El Jefe’s Guide to Coachella 2011

This upcoming weekend, the twelfth annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival returns again to Indio, California. For those of us resourceful enough to snag a pass in those precious few days before passes sold out—or the especially resourceful few who shelled out upwards of $500 on StubHub or Craigslist—the festival’s lineup boasts its fair share of must-see live performances. Overwhelmed by the list of artists? Not quite sure which shows to go to and which ones to skip? Interested in hearing this hipster’s occasionally pretentious opinion on the matter? Read on:

Four Artists You Must See:

The Arcade Fire

The big one. The obvious one. Many people shamelessly kiss the feet of these Canadian indie heroes, swearing by each and every word front man Win Butler utters with the obedience of a cult. Commonly heard phrases among this group of fans include, “Funeral completely changed my life, and is without a doubt the greatest album of all time,” and, “You haven’t seen them live? You should reconsider your priorities as a human being.” Others, especially those fond of Internet memes, asked themselves, “Who the hell is the Arcade Fire?” when, in one of the most beautifully shocking moments in the award show’s history, the Grammys named the band’s latest record, The Suburbs, as album of the year. You can venture a guess as to which group I proudly include myself in. All fan-boy frenzy aside, the Arcade Fire’s appearance at this year’s Coachella kicks off the band’s second leg of their North American tour behind The Suburbs. Featuring a dystopian take on modern suburbia, the band’s stage design alone, saturated in grey tones and centered around a massive billboard that doubles as an LCD screen, makes this show an all but necessary part of the weekend. Butler, his wife Régine, his younger brother Will, and about a dozen others sharing the stage perform with the type of contagious energy and unbridled passion that electrifies each show with the feeling of being their last. Coupled with the band’s charmingly humble attitude and loving relationship with their fans, Arcade Fire’s headlining spot on Saturday night simply requires that you attend.

Odd Future

A Los Angeles-based rap collective as concerned with graffiti and skateboarding as with constantly upping the ante of hip-hop excess, Odd Future—short for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All—never fails to leave an impression. Even if that impression revolves around their lyrics, which range from obscene to simply unrepeatable by most sane standards. Not quite convinced? Check out a few of bandleader Tyler the Creator’s music videos, which feature vomiting, sex with blowup dolls, and insect ingestion between lines about stabbing Bruno Mars in the neck and selling coke at church. If recent hype from performances at SXSW and an unforgettable appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” proves anything, Odd Future’s balls-to-the-wall live show promises to give a certain Mr. West a run for his money when it comes to shocking an audience.


Last year, Swedish-born singer-songwriter Robyn released more music than most of those sharing the lineup release in their lifetimes. Her Body Talk trilogy produced some of 2010’s most memorable dance floor anthems, including “Indestructible,” “Dancing On My Own,” and “Hang With Me.” Backed by just a pair of keyboardists and a drummer, Robyn paints her brand of glimmering synthpop with just the type of humility and often-brutal honesty to distinguish her from the Katy Perrys of the world. Those who typically turn to Ke$ha for “edginess” need only listen to Body Talk Pt. 3’s thumping opener, “Don’t F**king Tell Me What To Do,” for how to define shameless pop. Very few performers command the stage as convincingly and as confidently as Robyn, a reputation she hopes to surpass with her performance this Friday night.

Death from Above 1979

Comprised of MSTRKRFT’s Jesse Keeler (or “JFK” from behind the turntables) and Sebastien Grainger, this Toronto-based dance-punk duo never needed the help of a guitarist to plug out some of the dirtiest noise rock of the last decade. After releasing only one full-length record over a brief five-year career, DFA 1979 broke up in 2006, leaving legions of fans drooling for a reunion. That reunion occurred a little after 1:00 a.m. at this year’s SXSW and erupted in a violent riot in which throngs of fans broke through the venue’s barrier fence after only 20 minutes. Police officers on horseback used mace and tasers to repel the rioters, and they even resorted to beating in one case. If that doesn’t spell notoriety for this year’s most-hyped-about Coachella reunion, perhaps the brutality with which the two play the ever-loving crap out of their instruments will.

Four Artists To Skip:

The Strokes

Feel free to hate me for this one. Sure, their debut redefined the terms of post-millennial rock, and their recent release Angles stands out as some of their best work in years, but when it comes to live performance, these New Yorkers look a little bored. If you want to hear a note-for-note, albeit louder rendering of their recorded material, stop by their set. Otherwise, just YouTube it later.

Ms. Lauryn Hill

The title before her name says it all. The occasional Fugee and eccentric queen of hip-hop showed up three hours late to her performance at last year’s Rock The Bells, supposedly due to a manicure-pedicure. Marred by sound difficulties and an awkward delivery on Hill’s part, her performance left most in the audience unimpressed.

Crystal Castles

The 8-bit thrashing electronics of Toronto’s Crystal Castles used to spell success for their chaotic live shows, but recently front woman Alice Glass’s raucous performance style caught up to her: Due to several injuries sustained on the same foot, she currently performs on crutches.

Kings of Leon

Considering they headlined every festival from here to Australia in the last few years, and considering you can’t go anywhere nowadays without hearing their stadium-sized ego anthems, the Tennessee foursome’s headlining set on Friday night promises to draw most of Coachella’s Friday night masses… leaving the rest of the stages less crowded and free of Dayglo-spectacled preteens. Also, consider this: Kings of Leon blatantly insulted their audience at England’s Reading Festival in 2009 and left the stage of the Verizon Amphitheatre in St. Louis after only three songs as a result of pigeons repeatedly pooping on them. Listen to the pigeons.

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