Emily Haines of Metric on Saturday. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
For those who weren’t at the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music arts Festival, the stakes were raised courtesy of the fest’s online stream on YouTube. It was during one of the backstage interviews where Metric lead singer Emily Haines essentially threw down the gauntlet.
This is a summation, as the video interview no longer appeared to be on YouTube. But Haines made a point to say that festivals are all well and good, but artists and organizers would be wise to remember there’s more happening in the world, and that there could, perhaps, be a way to make such music festivals feel a little more important.
With her band and Boston’s Passion Pit set to play back to back, there was hope that Coachella 2013, Week 2, would start to feel a bit grander. Both acts flirt with rock ‘n’ roll and the synthetic, with Metric aiming for keyboard-laced arena rock while Passion Pit tries to wean more soulful sounds out of its instruments. Both acts also have something to say.
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Yet it wasn’t entirely to be. A few moments into Metric’s set, after Haines confessed to being extremely high, although “extremely” wasn’t the word she used, the set started to feel awfully familiar. Fans and journalists who caught the band online were given more or less the same set that they tuned into last week. The extended guitar riffs and detours into solos still impressed, as did Haines’ ice-cold vocals.
But it was the moments that didn’t feel scripted that were the most arresting. Metric did add in “Empty,” a song that wasn’t performed last week, of which the band added space for Haines to vocally improvise. Starring out into the masses she asked repeatedly, “What are you afraid of?” It wasn’t a question that was to be answered, and the band’s global existentialism was explored deeper in songs such as “Help I’m Alive” and “Dead Disco.”
Yet if Haines wanted festivals to start to feel more important, this wasn’t the set. Another question, one Haines didn’t ask, suddenly seemed more pertinent: Why are we here?
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2013
These days, as Coachella has become so smoothly run and its audiences so well-behaved that it can happen on back-to-back weekends with little notable change between artist performances, it's starting to feel like it’s a matter of time before Coachella is more of a resort than a music fest. Acts are already starting to feel like amenities. On Friday, guests could pick from the just a tad off-kilter elctro-pop of Alt. J or the accessibly but obvious Velvet Underground rip-off artists the Palma Violets. Nothing offensive, and no statements here.
There’s no shame in partying, of course, and Passion Pit is a band that knows how to get the crowd moving – and to do so while thinking. In fact, the band’s mainstage set had the largest crowd of any Saturday afternoon, even outdrawing Modest Mouse, whose rock ‘n’ roll tonight seemed delivered though gritted teeth. The general consensus of the crowd was that Modest Mouse disappointed, but Isaac Brock’s frustration brought a little fire to the stage.
More fun and more electric was Passion Pit, who opened with the fascinating “Take a Walk.” Michael Angelakos in the song spins the a tale about a couple struggling with modern financial demands and the toll it takes on relationships, and then deals with depression by leading perhaps his most triumphant, horn-boosted celebratory anthem.
As modern as the songs sound, Passion Pit is steeped in old-fashioned soul, and those who stopped dancing to listen were awarded with a set in which something beneath the surface was almost always wrong. These, finally, were songs that were worth exploring a second weekend.
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