Coachella 2011: Mumford & Sons, Titus Andronicus, Warpaint, and more
Contributor Mike Duffy was at Coachella this year, and sent along this belated dispatch.
Ten days before Coachella, I got a random call from a friend out West.
“I have an idea…” she said. She needed help covering the music festival for Fender magazine, and wanted me for the gig.
I accepted immediately, dropped everything and booked my flight to the desert. I mean, it'd been a goal of mine for years to go to Indio, California, get heatstroke and watch as many bands as I humanly could in the span of a weekend.
Armed with a photo credential, VIP wristband, camera and iPad, I spent three days running all over the Empire Polo Grounds and checking off bands my enormous wish list.
After three days in the desert, here are the lucky seven that made the biggest impression:
Warpaint: The Los Angeles-based quartet features four rocking girls who weave experimental art rock with a darkly, psychedelic bent. I was really blown away by drummer Stella Mozgawa, who pounds the skins with a Bonham-like ferocity. It’s that beat that provides a foundation for Warpaint’s spacey sound, something that's furthered by Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman’s ethereal lyrics. Listen to: “Elephant”
Titus Andronicus: Hailing from New Jersey, Titus Andronicus tells stories in its songs, but they don’t sound like The Boss. T.A. is honest indie punk that had people watching crowd surfing on the very first song they played. Led by the healthily-bearded Patrick Stickles, Titus’s rallying cry is making it in a working-class city hit hard by the economy. Oh, and it’s not odd to hear a Titus song devolve into an Irish jig. Listen to: “A More Perfect Union." [ed. The Baltimore Sun story on Stickles and Titus is here.]
The Joy Formidable: Three pieces is all this Wales band needs to make some serious noise. Bleach-blonde singer Ritzy Bryan absolutely wrecks her Fender Stratocaster, and drummer Matt Thomas is capable of filling in empty spaces in the beat with staccato bursts here and there. I like that type unpredictability in drummers. After this show, Bryan was ripping the strings out of her guitar and bassist Rhyodin Dafydd was destroying a free-standing drum. The only destruction I really saw all weekend. Listen to: “Whirring”
Brandon Flowers: OK, OK, we all know who the lead singer of The Killers is, but Flowers’ solo show isn’t too shabby either. Obviously, there is a Killers lean to his music, but it’s less synthy and more dusty rock. The main reason Flowers is on this list is because he ended his show by bringing out Killers guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer to rip through “Read my Mind” and “Mr. Brightside.” It was an awesome surprise. Listen to: “Crossfire”
Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears: Good lord, Black Joe Lewis channeled the spirit of James Brown and some of the other great wailers of the doo-wop generation. Featuring a horn section and Lewis’ rhythm and blues guitar, the group has a rockabilly and soul vibe that would be at home in a Blues Brothers movie (not Blues Brothers 2000). With songs like “Booty City” and “Get Yo Sh*t,” you know you’re going to boogie. Listen to: “Gunpowder”
Best Coast: I’ve listened to Best Coast briefly before, but they might have had the perfect setting for their hazy surf pop. It was Sunday, the sun was setting and everyone just wanted to chill. Perfect. Singer Bethany Cosentino sang about summer and being in love while a lot of fans just lazed in the grass and swayed along. Listen to: “Boyfriend”
Mumford and Sons: The only entry on this list to play on the giant main stage, Mumford and Sons showed they could headline one of these festivals in the future. The four-piece folk band from the U.K. added horns after the first few songs to expand their sound and played two songs not on their previous album, one of which had frontman Marcus Mumford on the drums. The crowd was absolutely crushing for the Sons. Listen to: “Lover of the Light.” [ed. Mumford & Sons to play Merriweather in June]
There were a ton of other bands that could have been mentioned – Scissor Sisters, Chromeo, A-Trak, Neon Trees – but these are the ones that left me wanting to hear more from.
For those of you that haven’t been to Coachella, I suggest looking into it for next year. It’s a great way to kick off the spring/summer festival season and a great study in people watching. There are some real interesting cats that descend on Indio, all in the name of good music.
Just make sure you wear sunscreen, or you could end up like this guy (that’s not me, by the way).
Mike Duffy, a writer at baltimoreravens.com, is a frequent Midnight Sun contributor. He last reviewed We Are Scientists for the blog. This year, he also wrote about Coachella for Fender online. Erik Maza edited this post.
Photos in descending order: Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable performing at Coachella; Warpaint performing; a typical Coachella attendee (Writer's own)