Posts Tagged ‘vampire weekend’

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the final day of the festival – Sunday 21st April 2013. It is part 4 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

Being at Coachella is very indicative of the Californian experience. There is staggering natural beauty & weather, the place is populated with the chic, the creative, the consumerist, and the health-conscious, and its environment is both trend-setting and expensive. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get sucked into the tantalizing Hollywood lifestyle.

 

The state of California, home to the Coachella Music Festival

The state of California, home to the Coachella Music Festival

 

Wandering through the Farmers Market on Sunday morning was a cautionary financial tale. Nestled in the expansive campgrounds, the market serves up a smorgasbord of appetising food and beverages, its tents and stalls daring you to try their delectable delights. With breakfast and coffee being the main points on the agenda, an all-you-can-eat buffet of morning treats from Roc’s Fire House Grille and an iced cappuccino with horchata (cinnamon and vanilla-infused milk) dealt with the hunger pangs. Window-shopping on a full stomach made the rest of the ramble through the market easier to manage, passing by delis, dessert stands, smoothie shacks, bakeries, and organic fruit stalls with the virtue of a nun.

 

 

Early afternoon saw The Gaslight Anthem deliver a stirring set of their New Jersey blue-collar balladry to the main Coachella Stage, with Brian Fallon’s growl guiding the gathered masses through a medley of Bruce Springsteen-meets-punk proclamations. Like The Boss himself, Fallon & Friends trade on earnestness and heartfelt, nostalgia-tinged poetry, no more evident than on set-opener ‘Mae’ (“stay the same, don’t ever change, ’cause I’d miss your ways, with your Bette Davis eyes, and your mama’s party dress”). Their raw punk roots have been relatively refined over time (this set featured no tracks from their boisterous 2007 debut Sink Or Swim), but a melodic modification to their tightly-constructed sound should not be seen as a sacrifice for intensity, or a lapse into mediocrity.

 

 

Catchy hit-single ‘45’ and the title track of 2012’s Handwritten kept the fire of the band’s youth burning, as did rousing set-closer ‘The Backseat’. ‘The Queen Of The Lower Chelsea’, however, was slow-building and tranquil, but left one humming along to an infectious guitar line, and the peppy ‘Old White Lincoln’ ensured the same. Rounding out their varied set were two covers: the obscure ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise, and Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Interstate Love Song’ (described by Fallon as “a song we really love from the 90’s”). Although the band holds their influences very close to their heart, they still produce fresh and exhilarating music.

Lots of guitar feedback at a crushing volume began to emanate from the Outdoor Theatre later in the afternoon, and the source of this howling cacophony was Dinosaur Jr., the avant-garde alternative rock ancestors. Their trademark sound is a bizarre hybrid of styles, meshing strains of classic rock, hardcore punk and noise rock into an intriguing, distorted behemoth, which foreshadowed the direction alternative and grunge music would take in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

 

J Mascis, lead singer and guitarist of Dinosaur Jr.

J Mascis, lead singer and guitarist of Dinosaur Jr.

 

Guitarist and lead singer J Mascis’ droning vocals swayed in and out of the maelstrom, overshadowed by his dazzling guitar parts, which set-opener ‘The Lung’ particularly highlighted. Bassist Lou Barlow took over vocal duties on ‘Rude’, a punky take on 50’s rock ‘n roll, and again on ‘Training Ground’, a searing rendition of a song originally written by him and Mascis whilst in their first band together, the now-defunct Deep Wound. Not all their output was designed to rattle the eardrums; the comparatively melodic ‘Feel The Pain’ had the crowd mildly bopping along to its mid-tempo verses, before the epic chorus kicked in with gusto. Towards the end of their set, Mascis sarcastically heralded the arrival of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ (a song which yielded them their first UK hit in 1989) with “this is not a Cure song”, which was partially true, as the band brought their token weirdness and amped-up audacity to the beloved new-wave gem.

The highly-acclaimed aural alchemy of Tame Impala turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival, and the Australian psychedelic rock project (led by mastermind Kevin Parker) showed why they deserve such praise with a sprawling, transcendental set at the Outdoor Theatre. Songs warped and expanded to dizzying depths, such as the reggae-influenced interlude between the swaying swagger of ‘Elephant’ and the dreamy ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, with a swampy, dubstep rhythm Parker dedicated “to those heading towards a hangover”. Elsewhere, the tumbling grooves of latest single ‘Mind Mischief’ were stretched to Saturn and back with an extended remix, and fan-favourite ‘Half Glass Full Of Wine’ already had the delirious masses crowd-surfing before its slick, danceable extended finale.

 

 

One could see that the band was enjoying the sun-drenched atmosphere (populated with a sizeable Australian contingent), as their previous weekend’s set had been plagued by a sudden dust-storm. This time, the audience was only mentally blown away by Parker’s sonically massive performance, where swirling layers of sound camouflaged his introspective and isolationist lyrics (clearly evident on set-opener ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ – the lone track from their 2010 debut Innerspeaker). For a shy guy, he sure knows how to connect with a crowd, as well as conduct a well-oiled machine onstage, with his free-floating John Lennon-esque vocals resonating into the stratosphere and beyond.

Coming down from the high of one great act and moving onto another is tantamount to any Coachella tale. Starry-eyed festivalgoers swim from stage to stage, with diehard fans pushing for a spot closest to the front amongst the teeming thousands. Even settling for a cosy corner many rows back from the main Coachella Stage did not diminish the viewing experience of Vampire Weekend. A less claustrophobic perspective allowed one to take in the elaborate and striking stage design, which included large framed mirrors and floating white Roman columns. The chic, preppy indie pop-rock of their first two albums complemented the mood, and the unveiling of tracks from their upcoming Modern Vampires Of The City showed a breath-taking shift towards a more varied, epic sound.

 

 

First of these was the zany rockabilly stomper ‘Diane Young’, with lead singer Ezra Koenig making clever use of pitch-shifting on his vocals, turning them impossibly deep then high in the space of just a few words. Another new track, the slow-building ‘Ya Hey’, showcased a more stately electronic side to their sound, and the experience became more engrossing with each song, as the band slipped between the quirky, perky wit of ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’, and the percussive power of ‘Giving Up The Gun’. When the Afro-pop influenced ‘Cape Cod Kwassa’ sailed in to close off their memorable set, the crowd had been exposed to a wide spectrum of smartly-crafted pop songs.

The mood dramatically deviated into very dark territory as the gothic gang leader Nick Cave seized control of the main Coachella Stage, and held court with his band The Bad Seeds. A two-time performer over the weekend (his garage rock side project Grinderman also made an appearance on Friday night), Cave’s frightening stage persona was one part rambling preacher, one part demented poet, and his deep baritone vocals violently led the Seeds and stunned crowd through six of the band’s best-known hits from their 30-year career, as well as two new songs.

 

 

Taken from 2013’s Push The Sky Away, the recent tracks (“Jubilee Street’ and the title song) showcased a mournful, operatic side to the Bad Seeds sound, and the latter formed part of a glorious finale, which featured backing vocals from a children’s choir from Silverlake Music Conservatory. But what Cave does best is weave together twisted tales and equally perverse music, best seen and heard on the profane ‘Stagger Lee’. Whilst second-in-command Warren Ellis, the heavily-bearded violinist, haphazardly scooted around the stage with villainous glee, Cave took to the crowd, getting up close and personal for the tense confessional ‘The Mercy Seat’ and spooky ‘Red Right Hand’. It was a consummate performance from the legendary Australian rocker, bathed in the melodramatics and shock value that he has become well-known for.

Coachella’s final day had seen talent that had traversed all the way from the East Coast of the USA, and across the seas from Down Under, but veteran local funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers brought some Californian love to the proceedings, headlining the festival for an incredible third time. Although long past their prime, the band knows how to constantly adapt and evolve, weathering through a turbulent history of drug abuse and a revolving door of guitarists. The 2009 departure of the iconic John Frusciante, and subsequent addition of Josh Klinghoffer, signalled new phase in their fascinating career.

Whilst 2011’s I’m With You attempted to rebuild the band’s studio sound from the ashes, incorporating Afrobeat and piano-based influences, the Chili Peppers’ live show has now morphed into a tour de force funk fiesta that few groups can match with experience or skill. Delving into a treasure trove brimming with 30 years’ worth of hits, there’s always a guaranteed retreading over past classics, but the band has plied their trade long enough to be able to shake things up and provide fresh, exciting interpretations of their material. Frequent jams and improvisations blurred the lines between songs, with the band content to feel their way through the moment (such as the exhilarating extended intro to ‘Can’t Stop’).

 

 

As expected, the set was heavily weighted towards the successes of the early 90’s and early 00’s, with only set-opener ‘Monarchy Of Roses’, ‘Factory Of Faith’, and ‘The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie’ featuring off of their latest album. Klinghoffer has ably slotted into the fold, after being a touring guitarist with the band since their 2006 Stadium Arcadium Tour, bringing an elusive, textural approach to the guitar attack (most notably seen on their live staple ‘Californication’, twisting the dirge-like music to further match the social commentary). The rhythm section still boasts two of the finest players of their crafts in Flea (bass) and Chad Smith (drums), with the latter receiving a boost in the percussion department in the form of Mauro Refosco, who spices proceedings up with an assortment of bongos and exotic instruments.

Red Hot Chili Peppers will always be young at heart, despite singer Anthony Kiedis’ relative onstage mellowing and lack of banter compared to Flea, who is still the soul of the group, bursting with passion, silliness and technical proficiency. After a five-song encore, which included a group of lucky fans dressed in UV-painted white jumpsuits joining the band for vigorous set-closer ‘Give It Away’, the bassist breathlessly blurted out “I love me some California!”, before going on to list a number of the state’s locales, drawing rapturous applause with every city.

When paying a visit to a town or city, it is considered good traveller’s practice to sample the local sights and sounds, as it hopefully provides an insight into local culture. For a truly international event, Coachella still feels confidently Californian: a holistic Hollywood haven of music, art, food, and entertainment; a desert retreat revelling in the cut-throat intensity and excess of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

But maybe this juxtaposition highlights the success of the phenomenon of vicariousness known as ‘Californication’. Anthony Kiedis said it best in the song that bears its name: “Everybody’s been there, and I don’t mean on vacation”.

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 22nd of March 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes. In hindsight, this article in particular could do with a significant update, perhaps a ‘Part Two’, in the near future)

 

One aspect of music that I have a particular affinity for is acoustic covers of well-known songs, or by artists that I like. The idea of reinterpreting a piece of music and stripping it down to its core emotions gets me excited. The search to find these gems also makes it all the more worthwhile, as many of these performances are rather rare and difficult to find.

Due to the incredibly high-quality of technology used in music production today, it’s become easy to lose a sense of how good an artist is at performing live, which I’ve always considered a worthy barometer of talent measurement. Studio trickery and layered and/or Auto-tuned vocals can sometimes mask the real truth of an artist’s ability.

This is not to say that technology is bad and has no place in the music industry, because it definitely does have a place. Musical and technological innovations have gone hand-in-hand right from the start. Artists such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix eagerly and meticulously redefined what an artist could do in a studio, and embraced the many changes the recording industry was going through in the 1960’s (definitely enough for a whole other article!), and made music all the more creative and electrifying (excuse the pun) for the following decades. By the 1980’s, it was standard practice to play around with synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, etc, to add to your final mix.

 

Jimi Hendrix was notoriously picky in the studio, meticulously crafting his sound, which often left studio staff exasperated.

Jimi Hendrix was notoriously picky in the studio, meticulously crafting his sound, which often left studio staff exasperated.

 

But if you take a performer out of the comfort of his/her studio, or take away all the wonderful gadgets that make them listenable, will the magic still be there? Depending on what type of music they create (some, for example, make acoustic-based music anyway), this could be a colossal failure or a beautiful spectacle; an unmasking of the true artist within. If someone is worth his/her salt musically, they should be able to convey to you what they’re feeling inside in the simplest or grandest terms.

I saw an extreme example of this recently, when I watched a guitar documentary where Jack White (of The White Stripes) built a ‘guitar’ out of a block of wood, a glass bottle, some nails, wire, and a connecting system of some sort to electrify this poor-man’s attempt at an instrument. He then tried it out for a while, as it emitted a howling surge of noise, and afterwards, turned to the camera and said with a shrug, ‘Who said you even need to buy a guitar?’

 

 

Amateurs also have discovered the importance of the acoustic cover in contemporary music, not just the professional artists. If you search ‘acoustic cover’ on Youtube, you’re guaranteed to find a plethora of people, usually with just a guitar or piano, playing their own ‘unplugged’ versions of popular songs, whether they’re pop, rock, R&B or even hip-hop. It almost seems to be a rite of passage to be able know the chords to some teen pop-idol’s latest hit, and then to give your interpretation of it on the Internet. And you know what? I’m all for it.

Whether a musician is performing an acoustic cover of his own song, or of another’s, a little morsel of his soul gets put into the meal. And when a professional artist does so, there is an even greater chance of that performance turning into an aural banquet for the listener. Oftentimes the mood of the song is completely different from its original: a change from brash and outrageous to perhaps delicate and sensitive, yet still using the same words and chords. So, in addition to showcasing the artist’s actual vocal and/or instrumental skills, their flair for songwriting and arranging can also be given a chance to shine.

Here are some amateur and professional examples of acoustic covers that really sum up the ideals I’ve found in this sphere of music. In some cases, the line between amateur and professional is a little blurred, because some of these people have really good production values and obvious talent that needs to be discovered by a record label or rich investor! Some are studio recordings, but still acoustic versions, which must count for something. This is by no means a complete list of what’s worth checking it out; It’s just what I’ve been exposed to, or have the download links to show you. I’m sure every artist out there has had to do an acoustic recording at some point. What these type of recordings lack in complexity, they more than make up for in passion and emotion.

 

Amateurs:

 

1. Tyler Ward

This guy has built up quite a collection of covers, and guests to perform with him. I was introduced to his work by his cover of Lady Gaga’s latest hit ‘Born This Way’, which he performs with a girl named Alex G. Try out this one out for size:

 

2. Obadiah Parker’s cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’

This folk/pop group catapulted away from obscurity when in 2007, they released an acoustic cover of the hip hop smash hit by Outkast, ‘Hey Ya’. A tender, relaxed take on a very upbeat and funky song:

 

 

3. Boyce Avenue

Like Tyler Ward, this band have become Youtube sensations, with many of their videos having over a million views each. Specialising in acoustic covers, and now writing some of their own material in a similar style, they are an excellent example of how to use modern communication tools like the Internet to get your name out there.

Their most-viewed track, Linkin Park’s ‘Shadow Of The Day’, rightfully deserves that honour:

 

 

Professionals

 

1. MTV Unplugged Series

This MTV concert series began in the early 90’s and had some amazing acts of the day perform ‘unplugged’. Some memorable moments to check out include:

Eric Clapton in 1992, whose set was released as an album, selling over 10 million copies and earning him SIX Grammy Awards! Hectic stuff…

Bryan Adams’s 1997 set, of which that version of ‘Heaven’ will probably end up being my wedding song…

Nirvana’s legendary performance in 1993. Recorded only five months before Kurt Cobain’s death, the grunge trend-setters completely flipped their music on its head, showcasing a more sensitive side of Kurt’s vocals and guitar-playing.

Oasis’s infamous 1996 performance, at the height of their fame. Moments before going on stage, lead singer Liam Gallagher pulled out of the show, citing a sore throat. The band continued to perform despite this, with his brother, songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher, handling all the vocals, which earned him much critical praise. Liam watched the performance and heckled the group from a balcony. Some absolute classics here, such as ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’.

 

The Unplugged series slowed down its recording schedule in the 2000’s, but lately, present-day artists such as Phoenix, Katy Perry, Adam Lambert, Vampire Weekend and Paramore have been contributing some lively performances.

 

 

2. An assortment of others that I have on my iPod

Due to the elusive nature of these performances, it’s quite difficult to have a nice catalogue of them on CD’s or on an iPod. Many artists choose to randomly play a hit of theirs acoustically at one of their countless concerts, or record a version on an obscure EP; therefore it’s easy to miss out, even if you’re a fan! So here’s a list of some interesting ones I have collected over the years:

 

  • Aerosmith – ‘Crazy’ (Piano Acoustic)
  • Fokofpolisiekar – ‘Hemel Op Die Platteland’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Foo Fighters – ‘Times Like These’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Incubus – ‘Stellar’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’ (Originally by Nine Inch Nails – one of the best covers ever, off an album of covers he did before he died in 2003)
  • Linkin Park – Pushing Me Away (Live Acoustic – from Underground V6.0)
  • Relient K’s ‘Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been’ and ‘Which To Bury: Us Or The Hatchet’ (Unplugged Versions off various EP’s)
  • Rihanna – Umbrella (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Tupac Shakur – Changes (Guitar Acoustic – rare version)

 

Whew, that’s enough for now! Now it’s your turn to go out there and search for these acoustic nuggets of treasure. Hopefully you’ll find that the magic is still there once the Auto-tune is turned off and the guitars are unplugged…