Coachella is a festival of contradictions. Hippie vibe, but the cool kids have VIP wristbands. A place to hear new, cutting-edge music by bands just finding their way alongside recent chart-toppers taking a victory lap.
But for those who like their music with a bit of hair on it, one of the pleasures of the Friday night card was the presence of hard-rocking journeymen the Replacements, the Cult and the Afghan Whigs.
These three outfits are like big predatory muscle cars on a freeway cluttered with hybrids. Whereas so many acts get by with one guitar, this trio of bands rocked with two or three, redundance be damned. The same chord progressions being played by two different people across the stage may sound excessive, but that’s the point. Why chug along with four fuel-sipping cylinders when you can roar down the road with an unquenchable eight?
The Afghan Whigs are masters of the form. Three guitarists all playing old-school Gibsons through a line of brutally loud Mesa amps, cascading waves of slashing chords above the punch of a Rickenbacker bass, a violin joining in for incongruity’s sake. Thankfully, it wasn’t just another '90s nostalgia act; the Whigs have just released their first album in 16 years, “Do to the Beast,” and gave the Coachella crowd an ample slice of their latest work.
This is what used to be called hard rock -- rhythms made of steel, solos short and sweet, guitars jacked pretty much straight into amps without a lot of sci-fi processing going on. Like a good horror film, there’s no confusion over what genre this is.
It’s not to be mistaken for its guitar-driven cousins either -- the hard rock delivered by the Afghan Whigs doesn’t have the frenzy of punk, nor the menace and musical intricacy of metal. It’s also a very American sound, not as tight, as pop-driven or as theatrical as the British versions.
This is music forged in a garage. It sounded great at Coachella; it might sound even better cruising on the interstate back to L.A.