Coachella 2012: Le Butcherettes come to festival, conquer it
All Teri “Gender Bender” Suarez had to do was walk onstage. Five steps to her keyboard and one uncomfortable-looking chicken-squat later, and she already looked as if she were in need of an exorcism. Once she struck her instrument and began sputtering in time to the beat in a crouched position, the gentleman standing next to me leaned over and said, “I’m scared already.”
This, as anyone who has seen Le Butcherettes before can attest, is when the fun begins.
The local group came to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the midst of recording its new album, and were augmented here by mentor/producer and frequent collaborator Omar Rodriguez Lopez. The member of At the Drive-In was the one and only calm presence on stage, his forceful punk-rock bass guiding Suarez and drummer Lia Braswell away from completely losing it.
When Suarez plays her keyboard, she bends down between strikes as if she’s in danger of falling off the stage and the instrument is her only lifeline. When she slaps at her guitar strings, the noise coming out of the speakers sounds as if it’s coated in daggers. Vocally, she shouts out quotes from novels, serenades in Spanish, occasionally pretends to be Russian and lashes out at American political leaders. When not doing any of the above, she may sing, but she approaches the microphone with the all-encompassing bravado of a Joe Strummer.
She punctuated “Tonight” with less-than-graceful ballet kicks, and squared off with Braswell on “Dress Off.” Lopez was wise to leave the stage, as the facial expressions of Suarez and Braswell would lead one to believe that the two were locked in a duel to the death. Yet when Suarez howls to rip off her clothes, it’s a statement of reclamation, a dare to anyone — male or female — who would attempt to size her up.
“Help me,” Suarez screamed, as she climbed the lighting rig on the side of the stage. “Help me put me back together,” she clarified, and then locked her legs around the pole and leaned over. It was unclear if anyone at Coachella was up for the challenge, but Suarez seems used to it. She launched into “Henry Don’t Got Love,” the closest thing in Le Butcherettes’ catalog to a fist-raising punk-rock anthem. “You’re afraid to even know me,” she sang, as if acutely aware she stood alone, a force unlike any other on stage at Coachella this weekend.
Other notes from the final afternoon of Coachella:
A far more peaceful experience could be had at the tent next door, where the Swedish sister act First Aid Kit showed their loving appreciation for American roots music. The harmonies of Klara and Johanna Söderberg were a delight, the perfect accompaniment to the sunny, palm tree-lined setting of the Empire Polo Club. “I’m nobody’s baby,” the pair sang on "King of the World," continuing, “I’m everybody’s girl.” It was the song as arms-wide-open hug.
Across the polo grounds on the Coachella main stage, Santigold ensnared in her music many of the various strands on display here at Coachella. Santigold brought a rock 'n' roll edge to dance-based pop songs and laced them with worldly influences. At Coachella, Santigold and her band, including two cheerleading backup dancers, were dressed as if ready to stage a high school theater production of “Aladdin” on a Hawaiian beach.
The topicality was evident in “Say Aha.” Beach balls flew during the reggae-inspired cut, and the effects that percolated in the mix sounded as if Santigold had taken field recordings from a bird house at a zoo. “This is what Coachella is supposed to be like,” she shouted, and then later invited the crowd to dance along onstage with her during “Creator.” Everyone seemed happy with Santigold’s version of the festival.
— Todd Martens
Photo: Teri "Gender Bender" Suarez climbs the Coachella stage.