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S.S. Coachella 2012: Pulp, Yeasayer stay afloat

December 17, 2012|By August Brown
  • Pulp's lead singer Jarvis Cocker strikes a pose during a performance on stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April.
Pulp's lead singer Jarvis Cocker strikes a pose during a performance… (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles…)

There might be no richer musical irony than hearing Pulp play "Common People" onboard a luxury cruise liner.

A Brit pop laceration of slumming art-school dilettantes performed to a room full of absolutely hammered music-biz wheeler-dealers en route to the Bahamas. The song is part of a rich seam of accidental poignance aboard the S.S. Coachella.

A certain level of self-awareness is necessary to keep your bearings out here because the S.S. Coachella is primarily populated by the L.A. music industry's one-percenters descending into pure indulgence. It is the best time I have ever had at a music-themed event, and also the exact opposite of what Coachella is like for most fans. Imagine what that weekend in Indio would be like without the parking hassles and dehydration, but with breakfast in bed and an entire ecosystem devoted to keeping you drunk at all times.

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The crowd is exactly what you'd expect -- KCRW programming honchos, local booking czars and a sea of those lissome, tank-topped party people whom you've never spoken to beyond bumming cigarettes at sold out shows. The cruise is the Coachella VIP tent with even the faintest veneer of sobriety eliminated. If I were starting a local band, there may be no better networking dollar spent than one that gets you on this boat.

About the boat. It is, unsurprisingly, Las Vegas at sea. More the Cosmopolitan than the Golden Nugget, all lovely Art Deco curves and panoramic deck fantasias, but one does have to pass a lot of Bulgari outlets and entreaties to buy diamonds at every turn. There's a lot of Sade and Phil Collins on the Muzak, which means someone knows exactly who the audience is here. Everyone is in a fever dream of yacht rock, but stripped of the wink and given over to the decadence of it all.

The music is the point of being here, and it is also entirely beside the point. Concerts are the organizing principle ostensibly giving this trip a focal point. Sunday's bill was light but excellent. Father John Misty is perhaps the perfect band for this event, as Josh Tillman already has a bit of a wizened-cruise-ship-lounge-singer to his stage presence. His set was unexpectedly noisy and visceral - anyone expecting bands to phone it in on this cruise will be heartened by the actual performances. Sometimes the festive backdrop is sort of revelatory -- Yeasayer's rubbery electro-rock revealed its dance party DNA in ways I hadn't heard until this ocean jaunt.

Pulp is no doubt aware of how its class-antagonism plays in a setting like this, and Jarvis Cocker owned up to every inch of it. He's always had a bit of the lounge-lizard in his performances, and his entertainer streak lightens Pulp's songs about displacement and subtle hurt. In this ridiculous scenario, though, Cocker looked like he was finally just enjoying himself. And who wouldn't? This trip has all the upside of being put out to luxurious pasture as an artist, with your credibility and artistry intact. When Cocker sang the hook of "Common People," with its bleak invitation to dance, drink and have sex "because there's nothing else to do," here it felt more like a rallying cry than a line of desperation. A different class, indeed.

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