California, 19-21 April 2009
Photographer: Sara Bowrey30 April 2009
It took us two hours to get out of LA, then another two and a half hours waiting in traffic in the small town of Indio,
then we queued for press passes, then camping passes - including a queue for a camping bag search - which is as rigorous as
the airport check. By the time we’re shepherded into a strictly regulated space by a ‘campsite counsellor’
we’re feeling a bit penned in.
We queued for the festival before realising we have to get in another line for an ID wristband so we can buy alcohol. Then, due to licensing laws, we have to drink in a fenced off area. From our cage we can see Franz Ferdinand in the distance, but we’re more impressed by the green verdant grass beneath our feet, the lush green polo ground rebelling against the hot desert sun.
N.A.S.A. smash the soundsystem with a mash-up of hip-hop party anthems, which, like their excellent debut album, includes great cameos from the likes of Fat Lip. We head back to another cage for a drink and listen to Leonard Cohen, breaking out for ‘Hallelujah’, which finishes as Morrissey hits the main stage. As a former LA resident, Morrissey seems to have taken on-board his former hometown latent rebellion tactic of complaining. First he’s fed up with the sound on stage, then he’s thrown by the smell of burgers wafting across the field. “I can smell burning flesh and I hope it’s human,” announces the renowned vegetarian before launching into a version of ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’. The sight of Morrissey dry retching the words will haunt me for some time.
Morrissey was also probably upset to be supporting Paul McCartney but Macca blew him away. Okay, the new material mid-section wasn’t what everyone was there for (although tracks from The Fireman stood out). And the set hasn’t really changed in the four years since I last saw him - starting with ‘Jet’, finishing with a literally incendiary ‘Live And Let Die’ – but it clocked in at two and a half hours of classics. The three staged encores with fireworks brought the field to its knees with the combined might of ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Day In The Life’.
A well-executed exercise seems to be the way to beat the system. After being forced from our tents by the scorching Saturday sun we enter the arena in time to catch a bit of Drop The Lime but midday raving is a tough one. We’re drawn to Helios Jive because at The Do Lab stage you’re artificially rained on by an array of sprinklers and water guns. We walk back to the cage for more beer drinking and chilli- cheese-fries, our festival staple.
The first band we freely watch is Michael Franti And Spearhead who got us jumping and dancing as the temperature finally began to drop. More mariachi kicks and mellowness comes from Calexico as the sky turns red and we move into a tent to catch a bit of living legend Booker T. Despite a welcome cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’ it’s a bit wine-loungey, so after ‘Green Onions’ we move to Fleet Foxes. They’re wonderfully mellow and beardy but a toilet break dictates that I miss the end of the set to pop to the restrooms and have the vibe obliterated by James bloody Morrison singing ‘Wonderful World’.
On the main stage, DJ Blaqstarr introduces M.I.A. who steps up to a dictator-style press podium flanked by an army of neon-clad dancers. The dancers then start throwing loads of luminous accessories into the crowd and M.I.A. helps them. “My lawyer says if I throw these at you you’ll sue me, but fuck it,” she shouts as she throws out large day-glo horns in an attempt to educate the LA crowd about the world outside America. Her truly rebellious move comes when she invites the audience up on stage. My favourite moment is as a security guard is manhandling one punter off stage, he turns around to see 30 other ravers filling the stage.
We try and finish the night with Chemical Brothers DJ set but it seems like everyone has the same idea, so we watch DJ Lotus in the dome before we realise we can listen to his doom laden dubstep from our tent over a bottle of contraband wine we managed to sneak in. Outlaws.
Sunday began with an extremely active set by Friendly Fires but temperature-wise this is the hottest day yet so we have to retreat to a cage for our daily ration of beer and chilli fries. We stayed in the shade and saw Lupe Fiasco, Lykke Li and an impressive set from Peter Bjorn and John. Their new album is great and their show of confidence is playing ‘Young Folks’ midway through the set with no real loss of punters. As the sun once more eased Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ provide another impressive performance particularly as lead singer Karen O shimmers in a mirrored ball dress. The setting sun this time belongs to the heliocentric Paul Weller which is topped by an appearance of Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr for ‘A Town Called Malice’. It does justify the rumour that the Smiths were reforming for the festival but it does make you wonder why he didn’t guest appear with Morrissey on Friday? My Bloody Valentine bring on the drone which drowns out the terrordrome of Public Enemy who perform ‘Nation Of Millions...’ in its entirety.
We finish the night with The Cure who are possibly influenced by the Valentine’s and play a free form endless dirge which is mostly hit-free. From our over-heated beer-frazzled and still jetlagged state in the cage it has the effect of sending us to sleep. And not even the truly subversive effects of Throbbing Gristle can keep us up. We finish off our illegal wine and quietly shuffle to bed, defeated.
By Dan Davies