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COACHELLA PREVIEW

Oasis or mirage? Your call

Coachella has a sizzling rep. And Kanye West. And -- Madonna? Is that hot, or not?

April 27, 2006|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

"It's all about timing; you can beg for Daft Punk forever but you're not going to get it," Tollett said of the eccentric and long-revered electronic-music duo from Paris. "Then, one year, they're ready to come out of their shell and you're in. You have to be patient. That's what happened with Massive Attack. I wanted Massive Attack to headline a third day our first year but it didn't happen."

This time, Tollett did net the British act that pulled on disparate sounds of rock, electronic, reggae and trip-hop for a series of 1990s atmosphere-rich albums that hugely influenced musicians who followed those paths.

The time was right for those two signature acts -- but that was not the case with the Smiths or the Smashing Pumpkins.

A Smiths reunion would be something along the lines of a global music moment for people who dress only in black, so there was quite a ripple in the press in March when lead singer Morrissey revealed that Tollett had offered a cool $5 million for the band to reunite for one set at Coachella. Morrissey, who has performed at Coachella as a solo act, told the interviewer, David Fricke, that no check needed to be cut "because money doesn't come into it" when it comes to the band's estrangement.

A downcast Tollett said he was disappointed that the Smiths were not an option, but dismissed as "a myth" rumors that he'd been actively pursuing a Smashing Pumpkins reunion. Tollett said Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan has not given signals that he is ready to pursue a reunion, and the promoter knows Corgan well enough to leave it at that. "I didn't think they were even close to getting back together so I didn't make an offer or even think about going there. You've got to wait. There's nothing I can say or do that will make that happen. I hope it does happen though."

TOLLETT said this has been the most difficult Coachella to book since the first Coachella. Back then, the challenge was persuading people that a huge, standing, European-style festival could work; now one of the problems is that Coachella has worked so well that it has a host of competing festivals across the country. In other words, Coachella's novel approach was so special that now it has become entirely common, with similar shindigs in Las Vegas, Seattle and elsewhere. The San Diego Street Scene has tilted its ambitions closer to a Coachella-style event, and a reconfigured Lollapalooza will again set up shop in Chicago as a standing festival instead of touring, a nod to the Indio model.

There's fan chatter, too, that this time Coachella finds itself in the rare position of being second runner-up in the competition for the best headlining acts.

The most alluring festival lineup this year, for reasons of music and the heart, is actually in Louisiana -- the six days of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that begin in late April have room enough for Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, the Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffett, Dr. John and many, many more. That show is being staged as a revival of New Orleans and its music scene so it's unfair to compare it with anything short of Live 8, but Coachella might also be looking up this year to a second competitor. That's because the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee in June will plug in with Radiohead, Tom Petty, Beck, Elvis Costello and Bright Eyes among its notable names. Previously, Bonnaroo was a jam band affair, but now (like Coachella, with West and Madonna) it's widening its view of viable acts to sit better with fans whose genre tastes seem to be set on shuffle, just like their iPods.

"The great challenge is now music fans don't identify themselves as being a rock fan or a hip-hop fan or dance fan, they say they like everything, and that wasn't the case even five years ago," Tollett said. "That makes it very hard to book a show and very hard to schedule who is on stage when ... but all of it is good, it should be a challenge. You want to earn it each year."

Coachella is also competing against its past success; the festival's scrapbook includes a powerful Pixies reunion, scorching sets by the White Stripes and the evocative power of Radiohead and Coldplay. Sometimes the competition with history is literal: Radiohead's last show in America was at Coachella in 2004, and its next one will be at Bonnaroo. "There was no way they were going to come back and play Coachella first, and we wouldn't want that anyway, so that was sort of off the table," Tollett said. "It's too soon for them to come back to us."

There had been rumors of a U2 visit too, but it didn't work out this time -- more of that business about icebergs and timing. Tollett was asked if U2 would be too big to fit in the lineup. His answer didn't sound like one from a person who sees things as half-empty: "No. No one is too big for Coachella, not anymore."

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