Gearing up for a different Coachella — thanks to Prince

[21 April 2008]

By Ben Wener

The Orange County Register (MCT)

Think of it as the Coachella that keeps creeping up on you.

That’s how I’m viewing it now, anyway.

THE COACHELLA VALLEY MUSIC AND ARTS FESTIVAL April 25: Jack Johnson, the Raconteurs, the Verve, the Breeders, Aphex Twin, Fatboy Slim and more April 26: Prince, Portishead, Kraftwerk, Death Cab for Cutie, Cafe Tacuba, Rilo Kiley, Dwight Yoakam and more April 27: Roger Waters, Love and Rockets, My Morning Jacket, Spiritualized, Justice, Gogol Bordello and more Where: Empire Polo Field, Indio, Calif. How much: $269 for a three-day pass; single-day tickets are sold out Call: 714-740-2000 Online:,

At first I shrugged, like so many others. For a time—for the first time—I found myself with next to no interest in a lineup for another Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. (The ninth incarnation of the annual eclectic cavalcade runs April 25-27, with its country cousin Stagecoach slated for the following weekend, May 2-4, at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif.)

Complaining came easy: Hadn’t we just seen Roger Waters? Love and Rockets—really? Kraftwerk and Death Cab for Cutie again? Jack Johnson and Portishead as headliners? Even those other reunions, Britpop survivors the Verve and alt-rock revivers the Breeders—OK, pretty cool, but they still seemed like a letdown compared to what was missing: My Bloody Valentine.

Ah, but that was January. Since then my enthusiasm has only grown.

For starters, excellent new records from the Raconteurs and Vampire Weekend and MGMT placed all three instantly at the top of any rational Coachellan’s must-see list.

Then Goldfrapp and a rare appearance from Aphex Twin got added—well, well.

Then, as always happens with what at first seems a weak year, the totality of it all started to drown out the doubting: Sharon Jones and Mark Ronson? Justice and M.I.A.? Cafe Tacuba and the National and Stephen Malkmus and My Morning Jacket ... and Fatboy Slim! Gogol Bordello! DeVotchKa!

Why, exactly, have I been moaning?

Then, finally, the big rumor came true: Prince, anticipated by insiders as a headliner the day the lineup was revealed ... yet who instead turned up curiously (if characteristically) absent ... the greatest artist of my generation ... and as great an entertainer as any has coughed up, Elvis most definitely included ... yes, indeed, His Purpleness will close out Saturday’s portion in a rare (someone say first?) festival appearance.

That sealed it.

Now, instead of wondering why Radiohead or R.E.M. never became a reality, I’ve found myself thinking, “Yeah, well, why not Kraftwerk and Death Cab all over again? Why not “Dark Side of the Moon” as a finale?

“I don’t think you always need to give people what they want,” explains Coachella’s chief organizer Paul Tollett. “It doesn’t have to be, `This is what the majority of what everyone wants, so let’s deliver it.’ We’re looking for big moments, what takes it to the next level. I’m pretty confident that this year is next level.”

That’s big talk from a guy keenly aware that this year doesn’t boast anything as ridiculously sought-after as a Rage Against the Machine reunion, last year’s coup. But don’t scoff at what Tollett has amassed. Recount those names once more: Prince, Portishead, the Verve, Roger Waters, Love and Rockets, the Breeders, Aphex Twin, Fatboy Slim—“you’re not really seeing that anywhere else,” he points out.

And so what if that list doesn’t include Radiohead? “Everyone has a different feeling of what they want to see,” Tollett realizes. “But when I’m booking it, I’ve got eight years of the past in mind also. It’s not necessarily a competition with the other festivals out there. I’m thinking more about what people have seen over the last eight years—and now they’re coming to 2008. What are they going to experience?”

His opinion: “Roger Waters is something they need to see at Coachella.”

Look, I’m on board. But I still don’t get how he fits right now, after several very recent area appearances.

Tollett’s defense: “I don’t think this crowd ever saw Roger Waters.”

“But is that because they didn’t want to see Roger Waters?” I wonder.

“I dunno. Maybe.”

You can hear the Cheshire-cat grin forming in his voice.

“We’ll find out.”

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