Saturday, February 26, 2005

DB Up in Your Ear: Coachella 2005 Primer Part I (Check It)

This year’s 2005 Coachella Valley Music Festival, set to take place on April 30 and May 1 way out east of Los Angeles in the California desert, is shaping up as an intriguing mix of big name rock bands, back-from-the-dead reunion acts, and cult fan indie credsters. This year’s Coachella doesn’t have quite the crackle-and-pop as 2004’s triumphant return of the Pixies, but the recent announcement that Cocteau Twins will be performing is intriguing indeed (and who knows, there’s still plenty of time for more “surprise” press releases).

Here’s a primer on some of the bands that are lined up to perform on the first of the two dates, Saturday, April 30.

Weezer is reason enough to pay the money and haul bottom down to Coachella. A great mix of hard rock, self-conscious pop, and deliciously witty lyricism, Weezer has settled into that perfect level of popularity – just under the radar of the burn-out knock-down-the-doors media maelstrom – where they will continue (we hope) to pump out challenging, interesting, rocking albums for many years to come.

As one of the most popular groups to emerge in the post-grunge alternative rock aftermath, Weezer received equal amounts of criticism and praise for their hook-heavy guitar pop. Drawing from the heavy power pop of arena rockers like Cheap Trick and the angular guitar leads of the Pixies, Weezer leavened their melodies with doses of '70s metal learned from bands like Kiss. But what set the band apart was their geekiness. None of the members of Weezer, especially leader Rivers Cuomo, were conventional rockers -- they were kids that holed up in their garage, playing along with their favorite records when they weren't studying or watching TV. As a result, their music was infused with a quirky sense of humor and an endearing awkwardness that made songs like "Undone (The Sweater Song)," "Buddy Holly," and "Say It Ain't So" into big modern rock hits during 1994 and 1995.

To my ears, Coldplay is a delicate mix of Blur and Oasis having a mellow day. I actually dismissed them for some time as yet another in a flurry of radio-ready ballet-rockers, but a closer inspection revealed real musical chops, real rock-pop sensibility.

Brit-pop darlings Coldplay never intended to become England's favorite rock & roll sons when their signature rock melodies ruled the charts throughout 2000. The Brit-rock quartet -- composed of Chris Martin (vocals/piano), Jon Buckland (guitar), Will Champion (drums), and Guy Berryman (bass) -- yearned to mess around a bit, plucking their own acoustics for fun while attending the University College of London. All had been playing instruments since their early teens and had been influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Stone Roses, Neil Young, and My Bloody Valentine.

They never imagined taking reign of the U.K.'s ever-changing rock scene.

I only just heard of Bauhaus recently and I must admit I’m upset I hadn’t checked them out sooner. They’re pretty great.

Bauhaus are the founding fathers of goth rock, creating a minimalistic, overbearingly gloomy style of post-punk rock driven by jagged guitar chords and cold, distant synthesizers. Throughout their brief career, the band explored all the variations on their bleak musical ideas, adding elements of glam rock, experimental electronic rock, funk, and heavy metal. While their following has never expanded beyond a cult, they kept their cult alive well into the '90s, a full decade after they disbanded.

I must disagree from the above description in that I find a good deal of their music less “bleak” than driving-downbeat, a significant difference. It works as rock, it works as goth, it works as new wave: a pretty kick-ass combo to pull off.

Cocteau Twins

A group whose distinctly ethereal and gossamer sound virtually defined the enigmatic image of the record label 4AD, the Cocteau Twins were founded in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. Taking their name from an obscure song from fellow Scots Simple Minds, the Cocteaus were originally formed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie and later rounded out by Guthrie's girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser, an utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions.

And from">’s Eric Olsen:

The almost impossibly elegant and ethereal Scottish trio Cocteau Twins are reuniting for the Coachella Valley Music Festival on Saturday, April 30 (joining the similarly reforming Bauhaus, and in the wake of last year's incredibly successful Pixies re-amalgamation).

Producer John Fryer Fryer (Head Over Heels, Sunburst, Snowblind) described the essence of the band's sound to me in a phone conversation. “It was drum machines that sound like drum machines - not trying to make them sound too real - and very lush processed guitars. Basically it’s just a distortion pedal, long delays, long reverb, and you make the whole thing float.”

It did, and now it will again.

The Chemical Brothers
To me, The Chemical Brothers is electronica for people who don’t like electronica. It’s driving, hard music with a beat, so I suspect that I’m not the only rock fan that got turned onto their unique blend of techno, hip hop, and rock stylings.

The act with the first arena-sized sound in the electronica movement, the Chemical Brothers united such varying influences as Public Enemy, Cabaret Voltaire, and My Bloody Valentine to create a dance-rock-rap fusion which rivaled the best old-school DJs on their own terms -- keeping a crowd of people on the floor by working through any number of groove-oriented styles featuring unmissable samples, from familiar guitar riffs to vocal tags to various sound effects. And when the duo (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons) decided to supplement their DJ careers by turning their bedrooms into recording studios, they pioneered a style of music (later termed big beat) remarkable for its lack of energy loss from the dancefloor to the radio. Chemical Brothers albums were less collections of songs and more hourlong journeys, chock full of deep bomb-studded beats, percussive breakdowns, and effects borrowed from a host of sources. All in all, the duo proved one of the few exceptions to the rule that intelligent dance music could never be bombastic or truly satisfying to the seasoned rock fan; it's hardly surprising that they were one of the few dance acts to enjoy simultaneous success in the British/American mainstream and in critical quarters.

These guys are alt-country with serious chops. Much has been written and discussed about Wilco over the last several years, so I’ll only add that they’re a difficult band to turn off once you get into a good Wilco groove: early morning chilling, ruminating afternoon drive, late-night contemplative musing.

Wilco rose from the ashes of the seminal roots rockers Uncle Tupelo, who disbanded in 1994. While Jay Farrar, one of the group's two singer/songwriters, went on to form the band Son Volt, his ex-partner Jeff Tweedy established Wilco along with the remaining members of Tupelo's final incarnation, which included drummer Ken Coomer as well as part-time bandmates John Stirratt (bass) and Max Johnston (mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and lap steel). Guitarist Jay Bennett rounded out the group.

Keane’s a little too pop for my taste and the singer’s a bit high-pitched, but… well, there it is.

Tom Chaplin (vocals), Richard Hughes (drums), and Tim Rice-Oxley (piano) are childhood friends from Battle, East Sussex, England who make up the merry pop sounds of Keane. Formed in 1997 while each were attending college, Keane initially started out as a cover band. They played Oasis, U2 and Beatles songs in and around Sussex.

Snow Patrol
These guys will add a seriously needed punch of well-crafted rock into Coachella’s opening day festivities. This polished (and possibly Weezer influenced?) alt-rock act is one of the more intriguing bands to look out for.

Featuring thrilling fuses of alternative pop/rock's most intensified marks, Snow Patrol's compositions combine songwriting aptitude with guitar rock's sharpest strains. Gary Lightbody (vocals, guitar), Mark McClelland (bass, keyboards), and John Quinn (drums) embodied the Northern Irish three-piece that started off as a duo.

The Secret Machines
Good old fashioned fuzzy alternative rock and roll, and good stuff at that.

Revealing a sharp songwriting instinct and unfolding a distinct indie rock influence, the Secret Machines unveil singular scenarios and refined tunes within the alternative pop/rock scene. Drummer Benjamin Curtis, Josh Garza, and Brandon Curtis (vocals, bass) formed the Secret Machines in the midst of summer of 2000, in Dallas, TX.

DB Note: Check us out soon for Part II, where you’ll get a goodly run-down on bands taking the stage for Coachella’s second night, Sunday, May 1.

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