Our selective guide to the bands playing the desert’s hippest music fest.
Deer Tick: These young East Coast guys sound like they grew up in the south listening to a rockin’ Hank Williams. Their second album, Born on Flag Day, came out last summer. Lead singer John McCauley’s distinctive, gravely voice combined with an energetic live show makes this emerging band worth keeping an eye on.
DJ Lance Rock: Have you been near a toddler in the last two years? Did they seem cooler than you with better rhythm? Blame our DJ Lance Rock, mastermind behind Nickelodeon TV sensation Yo Gabba Gabba, who also just so happens to be featured in our April Encounter.
Fever Ray: This one is a bit of a wild card. The fact that Karin Dreijer Andersson is one half of the electronic duo The Knife would have been enough to get her a small set at the festival. But her solo act, Fever Ray, is actually really good on its own. This is the show for those too erudite to cut loose in a club but willing to do so in Indio.
Grizzly Bear: One of the coolest music stories from the past year was about a free Grizzly Bear show in NYC. There, holding hands in the crowd on a pier in Williamsburg, was none other than the official First Couple of pop: Beyonce and Jay-Z. If that doesn’t signal crossover appeal, we don’t know what does. Seeing Grizzly Bear is like watching a behind-the-scenes featurette on crafting a multi-layered pop song. Their talent is immediate. And who knows, maybe Jay will be in the crowd again.
Jay-Z: We could have sworn he retired with the Black Album, but here he is, H.O.V.A. himself, filling the opening spot Paul McCartney rocked last year. Maybe this year Jay’ll write a hit single about Indio.
She & Him: A recent concert in Hollywood had ‘Him’ (dusty folk guitarist M. Ward) close a solo set with “She” (America’s Sweetheart™ Zooey Deschanel) on stage as a special surprise guest. This year’s Coachella drops the ‘surprise’ but keeps the ‘special.’ A good show for anyone who regularly uses the word “cute.”
Sleigh Bells: New Yorker pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones called the small number of MP3s released by Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells the best album of 2009. Maybe this was a clever way of arguing that the album is a dead format. Maybe it proves the New Yorker has no business employing a pop music critic. You decide.
The Avett Bros: These guys get better every time we see them. Their latest release, the Rick Rubin-produced I And Love And You shows them fine tuning their punk bluegrass sensibilities—and showcasing brilliant lyrics—but their live shows are full of the energetic wackiness that brought them attention in the first place.
Dillinger Escape Plan: The Dillinger Escape Plan was a regular on the Vans Warped Tour back when attending the Vans Warped Tour wasn’t such a shameful thing. They used to swill Kerosine and breathe fire into the crowd. Intense.
The Specials: Get out your porkpie hats and your loafers. The early innovators of Ska (think dub with horns, but whiter) have a message for you.
Them Crooked Vultures: This powerful trio is worth catching just to see the Foo Fighters’ David Grohl back behind the drums with a band—it’s his first time since Nirvana. But it gets even better: the rhythm section is rounded out by none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme sings and plays lead guitar. A hard-rocking supergroup like this one does not come along every Coachella.
Vampire Weekend: These preppie Columbia grads draw their sound from both African pop and Western classical, and this imaginative combination put them on many “bands to watch” lists in 2008. Less than a week after its January release, their much anticipated sophomore effort, Contra, was the #1 album on the Billboard charts.
Yeasayer: The gap between Yeasayer’s first album and their latest, Odd Blood (which arrived in Feb.), is hopefully as big as the improvement in their live show. Past tours have been all flailing bravado. We hope they tighten it down for the Coachella crowds.
Beach House: Chances are good the world’s most petrified live band has grown warmer with the new material on Teen Dream. It was an odds-on favorite for Album Of The Year before it was even officially released.
Devo: Crack that whip, it’s Devo! The new wave pranksters’ live shows never disappoint. And word has it their first album in 20 years (tentatively entitled Fresh) might be out by the time you see them in Indio.
Dirty Projectors: The Dirty Projectors have already cemented themselves in the hearts of rock critics and quirky music lovers everywhere. But playing to a friendly art-house crowd at an attic-sized bar is different than playing to thousands of hot, tired fans at a festival—just ask Broken Social Scene. We’re curious to see if their 1-2-3 vocal punch is big enough to fill a field.
Edward Sharpe & Magnetic Zeros: The lead singer of LA-based Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros is named Alex Ebert—not Edward Sharpe—but it won’t matter once this 11 member group of musicians takes the stage. With piano, tambourine, xylophone, accordion, trumpet, synths, two guitars, bongos, and drums, their upbeat take on psychedelic indie folk will have you on your feet dancin’ in the sunshine.
The Gossip: A plus-size dance-punk princess who can seriously wail and is also an unexpected fashion icon. You go girl.
Hot Chip: If the heat isn’t enough, these boys will leave you sweaty. Dweeby UK glitch pop with a nasty sense of humor.
John Waters: On a list of festival-friendly bands, John Waters sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s not to say the famously mustachioed filmmaker, actor, and writer doesn’t have indie cred—he’s skirted the mainstream for almost forty years. We can’t imagine he’ll break into A John Waters Christmas, the compilation CD released by New Line Records in 2004, but we know his set will be wacky—and likely wonderful.
MGMT: After the near-universal acclaim that garnished MGMT’s debut album led to widespread disappointment at live shows and an admission from the band that performances weren’t up to snuff, it’ll be interesting to see how everyone’s favorite buzz band matures in their second date with Coachella.
Muse: It’s hard to define Muse, the English trio responsible for the chart-topping (if unrevolutionary) album The Resistance. But whether they’re playing rock, progressive rock, classical, or electronica, they’re best when they’re live. Plan on shouting the lyrics back out to the stage. The guy next to you will.
Old Crow Medicine Show: These guys are old pros: They’ve been performing at outdoor fests since 1998—not to mention headlining at the Grand Ole Opry and opening for Dave Matthews. And it’s all about the live performances. Their wide variety of bluegrass and Americana music harkens back to a time before radios and records, when traveling medicine shows and back porches were where music was made and heard.
Sia: Sia Furler got her start with the Australian group Crisp. Four solo albums later, the pop ingénue has collected an eclectic group of fans and collaborators (Lior, Zero 7, Flight of the Conchords) and has written songs for “best friend” Christina Aguilera. Her fifth album drops in April—expect to hear it here live.
The Dead Weather: Seeing Jack White on drums could make the whole Coachella weekend worth while. Back there he takes on an androgynous, driving sex appeal, as he backs up Alison Mosshart (the Kills), Dean Fertita, and Jack Lawrence in this latest of his many musical efforts that give us a great garage rock revival experience.
The Raveonettes: Danish boy-girl harmonies slathered with lots of fuzz and guitar. Did we mention they’re both kinda hot?
The xx: They’ve been together since 2005, but The xx’s debut album came out last year. Started by four kids from South London, they’re performing as a trio now, and their nuanced, dreamy rock offers a sleek alternative to some of the heavier acts.
Z-Trip: This is electronic music for those who like Boston, partly because Z-Trip, more-or-less the inventor of the mash-up, plays Boston. And Q-Tip. And Radiohead. And Lupe. And Zeppelin. All at the same time.
Charlotte Gainsbourg: The third album from the daughter of famed singer-songwriter-director Serge Gainsbourg is already on the top of critics’ lists. We suppose that’s what happens when Beck is in the production booth.
De La Soul: Their 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising transformed modern day hip-hop. Collaborations with icons from genres including rock and dance hasn’t hurt either.
Gary Numan: Fans of this electronic music pioneer (although many don’t know he has experimented with jazz, funk, and pop) have lots to look forward to in addition to his Coachella performance: previously unreleased music is coming out, a new album is in the works, and additional stops on a Southern California mini tour.
Gorillaz: We sorta wish we could just have a Blur reunion already, but here is Damon Albarn’s elaborate concept group yet again. Why you can’t miss it: The new album features guest performances by everyone from Lou Reed to Snoop Dogg to De La Soul.
Julian Casablancas: If you didn’t catch one of Julian Casablancas’s four local shows in support of his critically acclaimed solo album Phrazes for the Young—which was recorded here in L.A.—last fall, you might know him as the front man of the Strokes. Indio is about as far as you can get from Manhattan, but we like the way this New Yorker sounds in the sun.
King Kahn and the Shrines: After Morrissey’s ’09 outburst over smelling grilled meat from the concession stand, King Kahn changed his band’s name from King Kahn & BBQ Show. Haha. Wait, one more: King Kahn and his band were recently arrested for possession of psychedelic mushrooms. Good thing they weren’t…infected. Haha. We could do this all day…
Local Natives and The Soft Pack: You’re likely going to have to wake up at the crack of noon on Sunday to catch these two L.A.-based bands. But you’ll be glad you did. The Soft Pack have the kind of vitriolic punk anger that shakes the windows on the adjoining houses. Local Natives might be L.A.’s answer to all of the Brooklyn buzz bands of the last five years. Both are worth seeing before they blow up.
Owen Pallett: Perfect for anyone bemoaning the lack of Andrew Bird-style looped violins at this year’s festival. Pallett was known as “Final Fantasy” before the Japanese video game company Square Enix politely asked him to change the name to something more organic. Pallett is better for it. His latest disc is surprisingly lush.
Pavement: It’s been said that the last official document of Pavement’s live tour, the 1999 DVD Slow Century, proved this great band isn’t so great live. We don’t care. Anyone who has seen a concert at the Echo since ’99, shops at record stores, or claims to listen to indie rock should check them out.
Phoenix: Sexy-smooth Francophile dance rock. If you’ve seen a car commercial in the last year, chances are you’ve heard them.
Spoon: We love that this band’s latest album, Transference, has a word for a title (The last one was simply Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). Don’t get us wrong—that was a terrific CD from these Austin, Texas rockers who first came on the scene in 1994, and because of it they have enjoyed well-deserved critical acclaim and lots of TV, soundtrack, and video game exposure.
Thom York ????: OK, so it’s not Radiohead, but it’s the next best thing. Why the question marks (????)? Exactly.
Yann Tiersen: Definitely a stop worth making for the sonically weary. You might know Tiersen from his soft film scores, the most notable of which was for the French sensation Amelie.
Yo La Tengo: Yo La Tengo will give you the distortion of Sonic Youth with five minute-long screaming guitar solos AND the sleepy Summer lullabies perfect for taking a break in the polo grounds and spreading out a picnic blanket.
The 2010 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will be held in Indio, CA April 16-18. Click here for the festival’s full lineup and more information on the event.
-Shayna Rose Arnold, Leslie Bargar Suter, Forest Casey, and Julia St. Pierre