A wonderful journey through song: North America. Part I.

Reflecting hard on past days is a dangerous thing. You get stuck in this delightful loop for about 10 to 15 minutes and then you wake up and realise that you are back in a reality where you should be gripping onto a new challenge but they just don’t stick their head out like they did a few weeks ago. So as I’m staring into space with Jack White’s Love Interruption

playing and his warbling voice pounded with sexual want and desire, I am transported back to Randall’s Island for the Governor’s Ball Festival. Three days of New York magic at an underrated, up and coming music festival in the heart of the Big Apple. Fosters beer is unfortunately being served, the smell of marijuana is circling the air and the vibrations from the speakers bounce through my eardrums like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.

As much as I want to say this is the best day of my life, I remember back to Duke Dumont in a dark tent in Palm Springs, Bruce Springsteen on the verge of his heart bursting as he put his proverbial soul into an extremely sweaty New Orleans’ set and Metronomy in a small Chicago bandroom singlehandedly calling me to scream for a funk revolution. All these unbelievable moments cramming into my head at the same time is enough to send me into overdrive. How to describe them, analyse them and somehow critique them. How do you critique a God like Bruce Springsteen? You don’t William, you just can’t.

I think there are a few elements that sum up my past three months.

Number 1: the people. This is a no-brainer. As most of my fellow backpackers will attest to, you have to befriend all those in a similar boat to you to survive. Social survival at least; no one wants to be the forgotten lad who waits for an invitation to come out and ends up in a lonely bunk bed at 10pm when that seemingly inevitable invitation does not come.

Eeyore's birthday - Austin, Texas.
Eeyore’s birthday – Austin, Texas.

Number 2: the food and drink. One can only have a certain number of late night In ‘n Out burgers before they start to reach for Yelp or Urbanspoon to somehow find their way to the local market for something with slightly more nutritional value. But damn, those burgers were something else. The less said about the torture my liver went through the better…

San Francisco.

Number 3: the sites. Why else go to another place than to experience the sites. The Empire State Building, The Rockerfeller, Venice Beach, The oldest city in the USA, The Lincoln Memorial, The Golden Gate Bridge, war memorials, museums, iconic pop culture locations etc etc… Then I suppose you can count the beautiful women, the weird and wonderful folk on the streets, the food trucks, the long expanses of beach, the night sky.

Bowery Mural

Number 4: The sounds. This is the element that we really care about and where I get all excited and giddy in my recollections. There are moments that will sort of come back to you from time to time and you’ll either reluctantly acknowledge them or manage a grin or a frown as they drift in and out of your mainframe and there are moments that simply stay with you forever. Fortunately most of the type of moments I experienced when I was abroad are nothing sort of phenomenal. The three grand stand music and art festivals: Coachella, New Orleans Jazz Festival and Governor’s Ball. The sensory overload that was the South. The gigs dotted around the States that I was lucky enough to fall into. These are the moments that one remembers so fondly. Be it an unknown singer in an empty New Orleans bar, St Lucia in an elaborate and overpriced Vegas nightclub or just a local street busker in Madison Square Park slaying his guitar in a way that you only witness once or twice in your lifetime.

Coachella.
Coachella.

It is hard to find the right starting point to address these fascinating aural moments that passed as quickly as they came. I suppose the long flight to LA was basically crowded with the anticipation of seeing my good friend Sam in between listening to my California playlist which seemingly played non-stop until we hit Coachella. Playing it to impress the Norwegian girls on the bunk beds above ours in Venice Beach, playing it on the long and winding trips across the state and into Nevada, playing it when quietly reflecting and playing it when pumping up for another night crawling around the place. The omnipresent playlist of California. It did the job.

However, this would be forgetting being just about the only people at the Cosmopolitan who actually gave a shit about St. Lucia when they supported Young the Giant in the home of sin, Vegas, as they bounced through one of the highest energy sets I have ever witnessed. As biased as I will sound here and with no disrespect to Young the Giant, who were also impressive, they were the dominant act on the night. With Jean-Phillip Grobler, the man behind the band which has in a similar vein to Bon Iver, become bigger than just one person, at the front in his dizzying party shirt, I still openly believe they will become one of the biggest acts in world music within the next five years… Even though Grobler ignored my desperate tweets to grab a couple of beers after the show with two passionate Australian fans. I don’t really blame him. It was Vegas after all.

The sensory overload that was Coachella came and went like a sandstorm, which fortunately never came for the week two crowd despite being the downfall of many sets in the first week. Bussing into the festival at 10.30 in the morning with a Contiki tour group before settling at my mate’s campsite and becoming one with the bohemians, I came to realise that this was not just a music festival, this was an endurance event. An average temperature tipping into our mid 30s from 8am in the morning and dipping dramatically in the middle of night, it became clear that the rumours were true. We were in a desert. But hey, we better make the most of it while it lasts.

Paradise on narcotics.
Paradise on narcotics.

From the riotous arrival of Jagwar Ma in one of the innumerable tents where they literally clawed down our throats and made us lose our shit with the driving riffs and psychedelic undertones that made me vomit up Aussie pride… or perhaps it was the early morning Budweisers… to the onslaught of projected visions of Duke Dumont, Chromeo and Girl Talk before the climatic return of Outkast, who had so sensationally underwhelmed the privileged first week folk, the first night had truly lived up to expectation. As Andre 3000 and Big Boi bounced around during their opening number ‘B.O.B’, I think my life mission materialised itself, popped out of the sky, landed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear it over the raucousness of one of the greatest songs of the 21st century but it was good to know that I do have one.

Another key element of Coachella was the attractive people on hand to witness this music festival on all kinds of steroids. Pretty young girls just out of high school, handsome men in hawaiian shirts, older women with sexual appeal and sweat dripping down their foreheads and then there was Dev Hynes. Speaking of sex appeal! This man should have been draped in velvet, holding the leash of some form of well-groomed exotic animal as we simply froth over his being. And then he started singing. Honestly, I would love to say that I am sexually experimental to add to my ‘I don’t give a fuck*’ persona, but I am pitifully straight. However, this man could definitely change my mind. Blood Orange smashed their set to pieces in a most seductive and sensual way. It was truly an honour to witness a set that was glazed in epic musicianship from everyone on stage. It was a moment in time to savour. The kind of music that tugs at your heartstrings with profundity as it swoons you with a backing band featuring all your favourite mood-setting percussion and brass instruments.

*i definitely give a fuck…

Blood Orange.
Blood Orange.

Other highlights included when I was ‘turnt up’ on a Saturday night during Queens of the Stone Age as Josh Homme roared through the very best of ‘… Like Clockwork’ amongst whatever the fuck they wanted to play. Homme plays at his best when he has had like 8 shots of whisky and is absolutely fired up and you only need to look at QOTSA and Kyuss’ discography to know why. It’s Fireball Whisky-inspired stuff. I can’t remember too much unfortunately but from what I recall, the drunken haze emphasised the electricity of the occasion.

Beers with my best mate and another Aussie bloke who liked us because we made it feel like home for him apparently.
Beers with my best mate and another Aussie bloke who liked us because we made it feel like home for him apparently.

I still have no idea what is the lyrical content of The 1975‘s schtick but it looks, feels and sounds like a love-sick thing. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, this was about the time I fell in love with around fourteen well-dressed and well-tanned Californian girls so I’ll give the band a tick of approval. Beck is still a legend of his craft, smashing a set that tinkered with old classics (Loser, Blue Moon, Debra) and flawless covers of Michael Jackson and Arcade Fire. I’ll get to Arcade Fire later in the piece. Kid Cudi’s vocals were weak but no one seemed to care amongst the ‘4/20 Blaze it’ attitudes circling the gigantic field of dreams. It really was an immense setting filled with astronauts, aliens and robots. A stoner’s paradise. MGMT didn’t move much but they crushed out some Oracular Spectacular specials amongst a bunch of other songs that only a tenth of the audience came along to see. The pitfalls of being a band that exploded. Oh well, the band seem content enough.

I witnessed Nas storm through Illmatic and a few other hip-hop classics, including a duet with my favourite female hip-hop/soul artists, Lauryn Hill. Nas still has that stern and thoughtful delivery that seems to transcend any sort of distraction happening around him. My only distraction was keeping my head on my shoulders at that point. I was in a world of my own, similar to the world Nas seems to disappear into when he performs. He truly is a hip-hop God. On the other main stage, I got to catch a bit of Matt Bellamy and Muse and they never disappoint. Bellamy’s vocal range is outrageous and the arrangements behind him ride perfectly in-sync with this classically trained singer. I see him as a rough-edged Freddie Mercury, performing prog-rock and performing songs that seemed to be constantly about how the world just wants to swallow you up… not quite Fat Bottomed Girls.

Someone is on stage at this point.
Someone is on stage at this point. Probably Nas.

The feel-good set of the festival was Aloe Blacc who seems to truly appreciate the success he has come into of late. While we’ve heard a lot of good soul in the past, it is great to know that there is someone who is still expressing the sentiments of Otis Redding, Al Green, Donny Hathaway and so many more of those great male soul vocalists in this day and age. Positivity and hope are often sneered at by the privileged of my generation so it was kind of nice to see people hugging each other on request by Mr Blacc. One of the pretty girls next to me hugged with the enthusiasm of someone who had just seen a bright, bright light but it turns out she was just really keen for some ‘Moll-ay’.

Good view... Just generally a good view.
Good view… Just generally a good view.
Mr Blacc.
Mr Blacc.

Regrets I’ve had a few but none bigger than missing a few of my more anticipated acts due to laziness, the weather or peer pressure. I mean, Calvin Harris was high-impact shit but he didn’t have any vocalists or any live element minus him demanding that we ‘jump higher than we’ve ever jumped before’. Of course I obliged but only to see what was going on with Little Dragon a few hundred metres away. I won’t be too much of a pretentious twat though, I had a great time reminiscing on many great summer nights in Australia thanks to Calv but part of me was thinking that I could have chucked on my IPod and hooked them to my outrageously good Bose speakers (free plug) and bobbed my head a bit. I also sacrificed the opportunity to witness CHVRCHES or Bombay Bicycle Club to drink delicious vodka beverages by a swimming pool ten minutes from the festival. You win some, you lose some. I also missed the heavenly vocals of James Vincent McMorrow because it was so damn hot… common theme that has attached itself to this blog post.

It's too damn hot today.
It’s too damn hot today.

In saying this, part of the joy of a music festival is hanging at a camp site, at a hotel, talking shit with random people you bump into and just generally eating up the atmosphere. Disclosure into Arcade Fire on the final night illustrated the glorious contrasts in popular music. Disclosure had audio issues which was a major downer but seeing Mary J Blige and Sam Smith belt out ‘F for You’ and ‘Latch’ respectively was well worth the constant shifting in audience position. Major kudos to the two brothers who have damn good taste in who they choose to feature in front of their mix of nostalgic 90s house, necessary D-floor starters and electro funk beats.

The coaches box.
The coaches box.

Arcade Fire proved themselves to be the perfect finisher for the festival. From the empowering ‘We Exist’ to the rugged ‘Reflektor, Arcade Fire seemed to thoroughly enjoy the responsibility placed on their shoulders. While there were a couple of spots that seemed to fall flat with the crowd due to general fatigue, no one was disappointed with both parts of ‘The Suburbs’, the quintessential reminder of the importance of not letting development kill our natural connection with our youth, the killer ‘Rebellion (Lies), ‘No Cars Go’, which for me comes across as this strange call to the people’ and the anthemic closer, ‘Wake Up’ which couldn’t make me want to grab hold of everything important to me and squeeze it until its last breath if it tried.

Coachella Companions.
Coachella Companions.

‘If the children don’t grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We’re just a million little god’s causin rain storms
Turnin’ every good thing to rust.’ – Wake Up, Arcade Fire.

I would love you to nominate two lines in a 21st century song that surpass the greatness of this in a comment below. I will never tire of this song and what a grand way to close a festival as they strolled into the crowd with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Brilliance.

As we travelled back to our respective locations to finish up the proceedings of the past three days, the reflections seemed to begin immediately. One of my Coachella companions passionately told me about Little Dragon’s set and I nearly wept. Another described how ridiculous Future Islands had been and I scowled. Then I recalled Haim producing the goods with ‘The Wire’ et al and The Naked and Famous as I lazed in the Heineken Tent and the Great Julian Casablancas as I strolled past the Mojave, holding hands with a lovely European girl and those lingering shades of envy became gem stones of unadulterated appreciation.

If you keen to read more, I’ll be posting Part II – the South soon which features a lot of blues, honky-tonk and Bruce Springsteen.

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