Another year of music, art, and just hanging out in the desert

JON BABI

                        April 10, 2014

            Weekend No. 1 of Coachella is now officially a memory, but weekend No. 2 is careening down the road, gearing up to do it all over again. For us not so fortunate to actually partake in the fun, assorted livestreams kept us both happy and sad. From Wikipedia, “The Coachella Festival is an annual two-weekend, three-day music and arts festival held at Coachella Valley in the Colorado Desert. Founded by Paul Tollett in 1999, the event features many genres of music, including rock, indie, hip hop, and electronic dance music, as well as art installations and sculptures. “

“The festival’s origins trace back to a 1993 concert that Pearl Jam performed in the area  while boycotting venues controlled by Ticketmaster. The show validated the site’s viability for hosting large events, leading to the inaugural Coachella Festival being held in October 1999 over two days. By 2007,  the festival was expanded to a third day, and eventually a second weekend in 2012.”

This weekend’s sunset moment belonged to Neutral Milk Hotel, who at 6:57p.m. yesterday were playing the title track to their beloved 1998 album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Neutral Milk Hotel is a very interesting band, with a very interesting history.

The crowd was rapt, almost silent, knowing they were witnessing something rare. Jeff Mangum, leader of Neutral Milk Hotel, vanished for well over a decade before reuniting the band last year, and he waltzed on stage with a long beard and a baseball cap pulled down low. Neutral Milk Hotel lovingly recreated their old songs, drawing on both Aeroplane and the earlier On Avery Island, bolstering Mangum’s guitar with an assortment of instruments: accordion, trombone, and even a banjo played with a bow.

A few hours later, Coachella would end the weekend with a triumphant set by the Arcade Fire: another artistic collective fond of instrument-swapping, Salvation Army aesthetics and ambitious theme records. But although the Arcade Fire had Debbie Harry onstage to sing Heart of Glass, their predecessors owned the day. Neutral Milk Hotel’s set climaxed with Mangum doing Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two solo, singing about “secret songs that you keep wrapped in boxes so tight.” In a corner of the Coachella grounds, Mangum unwrapped some of those secret songs and gave the 2014 festival some evanescent but indelible memories.

So, with one weekend over, there’s only one thing left to ask: “How will week two top it?”