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Paul McCartney at Coachella: The former Beatle doesn't quite fit the demographic


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The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival got famous by presenting the sounds of today and tomorrow. But this year California's most celebrated live-music event is gambling on Paul McCartney and the music of "Yesterday."

Booking the former Beatle, who is listed in the record books as the most successful musician in pop history, would be the safest choice imaginable for most music festivals.

But the internationally respected Coachella festival, which is set for April 17-19, has been pulling in crowds of more than 140,000 fans by taking an edgier path with alt-rock heroes you would hear on a college town's pirate radio station.

Presented with a chance to tap into music history and veteran star power, the promoters have signed the 66-year-old icon, who personifies the mature pop mainstream. The move could help the festival compete amid a grim economy and a host of imitators that have sprung up across the country; the news of McCartney's presence -- for better or worse -- instantly will make Coachella a hot topic with music fans nationwide who have been anxiously awaiting the list of this year's headliners.

What remains to be seen is whether the choice will cost the festival credibility with its core clientele: young fans who are more likely to listen to the White Stripes than the "White Album" and who are far more familiar with Rage Against the Machine than "Band on the Run."

From Paris, McCartney sent word Thursday that he was thrilled with the idea of playing to a new crowd. "I have heard that Coachella is one of the greatest festivals in the world," he said in a statement sent to The Times. "I'm really excited to get out there and rock!"

McCartney is just one of 120 acts at the festival. Most of them, including the Killers, Franz Ferdinand and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, perfectly fit the event's tradition of connoisseur alt-rock.

There also will be sets by the Cure, Morrissey and My Bloody Valentine, three revered acts from the 1980s and 1990s British scene, as well as a performance from neo-soul singer Amy Winehouse, whose train-wreck tabloid life has made her a digital age version of Janis Joplin.

Still, despite those compelling bookings, Paul Tollett, the festival's chief architect, knows that his decision to bring in a living legend from the 1960s will dominate discussion between now and Sir Paul's main-stage set on the festival's first night.

One-fourth of the Fab Four is big news no matter the year.

"This is a Beatle. That's huge," said Tollett, who has shown a flair for surprises in recent years. He and his partners at concert promotion company AEG booked Madonna in 2006, but the setting -- a dance-tent instead of the main stage -- made it an isolated, intriguing experiment.

The Coachella team also has brought in Willie Nelson, Pink Floyd alum Roger Waters and Prince, and this year has elegiac folk songwriter Leonard Cohen, who has not performed in the U.S. since 1993.

But each of those curveball performers has a maverick sensibility that connects with Coachella's indie-rock streak. McCartney is still the man who sang "Silly Love Songs."

There are plenty of people in the music industry who say it's foolish to doubt the Coachella leadership -- or that Beatles songbook.

"If they can pull off Madonna at Coachella, they can do anything," said Gary Bongiovanni, the editor in chief of Pollstar, the concert-industry trade publication. "Coachella is the king. I can see McCartney wanting to play Coachella because it gives him the chance to reach a different audience."

"I'm not sure what Coachella gets from him, though," Bongiovanni said. "It may pull in some older fans, but for the usual Coachella audience, I don't know that they will really get excited about seeing him -- although they might enjoy the show once they are there."

The legacy of the Beatles echoes throughout every corner of modern music, and Coachella fans have heard it firsthand in past performances by Oasis, Coldplay, the Verve and plenty of other stars who draw on the Fab Four. To win over the crowd, McCartney will probably steer clear of "Say Say Say" and lean into edgier material such as "Helter Skelter" and "Live and Let Die."

McCartney, whose romantic life has been a topic of intense interest in the British press, has been a rejuvenated music figure in recent years. Critics praised last year's "Electric Arguments," the third album released under the name the Fireman, McCartney's electronic-minded collaboration with producer Youth.

His more traditional solo work in the last few years has included "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," the 2005 release that was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including album of the year.

It's safe to say that many Coachella fans will shrug when they see McCartney's name on the list of performers. Tollett said there was a significant percentage of return customers who ignore the main stage altogether.

"A lot of people come to see bands that they don't know much about yet," Tollett said.

This year some of the up-and-coming acts include TV on the Radio, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Glasvegas, White Lies, the Knux, the Ting Tings and Beirut. Veterans such as X, Paul Weller and Public Enemy also will draw many fans.

Still, despite pent-up interest, the festival at the Empire Polo Club is up against dismal economic realities.

Tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m., with a three-day pass going for $281 and single-day admission for $103. That's a lot for young fans and European visitors, who also might consider rival summer festivals such as Bonnaroo in Tennessee (which reportedly will be headlined by Bruce Springsteen and Phish) and Lollapalooza in Chicago.

Coachella promoters have announced a layaway payment plan for the first time and will be heavily promoting the $55-per-person on-site camping option.

Tollett also organizes the Stagecoach Festival, a late April country music version of Coachella in Indio, and 24% of the tickets sold to date have been through a similar layaway program.

"These are tough times for people," he said, "and we'll do what it takes to get them to come to the show."

-Geoff Boucher

Photo credit: CBS

Comments () | Archives (53)

VERY EXCITED. Get a room everyone!!! Also, more Sahara acts are coming!!!

That's it. I'm never reading this retarded blog again. I don't even consider myself a Paul McCartney fan. But the guy's a living legend. Who cares if he's not the edgiest, youngest act. Maybe people always looking for edgy and young could use a dose of something historical in rock. Whoever writes this blog should resign. LA Times should be embarrassed by it's stupidity.

I have been a fan of the Beatles and in particular Paul since the early 60y's. I can tell you this amazing performer can and has successfully held a young audience. He has successful music that will hold a young audience and I wish I could be there to see your face, it would be classic.

"Doesn't quite fit the demographic"? I wonder in which way The Cure or Morrissey fit the demographic - and yet when these kinds of acts get in the line-up, no one whines about their "not fitting the demographic".

The difference, I guess, is that McCartney is not informed by the punk rock aesthetics / ideology, whereas The Cure, Morrissey, festivals like Coachella, and audiences like the 18-25 demographic of today, are. All the worse, then, because McCartney is clearly on the right and punks have always been on the wrong - punk having survived thanks to the support from lazy journalists, cultural swindlers and dumb people through the years. As the pop industry / culture as we know it is being undermined by piracy and the Internet, the cultural backbone that brought about and supported the "de-musicalization" of pop music from 1977 onwards will also disappear. In 20 years time, there will be no more pop, because there will be no one buying pop anymore, and the "music of the youth" will probably be orchestral arrangements from sci-fi movies or something.

So, if people had any brains, they'd be cheering about McCartney making Coachella. Because all the new and trandy acts that will perform this year will be gone in 10 years. But music like McCartney's (and Stevie Wonder's, and Antonio Carlos Jobim's, and...) will keep informing the popular music of a future in which the "business" part of the music business will be almost defunct, making punks, in their quest for immediate and undeserved stardom, move away from music and toward reality TV. Music will be left for musicians, and once again beautiful, quality music will be produced.

Wow! Public Enemy, Paul Weller and Morrissey . . . that demographic is scewing pretty old. I'd like to see those acts and a few others but can't brave the $$$ and the camping.

Crowded House, an incredible band, found it a bit of a rough go at Coachella. It wasn't a really good idea to put them on before Rage Against the Machine. Hopefully organizers will think a bit more about where Sir Paul is set in the schedule. Good advice for him to pick out some more edgy and rocking material from his catalogue...

Who cares? Why doesn't the Times report on the rumor of a Stones tour for 2010?

Talk about trying to make a story out of nothing!!!

How could ANYone complain about Paul??? After a lifetime of loving him and the Beatles, starting the day they played on the Ed Sullivan show, I finally saw him live for the first time just a few years ago. I wanted to go so badly, but was expecting just plain corn. And he did disappoint and shock. He was great on all musical fronts, past, present and future. The blogger who wrote this obviously considers himself cooler than he actually is or ever could be.

I have been a fan of the Beatles all my life, and Paul McCartney especially. His concerts are freaking GREAT. I also dig the Killers, the Ting Tings, Morrissey, the Cure, Paolo Nutini, all of whom are appearing at Coachella. I adore Coldplay and Oasis, two alternative bands whose music was hugely influenced by the Beatles. So tell me again why people at this concert wouldn't love to see Macca? I am so tired of hipper-than-thou music critics who think he is a lightweight. He wrote some of the greatest music ever, and he continues to experiment with new sounds. Where does the LA Times find these worthless bloggers who know nothing about their subject?

Every single one of these kids who claim McCartney doesn't matter would probably fall over themselves if they actually met him in person. Every single musician, no matter when they started, learned at least one of his songs at some point.

The punks may dis, but they wish they had his success.

I hate snobby rock critics. I am 21 years old and thrilled at the thought of seeing Paul Mccartney. He is a legend and has made some of the most important music of the last 100 years. I would much rather see him then The Killers. I mean come on your just being a snob. Most rock critics think anything that is more then 15 minutes old is out dated. It must stink to hate good music so much. I am done with your paper.

Who's this guy kidding? Most pretentious music hipster types laud the Beatles anyway. He's no more out of place than Willie Nelson.

I have to say this: Wings was one of the best bands of the 70's, bar none. Because he's Sir Paul, I can forgive him for "Say Say Say" or that recent eye roller "Nod your Head".

McCartney? Rock? Don't make me laugh. He is a fusty old man who plays and writes fusty old elevator music. His songs will put everyone in a diabetic coma.

Doesn't fit? What are you talking about? The Beatles and Sir Paul fit every generation. If you don't think that crowd will be huge and cheering loudly, then you have lost your mind.

This is one of the snarkiest, insipid articles I've ever seen in the Times Music section. It's always been obvious that these pieces are written to project a voice for the young people who are in charge now. You speak for nobody but your small group of friends who live and die in a daily battle to prove you're on the cutting edge of current culture. It's also how you protect your jobs, the older people who employ you are terrified of seeming irrelevant so they hide behind your youth to hide from their fear of aging. I love as you use your pulpit to dictate who's "hot", "the next big thing", "what you should download" etc. Look in the mirror, you're a fake. As is claiming young people don't still listen to the Beatles or know McCartney, that's not true. They also are aware of Elvis and Sinatra, but maybe they're afraid to tell you, because you'd think they're not cool. "Helter Skelter", "Why Don't We Do it In The Road," "Oh Darling," yeah good call. The hip edgy kids at the Festival who blindly read your self-serving columns will probably hate that stuff. Probably won't sound very good compared to the hot young bands who invite you to partys and make you culturally relevant. In your own mind, and the middle aged boss like it too. Keep up the great age bias propaganda, and good luck at your next job at TMZ, they're really cool!

Wow! It's obvious this music "connoiseur" has no idea of the eclectic and obscure material that Paul has recorded. Ever heard of "Old Siam Sir," "Momma Miss America" or "Loup.' He also doesn't have a clue what young people like. I'm 29 and I've listened to the Beatles since I was in highschool and most my friends did as well. In fact, most kids still love the Beatles. Some things never change, like apple pie. He is the one that doesn't fit in Coachella.

You guys criticizing this post's relevance are the real music snobs. I absolutely love Coachella, am opart of the desired demogra[phic and completely agree with this post and the question of what McCartney brings to the bill for people my age. Sorry music snobs. Just don't care about the Beatles much these days - not saying I won't enjoy the show but this post brings up relevant concerns and is backed by interesting industry commentary. Chill out . . .

The Beatles, not relevant?! Are you kidding me? That's like saying that Beethoven or Mozart aren't "relevant." I was just listening to "Revolver" last night with my young son and my wife commented that everything that is now considered "alternative" music owes a HUGE debt of gratitude to that album. Rock critics have been saying for DECADES that the Beatles are irrelevant to the current generation, only to have the Beatles influence outlast whatever band they are currently touting. A friend's mom was saying in the 1970's that rock critics were saying that the Bay City Rollers were more relevant than the Beatles. Look, I grew up loving punk, "alternative" and hip hop music, but I don't see that as mutually exclusive from appreciating the Beatles. This critic needs to get a longer and more fluid view of history if he wants be "relevant" himself in ten years.

Coachella??? i can't even believe that this is getting any play at all. Have fun, all you wild and crazy people! And then dump on Paul, who was famous before all of you were born. Oh, and yeah tell us about your absolutely, extreme musicians that have set the world on it's ear/ass or whatever. You are such a joke, especially the one's that take offense at McCartney. Coachella??? Give me a break.

Dude, McCartney could just do a set of Wings material and DESTROY that place! Even the hipsters would be blown away, unaware that they grew up listening to most of those jams WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT!! Throw in the Beatles nuggets he's sure to toss in and baby, it's party time!!

Edgy schmedgy--Coachella '09 is going to sell tickets AND deliver three days of quality tunes.

McCartney fit the demographic? Hello. It's Coachella that doesn't fit the demographic of people who know music, or appreciate what is music. You guys are a joke. Just listen to any music station today and compare it to the Paul, or the Beatles, or Jimi Hendricks, or Stones. The get back to me, or Earth.

lbgrrl – You said it all.

I wonder if the writer of the article has actually heard "Electric Arguments"?
It also appears to me as if the writer has bought into the myth: "Lennon is the Hip One-McCartney is the lame-cute-balladeer One". If Lennon were still here and agreed to play at Coachella,many critics and the writer of this article would probably have lionized him and Coachella's choice in putting him on the bill.The plain fact is,as others on this blog have stated,getting Macca to play at Coachella is tantamount to seeing Tchaikovsky conduct a concert of the "1812 Overture",or Bach playing his "hits" on a cathedral's pipe organ.
By disrespecting Paul McCartney at Coachella,the writer betrays his own understanding of pop music and the Beatles/McCartney's essential role in creating it as it's known today.
He might as wll recuse himself from any further attempts at criticisms of pop music;perhaps he can instead write for the lady's fashions pages of the LA Times.

He should play some of the Fireman album and not YEsterday. He's great live every time.

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