Some things about Coachella are obvious. The headliners deliver, and this year they're particularly pro: rap's Warren Buffett, Jay-Z, and stadium rock saviors Muse, plus the multimedia blitz of Gorillaz. The bill's middle is packed with great stuff that you will miss because you're standing in line to recycle your water bottles. One night, you will happen upon a mostly empty tent and from it will pour music that changes your life. As for specifics, here are four on this year's thick lineup that I wouldn't miss.
If you know this band only from singer-provocateur Beth Ditto's many sexy European magazine covers, then you don't know Gossip. Born in Arkansas, nurtured in the Pacific Northwest home of Riot Grrrl, Gossip is as punk as dance-pop gets, and its live shows feel like the Church of the Liberated Female, with Ditto as its voluptuously sweaty, libidinous, defiantly joyful high priestess.
Sly Stone may get more attention for his Coachella appearance, but Scott-Heron might well deliver a better set. The jazz-blues poet's genius can't just be reduced to the catchphrase "godfather of rap"; what he's doing now, after many years of hard knocks, is more akin to Ralph Ellison than Rakim. His new material hits like a cold snap, another "Winter in America."
Faith No More
Of course, the Pavement reunion is going to rock. Let's also give what's due to this other landmark band from the golden era of shaggy guitar swagger. Faith No More may be associated with the dubious subgenre of rap-rock, but the group is far more eclectic, crazy and fun than that sad label implies. And psychedelic. And funny!
In much of the U.S. now, bar-band rock is roots music. The style has been around long enough to make your grandparents' eyes grow misty, and its mongrel nature makes it endlessly adaptable to passions of particular communities. Lucero does bar-band rock, Memphis style, with a twang and a soul and a lot of grit.