Monday, April 20, 2009

Thoughts from Coachella

So I just got back from Coachella and figured I'd share some thoughts and bands that appealed to me. Plus, enough of you asked that I figured it'd be easier to write it down once. If nothing else, be sure to read about and listen to the last 3 bands on this post. Without further ado...

First off, some bands that stuck out to me...

The Ting Tings - UK rock band. They put on a great show and are a solid band. Lead singer Katie White really stole the show and worked the crowd. That's Not My Name is their hit song, and it's quite good, as are they.

MIA - put on a great show, as usual. Also notable for an interesting introduction featuring a montage of people holding up signs saying "MIA supports terrorism" and such, a reference to MIA's Sri Lankan roots. Her background really come through in her work. For good measure (and in honor of the holiday) a link to that one song she does...

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - a close friend called them the best female-led rock group today, and they lived up to that assessment. Katie O (their lead) was charming and spunky, in-your-face yet the girl next door. (Yes, I have a bit of a crush on her. Judging by the Borat-themed "Hot!" some dude next to yelled, I'm not the only one.) My favorite song is Heads Will Roll, but others might disagree.

Paul McCartney - showed up, started with some solid solo tunes, rocked out the last half of the set with classic Beatles, including Blackbird, Let It Be, Drive My Car, A Day in the Life, Something (played acoustic on a ukulele given to him by George), and Hey Jude. People sang, danced, and cried over his awesomeness. There was much peace and love.

The Killers - amazing band and an even more amazing set. Being the headline on Saturday night, they were the biggest act and didn't disappoint. I managed to get less than 50 feet from the front, and it was an experience to remember. From the opener (Human) all the way to the encore, it was difficult to tell whether we were, in fact, humans or dancers (yes, I know that was an awful pun). Seriously, though, it was one of the best music experiences of my life, and I'd strongly recommend seeing them if you have the chance.

Finally, the 3 bands I most want to shout from the rooftops about...

Tinawiren - first off, they have one of the most amazing and inspirational stories out there. In short, they are Tuareg (a nomadic people from western Africa), and their music speaks to the Tuareg movement for indepenence from Mali. Their sound is melodic rather than harmonic (a bit like Indian music) and their music is in French and Tamashek, so it's tougher than Western music to embrace immediately. Once you do, though, you're in for a treat. Their story, music, and spirit combined in a way that I can't quite put into words. Check them out.

Fleet Foxes - as they are a folksy band (they describe themselves as "baroque harmonic pop jams"), I wasn't expecting anything mindblowing from them going in. To be sure, I love their songs and think they have one of the most unique sounds out there - simple yet sufficiently complex music with very tight vocal harmonies (a bit like Simon and Garfunkel, actually). And to this end, they delivered with songs like White Winter Hymnal. What blew me away, though, was their (potential) diversity of sound. Much of their current stuff is like White Winter Hymnal, slow and great sounding, but they really rocked out on a few tunes, and they did it in their own way. Ultimately, they are able to maintain their sound regardless of the genre of music they're doing (sort of like how Coldplay or U2 have that same it in all their songs - slow, fast, rock anthem, or love ballad). They're already a great band, but if they explore with their music and push the envelope, I think they could be huge.

K'Naan - I'll go with what my buddy said about this guy - "It would have been worth the 500 mile drive to see just him." Like Tinawiren, K'Naan's story is ridiculously awesome and inspirational. Born in Somalia, he braved Mogadishu before making it to America and then Canada, where he taught himself English and eventually got into hip hop and spoken word.

I really can't say enough about this guy. First and foremost, he is pure genius. His lyrics are in the vein of Tupac and Lupe - meaningful and often poignant, and his wordplay and flow are out of this world. I'll post more of his spoken word when I can, but he did a couple peices at Coachella. I couldn't find my favorite of the two, but here is one (it's the lyrics to Somalia, which is also one of his songs). Secondly, he's extremely gifted musically - he can sing and rap, and he even rocks out on songs like If Rap Gets Jealous and Bang Bang. Third, he's on a mission. He has seen things most of us can hardly imagine, and he wants to share them with the world. He is extremely intelligent and socially conscious, and he knows how to use his music to convey a point and open eyes, both emotionally and rationally. He could really do some great things...

Oh, and I couldn't forget - one of his best songs: Wavin' Flag. Enjoy.

A closing thought (or rather, incoherent rambling) for me was the role of music in defining and shaping cultural memes. Music has always brought people together (and it was great seeing this in its literal form this past weekend, with 18,000 camping out at the 3 day festival, not to mention those who came to the festival just during the days), but it's mostly stayed out of politics and society in the mainstream as of today.

I wonder if that's about to change. Music can be a glue in the building of social movements and has done so in the past (the 60s being the most salient example). As society continues to open its eyes to the major issues our planet is facing (sustainability, war, etc.), music may well play a powerful role in speeding that process along. For example, it's impossible to listen to K'Naan and not be moved to think more deeply about what's going on in Somalia. If other artists start to take it on themselves to give voice to the unheard or to society's overlooked ills, it will be interesting to see what comes of it...


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  2. I have to agree with you. K'Naan is such an amazing artist. He's just pure genius.

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