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In 2014, Benjamin Booker became one of the most-talked about independent artists of the year—earning a slot at Coachella in 2015. Today, he’s still dazzling audiences with his brand of garage rock mashed up with soul.

He’ll be making his second trip to Coachella on Saturday, April 14 and 21.

Booker released his self-titled debut album in 2014, and spent two years touring behind it. He emerged again in 2017 with his second album, Witness.

During a recent phone interview, Booker discussed what happened after the tour was over, and he returned to his home in New Orleans.

“I was riding my bike—and I got shot at while I was on my way to a dinner party,” Booker said. “I don’t really like to talk about it, though, because I don’t want to give New Orleans a bad reputation.”

After touring extensively, Booker was exhausted.

“We did a lot of touring,” he said. “This time around, I’m not doing that much touring. That is very intentional: It was way too much. But you don’t know your limits until you push them. It took me a really long time to get back to a good place after that, and it was a long recovery. It wasn’t until a year after that I started writing again. It was probably longer than that—maybe a year and a half.

“The first record was so surprising, and I didn’t really plan on playing music; I didn’t have a game plan. I think that was something I had to figure out at that point: If I was going to keep playing music, where was I going to go with this?”

After the trauma of being shot at, Booker took off to Mexico City, where he wrote the new album. The legendary Mavis Staples sings the title track with Booker.

“She is the best. I’m playing with her for the first time in the United Kingdom, and I’ll be opening for her, and I’m really excited about that,” Booker said about Staples. “I just like hanging out with her. When we were hanging out one time, she was telling me this story about how she met ‘Martin,’ and I was like, ‘Are you talking about Dr. Martin Luther King?’ She is one of those people whose life is just so rich and full of events and stories. It’s cool to hang out with people like that. I think that was a bigger deal for me than the first album I did. Everyone knows who Mavis Staples is, including my parents. I felt like my parents were so proud of me, and it was special to be able to do it.”

Booker said he still has a lot left to accomplish musically.

“I think that as a musician, you have to look at this whole thing as a process,” he said. “I don’t think that I’m where I want to be as a musician yet, but I think I’m working my way toward that point. That’s how I’m looking at this whole thing. We’re all just trying to make that record exactly the way we want it, so it fully expresses the feelings you want. Until I get to that place, I’m trying to enjoy the ride.”

What does Booker find enjoyable to listen to these days?

“I like SZA and that album Ctrl—that’s what I’ve been listening to a lot lately,” he said. “I listen to a lot of Frank Ocean, and I like Margo Price and saw her perform recently. I saw Parquet Courts perform here recently, and I love them. I’ve felt recently that I have that love of music thing going again, so I’m going to concerts and checking out new people.”

I asked Booker if he lost his love of music at some point

“Oh, definitely. Somewhere after that first album, I didn’t really want to play music anymore,” he said. “You really have to be strong to do this, and I didn’t think it was really for me. I had no idea what was going to happen when I made that album. When you listen to it, it’s literally a live album: We just pushed play and recorded songs. We did it in two days, and nobody thought anything of it.”

Booker said he’s looking forward to his second time performing at Coachella.

“I had a great time last time,” he said. “Good music is good music. I’m not one of those people who just listens to rock music, and I like a lot of the things Goldenvoice does. So I’m excited to see a bunch of people.”

Published in Previews

A Perfect Circle will release its first album in 14 years, Eat the Elephant, on April 20—a date that just so happens to fall in between the band’s performances at Coachella, on Sunday, April 15 and 22.

The album is one of the year’s most highly anticipated releases; it’s the fourth studio album by A Perfect Circle, founded in 1999 by Billy Howerdel, who at the time was a guitar tech for the band Tool. Maynard James Keenan, the frontman of Tool and Puscifer, was interested in the project after hearing some demos Howerdel played for him. The band put out its debut album, Mer de Noms, in 2000, and follow-up Thirteenth Step in 2003; both went platinum. The success and popularity of the band continues to be on the same level as Tool, even after the controversial third album, Emotive, in 2004, which was a collection of “reimaginings” of famous anti-war songs.

The band went on hiatus in early 2005, but returned to touring in 2010. In addition to Howerdel and Keenan, the current lineup includes guitarist James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins; Palm Springs native and touring Eagles of Death Metal bassist Matt McJunkins; and drummer Jeff Friedl.

Eat the Elephant is another timeless rock album—in an age when rock records are being forgotten. (I received a preview copy before the interview.) It’s an offering that will offer hope to what is left of rock’s faithful audience, and will make for an interesting backdrop at a Coachella festival full of new-era mumble-rap artists--and very little rock music.

During a recent phone interview, I asked Maynard James Keenan why the band reunited.

“That’s a good question, but I don’t think it was about either of us missing it,” Keenan said. “I felt that Billy and I went off to do other things for a while, and he was very happy doing Ashes Divide, and I was doing Puscifer. I think it was just time. It wasn’t so much that we missed it, but we felt more like it was time to get back to work on that stuff.”

Tool and Puscifer seem to reflect different sides of Keenan as a music artist—so what does A Perfect Circle offer him artistically that his other bands don’t? He hesitated for a moment.

“I feel like it’s different conversation,” he replied. “… I don’t really think (A Perfect Circle) provides me with something that the other bands don’t; it’s just different puzzles—and I like puzzles!”

Between 2010 and the announcement of Eat the Elephant last year, fans speculated whether a new album would ever become a reality.

“We started recording it in late summer 2017 when I was in harvest”—Keenan owns wineries in Arizona—“and we hauled ass and finished it,” he said. “We had the first conversation about it and delivered it to be mastered in under a year. I think that’s pretty fast, honestly. Before, I would sit with Billy, and he would do what he was doing. I would try to get some vocals in there in between, but this time because of the digital age, I was able to share files, and I focused doing vocals with my Puscifer partner, Mat Mitchell, while Billy was doing guitars and drums getting all of that recorded. We could actually get twice as much done in a day. It was a nice break to get down with a vocal and look online, hearing stuff that he’d done that I hadn’t heard yet. It was pretty cool.”

Eat the Elephant has a wide variety of different sounds that lead to all kinds of emotional possibilities for songs.

“The sounds in general are what I’m reacting to,” Keenan explained. “Whenever Billy comes up with things that are challenging or different, it inspires you to go down that rabbit hole and see how far you can take it.”

I asked what it took to make A Perfect Circle sound new in the modern era. “That’s definitely a puzzle, and you’re absolutely right. Trying to reinvent yourself can be daunting for people who have never had to reinvent themselves. I kind of do it for a living, so I’m covered,” Keenan said with a laugh.”

While Keenan has never publicly supported any political candidate, he is most certainly politically engaged. The press release officially announcing the new album joked about Keenan’s points of view about Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush.

“Boy, was I ever wrong about that guy. What I wouldn’t give to have ol’ Dubbya back in the White House right now,” he said.

Keenan said now is an important time for rock musicians.

“I think as an artist, in the words of Henry Rollins, this is what you train for, and why you listened to Dead Kennedys when you were a kid. This is your time, and this is our moment to shine as punk-rockers. This is it,” he said. “As far as expressing your opinion, politics is about people, and people expressing themselves and interacting. This is us interacting: ‘Here are a couple of opinions; here are some approaches; and here are some things you never thought about, and it’s your turn.’”

When A Perfect Circle released Emotive in 2004, George W. Bush was up for re-election, and the Iraq War was in full swing. Keenan said in a statement posted to the band’s website in 2004: “Look, clearly I’m supporting anyone but Bush in this upcoming election, but I’m not telling anyone who to vote for with this new album. I’m still just trying to encourage people to think for themselves … to stop buying into this absurdity and rampant fear.” When I used the description of “anti-war cover songs” to describe the album, he stopped me.

“Not necessarily; it was more about expressing the voices of people who came before us who had something to say, and presenting those stories in a different light—not necessarily in the specific music they used to express those thoughts; we expressed those thoughts in different beds of music,” he said. “Arguably, we pretty much rewrote the music to all those songs to give you an idea of what that story looks like or sounds like in a different setting.” 

I asked if Keenan was he surprised that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in some ways, still going on 14 years later.

“I drink a lot more wine now,” Keenan said with a laugh. “That’s my reaction: Yep, I’m going to have a glass of fucking wine.”

Speaking of wine, I asked Keenan—as a winemaker, the owner of Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Ariz.—if making wine can be daunting, given there are things over which winemakers have no control.

“I think the hardest part for most artists—and I’m speaking to all of you artists out there—is knowing when the fuck to let go,” he responded. “You have a desire to create a thing, but once you’ve created it, and you’re going to release that bird out of the cage, it’s not yours anymore. You have to let that go. Letting go of shit you can’t control is probably the hardest lesson for anyone, really, but especially to artists who get all precious about shit.”

Keenan is also a vegetable gardener.

“I’ve done it all my life, having lived in Michigan in the middle of a bunch of peach and cherry orchards,” he said. “My dad had extensive gardens for our house. That’s basically what we lived on. It was always something that I was going to return to regardless. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always had a garden.”

Keenan said his upbringing in the Midwest contributed greatly to his outlook on hard work.

“I kind of refer to my people in West Michigan as snow-shovelers,” he said. “If you’re a shoveler, you know you couldn’t get from Point A to Point B in the winter without removing the obstacles. You get used to understanding puzzles and understanding what it takes to get somewhere. You start to respect or have an appreciation for or empathy and sympathy for people who do other jobs around you. When things are super-cozy, you end up with entitled people. People who somehow find success accidentally and end up touring or on movie sets, they don’t (appreciate) the grips, the carpenters, the stage managers—they don’t have any appreciation for those people and how hard they work if they’ve never had to actually do that job. You’ve heard that cliché before: If you’ve never done it, you just don’t actually know.”

Keenan has played Coachella in the past with all three of his bands—but this year is definitely different, considering how few rock acts are on the bill.

“I guess it’s an indication of where things are. It’s interesting,” he said. “You feel a little bit like a dinosaur, which is fine. Feeling like a dinosaur can be inspiring: Get off your butt, right?”

I asked what Keenan felt it would take to resurrect rock music.

“You’re going to see things coming at you that you didn’t even expect. That’s the nature of punk rock—that anarchist mentality, that reacting outside of the box intuitively, instinctively, situationally or even environmentally,” he said. “That’s what brought us N.W.A., and that’s what brought you the Stooges. All those things kind of happened, and you can’t plan it. I think we’re going to see a lot of reactions come out of this political climate, social climate, economic climate and artistic climate. You’ll see someone coming out and swinging for the fence in a way where they aren’t trying to do that—it’s just happening. But then it will settle back into the art.

“Back in the punk rock days, everything was about … just being mad, breaking shit and fucking playing as fast you can. Then someone comes along like Minor Threat, where there are almost melodies there. Ian MacKaye and those guys took off in a great direction, because they brought back an artistic approach to punk rock. Their attitude and what they stood for was more about the punk rock. The music started settling into something you could enjoy and listen to over and over again. The same thing (happened) with N.W.A., and that progressed into some amazing music with Dr. Dre.

“I think we’ll have our punk-rock moment soon. Maybe we’re already having it—and I’m just too old to recognize it.”

Published in Previews

Trailblazing French composer and electronic/ambient musician Jean-Michel Jarre is largely unheard of in the United States—but worldwide, he’s one of the biggest stars there is.

I’m not exaggerating: In a career spanning almost 50 years, he has played before crowds of more than 1 million people. He’s performed political goodwill shows for organizations such as UNESCO. His shows have celebrated religious figures such as Pope John Paul II (during his visit to Jarre’s hometown of Lyon, France in 1986), and a concert in Monaco in 2011 celebrated the marriage of Prince Albert II and Charlene, Princess of Monaco. He was also the first western artist to perform in the People’s Republic of China. He’s collaborated with numerous artists you have heard of, including Gorillaz, Gary Numan and film director/composer John Carpenter.

He’s in the midst of his first-ever tour of the United States, including performances at Coachella on Friday, April 13 and 20. Jarre’s visual show is just as stunning as his music during live performances—so his is one performance you won’t want to miss.

During a recent phone interview, Jarre described what it feels like to play to crowds of more than a million—and then to much smaller crowds here in the States.

“It’s very difficult to describe,” Jarre said, “My manager is Irish, and she said to me once, ‘You performed to a crowd that’s the size of my country!’ It’s quite surreal, but I see it as a privilege, of course. Whatever the audience is, at the end of the day, the live performance works, or it doesn’t work. … I can play in a small theater, in an arena, or a big festival like Coachella. It’s just a matter of changing the size and performing with this stage design. I’m especially excited to share this with the Coachella audience.”

Jarre studied classical music, and there are many classical elements in his electronic music. 

“I was playing in rock bands when I was a teenager. I studied classical music, and then I discovered electronic music,” he said. “I discovered people were working and approaching music in a totally different way with notes, but also with sound and noise, which meant you could go outside recording the sounds of the street, the sounds of the car—and you can make music with it. To me, it was like cooking. It was sensual and very warm. It’s like Jackson Pollock: People would say, ‘Jackson Pollock doesn’t present anything.’ But he was doing art with sections, oil, and he worked with his hands. You work with your hands, even on a computer with a mouse, or working with knobs and strings. … I believed this kind of music would be a major art form in the 21st century.”

I told Jarre it feels as if electronic music today is huge—and continuing to evolve.

“I think that’s quite logical, because as you just said, it has no boundaries,” he said. “One of my latest projects in electronica was based on the idea of trying to gather around people who are sort of impatient with me and to electronics and technology … like Tangerine Dream, Pete Townshend, Moby, Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan and Pet Shop Boys—all who inspired generations with a style of music. There was one problem: They all love technology, and they’re all kind of nerds in their own way. … By the end of the day, music is technology.” 

The visuals during Jarre’s performances are stunning and innovative, even by today’s standards. I highly suggest checking out his video online during which he plays what’s called a “laser harp.”

“I’ve always been interested in my life to try to find additional correspondence for the electronic songs,” Jarre explained. “Staying behind your laptop is not the most sexy thing in the world, and people don’t understand what you’re doing most of the time. I really try to explore during performances. Because I was working with a lot of lights and lasers, I thought it would be cool to invent an instrument made of lasers where the strings would be played by lights and lasers.

“The idea of being outdoors, like at Coachella, where you have the audience far away from the stage—I’m able to convey what I do musically to people. You can see the music being played from miles away, and this is magical. This is what modern technology can afford. I can try to convey emotions visually and through sound.”

Jarre has long played events with a social message; he said music and politics are always linked.

“I think you always have two sides of art and music in general,” Jarre said. “You have the hedonist side, where you like to enjoy music, dancing until end of the night, and just the entertainment of it and having fun. … Of course, (with) any genre of music—like punk and hip-hop, or even techno—there are things linked to social movements. That’s what I tried to do in my collaboration with Edward Snowden … (show) the dark side of technology, and we know we’re spied on by the outside world. We know that in the near future, we’ll have to deal with machines competing with ourselves. I think that politics and music are linked together like any other kind of movement in history.”

Jarre is no stranger to the United States. He performed with the Houston Grand Opera at Texas’ 150th anniversary in 1986; he also incorporated the 25th anniversary of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center into the show at the request of NASA. But this marks the first time Jarre has actually toured America—and he’s having a great time.

“I’ve done a lot of one-off shows in my life, and I toured sometimes,” he said. “… I think of it as if I was shooting a movie, but I’m shooting a movie in my mind, like how I performed in China, in Russia, in Egypt, in Houston, and then when I was touring stadiums in Europe and Asia, I thought, ‘Why doesn’t this happen in America?’ I thought that this is something I really wanted to share with the American audience.

“I’ve actually been blown away and touched by the American audiences who have so far welcomed this tour. Every place I went … I was really touched by the audience saying it was different than what they were used to. As an artist, America has so many different styles of performances and artists, and I always thought you do something with the ambition of being different and trying to surprise people, and I think this electronica concert performance goes in that direction.

“I thank the American audiences who have welcomed this project with enthusiasm. That inspires me to go into Coachella in the best possible way.”

Published in Previews

Palm Springs native Matt McJunkins’ music career has thus far been pretty incredible: He's been a member of bands including Eagles of Death Metal, Puscifer, Ashes Divide and Thirty Seconds to Mars, and is currently a member of A Perfect Circle, which will be performing at Coachella on Sunday, April 15 and 22. McJunkins was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

The Doobie Brothers/Foreigner/Gary Hoey at the Twentynine Palms Marine base! It was also the first time I smelled the unmistakable odor of the whacky tobacky. There’s a bit of irony in there somewhere.

What was the first album you owned?

Skid Row. The first album. On cassette. Knew every song and every word. Still do (pretty much) to this day.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m all over the place on this one. Right now, it’s mostly a lot of Nick Lowe, Phil Spector stuff, The Jam, and the Boogie Nights soundtrack.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I can’t say that I “don’t get it,” but I would say dubstep generally didn’t bend my ear all that much.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

TV on the Radio! It’s a band I’ve really fallen in love with the last few years but haven’t had the opportunity to see live.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance.”

What’s your favorite music venue?

That’s a tough one. Recently, I was floored by the beauty and design of the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Old theaters like that, that really have a unique design and some history to them, are always appealing to me.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“It’s a God-awful small affair to the girl with the mousy hair,” David Bowie, “Life on Mars.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Def Leppard was my first favorite band, and Hysteria was the first album that I really sunk my teeth into. I think I’ve been stuck on music since then. And that record still holds up wonderfully to this day.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

Well, unfortunately, he is no longer with us. But I’d ask David Bowie, “Would you write and record a song with me?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance.”

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Well, the kid in me would say Def Leppard’s Hysteria. But now at this moment, I would have to pick David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Chips Down” by Cody Chesnutt. Instant contemplative/good mood every time I hear it. I love songs like that, with multiple layers to it which require more than one listen to really get the whole picture. A beautiful song, really. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

During Coachella, I tasted a lot of delicious craft beer, both in the Craft Beer Barn and at the Rare Beer Bar, the latter headed by Jimmy Han, owner of Los Angeles’ Beer Belly. One of my favorite discoveries: Wicked Weed Marina, a blonde sour ale that is aged in wine barrels—with more than one pound per gallon of peaches and apricots.

Just days later came the announcement that Anheuser-Busch InBev had bought the Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed. It became the latest of 20-plus former craft breweries that are now owned by corporate brewers. I say “former,” because the Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, independent and traditional—with less than 25 percent ownership by a non-craft brewer.

What does this all mean? I spoke to Julia Herz, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program director, and Mitch Steele, the former brewmaster of Stone Brewing who is now the founder, brewmaster and COO of New Realm Brewing, coming soon to Atlanta.

There are a lot of feelings on both sides as far as craft breweries “selling out.” What are your thoughts?

JH: … It’s not happening in mass, right? Ninety nine percent of the 5,300-plus breweries are still independent and small. But as the purchases continue to happen … the Department of Justice issued a consent degree over (AB InBev’s) purchases in 2015 and 2016—Devil’s Backbone being a key one, which was approved, with some changes made, by the DOJ. … The more that the large, global brewers become a one-stop shop for brands and beer styles, the harder it is to make the marketplace fair, and for beer lovers to really get the choices that many beer-lovers desire.

MS: I think it’s really dangerous what’s going on right now, honestly. The problem is that the majority of the beer-drinking public doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the business practices of large brewers, and how it impacts small brewers. … When a brewery is buying tap space, which is technically illegal, small breweries can’t. Most small breweries won’t do it because they don’t want to do something that’s against the law, and they can’t afford to play that game, either. … When somebody who’s kind of a casual craft-beer fan walks into a bar, and sees all these beers that are “craft,” yet they’re all brewed at Anheuser-Busch, most of the time, (customers are) not going to register it’s not a small, independent brewer. When these brewers can potentially come in and sell a keg of beer for 50 to 60 percent of what a small craft brewer can, it really is damaging the ability of the craft brewers to sell their beer.

Were you surprised by the Wicked Weed buyout?

JH: … (In some respects), I am not surprised, because they (AB InBev) continue to make regional purchases in key beer markets of the country: Four Peaks in Arizona, Blue Point in New York, Los Angeles for Golden Road. These are very geographically, strategically made procurements. … Also, (as of now, the Wicked Weed) deal has not gone through. It’s an announcement from AB InBev that they are moving to make a partnership and bringing Wicked Weed into their brand portfolio. It’s still subject to review.

MS: Well, that surprised me. I’d go so far as to say that it shocked me. I thought they were in it for the long haul. I know (co-owners) Luke and Walt (Dickinson) pretty well, and I’ve brewed with them before, and we’ve hung out a lot. … I know Luke and Walt are part owners, but I don’t know what percentage they own. I know they had some big-time investors in that brewery, and it could have been mostly their decision, but who knows? But, yeah, it shocked me and disappointed me. Some of these are not a big surprise: You hear through the grapevine that some of these newer breweries are building themselves to sell … and they’re just trying to get their business to a point to where they’re attractive to a large brewer. … You know, when somebody comes and offers you a ridiculous amount of money, who’s to say you’re wrong for taking that and setting up your family for generations? You can’t really fault it. I just wish it didn’t happen.

Do you sympathize with any of these craft breweries after they explain themselves on social media? They say: “We had to do this because of distribution. The beer will stay the same.”

MS: Yeah. I worked with Budweiser for 14 years. This was back in the 1990s. People looked at Budweiser as the evil empire, but I dealt with the reaction from craft brewers all the time: “It’s lousy beer.” I’d get on my soap box and say, “Ya know, you may not like it, but don’t ever talk negative about the quality, because the people who brew this beer are as passionate about it as you are about yours.” But it’s a different company now. I certainly understand the backlash. I can relate to it because I dealt with it for a long time myself. … I think it’s a very uncomfortable feeling for most of them, because the craft-brewing business is so built on community and comradery. Now, all of sudden, you’re not in the club anymore. That’s a hard thing to swallow, especially when you’ve got so many friends in the business. … People who don’t have ownership in the brewery, and have no say in it—they’re just kind of there when it happens. Those are the people who I feel really bad for, because they had no say.

Do distribution laws and better access have anything to do with why they are selling?

MS: The whole access-to-ingredients thing, I think, is a little bit overplayed. If you’re a growing craft brewer, there are enough suppliers out there. If you work it hard enough, you can get what you need, with a few exceptions. For example, Galaxy hops—nobody can get Galaxy hops right now. Can a big brewer go in and get Galaxy hops? I don’t know if they can. … I think really the big advantage for a small brewer joining forces with a big brewer is the access to the technical resources, so they can understand what’s happening in the brewing process—be it really complex lab equipment or whatever. And then distribution access is huge. … Those are the things that really matter.

JH: Yes. As soon as you sell, you get instant access to things that those 99 percent of the 5,300 breweries don’t have. You get into a system in the network for better economies of scale, for purchasing raw materials and ingredients. You get instant distribution that cannot be matched. … The number of distributors over time continues to wane. Even though we have 5,300-plus breweries today, there are only 1,000-plus active distributors, and 500-plus of those are controlled by AB InBev. MillerCoors has several hundred as well. Distributors are amazing partners to beer, but it’s a matter of priority. How do they decide what they’re going to sell? When you’re an AB house … their first priority is likely those AB brands.

Published in Beer

Pappy and Harriet’s, per usual, was the place to be for people who wanted to catch Coachella 2017 acts without having to battle large crowds and traffic.

Last Thursday, Pappy’s hosted a Coachella act doubleheader, and staffers had their hands full ushering the outdoor Future Islands fans out of Pappy’s while clearing the indoor saloon to get ready for the Crash Seat Headrest show, which started a few minutes after midnight (technically making it a Friday show). Lead Singer Will Toledo was short on chitchat; instead, he let his music talk for him.

“Vincent” stirred the initial of many riotous sing-alongs, and was the first of three consecutive Teens of Denial tracks, including “Fill in the Blank” and “1937 State Park.”

The concert also included "(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem)" and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” The tunes inspired many attendees, apparently high on life, to take part in a new form of moshing that was polite and featured arm movements that mimicked mating swans.

Car Seat Headrest was top-notch, shredding through intense indie hymns, like the distraught bounce of “Maud Gone,” a tune that tries to understand the emotional feelings of a confused lover: “And when I’m in bed, I’m dead, no one to check my pulse, and so instead, my head, begs not to be so full, and when I fall asleep, which part of me writes the dream and which part falls asleep? Who’s running the machine?”

The show closed with “Beast Monster Thing.”

Car Seat Headrest is concentrated self-absorption mixed with helplessness, liberation and happiness—making it one of the finest indie bands around.

Published in Reviews

It’s become a fantastic tradition for local bands to perform at Coachella, and this year, three local groups got their moment in the spotlight—or, rather, moments in the Gobi Tent.

Kayves, a Tachevah finalist, played on Friday. The Yip Yops, which played a set to a packed house at The Hood Bar and Pizza with the Flusters in between the two Coachella weekends, performed on Saturday. And Ocho Ojos, a psychedelic cumbia band hailing from the East Valley, played on Sunday.

There are numerous benefits for a local band to play at Coachella. Some members of the local bands who have played Coachella in the past have told me about the ability to engage with the bigger names and get advice, or be put in touch with producers or people who they should work with. The exposure alone can help newer bands.

To some Kayves members, this year actually marked a return to Coachella. Nick Hernandez (vocals, guitar) is the former front man of CIVX, a 2014 selection, while Danny Gonzalez (guitar) played at the festival in 2015 with Alchemy. After their Weekend 2 performance on Friday, Hernandez, guitarist Oscar Rico and drummer Adrian Romero stopped by the press tent.

“It still felt like the first time,” Hernandez said about Kayves’ 2017 Coachella shows. “It’s a big stage, and we’re used to playing smaller venues. The thing that was better this time around is that we got to play it twice. … When we played the whole set live (on Weekend 1), we knew about the adjustments we were going to do for the second weekend. That’s why the second weekend was better.”‘

Unlike CIVX in 2014, Kayves has songs on some streaming services—and the band definitely saw a Coachella bump.

“We got 100 more followers in a day or two,” Romero said.

Still, Kayves only has self-recorded material out—something Rico said the band plans to change soon.

“We’re going to go back into the studio and do everything properly and go from there,” he said.

Given Kayves includes members from both the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles, the Coachella gigs meant some early mornings for the band.

“It’s really hard for us to get together, Romero said. “Today, we had to practice at 5 in the morning, because we came from Los Angeles, and it’s been a long day.”‘

For the Yip Yops, a Coachella appearance seemed long overdue. After the band’s Saturday performance in the Gobi Tent, the members said they felt as if they weren’t a “young band playing Coachella” or the “local band playing Coachella,” but simply a band playing Coachella.

“We don’t feel this is the last time we’ll be playing Coachella,” keyboardist/guitarist Mari Brossfield said.

Yip Yops front man Ison Van Winkle said playing at Coachella has always been a goal for the band.

“Especially living here, it makes it that much more substantial,” he said. “But it’s not a peak, and it’s not the end. We’re not just going to break up after this.

Bassist Jacob Gutierrez told me the Coachella appearances have given the band chances to network behind the scenes. In fact, during Weekend 1, Van Winkle’s father, Tony, sent me a text message saying the band was hobnobbing with musicians such as the members of Local Natives and Father John Misty.

“We had a lot of things in the works, but this really helps to solidify us as musicians, and it gives us a platform to reach out to as many people as possible,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to open a lot of doors for us.”

Brossfield agreed.

“During these two weekends, we’re not just partying it up,” Brossfield said. “We’re taking ourselves seriously, and we’re on the job. This is a huge platform to use to launch yourself with.”

Ocho Ojos is a new band—one that had not yet really made my radar screen before Coachella. On Sunday, when they stopped by the press tent, guitarist Cesar Flores and keyboardist Danny Torres told me the history of their band.

“We’ve been around since October 2016,” Flores said. “We formed when I was asked to play this cumbia dance party. One of my friends was organizing the event and asked me if I could play. I agreed, and at that time through social media—I wanted to have a jam at my house—I asked if anyone was willing to jam, and Danny hit me up. He was very good at communicating, so we clicked right away. It was easy to get together and write music.”

Torres said he and Flores didn’t set out to start a band right away.

“We have good chemistry,” Torres said. “It very natural, and it wasn’t like we set out to start a band. We continued to play together and liked what was coming out.”

They didn’t think that a Coachella appearance would happen so soon.

“We envisioned it at one point,” Flores said. “We thought that maybe it would happen if we wrote and really worked hard. We knew that Coachella has had local bands for opening slots, and we didn’t think it would happen this quickly. We were excited and super happy.”

The style of music Ocho Ojos plays is not heard a lot in the valley. Torres said they feel that’s a good thing—because it helps them stand out.

“Our style, psychedelic cumbia, it is really what set us apart from the beginning,” he said. “As soon as we came into the music scene, playing backyard shows and venues here in the valley—and our scene is mostly rock and punk bands—I guess we’re very different in comparison.

Thanks to Coachella, people in the rest of the Coachella Valley music world—and beyond—now know about Ocho Ojos.

“It definitely put us on a platform and got us a whole lot more exposure,” Flores said. “We’re going to get more serious and publish some of our music, so we can solidify the sound we have. We’re definitely going to work on new material as well.”

The Glass Animals played through the pain to turn in a wonderful in-between-Coachella-weekends show at Pappy and Harriet’s on Wednesday, April 19.

Jagwar Ma warmed things up with a well-received set, highlighted by the song “Come Save Me.” Jagwar Ma is a blended swirl of delight, mixing EDM with live instruments, resulting in a sound that pleases purists like myself with fab and far-out tracks.

A non-clinical observation: There appeared to be plenty of attendees with mushroom eyes from the hallucinating fungus that is all the rage with the younglings, as hazy clouds of smoke floated above.

Glass Animals took the stage with front man Dave Bayley walking up to the microphone and saying, “This place is beautiful.” Early on, he felt the need to set the appropriate expectation level among the crowd: “So about a week and a half ago, I broke my ankle.” Wearing an orthopedic boot on his right leg, Bayley might be be slowed by this Velcro and plastic cage, so I thought—but he had no challenges spinning and dancing like a mad man, only using the stool occasionally to rest.

The band kicked things off with “Life Itself,” off sophomore release How to Be a Human Being, sparking joy among the fans who alternated between screaming and capturing photos for their Instagram accounts.

Bayley later shared: “We actually filmed a lot of music videos here,” apparently referring to the High Desert. The members of the Glass Animals clearly were having a great time.

The show featured the well-received “Gooey,” “Black Mambo” and “Hazey.” Glass Animals intertwined new material and old material from debut release Zaba.

As Bayley sang “Season 2 Episode 3,” my girl eats mayonnaise from a jar when she’s getting blazed, I witnessed a collision between a tall blonde—in 4-inch wedge heels with periwinkle toenails, awkwardly walking in the sand—and a dancing blonde, who apparently preferred dancing instead of mayonnaise when having herbal fun.

Glass Animals closed out the show with an encore featuring fan favorites “Pork Soda” and “Pools.”

Published in Reviews

Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has continued to evolve—to the point where it’s now one of the most well-known festivals in the world.

This year, it went through a large evolutionary step: The capacity went from 99,000 people to 125,000. The site was also reorganized, with the Outdoor Stage and the Mojave and Gobi tents pulled all the way back against Monroe Street. The Sahara Tent is a permanent fixture on the site, but the interior got all sorts of new effects. There is also a new tent, too: the daytime/early evening-only Sonora Tent. It offered an air-conditioned, club-like atmosphere and hosted a lot of punk-rock acts, like as T.S.O.L., The Interrupters, Shannon and the Clams and others.

Many Weekend 1 attendees took to social media to complain about crowding in the general admission areas. There was some truth to those complaints, as I learned during Weekend 2.

Still, I found it pretty easy to move around the festival with only a general-admission-wristband. I did notice longer lines for the restrooms, and thanks to an increase in the number of disabled patrons attending Coachella, the ADA platforms at all the stages got full early.

Another issue: The lobby area after the security checkpoints got overly crowded throughout the mid-afternoon to late evening. On Sunday night, I at one point found myself in a human traffic jam, in the middle of a large crowd of people trying to push through a bottleneck.

Yes, these are serious issues that need to be addressed for Coachella 2018. Still, I found the festival rather navigable overall.

Some Sunday highlights

• Ezra Furman, the first act on the Outdoor Stage on Sunday afternoon, opened his set with a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” His set had a lot of highlights; it was as if Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Ramones had a love child. The mixture of piano, a bit of harmony and a punk-rock sound was fascinating.

• Lee Fields and the Expressions was the first act to perform on the Main Stage. Fields has a very powerful voice, even by old R&B/soul standards, and his songs got the crowd going—singing along, clapping and slowly waving hands in the air as Fields sang slow, ballad-like songs about love or changing the world for the better.

• Future Islands’ early-evening set on the Outdoor Stage was just as impressive as the set I witnessed in 2013 when the band performed in the Gobi Tent. Front man Samuel Herring is well-known for his high-energy dance moves, and on Sunday, he pulled them off quite well. After 11 years together, the band is still climbing the ladder of indie-rock success, and doing so without many stage effects or crazy gimmicks. Who knows what we’ll see from them in the future?

• TSOL closed out the Sonora Tent on Sunday night with a fun performance—complete with old-school Los Angeles punk attitude, mosh pits, circle pits and Jack Grisham’s wild banter. He explained that while the band was recording the recent record, the members were one studio over from Snoop Dogg. At one point, the crew joined Snoop for a game of basketball—when John Fogerty drove his Corvette onto the tennis court. Grisham said he politely asked him to move it, and Fogerty simply walked away. Grisham’s response: He pulled up the door handle and put it between his butt cheeks. When Snoop and his crew said that Jack’s actions were “pretty fucked up,” Grisham responded that they didn’t know what punk was about. Oh, and Grisham said he also rubbed his scrotum all over Fogerty’s hood, too. In other news: Grisham pointed out that keyboardist Greg Kuehn’s son, Max Kuehn (who plays in the band FIDLAR), was filling in on drums.

• New Order put on a tremendous headlining performance in the Mojave Tent on Sunday night; it was one of the best shows I saw. The performance was upbeat, included more of a dance music element, and filled up the entire tent, with overflows onto the lawn area. The band played two Joy Division songs for the encore: “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” both of which paid tribute to friend and Joy Division front man Ian Curtis. 

Photo credits (below): Aerial shot, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; Ezra Furman, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Future Islands, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Lee Fields and the Expressions, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; New Order, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice.

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