Who Loves The Sun: Remembering Lou Reed

For some people it was the death of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain or Jerry Garcia that made time stop. For me it was Lou Reed.

My seminal Lou Reed moment took place on a brisk Fall evening in 1988. I was a freshman in college and off on an East Coast road trip stopping by Wesleyan and Tufts, eventually making my way to Providence for an evening with an old friend at the Rhode Island School of Design. I had never been to Providence and I remember being instantly jealous of everything about the place as we walked across town to a cheap and delicious Vietnamese restaurant surrounded by a whole city of smart artsy hipsters. By the time we returned to my friend Tom’s apartment, a dozen beverages into the evening, we got right down to the business of playing records and talking about music. At some point he dropped the needle on the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded.” Immediately, and I mean within the first few notes of “Who Loves The Sun,” my mind was blown, and my musical life was changed forever. Then came “Rock & Roll” and “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” which were even more transformative for me. We must have played the album four times straight before we passed out, bleary-eyed, but high on music.

I had certainly heard Lou Reed many times before, but “Walk On The Wild Side”  – albeit cool, was not the Velvet Underground (VU). The band, I would learn, was managed by Andy Warhol, and became a symbol for the New York art scene in the late 60’s.  While The Dead and Jefferson Airplane played the Fillmore and the Warfield, VU played Warhol’s Factory. They can almost single-handedly take credit for igniting what would ultimately become genres as far-reaching as punk, new wave, and later “alternative” or “indie rock.” What the Beatles did for pop music, Dylan for folk, and the Stones for rock and roll, VU did for what would become “independent music.” There were many things that made them so unique beginning with their attitude, the all black fashion sense, the fact that they had one of the first female drummers (Mo Tucker), the incredible music (thanks largely to Reed and John Cale), and their devastating and authentic lyrics. But mostly it was that the band made music so far ahead of its time it still sounds like the future – even today.

“Loaded” was the last VU album, made with Lou Reed halfway out the door, and although their most accessible album, it is likely “The Velvet Underground & Nico” will remain the one in which they will be most remembered. Featuring the iconic Warhol banana image, and the vocals of European supermodel turned actress singer Nico, Reed created an album filled with gentle melodic ditties like “There She Goes” and “Sunday Morning” and juxtaposed them with gritty classics like “Heroin” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”

VU disbanded in 1970 after four proper albums, but this was just the beginning for Lou Reed. He literally created the art rock universe that still exists today. Without his influence, there would have been no Bowie/Ziggy, no Iggy Pop, no Ramones, Patti Smith, Strokes, Luna, or thousands of other bands that played in his wake. There were plenty of drugs, which oriented his music not only lyrically and emotionally, but unlike most of his peers, he persevered, never seeming to lose a beat. His storytelling describes primarily a hardscrabble NYC during the 70’s and 80’s. This was the era of Needle Park, city wide blackouts, the ultra sketchy East Village and Times Square and Harlem, but it was also the era of CBGB’s, the rise of independent record labels, and punk rock.

Lou Reed, was a musician from childhood. He played doo-wop songs in high school, studied poetry in college, and wrote pop songs for Pickwick after college. He was always all in, and smart and talented enough to have gone in any direction he might have chosen. Real artists are born artists. They don’t compromise and spend a lifetime evolving and experimenting. They inspire future artists, and leave a canon that will endure forever. His music was never easy. “Berlin” and “Metal Machine” were dense, impenetrable works that divided critics and fans, but “Transformer” established him post-Velvets as one of the most talented songwriters of all time. Less heralded classics like “New York” and “Magic and Loss” represent Reed becoming comfortable with middle age, and doing so with all the relevance and vigor of the Velvets Reed from 20 years prior.

In some ways Reed defined what cool would mean for nearly 50 years. It was most superficially the look and attitude, but more than anything there was that voice and that beautiful and distinctive guitar. It was unlike anything that had come before it. A kind of talk-singing-poetry set to music. At times it’s bleak and jarring, at other times it’s raucous and fun, but most of the time it’s just sublime and cerebral in a way that is largely impossible to describe.

New York is a vastly different place than the one Lou Reed chronicled between the mid-60’s and late 80’s. CBGB’s is long gone. Many of the great artists from that era are no longer with us. There is a Starbucks on every corner, the Disneyfication of Times Square, and the gentrification of the East Village. The death of Lou Reed surely signifies the end of something, but he will always be with us. That is the beautiful thing about music. The best of it will live on, finding new audiences, inspiring new artists, and leaving us with a portrait of a time long gone.

Like “Catcher and The Rye,” “Harold and Maude” and a handful of other exquisite works of modern art that changed my life in immeasurable ways, Lou Reed’s music set me on a very different course. I can’t imagine who I’d be without him.

Reed said it best in the classic tune “Rock and Roll:

But one fine mornin’ she hears a New York station
She doesn’t believe what she heard at all
Hey, not at all
She started dancin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll
Yeah rock ‘n’ roll

Yes, my life was saved or at least shaped by rock n’ roll. Thank you Lou.

TastemakerX V24: “Thank You Lou”


Is Yo La Tengo The Greatest Indie Rock Band Of All Time?

In the mid ‘80s a young rock journalist named Ira Kaplan and his wife Georgia Hubley started a rock band. Their band, Yo La Tengo, was named after a Spanish baseballer’s lingo for “I’ve got it.” Their name has always been as accessibly irreverent as their music. Growing up in the late ‘70s early ‘80s the band’s influences included everyone from Love to the Velvet Underground. Punk music had come and gone and a different kind of American independent music scene had just begun. Enough time had passed that bands could now comfortably start to explore what had come before them with a sense of nostalgia and admiration, but not enough time had passed for it to not seem a bit ironic. But that is exactly what independent music has always been about: evolving the recent past while at the same time creating just enough original nuances to inform the future. But implicit in this pact is that only one of two outcomes were inevitable: mainstream success which involved alienating core fans by creating easier to swallow and broader reaching songs, or eventually fading into an adulthood that didn’t involve touring in vans and playing college towns. For twenty-eight years now Yo La Tengo has managed to live somewhere in the middle. Like their hometown of Hoboken, NJ just across the river from Manhattan, they seem most comfortable just one deviation from the center.

Twenty-seven years have passed since the debut Yo La Tengo album, “Ride The Tiger.” It was a fairly straightforward collection of jangly guitar sounds cut from the same cloth as the early REM and Feelies efforts. But as their career would progress, Yo La Tengo would evolve ever so slightly with every record. Much like trying to watch sap run down a tree, it would take a time lapse camera over a very long period of time to see fully the shape of the path it would take. Although most great bands manage to build gradually on their sound, very few of them have the patience and fortitude to see it play out over such a long period. Radiohead, The Flaming Lips and Spoon have all adapted to the times by embracing, to varying degrees, electronica and keyboards, but none quite so subtly as Yo La Tengo.  Bands like Pavement, The Verve, and others would break up before being forced to confront the golden age of MP3’s and EDM. Perhaps much of this has to do with the fact that Ira and Georgia are married, and that their life together has presumably been spent making art. This is what they do, and they do it together. Having bypassed parenting for art, I’d imagine that this is what they will always do. Only Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth hold a candle to the idea that domestic life and art can coexist over such a long period of time. But sadly, as Sonic Youth wound down as a band, so did their marriage. Or perhaps it was the other way around. [Read more…]

The Bestest, Tunage 2012

This year, building a music discovery platform called TastemakerX, I was looking harder than usual at new music. I was doing this primarily to prove my thesis that music discovery is becoming increasingly more difficult. This is due in part to the enormous decrease in the costs of producing and distributing music, thanks in part to technology (for production) and the internet (for distribution). As a result there is much more music being produced than ever before and, not surprisingly, it is nearly impossible to stay on top of it all. You’d think that the internet would have solved this problem, but algorithms don’t turn people onto music, people do, and for the most part digital music hasn’t been very social up to now. With that said, this has been another stellar year for music. You should make a point to try it all.

1) Angus Stone – Broken Brights (Nettwerk)

I didn’t pay much attention to Angus & Julia Stone last year, so when I stumbled in to see Angus playing a gig supporting his new solo album I was woefully unprepared. As history will prove, I am a sucker for the warm modern but nostalgic music of today’s bearded neo-hippie indie folk scene (Fleet Foxes, Head and the Heart, Midlake). “Broken Brights” is far and away the album that has stuck with me most deeply.

Although, Stone is an Aussie, the 13 songs on this record are cut crisply from 70’s Americana lore. There are all sorts of obvious reference points from Neil Young (“Bird and the Buffalo”) to Dylan (“Monsters”) but there is nothing merely derivative here. The band, which features a lovely assortment of strings, brass, guitar and banjo, is just sublime. Every year there is one that raises above all others, and this year it is Angus Stone. This is that warm, woody music that will never feel out of time or place. Angus Stone

2) Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Ribbon Music)

Some music just gets under your skin. Alt-J is an acquired taste but once you turn onto it it sticks hard – like the first Violent Femmes record for a dated example. “An Awesome Wave” is a delicate, textured experiment in genre bending rock. There are quiet pianos, and soulful vocals, that come across almost like B-sides from a Windham Hill record juxtaposed with songs held together by a broad smattering of loops, blips, and drum lines that bounce around like bare feet on hot pavement.

A bit like Zappa filtered through a lava lamp, but every song here is sliced from the same pie in an impeccably produced series of soundscapes as potent as anything this year. From the edgy and beautiful “Dissolve Me” and “Fitzpleasure” to the pristine balladry on “Mathilda” or “Bloodflood.” Like Django Django, Alt-J runs the modern history of rock through a psychedelic sieve and comes up multi-colored roses. Alt-J

3) Django Django – Django Django (Ribbon Music)

As much as I love mellow countrified indie rock, my other real musical love is for groove based new wave music. This includes almost any music that probably uses the Velvet Underground as a starting point, passing through Pink Floyd en route to Radiohead. Django Django is one of two bands that broke through using that blueprint this year (the other being Alt-J).

The band is another in a series of great Scottish bands (The Beta Band, Hot Chip) that fuse incredibly catchy songwriting with approachable electronica. “Django Django” is a relentlessly upbeat album (“Default” and “Hail Bop”) although it is more light bursting through the shadows than beach music. It’s hard to resist the toe tapping beats, and bite sized chorus’ throughout, and they rarely give you time to catch your breath. Django Django

4) Polica – Give You The Ghost (Conveyor)

Polica’s singer Channy Leaneagh, a former member of Minneapolis supergoup Gayngs, and starring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, is a legit star. Just watching her move on stage is something else, and then she starts to sing. On tracks like “Lay Your Cards Outs” and “Dark Star” you fall immediately into the smoothest grooves, with the double drum tracks steering gently towards something on a hazy horizon.

I first saw Polica at SXSW in 2012. I knew almost nothing about them, but the music felt immediately recognizable yet brand new. Like a torch passed from the great female vocalists from the 90’s (Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Frazier, and Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards), trip hop it seems is again alive and well.  Polica

5) Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)

Although it’s fair to describe “Swing Lo Magellan” as the Projectors most “accessible” album to date, it is still a challenging record. “Swing Lo Magellan” is truly a brilliant accomplishment: complicated, melodic, harmonious, discordant, catchy, and somber. It is the most unique “pop” record of the year by a city mile, bathed in lush instrumentation and Ivy League lyrics.

The band is the brainchild of Yale dropout David Longstreth, and what is most distinctive about Dirty Projectors music is both the ridiculously difficult guitar lines and tunings, and the incredible transitions. In the end what we get is a collage of sweet discovery (“Swing Lo Magellan” and “Impregnable Question”) mixed with strange pop incarnations like “Dance With You” and “About to Die.” It is a weird and wonderful joy. Dirty Projectors

6) Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again (ATO)

Not since the 70’s masterpieces by Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes, Rodriguez (and others), has there been a record this soulful and authentic. Kiwanuka is a 24 year old Brit with a voice as smooth as anything you are likely to hear. Discovered by The Bees Paul Butler, himself a musical revivalist, “Home Again” is an album of anachronistic magic, and old-fashioned modern soul.

Kiwanuka originally imagined himself primarily as a guitarist, but on instant classics like “Tell Me  Take” and “I’ll get Along” you hear Hendrix filtered through Van Morrison, silky and smooth. The production and instrumentation is a perfect compliment to the truly special magic that happens on “Home Again.” It doesn’t get much better. Michael Kiwanuka

7) Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguar)

I remember the first time I saw Jeff Buckley live, solo and plugged into a small amp at Sin-é Café on St. Marks in NYC. I had heard the tapes, but to see him live was to get the context that made it all make sense. I feel the same way about Sharon Van Etten. She is a blossoming genius with a heavenly voice, hugely personal lyrics and a presence that is both surprisingly whimsical yet profoundly intense.

Some artists write beautiful lyrics or music, others have voices like angels or devils, while others bleed passion and genius across a complete spectrum. But the very best of them transport us to a totally new place, they get hold of us and don’t let go until the last chord is strummed, the last lyric falls, leaving us longing for more. Sharon Van Etten is that rare combination of raw honesty and accessible emotion. Three albums into what will hopefully be a long career, Van Etten, has found a middle ground between the  precious, raw and spare “We Are Fine” and the  straight forward rock ““Serpents”. I’m in love. Sharon Van Etten

8) Foxygen – Take The Kids Off Broadway (Jagjaguar)

When two kids about a third the age of their apparent idols: Bowie, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, and Nick Cave, reinterpret the 70’s, the result will either be disastrous or incredible.  “Take The Kids Off Broadway” is a brilliant breezy trip to the past channeled through something uniquely modern. If Wes Anderson were looking to score his movies with modern artists, Foxygen would be his house band.

On tunes like “Waitin’ 4 U” you are hurled back into a Stonesy state of mind, and a moment later on “Make it Known” it is more like  David Johansen’s New York Dolls swagger.  For most people born after 1965, this whole era of music was missed completely, which is a tragedy. Thanks to bands like MGMT and Foxygen, dirty, dirgy rock music is alive and well again. Foxygen

9) Tame Impala - Lonerism (Modular)

Australia’s Tame Impala is an old school, big time psychedelic rock band. From the very first chords on “Lonerism” (the sublime “Got to Be above It’) you feel transported back to an epic Pink Floyd show from an age long gone. Most of the band members were born a decade after “The Wall” but with a breadth of keys, swirling guitars and a steady baseline, everything just falls neatly into place despite the controlled cacophony.

To see the band live is to re/experience what a rock show used to be like: extended jams, trippy lights, and long improvisational moments of musical theater. Songs like “Elephant” thump and thud with an irresistible hard rock beat, while much of the rest of this minor masterpiece reflects the past through a two way mirror into the future. Tame Impala

10) Grizzly Bear – Shields (Warp)

Like the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear aspires to something well beyond conventional rock music. Their musical abilities have finally caught up with their ambition. Alternating between precious and raucous, the band refuses to play it straight and instead chooses a stranger road paved with unexpected transitions and odd tunings.

Occasionally they make it easy on the listener with tunes like “Yet Again” and “Gun Shy,” which seem to glide on a careful pop structure, filled with crystalline vocals exchanged among the band’s multiple vocalists. Other times they tend to push you into an entirely different direction, as in  “Sleeping Ute,” where the melodies explode into a wall of sound. “Shields” is a magical place, filled with magical players and sounds. Grizzly Bear [Read more…]

July Music that Matters

Music on a summer day just sounds better. Here are the records that made it all worthwhile. TastemakerX: July Music That Matters Spotify Playlist

1) Lower Dens – Nootropics

Like Beach House on Xanax, Baltimore’s Lower Dens spins deep mellow grooves build on the beautifully androgynous vocals of Jana Hunter and the metronomic drum and bass lines. The ten songs here crash like gentle waves and then build into tightly spun futuristic dreamscapes. Weirdly and transcendently gorgeous.

2) Glen Hansard – Rhythm and Repose

I have been loving Hansard since his debut in the Commitments eons ago, and throughout a half dozen handful of beautifully emotive Frames albums. But it was the film “Once” and the beautiful collaboration with Marketa Irglova as The Swell Season that finally brought Hansard to the quasi mainstream. “Ryhthm and Repose” is another bittersweet masterpiece by one of the finest songwriters since Astral Weeks era Van Morrison.

3) DIIV – Oshin

I have a sweet spot for 80’s new wave music as I spent much of that period in my room reading Option and Spin Magazine, and drunk on Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order. DIIV, the side project from Beach Fossils Zach Smith, revisits that period with impeccable precision. Old wave for a new generation.

4)  Friends – Manifest!

It’s been quite a while since I can remember a record as funky and beat laden as Friends debut “Manifest!’ In fact you could argue that the last band to channel this specific energy was Luscious Jackson. Singer Samantha Urbani has unearthed the sounds of Summer from the mean streets of Brooklyn, and in the process has put the East Coast on the same planet as Best Coast.

5)  The Lumineers – The Lumineers

I am a sucker for earthy Americana indie folk bands. To that end, this summer’s answer to Fleet Foxes, Dawes, and The Head and the Heart, is Colorado’s Lumineers. These guitar-based rustic balladeers flirt dangerously with being overly sentimental, but I won’t hold it against them.

6) Young Magic – Melt

The Aussie/Malay Brooklyn transplants Young Magic mine the bins for eclectic relics and in the process channel MBV’s “Loveless” but mash it up with a more tribal Yeasayer vibe. The band’s dreamy angular world music drifts here and there, but eventually ends up under your skin in the best possible way.

7) Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

Over half of the bands I am obsessed lately seem to be from Brooklyn. The best of which have to be Here We Go Magic. The impeccably produced “A Different Ship” is an impossible to pinpoint amalgam of indie goodness. There are jangly guitars, trance-like vocals, and deep colorful grooves that make it impossible to resist standing still.

8) Husky – Forever So

Like Australia’s version of Rogue Wave, Husky makes perfect pop music. It is a sound drenched with a soulful optimism. Like a new wave revision of 70’s era California rock, singer Husky Gawenda has a voice like a hipster angel and the band accompanies with just right balance of orchestral goodness.

9) Hospitality – Hospitality

I guess I’ve been a girl singer kind of mood these days. Hospitality is a band that asks very little of you, but gives you so much so easily. They write slender pop songs about everyday life, cut from the same cloth as Camera Obscura and Allo Darlin’. The bright and approachable vocals of Amber Papini, carry an otherwise straight forward indie pop sensibility into another strata.

10) Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Every once and a while you need a straight up rock record, with giant guitar riffs accompanied by melodious punk ballardry (think mid-career Husker Du, or select Hold Steady). Although Japandroids have been making music for five years, “Celebration Rock” is exactly that, and tribute to all that has come before it and all that will hopefully follow. Put the top down and play loudly.

Post by Marc Ruxin

Coachella: Beautiful music, not enough bandwidth …

I’ve been going to Coachella for many years now and I have also been to almost every other festival of its kind, but somehow Coachella is different. In many ways, depending how you play it and like all great festivals, Coachella can be a genuinely spiritual experience. It is not just about the groove of any individual set, but the overall vibe of the festival that continues on a beautiful three-day loop. First, the painted desert surrounded by exposing mountain views cultivates a surreal dream-like state. Then there’s Coachella’s programming that for certain kinds of music fans (i.e. indie rock, electronica, and certain flavors of hip-hop), there’s just no comparison.

Other festivals cater to different musical preferences. Bonnaroo and Outside Lands favors rootsier rosters. JazzFest speaks for itself and draws an eclectic crowd. The ACL and Lollapalooza line-ups appeal to broader audiences whereas smaller festivals like Picthfork and Sasquatch are hyper-focused on the indie hardcore. There’s even Ultra and Electric Daisy that focus on electronic and dance. It’s all good because regardless of what people prefer, it’s just important that they see live music, whatever the flavor, as often as possible.

The resurgence of musical festivals in the US is worth noting because of three major cultural drivers. First, there is a desire for like-minded people to converge into communities and experience their passions ‘together’ despite the connected yet impersonal society we live in (see Sherry Turkles’ “Connected, but alone?” talk at the TED conference this year).

Second, efficient and popular social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and, the subject of my last year’s Coachella update, Instagram (now Facebook) enable artists to communicate with fans. For the first time ever, indie musicians are using social media to build massive followings and reach audiences that would have been impossible 5 years ago.

Finally, landmark changes to the amenities have altered the overall experience of these outdoor gatherings. Music festivals have evolved into legitimate cultural events complete with diverse food options (Korean BBQ, a poutine truck, and fish tacos), ever-creative art installations, and a mass convergence of the creative class.

So, it’s clear that people need, crave and want events like Coachella to look forward to and organize around. They want to drop out of real life and immerse themselves in a different world for three glorious days. But these same people, now hooked on the most potent drug in the world – the internet, “expect” to be able to publish all of their experiences to the broader virtually-connected world and in real time. But just when the urge to share seems strongest, you notice one bar on your phone and the moment passes without a chirp. We’re all accustomed to the sea of bright “fail notices” pulsing brightly from smartphones during concerts and festivals. Mobile users are now accustomed to their favorite apps failing at large events – Foursquare, Instragram, Twitter, and our own TastemakerX Music app struggle with this and just when you want to use them.

Perhaps if festivals weren’t the ripest place on earth to harvest legitimately interesting content, photos, videos, deep thoughts, shallow thoughts, occasional moments for real clarity, it would be easier to accept, but we now have these amazing apps, so not being able to use them is frustrating, preoccupying and time seemingly tragic. As much as we’d like to just blame AT&T for incompetency, the problem, although addressable, is also a non-trivial task. It’s a complex problem and one hand, deprives the world of incredible content and on the other, spares us from a mountain of banality. Either way, one thing is clear: we live in a world where people want and need to share.

Back to the festival, because in the end I go for the endless sea of exquisite music that bathes the Coachella Valley in visible waves of passion (and not the functionality of my mobile apps). This year the unusually cold weather cast a vastly different vibe than the survivalist mindset caused by the scorching temperatures in the desert. Most years the quest for shade dictates your every move but this year, the quest for warmth was the serious consideration: indoor tents over outdoor stages, warm earthy music over thumping dance sets.

Day 1: And so it begins. My Coachella 2012 began Friday afternoon with youthful Dinosaur Jr. revivalists Yuck, playing a tight homage to past and present. Coachella’s trademark juxtaposition of old and new is always interesting, so one must see James for a song or two to see how they have held up, and they did just fine. And then there was the groovy chill wave of Neon Indian playing to the kind of crowd that signals this band will only get bigger, hipsters shaking there hips and head in uniform synchronicity. Next to the throwback guitar genius of Gary Clark Jr., whose Hendrix meets Shuggie Otis and Stevie Ray Vaughn in 2012 energy neutralizes the pounding deep house directly next store. Some artists are born rock stars, and others will it into existence. Gary Clark has a bit of both. This bleeds right into a few tracks from one of the last living reggae legends- Jimmy Cliff, decked out in a gold suit and sounding as smooth as ever despite his 64 years. “The Harder They Come” has never sounded better.

Then the strongest back-to-back sets of the festival commenced with the ethereal modernism of Girls, a near genius San Francisco band who mixes the pop songwriting of Elvis Costello with the introspective intensity of the Velvet Underground. Next up, the bright and beautiful Americana rock of Dawes, accessible like Jackson Brown, while still edgy enough to appeal to critical fans. Also performing was Wu Lyf, the raspy, percussive Manchester new-wavers with the growl of Tom Waits and the dark energy of Joy Division. Shivering in the desert night, Pulp played nostalgically to a large crowd, followed by Mazzy Star who performed their first live set in over a decade blissfully into the night. The Black Keys sucked most of the festival towards the main stage as they pounded out bluesy rock tune after bluesy rock tune (which they single handedly resuscitated back into the mainstream).

Coachella is as much about serendipity as anything else so mind-blowing instrumentals of Explosions In the Sky, just kind of happen as you drift from stage to stage following the magnetic energy. Occasionally, bands are assigned to stages they have already outgrown, as was the case with M83. Crowds spilled out of the Mojave Stage and established M83 as one of the most anticipated acts of the festival (Yes, they are great. Believe the hype). The rest of the evening belonged to Swedish House Mafia, where massive beats pounded throughout the night to what seemed like all 100,000 Coachella attendees. Although I get the appeal, I prefer a different cup of tea.

Day 2: With the threat of rain now over and despite temperatures colder than I can remember, this was one of the best single Coachella days in quite a while. The soft jazz indie music of Destroyer was the perfect way to reenter the day, followed by the Brit wave rockers, The Big Pink, who pick up a bit where Coldplay left off after “Parachutes.” This was followed by the old school rock of Grace Potter, and the much-heralded reunion of fIREHOSE. Then things got serious. The Head and the Heart, still my favorite band of 2011, just keeps getting better before my eyes (it’s a good sign when everybody in the crowd knows every word to every song). Kaiser Chiefs played during the last bit of warm sun, and proved to be perfect music for the yoga session my posse spontaneously started on the grass beside me. Andrew Bird’s orchestral pop-smithing bled nicely into the sublime folk of Laura Marling, who at 22, sings with remarkable old soul wisdom.

Unfortunately, the highly anticipated set featuring Neutral Milk Hotel (aka Jeff Mangum) playing solo occurred on a stage that was too big and at a time that was too late in the day. He’s a genius but one that requires more intimacy than the Outdoor Stage could provide. St. Vincent, an art-rock goddess who exists between Bjork and PJ Harvey, ripped into a swirling frenzy while, on the main stage, The Shins played to a crowd acquainted with almost every lyric. Feist played up against Bon Iver, the folkie from nowhere to Grammy-winning savant. Iver performed one of the most blissful sets of the festival, well beyond the preciousness he exudes in the studio. Yet despite a day filled with incredible, passionate, inspired, creative music, it quickly became evident that there’s everybody and then there is Radiohead. No live band on the planet touches the intensity, complexity, and range as they do. Really.

Day 3: The weather was hot and welcomed. Saturday night went late and the first show of the day was Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, big mountains of seminal Afrobeat under and blazing son from Fela’s youngest son. Santigold ripped away at her infectious genre-defying blend of punk, dance, electronica on the main stage next door. In some ways, one of my favorite sets of the weekend was the blissful dreamy guitar rock of Real Estate because it gave me an excuse to merely sway rather than dance after I had found some shade. Phone cameras were snapping mightily but the web was nowhere to be found. Fitz and The Tantrums played a typically upbeat set while Wild Flag proved, once again, that girls totally rock. Thundercat’s Afro-funk jammed and was the logical primer for Parliament/P-Funk.

It’s not often, but occasionally Coachella “miss-stages” acts but validating how good they are and the pace at which this band blew up (thanks to “Somebody That I Used to Know,”) the crowd at Gotye was massive (M83 was similar). Every year there’s a band like this. Last year it was Foster The People. Beirut played another one of my favorite sets of the weekend with Balkan brass blazing, real instruments bumping up against the distant sounds of Girl Talk, blasting into the night. My favorite electronic show of the festival was also a brilliant and fitting close to it. DJ Shadow mixed his signature genre bending beats with a guest shot from Zach de la Rocha. As we walked back towards the main stage, Florence was entertaining most of what was left of the festival. She’s good and will probably end up closer to Madonna than Bjork, but I am okay with that. By the time Snoop and Dre hit the stage with the hologram of Tupac and more guests than a Johnny Carson episode, I was sated. And so it ended, at least until Friday because for the first time ever Coachella added a second weekend.

As all this occurred in the Indio Valley, people could watch the YouTube live stream from their homes. At one point, the audience peaked at hundreds of thousands of people from around the world watching the festival in real-time. This virtual audience is growing exponentially every year and I believe it’s a very good thing. Music is  inherently social and intensely personal. For some, the festival is purely social, with music as the backdrop. For me, it is all about music, from beginning to end, genre to genre, all day and all night. But like the web, to fully experience the right parts of the festival you need a Sherpa. Someone or some way to better know what you need to see. Social platforms are one way, but as I mentioned, they are tough to use in highly populated and bandwidth constrained environments. I know this will change, and for the sake of TastemakerX, Soundtracking and other platforms best used at live events, I hope it happens soon.

In the end the chance to spend 3 days, wandering from stage to stage, in the presence of genius, show after show many times over is an enormous privilege. You are showered in song and surrounded by the pure joy that music inspires in people. It is easy to forget how many people love the music you love, until you stand in tents and around stages with thousands of people wearing the same immensely satisfied smile on their faces as they are transcended at least for a moment into a completely different place.