other. I wouldn’t haven’t written Absent Fathers if I didn’t have that second year of frustrations I had with Single Mothers.
“I think, as an artist, I listen to a lot of different types of music. I think my records definitely have more of an Americana sound or whatever it is. … I paid more attention to my Replacements records and things like that. The new record I’ve made is more of a blues record, more along the lines of the Harlem River Blues album. Nobody should ever expect me to make the same record twice, or (for the records to) even to be in line with each other. I’m a whimsical motherfucker.”
As for that new record, just a couple of days after our interview, it was announced that Kids in the Street would be released May 26.
“During my early career, I would take a year between records,” Earle said. “Then I started taking two. It’s definitely time (for a new record).”
I asked whether taking more time between records helps or hinders his creative process.
“Really, I found it more frustrating to wait more than a year,” he replied. “I get a group of songs done, and I have time to second-guess them. I end up doing rewrites, edits and all kinds of things that maybe needed to be done, and maybe didn’t. But that’s up to the individual song. I do prefer the faster pace of work, but life doesn’t allow for that too much anymore.”
While he respects his father’s political music, Earle said he’s not a big fan of mixing politics and music.
“It’s not that I’m not interested in it; it’s something I think for me, personally, I would approach it very carefully,” he said. “I’m not happy about either political party. It’s been, ‘I’d rather vote for Jeffrey Giraffe instead of this person.’ It’s been like that my whole lifetime. I’ve always seen music as the Grand Ole Opry, the Louisiana Hayride, and this thing where everyone can go, which is a high for society. I want my music to be where you don’t have to believe what I believe to feel comfortable at one of my shows. I think we have very few bonds between Americans today.
“I don’t disagree with my father’s music, because that’s what he does. He’s really good at it. But it’s just not what I do. I feel like it works its way into my songs, but I tend to use more social ideas, and it tends to be buried. I write about people issues, everyday life issues and local issues.”
Earle said his father pays a price for his politics.
“I think that after years, you can’t go to a Steve Earle concert expecting anything different. But recently, it doesn’t go over very good for him in the South,” he said. “People will get up and leave one of his shows pissed off. It does happen, and that’s only because they didn’t do their homework, and they only remember ‘Copperhead Road’ and nothing else. But I wonder how big his crowds would be had he not gone that direction. Those people don’t come to the shows anymore.”
Justin Townes Earle now lives on the West Coast, after living in New York City. However, Earle said he misses the South.
“I’ve always missed things about the South, no matter where I’ve lived. It’s what I grew up with,” Earle said. “People aren’t as communal anywhere else as I’ve seen growing up in the South. I don’t know what it is, but there’s a certain niceness to Southern people that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and it’s a certain kind of nice. It’s just familiar to me.
“I miss Nashville—and that’s not anything you can see anymore. It’s gone. It’s buried, and the rate at which Nashville gentrified is just astounding. It’s not that it was a better place when I grew up. It was rough, and it was a dangerous city in the ’80s and ’90s. There was no industry; most of the inner city was poor and rough. … But my mom always got to take me back to the place where she got a burger when she was a little girl and the toy store where her dad bought her toys. I got to do all that stuff with my mom when I was growing up, and I can’t do that with my kid.”
As for his addiction days, Earle said they are behind him.
“I was 24 years old when my first EP came out, and I’m 35 now. There’s a drastic difference,” he said. “I’m also a married man now, and definitely a lot more stable of a human being than I used to be. I guess the self-destructive bomb found its way out of me. I do believe it has a lot to do with my wife, and if we’re happy with life, we’re not going to try to alter it. But I’m also not going to start writing songs about walking on sunshine and things like that.”
The last time Earle played Stagecoach, in 2013, his tour bus was parked right next to the Palomino stage. He said he enjoyed the diversity of the festival.
“For as big of a festival as it is, it’s laid out very well,” he said. “I’ve never played a large festival like that where I could put my bus right by the stage. I love that about it. It’s set up very well, and it’s very easy to get around. It’s really interesting how that festival is evolving in a big way. There’s definitely been this new look in the past several years of looking at the popular country vibe and doing that because people love that, but also bringing in some obscure acts that sound different. I think that it’s become a very progressive festival; a lot of other festivals get stuck in their ways.”
John Robbins has been around the local music scene for quite a while—and one of his many talents is his expert playing of the ukulele. He can perform classical pieces on the instrument, as well as a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and even songs like AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Despite being visually impaired, he’s also a visual artist; his work can be seen at www.facebook.com/whoseworldcomic. John was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.
What was the first concert you attended?
I’m not exactly sure, but the earliest one I can remember is seeing Jose Feliciano on an outdoor stage in Berkeley when I was a kid. It was great to see one of my idols at the time!
What was the first album you owned?
Nirvana’s Nevermind, back in high school. Better late than never, right?
What bands are you listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz recently with my dad: Steve Allen, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, etc. Otherwise, I’ve been really into J-Rock (bands from Japan): X-Japan, The Oral Cigarettes, The Pillows, Special Others and The Brilliant Green.
What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?
Any sub-genre of metal. What’s djent and metalcore? Why not just say you play metal?
What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?
Kaki King. I saw her play once back when her first album came out, but I’d love to see what she can do now since her style of playing has evolved so much within the last decade.
What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?
1990s pop/pop-rock. It’s just fun to listen to! Who wouldn’t want to bob their head to “The Sign” by Ace of Base or sing along to any Boyz II Men?
What’s your favorite music venue?
The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. It’s always a good time over there, especially for open mic!
What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?
“Let’s drive them crazy!” from the English version of “Hey Kids!” by The Oral Cigarettes, which is performed by a YouTuber called AmaLee.
What band or artist changed your life? How?
Jake Shimabukuro. I saw him live in 2006 when he played at The Knitting Factory with Kaki King. The way that he played ukulele was absolutely mind-blowing. I had no idea such a tiny instrument could be that powerful and move so many people. Needless to say, the ukulele has been my favorite instrument to play ever since!
You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?
I’d ask Jake Shimabukuro: “How does it feel knowing you’ve inspired so many people to learn how to play ukulele?”
What song would you like played at your funeral?
Jake Shimabukuro’s arrangement of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?
What song should everyone listen to right now?
“Little Monster” by Royal Blood! What are you waiting for? GO LISTEN! (Scroll down to hear it.)
Radio personality Brad Mercer is known for his long-running Bands ’N’ Fans radio show on local country-music station KXCM. However, his showbiz talents extend well beyond radio.
Mercer’s show can be heard every Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. on KXCM FM 96.3/92.1, and streaming at www.bradmercersbnf.com.
During a recent phone interview, Mercer talked about his true passions.
“I’ve done so much in my life that it boils down to helping other artists get to where they want to go,” Mercer said. “I’ve done so much in my life that I’ve wanted to pass it on to the younger artists who are trying to get somewhere in the business. The only way I know how to do that is to help promote them in some way.”
His showbiz career started rather inauspiciously.
“It started when I got my first guitar, which was back in 1955. I cut my teeth on live television at KTLA,” Mercer said. “My mother and father had a live television show called Bandstand Review. It was actually put together with the Mercer Brothers; it was my father and my uncle. They put me on one night, and it was before tape, and it was all live—and my debut was a close-up on my face, picking my nose. The director fell off his stool in the control room and never forgot that.
“The next thing I knew, I had a guitar at 5 years old and started learning Johnny Cash, guys like Roger Miller, and everything I could. It was the only thing I heard, because I wasn’t around rock ’n’ roll at the time. (As with) every other musician in the world who wants to do something, everything changed that night Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles. Whatever they did, I copied. I wanted to be a Beatle.”
In 1975, Mercer started his own band. He’d go on to record in Nashville, tour America—and just miss another potentially notable television moment, involving a recently departed comedy legend.
“I had six major albums behind me that didn’t do anything, because at that time, you had Fleetwood Mac coming out, along with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Those were bands that had all those labels behind them. The stuff I was doing back then was always a day late and a dollar short.” Mercer said. “I did make it to the Tonight Show green room. I had a song out at that time called ‘Don Rickles for President.’ Don calls me up and says, ‘You gotta come over and perform it. I’m hosting The Tonight Show; Johnny (Carson) is on vacation, and let’s do it!’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, this is it!’ I’m getting ready to go, and I got bumped. He said, ‘Don’t worry, Brad; we’ll do it tomorrow.’ The next day, I’m at the pool in Burbank, and I get a phone call from Don’s manager: ‘Brad, Carson is coming back, Don is going to start shooting C.P.O. Sharkey, and you’re out.’”
Eventually, Mercer found himself in Jacksonville, Fla. That was where Mercer discovered another talent.
“I was at this comedy club called Sassy’s in Jacksonville Beach,” Mercer remembered. “I was sitting at the bar laughing and said, ‘I could do that.’ This guy next to me said, ‘Go ahead. Go on up there!’ I asked, ‘Who are you?’ and he said, ‘I own the club.’ I walked up onstage, and everything I learned from my father came to me: I did five minutes and had them laughing. (The owner) offered me a job to help him run the club. I booked acts who I had worked with like Pat Paulsen, Rita Rudner and a good friend at the time named Jay Leno. As I’m running these acts, I would go up and do five minutes, which would go to 10 minutes, and I was building material at the time. Jay would always call me and say, ‘Hey Brad. I’m coming through town; can you plug me in?’ I’d say, ‘Jay, all I have is $750. I can’t pay you any more than that.’ And he’d say, ‘It’s all right; we’ll go out and ride motorcycles.’ I would open up for him when he would come to town. That happened with George Carlin as well. The comedy led to radio.”
Mercer recently began recording and playing with local band Braun Fraulein—which means “Brown Girl” in German, he pointed out. Watch for an album-release show in the coming months.
“They’ve been here for a while,” Mercer said. “They would play the Palm Canyon Roadhouse; they would play the Joshua Tree Saloon; and they would play free concerts. Everywhere they’d go, it’d be three guys: Jimi Heil on guitar, Mark Fry on bass, and Eric Mouness on drums. When they played, it mesmerized me, because it was different. We got to know each other. … They knew who I was and would bring me up onstage. They didn’t want to do covers and wanted to do originals. I threw a bunch of originals at them, and when they played them, it took on a whole different aura and sounded really good.”
One of the songs they recorded is “Drain the Swamp,” which Mercer said is not particularly partisan. He explained the story behind the song.
“One night at the compound, which is Mark Fry’s studio up in Sky Valley, before the presidential election, we started jamming on a riff I created, and they got into it, and it started to come together,” Mercer said. “During that time period, you heard ‘Drain the Swamp’ and ‘Let’s Make America Great Again.’ We’re thinking, ‘That would be really cool, no matter who did it, no matter who was in office.’ We didn’t put politics into this at all. I just started singing ‘Drain the Swamp.’ I made up lyrics, and Jimi had the tape rolling. We took it back, and we were like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’
“About a week before the inauguration, we released the video for it, and it was approaching 30,000 views. We had people saying, ‘You gotta play the inauguration.’ People really tried to get us to do that. It was nice to know they thought the song was that good. It wasn’t necessarily for Trump or Clinton; it had nothing to do with that. It was all about making America great again and draining the swamp in Washington, D.C., no matter who did it.”
In the summer of 2015, I visited music producer Ronnie King’s studio, “Chateau Relaxo,” in Thermal as the Yip Yops recorded a new album.
At the time, the Yip Yops seemed ready to take the mainstream-music world by storm. The young band had just signed with talent-management company Hood and Associates, which was helping the band create that aforementioned album.
Shortly after that August 2015 article came out, the band’s name was changed to IIIZ. However, after a performance at the 111 Music Festival under that name in the fall, the band announced it had left Hood and Associates and was returning to its original name. Nonetheless, Hood and Associates released the album under the IIIZ name. (Today, the Yip Yops disavow that album.)
However, talent wins out—and the Yip Yops are as popular as ever, as shown by the band’s addition to the Coachella lineup. In between Saturday Coachella performances, the band will play at The Hood Bar and Pizza with the Flusters on Thursday, April 20.
I caught up with frontman Ison Van Winkle and drummer Ross Murakami in Palm Desert to discuss what happened with Hood and Associates.
“Basically, we were a younger, less-experienced band,” Van Winkle said. “We were promised the world, and we believed it. We thought it would be an interesting journey. It just ended up being the worst-case scenario. They wanted to push us in a direction that we didn’t have any desire to go in, and in the moment, we were trying to be open, collaborative and cooperative. … We grew a lot in that process, and looking back on it, we’re a much stronger band and stronger friends. In that situation … we knew we had an out, and we decided to exercise it and void the contract. It was bullshit what they did, and they were completely out of line.”
Murakami said they were saved by a good lawyer.
“The whole thing was a learning experience,” he said. “Now we’re moving forward. In a way, we were prepared for the worst-case scenario. Our lawyer wrote up the contract in a pretty smart way. We didn’t like them, and we didn’t want to be a part of that anymore. Now we’re free.”
Van Winkle said other local publications have incorrectly written about the band’s status, adding that one publication—which he would not name—incorrectly reported that the band members don’t have the rights to their own music.
“We’ve been completely free with no ties whatsoever for the past year,” Van Winkle said. “I think there’s a big misconception, because there have been other articles and such, where people ask if we own the music, and, ‘How can they play these songs live?’ We own the songs, and we have owned the songs this entire time. The way that it was all set up was that we licensed them to use the recordings from Ronnie King’s studio—that’s it. They still have that right, and they can do with (the recordings) what they want. We don’t really care for those recordings, anyway. That’s it, and that’s where the line is drawn. We own all the music; we own all the rights to play it live; and we feel that needs to be pretty clear.”
Van Winkle said Hood and Associates was very controlling during the recording process of that album released under the IIIZ name.
“We don’t think that Ronnie King was able to produce to his full potential because of the label we were working with,” Van Winkle said. “It was a controlled environment, and he would tell us his frustrations as we would tell him ours. Our insight into working with Ronnie King on those sessions is not the Ronnie King most people work with. It was a very controlling, very grueling process.”
The Yip Yops have started to record again.
“We wanted to do some recording and remind ourselves of what we set out to accomplish,” Van Winkle said. “We wanted to do it ourselves and not with anyone else. We’re going to control what it sounds like, and looking back at those recordings, everyone in our band feels they are eons better than what we did with the label. … It was a good reboot to everything. Since then, we’ve never stopped.”
The Yip Yops played with the Flusters on April 20 last year at The Hood Bar and Pizza, and also played at the Flusters’ EP release party last September. That second show was sold out, and The Hood Bar and Pizza’s security team had to turn away people long before 10 p.m., when the Yip Yops took the stage.
“The Flusters are always an amazing band to be working with,” Murakami said. “We’ve had a lot of meetings and calls, and it’s always been so fun to be working on something with the Flusters.”
Van Winkle said the Yip Yops have a lot in common with the Flusters; for example, the bands have similar goals.
“Both of our bands have a similar vision for the potential both of us have—just the drive and desire to keep progressing and keep getting out there,” Van Winkle said. “Both bands realize that this is our home, and it always will be, but to do what we feel the music has a potential to do, you have to get out and expand. Neither one of us wants to just play The Hood every weekend; we want more than that, and there’s more there. It’s good to have that, because we can push each other and reach that goal.”
Van Winkle said the Yip Yops have no regrets about where they’ve been during the past two years. He also explained where the band is at in the recording process.
“The main question we always get asked is, ‘Where can we hear your music?’ or, ‘When are you going to come out with some music?’” he said. “We know there’s a demand and an interest for it, at least locally, and from our point of view, we want to fulfill that desire, but we want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward. We want to make sure what we put out can last longer than we can. With that, it’s taken us a little longer.”
The Yip Yops will perform with The Flusters and Quay at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 20, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $8. For more information on the Yip Yops, visit www.yipyops.com.
From the time it was announced through Lady Gaga’s late addition as a headliner fill-in for the pregnant Beyoncé, this year’s Coachella lineup has been one of the most questioned and talked-about ever.
Beyond the headliners, however, there are always gems among the names in the smaller font on the poster. Here are some acts I’ll make sure to see—and I recommend that you check them out, too.
Friday, April 14 and 21
The name is funny, and so is some of the music, but this Seattle band, around since 2007, has a seriously interesting punk-rock sound. Three of the band’s four members are women, and during an interview with VICE, bassist Bree McKenna claimed that she was the illegitimate child of Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine. She was kidding … we think. Don’t dawdle on Friday; get to Coachella early to catch this band’s feminist messages, humor and sarcasm.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
I always love the variety of music showcased at Coachella throughout the weekend—and seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be a real treat. This legendary New Orleans jazz band has been going since 1963, and an impressive list of musicians has come through the band. The group also recently appeared on the Foo Fighters’ album Sonic Highways. The band played Coachella in 2014—and it felt like you couldn’t escape them. Beyond the band’s scheduled set, the group showed up in the Heineken tent to perform with Angelo Moore of Fishbone, and also appeared with Arcade Fire later in the evening. For a minute, I thought I might even see them busking in the parking lot.
Father John Misty
I’m so happy that Father John Misty is not scheduled at the same time as Radiohead’s headliner set. I included Father John Misty in my Coachella suggestions in both 2013 and in 2015—and both sets were amazing, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be blowing minds again in 2017. The former Fleet Foxes drummer has come a long way as a solo artist. His indie-folk sound has a lot going on in it, and his songs are deep—and often hilarious. Definitely make sure you catch Father John Misty; you won’t be disappointed.
Saturday, April 15 and 22
Yip Yops, Kayves
A different local band or two is announced as a Coachella performer, playing early on a stage, a few days before both Weekend 1 and Weekend 2. CIVX (now Killjoi), Machin’, EeVaan Tre, Alchemy, Brightener and The Flusters have played in this slot. Who will play this year? We received the answer for Weekend 1 today: Kayves on Friday, and Yip Yops on Saturday. As for Weekend 2, worthy contenders include The BrosQuitos, Hive Minds and the reigning Independent Best of Coachella Valley Best Local Band, Venus and the Traps. Locals: Go and support the bands are selected!
Psychedelic pop/rock band Warpaint (upper right) turns in live performances that soak attendees in dark psychedelic vibes—no frills necessary. The group’s most recent album, last year’s Heads Up, took the band in more of a pop direction, but let me assure you: The album is fantastic, and was one of my favorites of 2016. The tracks “New Song” and “So Good” get stuck in your head—and you only want to hear more.
Flying Lotus protege Thundercat is a musician on the rise. After releasing his latest album, Drunk, in February, he’s gotten bigger thanks to the buzz that has surrounded it. Thundercat’s electronic funk mixed with soul somehow sounds both futuristic and traditional. His bass grooves on Drunk are so damn smooth, and his collaborations with people such as Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald are weird and fantastic at the same time. It’s hard to believe this guy was once playing bass for Suicidal Tendencies.
The Head and the Heart
I saw The Head and the Heart’s set at Coachella in 2014, where I learned the band’s folk sound could work well at Stagecoach, too. The Head and the Heart remind me a lot of The Lone Bellow, because the songs are deep, yet The Head and the Heart also can play in styles similar to Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, and even Vampire Weekend. The band writes more complex parts for the mandolin and fiddle than most Americana bands.
Sunday, April 16 and 23
Toots and the Maytals
Goldenvoice has put some great reggae legends on the Coachella stage—and Toots and the Maytals, one of the great reggae/ska bands of the early ’60s, is the latest band that is part of that welcome trend. Toots Hibbert (below) is a reggae legend who has the voice of a soul singer; he’s written some of reggae’s greatest songs, and has performed with acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Major Lazer, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and many others.
This one makes me laugh every time I look at the Coachella lineup. One of my friends who worked in the film industry at Warner Bros. asked me, “Hans Zimmer ... how does that work, exactly?” The legend who has created the scores for films such as The Dark Knight, The Lion King, Inception and many other blockbusters is definitely an odd addition to the lineup … but I have a feeling he’s going to silence anyone who made fun of his inclusion, even though I have no idea what his performance will entail. Who knows … maybe Goldenvoice can get Philip Glass to perform in the future?
In 2014, I went Pappy and Harriet’s before Coachella started to watch The Pixies. As I was leaving Pappy’s, one of the owners, Linda Krantz, asked if I was staying for the very late performance of Future Islands; I declined. While at Coachella the next day, I took a short nap on the grass in the media area right behind the Gobi tent … and was woken up by a catchy bass line. I got up and walked into the Gobi to watch Future Islands, which had just started the set. I was blown away, and I can’t wait to see Future Islands at Coachella again.
New Order is made up of the surviving members of Joy Division (now minus bassist Peter Hook) and was one of the biggest bands of the ’80s and ’90s. Take note: Bernard Sumner is known to be a serial complainer during performances. When I caught the band’s set at Coachella in 2013, Sumner bitched throughout—to the sound engineer about a botched intro (before the band even played a note), and about headliner Phoenix, which was playing on the Main Stage at the same time. That aside, the band turned in a great performance. Expect some great visuals and music to dance to—things any Coachella attendee will appreciate.
Updated on April 11 after release of set times.
Many music fans know about Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala—but they probably don’t know about Pond, even though the band has featured and continues to feature various members of Tame Impala.
Here’s the current breakdown: Pond’s frontman is former Tame Impala touring member Nick Allbrook, and the band includes Tame Impala member Jay “Gumby” Watson. Other Pond members are Shiny Joe Ryan, Jamie Terry and Ginole.
In between performances at Coachella on Sunday, April 16 and 23, Pond will be playing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Monday, April 17.
During a recent phone interview from Australia, Jay Watson told me why so many bands from Australia have made a splash in the United States over the last decade.
“If you think about it proportionately, (the number of bands to find success) is probably the same as it is in the United States,” Watson said. “There are, like, 23 million people here. I know it’s kind of easy and fun to think of it as this obscure place.”
Both Tame Impala and Pond are known for melding psychedelic music and rock. Watson said it’s not really a challenge to mix the two together.
“We just try to make stuff that has melodies we like,” he said. “… I guess we like stuff that sounds weird. That’s why it sounds psychedelic, or whatever word you want to use. We always try to make it sound weirder and have stronger songwriting at the same time.
“I guess we haven’t thought about making something sound psychedelic. … We just listen to a bunch of stuff and then squish it all together. If you’ve been listening to a lot of old Brian Eno and a lot of the new Rhianna album, (our music) is probably going to come out somewhere in between,” he said with a laugh. “I think it’s a really transparent process to where we’re digging on things, and it finds its way into the music.”
A new Pond album, The Weather, will be released on May 5.
“It might be a bit more conceited,” Watson said about the new album. “… We didn’t just throw in every idea that we had, which Pond has been known for in the past. I think (the new album) covers a lot of ground. There’s rock ’n’ roll stuff on there; there are samples from old records, and even hip-hop stuff, and electronic stuff, and it’s really freaky noise. I think it jumps around a lot in 40 minutes. It feels like longer.”
Considering Pond’s recorded music includes all of those aforementioned elements, the band members must find ways improvise during live shows.
“It’s kind of like covering your own songs,” Watson said about performing live. “When we record our albums, two or three of us record all the instruments. On some of the songs, I might be the only person on the song. On some of the songs, it might be Joe as the only person on the songs. As a five-piece (performing live), we kind of delegate parts of the songs. We even have electronics on tracks, like the horns, saxophones and trombones.”
Watson said he enjoys touring in the United States.
“I find it interesting that you go through the middle of the country,” he said. “In Australia, you wouldn’t go through the middle. That’s always intriguing. But there are a lot of nice older venues in America. I like the theaters, and they are some of the nicest theaters in the world. It’s kind of like Australia in that (the U.S.) has a wide range of landscapes. You don’t have tropical, but you have the desert, and you have the Pacific Northwest. Over a month, you get to see a bunch of different landscapes, which is interesting.”
In addition to performing on Sundays at Coachella, Pond will perform with Nicolas Jaar and Floating Points at 8 p.m., Monday, April 17, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are currently listed as sold out. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.