S.S. Coachella 2012: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Sleigh Bells performs at the Mayan Theatre earlier this year.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Give Goldenvoice honcho Paul Tollett credit -- he knows how fans feel at the end of his festivals. “You need a full weekend. By day three, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you’re cursing Coachella. But then the sun sets and you’re like ‘Oh, that’s what this is all about.’”

That’s about how the passengers on the S.S. Coachella are feeling on their second night. Tollett made those comments at an afternoon panel discussion with several upper-brass staffers at Goldenvoice and KCRW’s Jason Bentley, and he’s right about how festivals have a rhythm of pleasure and pain that needs to be seen to the end. That’s why Coachella has become an all-in three-day package, and why the S.S. Coachella is proving more and more a logical extension of that idea.


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Coachella today has become a case study in a captive audience, and you couldn’t get more captive than the S.S. Coachella on Monday night -- on open water, gently gliding to the Bahamian coast with a thick slice of orange moon as the only light.

A positively satanic hangover seemed to weigh down the crowds all morning. After the opening night of Pulp and general revelry, the entire ship was a walking Advil ad. Muscle bros lapped at recuperative micheladas while tottering in the hot tubs; women rubbed their temples behind NASA-grade sunglasses. Whoever booked a raging moombahton DJ for the noon shift deserves a custom-embroidered seat in hell.

The rhythms of Indio’s Coachella applied here too. Daytime is reserved for complaining about your headaches and elegantly wasting daylight. Sure, you could have played bingo with Grimes, sipped bloody marys with Warpaint or got sassed out at the Sleigh Bells nail salon, but like the terrestrial Coachella, to try to do it all is to do none of it well. The most authentic way to spend the afternoon was probably with your shoes off on the upper deck lawn (a nice touch that evoked the Polo Fields turf) with a mimosa in your twitching hand.


But by nightfall, everyone’s mood improved. James Murphy’s wine-tasting seminar was the night’s hot ticket, but the concurrent Goldenvoice panel was well-attended and surprisingly candid. Tollett is about as straight a shooter as you’ll get at those altitudes of music mogul-dom, and it was fascinating to hear him call out his own fears and missteps, such as his initial nervousness at the undersold 2008 Jack Johnson/Roger Waters fest, the 2010 gate-crasher debacle and a recent tax scuffle with the Indio City Council.

Most of the talk concerned the desert festival and not the cruise, though Goldenvoice vice president Skip Paige joked that they tried to book the infamous naked wizard for the ship. But it’s clear that Coachella’s idiosyncrasies really are a reflection of the personalities behind it. “We want you to be very far away and disconnected from your house,” Tollett said. “We want you to surrender. Goldenvoice started in punk, we love no-budget shows. But with Coachella, we asked, ‘What if Jay Gatsby threw a festival?’”


Back onstage, Black Lips and Sleigh Bells turned in early, rowdy sets to small but enthusiastic crowds of concert-going overachievers. We heard from a colleague at Spin that Dylan Baldi from Cloud Nothings dumped a beer on a guy’s head for moshing too hard, which about sums up how the shows are going thus far.

The music remains the ballast of the day but not really the point. This ship can feel overwhelming -- one can never quite shake the sense that whatever you’re doing, you’re missing out on something more fun down the hall. And sometimes it can all make you want to dump a Heineken on someone. But if Coachella logic holds true, the transcendent parts are soon at hand.


Monday night’s revelry included a Girl Talk-hosted screening of “Ghost Ship” and late sets from Killer Mike and El-P. Now that everyone’s mostly recovered, perhaps we’ll have our “this is what it’s all about moment” in a few hours. If not, hey, we’re going snorkeling tomorrow.



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