Coachella 2011: Tame Impala and the outdoor theater of the crowd
“Every year there’s one brutal scheduling conflict,” chimes a stalwart in a San Francisco Giants cap, cargo shorts, black socks, and shoes most likely acquired at an REI. “Last year, we wanted to see PiL … but couldn’t.”
He motions towards his wife and 6-year old, both swathed in San Francisco Giants souvenirs. It’s so hot flies stick to the skin like laminate.
“Oh, PiL was amazing. Johnny Rotten was amaaazing,” coo the women behind me. They’re lounging in the handicapped section, memories of hatchet-haircuts a la ’77, obvious from their intonation.
“I saw his first San Francisco show at the Warfield. Coachella always has tough decisions. We saw Fever Ray instead.”
“Like Swedish arty electronica.”
The women suggest that the father watch a Thom Yorke dance video synchronized to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”
We’re all waiting for Tame Impala to come on — some more silent and eavesdroppy than others. The women start talking about the Grateful Dead.
"You ever see the Grateful Dead?”
“Once in ’72,” REI man says. “Never liked them. Worked at a record store then. The owner asked me if I liked it. Said no. He told me it’s because I saw them straight. But how good can a band be if you need drugs to enjoy them?”
“I saw them twice. Once on heavy psychedelics. It made sense,” one woman reminisces.
Tame Impala is making sense too. Kevin Parker rocks the Jimi Hendrix headband, and lysergic is the operative adjective. But this isn’t 1967 even if it sounds like it. Weed smoke erupts in clusters, but very few seem to be on anything stronger (this generalization does not include the Sahara Tent).
Someone chimes in that this is the hottest time of the day. It’s that greater Mojave melt. Tame Impala understand, children of Perth, Australia. Onstage, they attack like an outback brush fire. Parker lets off his raw, reedy John Lennon whine, and the guitars twinkle like wind chimes. Great Axis Mundi drums boom. Spellbinding psychedelic beauty in the slow roasting heat. Lyrics:
“Why won’t you make up your miiiiinnnndd…..”
The child’s mom reclines in the grass. She’s not alone. The Outdoor Theatre is smothered with people sleepily murmuring lyrics. The little San Francisco Giant starts dancing, bounces up to join his dad who has wandered off to take photos.
A girl in a sundress alternates between ballerina pirouettes and hippie twirls. She’s with a guy with the holy grail: tattoos of a Yin and Yang and a peace sign. She’s doesn't appear to be wearing any underwear.
Up front in the VIP, MGMT strut past and a teenager screams, “Hell yeah, MGMT.” The band pumps their fists in acknowledgment.
The mom wakes up and takes out a package of glow sticks, hopefully for her child. Tame Impala are creating a time warp. The boy, beaming, leaps to touch his father’s hand. The father keeps on moving his hand higher and higher. He lets him win enough so that “Father of the Year” remains in reach.
The women behind me lumber up and and leave, saying “Lauryn Hill’s on. Lauryn Hill’s on.”
Two more women replace them. They sit down, stare, say to no one in particular: “The people are so happy here.”
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Musician Kevin Parker of Tame Impala performs on day one of Coachella. Credit: Karl Walter / Getty Images