April 29, 2007
In the buzz surrounding last week’s announcement of the 2011 Coachella lineup, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this installment of Ticket Stub Tuesday to my first ever experience at the famous festival in the desert. It took me awhile to confirm that 2007 was indeed my first Coachella trip. I thought for sure it had been earlier, that I had been more often, and that I couldn’t have waited 8 years to get with the program. Then I remembered why I never made it out to Indio until 2007 and the circumstances that made it an event I wouldn’t miss for the world.
When you work in baseball, the little color coded schedule on your fridge or in your wallet becomes the blueprint for your summer. Darkly shaded boxes are dates you won’t be doing anything outside the ballpark. Unfortunately for Coachella, it falls square in the middle of the first month of baseball season and in my case, the Minor League scheduling gods apparently don’t like good music. Nearly every year since I started my career in sports in 2002, Coachella landed on the weekend of a homestand.
In 2007 though, it didn’t matter that Coachella fell during a stretch of home games. Ending what felt like years of rumors, it was announced that a reunited Rage Against the Machine would headline Sunday night. After working almost 300 straight games, it would be the first home date I’d miss in my career. Aside from being one of my favorite bands growing up, I was lucky enough to see some of Rage’s biggest shows back in the day- the most noteworthy being their final show before unexpectedly breaking up in 2000. Seeing that my RATM partner in crime K.C. and I saw their final show, we had to be there when they reunited.
I had penciled my day’s early schedule to include some bands that I was just getting into. Tapes ‘N Tapes was coming off their highly touted debut release with The Loon. I had just seen Rodrigo y Gabriela at an Amoeba Records in-store performance and was excited to see them again. Junior Boys’ “In the Morning” was near the top of my iPod’s most played list. Even though his debut Veneer had been out for a couple years, Jose Gonzalez was getting a lot of overdue attention thanks to tracks like “Crosses” and his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”. Of all these stellar afternoon sets, the most lasting impression was made by Grizzly Bear. I won’t lie- I didn’t get them or their album Yellow Room until I saw them live. During “On a Neck, On a Spit”, it all clicked for me. Since that set, Grizzly Bear has become one of my favorite bands, churning out my top album of 2009 (Veckatimest).
As it neared sunset, we went to stake out a good spot for Rage’s main stage set. By default, we saw Willy Nelson and Manu Chau while we waited. As both road veterans traversed their setlists, there was palpable anticipation in the air as the crowd began to clamor for RATM with chants of “Rage! Rage! Rage!” during the middle of their songs. The wait for Rage to take the stage seemed unbearable. It’s hard to describe the energy that existed in the crowd in the moments leading up to the lights going out on stage, just before Tom Morello’s swirling wave of incendiary distortion kicked off “Testify”, just before Zach De La Rocha launched into a vocal onslaught that reaffirmed his power as both performer and preacher. The set itself was nothing short of triumphant, as they blasted through their greatest tracks like they’d never taken a day off. After the first half of the show or so, I realized that Zach hadn’t formally addressed the crowd as he normally did. Turns out, he was saving 7 years of Bush Administration fueled vitriol for a tirade in the middle of “Wake Up” that made even the most left leaning on the political spectrum shudder. The encore that followed featuring “Freedom” and “Killing in the Name” wrapped up a performance that made the breakup and hiatus seem strangely worth it.
Super Annoying Guy(s) of the Show: All of the people forecasting the defilement of the Coachella vibe at the hands of the “Rage element.” So a couple of meat heads lit some fires? I suppose some bohemian type could have used that as an opportunity to throw some scrap steel on the pyre and call it art. Even though RATM’s music does attract an often undesirably aggressive crowd, their core following are loyal music lovers who can be shockingly well behaved when you weed out the numb skulls who just want to…well…rage.
Moral(s) of the Show: 1). If you get asked to play at Coachella, make sure you don’t come on right before Rage Against the Machine reunites after a 7 year break. 2) Coachella was better when you could buy a one-day pass.
*Note: Coachella was the first of three Rage shows I saw in 2007 on their festival reunion circuit. Rock the Bells followed in August and Vegoose after that in October. As incredible of both of those shows were, neither came close to capturing the raw intensity of this performance.