By Mike Mehalick, Staff Columnist
Hot desert sun, neon rimmed sunglasses, and, most importantly, some of the biggest music acts and reunions will descend upon Indio Valley, California for the annual Coachella Music & Arts Festival this April. Expanding for the first time to two weekends, with identical lineups, the festival managed to sell out in a matter of hours this year leaving many forced to troll for a semi-reasonable second hand ticket price. Arguably the most prolific music fest in the United States Coachella 2012 will feature Radiohead, Dr. Dre playing his first show since 2001 with Snoop Dogg, and The Black Keys in a bonafide-headlining slot not unlike Arcade Fire last year. So with the majority of the lineup poster filled, let’s take a look at some random takeaways as we prepare for similar drops, including Bonnaroo, in the coming weeks.
1) Were The Ozzy-Fronted Black Sabbath Forced To Drop Out?
Already confirmed for a headlining appearance at this year’s Download Festival heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath were set to hit the ground running in 2012 with their first major tour with Ozzy, and without the late Ronnie James Dio, in years. Sadly, plans hit a speed bump last week at it was announced legendary guitarist Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with lymphoma. What this means for the possible upcoming tour is unclear, but sources have stated that Black Sabbath were scheduled make their U.S. return with a headlining position at this year’s Coachella. Iommi’s recent health concerns forced the band to pulls out at the last moment and left festival organizers supposedly scrambling. This leads us to…
2) Were Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg Added At The Last Moment?
A bit of a surprise at the top of this year’s lineup came with the names of California bred rap besties Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg standing near the top. Not many know what to expect with Dr. Dre making his return to live performance for the first time in over a decade. Logic doesn’t dissuade the idea that the inclusion of the west coast hip-hop titans was a clever last minute ploy by Coachella’s brain trust in the face of an unexpected Black Sabbath sized hole. Organizers had to land an act big enough to headline and would have no problem logistically playing two weeks in a row. Expectations will be high (pun intended) when Dre & Snoop undoubtedly rip into classics like “Nuthin But A ‘G Thang” and “The Next Episode”, but does Dr. Dre still have what it takes to bring it on such a large platform? Will the combination of Dre and Snoop, who usually populates the 2nd tier of festival lineups, be enough to satisfy a discerning Coachella audience? These, and other, burning questions will all be answered come mid-April.
3) Radiohead Make Their Return
Has it been long enough yet? That seems to be the echoing question come every December when lineup prognosticators try to will the return of do-no-wrong English rockers Radiohead into existence. Well for the first time since 2004 Thom Yorke and crew will make the trek out to the desert touring behind 2011’s critic-divisive The King of Limbs. With the London Olympics forcing Glastonbury into a year off will Coachella serve as the live showcase of Radiohead’s ability to come up with legendary performances in massive settings? Coachella got its “if-they’re-there-I’ll-have-to-go” headliner in Radiohead, next to Daft Punk and David Bowie for most, and their set will likely draw the most sing a longs and scrutiny of the weekend.
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4) Reunions, Reunions, Reunions
Not to steal any of Marsha’s thunder (she seems to have plenty), but the annual “which bands did we have no clue were re-uniting” pool winner must have had some serious inside information this year (what an imaginary dick). Major reunion acts include punk icons At the Drive If and Refused as well as 90’s alt rockers Mazzy Star and Pulp. What all these reunions will ultimately shake out to produce long term remains to be seen, but with some having either already offered or promised new material we, among the throngs of attendees, will get a first hand look at (Insert Band Name Here) 2.0. Not to mention the reformation of Minutemen bassist Mike Watt’s fIREHOSE who haven’t put out an album since 1993’s Mr. Machinery Operator. Jarvis Cocker and the rest of Pulp are the only aforementioned group with any recent experience so here’s a taste of what lies ahead for Coachella-ers or Coachella-ites or as Rihanna would call them Ella-Ella-Ella’s (I crack myself up).
5) The Black Keys Hold Down The Friday Headline Spot
Talk about the world’s longest brewing meteoric rise. Active for over a decade mainstream success seemed to elude Ohio blues rock revivalists and frequent White Stripes debate rebuffs The Black Keys. After breaking through with 2010’s Brothers Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney promptly returned from the road to the studio with their usual workhorse mentality, and need to strike while the iron’s hot, with the top 40 friendly El Camino late in 2011. With the Arctic Monkeys, also on the lineup, in tow The Keys are setting out on their largest tour to date playing arenas all over the country and pulling into Indio for two weekends to wrap up this year’s Coachella Friday. Not bad considering they played a late night tent slot at Bonnaroo less than two years ago. Here’s hoping that Kendrick Lamar or A$AP Rocky step in for a surprise BlakRoc style jam. Basically anything that indicates a return to the BlakRoc project will suffice.
6) Ultra Festival Called, They Want Their Headliners Back
Perhaps that intro is a bit cruel considering Miami’s, and the US’ for that matter, biggest electronic music festival doesn’t compete with Coachella market wise, but we’re about a Tiesto and/or Skrillex away from a total invasion. Justice, Avicii, David Guetta, Kaskade, and absent-this-year-but-Ultra-regulars Swedish House Mafia all got the invite in prominent spots this year continuing a strong tradition of Coachella keeping up with the cutting edge. One could speculate as to why Coachella decided to top most of their bill with powerhouse DJ’s, but the reason that seems to make the most sense is the expansion to two weekends and the logistics involved. Although most of the acts mentioned will likely sport massive stage set-ups they even more likely pale in comparison to the daunting task of say bringing in large rock bands with instruments, and members for that matter, that all need wrangling in the live format. Of course most of this diatribe has to do with a personal disdain for high profile festival acts, whom aside from obvious exclusions, are more or less doing their best variation of pushing the “play” button. Which leads us to our next point.
7) Miike Snow: Too Damn High!
Another Ultra cross-over, potentially the biggest head scratcher from this year’s lineup reveal is the poster placement, 7th right behind Kaskade, of Swedish electro-pop crafters Miike Snow. With one eponymous LP in the bank and a slew of well-received remixes has the popularity of Miike Snow really pushed ahead of lower billed acts such as Feist, Andrew Bird, or St. Vincent? Don’t even get us started on them just eeking Neutral Milk Hotel’s reclusive Jeff Mangum playing his first west coast show of in years. We’ll have to chock this one up to lineup semantics, but admittedly it was a bit jarring seeing Miike Snow’s name underneath Radiohead’s. That being said we’re big fans of the electro-trio and look forward to their forthcoming release Happy To You in March. Check out lead single “Devil’s Work”.
8, 9, 10) Bands To Watch
a) Wild Beasts
While initially taking in the lineup drop it admittedly took about the 3rd or 4th eyeball scan for the difficult to define, falsetto loving Wild Beasts to come to our attention down on the lowest line of Coachella Sunday. Uplifting eroticism with a focus on diamond cutting guitar chimes and a constantly rolling rhythm section make up the majority of Wild Beasts unique sound with a hint of Jonsi/Freddie Mercury high notes blended with a rambling English croon. All three of their LP’s use this as their basis and expand from record to record with entry levelers most likely to buy into 2009’s fantastic Two Dancers. Check out “All The King’s Men” and good luck getting it out of your head later.
Erika M. Anderson, better known by her stage name EMA, sure had some demons to battle while recording her eponymous solo debut. Having released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2011, 2012 figures to be a bit of a victory lap year for EMA with a Coachella appearance already announced and a slew of other festivals that we’re sure will keep them busy until later this fall. The easy word to sum up the EMA dynamic would likely be “haunting”, but the beauty of their stellar first effort, and all albums for that matter, is those new things seem to pop out with every repeat listen. A simmering bass hit here or a searing lead guitar pluck that seems to extend out into the Pacific Ocean. Plus everyone gets to look forward to Anderson singing the line “Fuck California, you made me boring,” to a crowd of Golden State hipsters. So really everybody wins.
c) Frank Ocean
So how does one distance oneself from the dubious image of the unstoppable rap circus OFWGKTA? Well for starters you sing on two songs for one 2011’s most hyped releases, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. That’s not to say that Ocean wants to begin to shy away from Tyler, the Creator and his band of merry pranksters, but after helping out on tracks for artists like John Legend, Brandy, and Justin Bieber it’s fair for the singer-songwriter to want to begin to make his own way forward. What should you expect from a Frank Ocean solo show? Well if his 2011 self released Nostalgia, Ultra is any indicator then a Drake/The Weeknd style atmosphere featuring perfectly produced R & B hooks should sound about right. And who knows? It’s not like Tyler doesn’t live in California…