With Coachella mere days away, all the hype will be on what the headliners bring to the table. Many attendees scavenge the desert during the day looking for exclusive pool parties and VIP gifting suites, only slinking into the polo grounds when the sun goes down and their hangover cured by lounging in a pool floaty all day.
But what about artists further down the bill — the “small font” bands on the Coachella poster? After all, the festival is about musical exploration and discovery — at times you could have some hippie-folk duo playing in side-by-side tents with a dubstep DJ. We’re highlighting some of the must-see “smaller font” acts — five bands per day — for your smaller stage and pre-sunset discovery.
Lead singer/guitarist Christopher Owens had your typical “ran away from a cult at age 16, couch surfed through America before coming to San Francisco and forming a band” American upbringing that you’ve heard about so many times. It’s through this crazy back story that Owens and band mate Chet White are able to throw ideas all over the musical map, filtering them through pop music from the last 40 years.
GIRLS match the easy-breezy vibe of San Francisco perfectly. Their two albums have been critically adored and they certainly should be one of the first bands to check out at under the desert sun. Check out the Tom Petty-esque “Alex.”
Nothing beats a near-sunset set at Coachella than a some good ol’ Americana rock and roll. Dawes are a group of former indie-punks from Malibu. They ditched their sound in the mid-2000’s for the uniquely Los Angeles “Laurel Canyon” folk-rock sound from the 1970’s.
You’ve likely heard this insanely peppy Louisiana-bred five-piece and haven’t even realized it. Their blend of indie pop styles have drawn comparisons to Vampire Weekend and Rilo Kiley with their bubbly, happy-go-lucky songs. The fantastic voices of Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson (who probably have never frowned in their life) will give any high-noon hangover a much needed kick in the you-know-what.
Get ready to rage. Seriously. Wallpaper puts on one hell of a live show — old school “Hammer Time” backup dancers combine with deep bass, futuristic beats and wisecracking croons. Wallpaper’s “#STUPIDFACEDD” keeps the perfect blend between Lil’ John and the head-shaking Hyphy movement of his beloved Bay Area alive and dancing into the desert.
Before things really get going and the crowds get impossible to move around in, expand the musical horizons with the band Abe Vigoda (although partying with the frequently-pronounced old actor would be a serious highlight to the weekend). The L.A.-bred four-piece crank out an eclectic brand of hard-charging indie punk. Abe Vigoda can be frantic, danceable, tense and soul-crushing in its bleakness. Their live show, perfected over the years at the iconic downtown L.A. venue The Smell, is a must-witness.
Much like Abe Vigoda, AWOLNATION is a group of hard-chargers. Leader Aaron Bruno wrote all songs for their debut album of the aggressive, scuzzy dance/alt rock after the break-up of his previous band in 2008. The band has been blowing up as of late, with their singles “Sail” and “Not Your Fault” appearing in numerous ad campaigns and television shows. An intense, hard-rocking mid-day set from the L.A. natives will likely be their coming out party on the festival circuit.
Aahhhhh. Feel that? It’s the sound of a relaxing mid-day set. The shoes off, grass between toes, plenty of hydration and hopefully a breeze to wipe away the smell from the Day 2 crowd. Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, aka Destroyer, can set the perfect mood for that scenario.
The man is, simply put, a master of soft-rock. The smooth drumming, the blaring saxophone, the cheesy keyboards — it’s all there and more — like you’re listening to an old Michael McDonald cassette while taking the yacht out for an afternoon. And if the type of girls from Bejar’s “Kaputt” video are there…why aren’t you already lining up to see him?
Be prepared for Merrill Garbus to put anything previously accomplished in life to shame in less than 60 minutes. The leader behind tUnE-yArDs (pretty sure she hates bloggers) is a tour-de-force on the stage — looping percussion she makes up on the spot, adding layer upon layer of guitars, synths or even some ukelele while she’s at it. Released last year, her sophomore album w h o k i l l was a critical darling that landed her lengthy praise and late night television spots.
The Big Pink
Yet another band you’ve heard plenty of but never realized. The Big Pink have subliminally sold anything from cars to gaming consoles with their crowd-chanting electronic rock anthems. A perfect blend between the styles of late 90s-style British music — think Oasis and Fatboy Slim — The Big Pink look and sound every bit of a “larger” font band for Coachella. Is this the year they prove it?
This New Jersey quintet is a collection of singer-songwriters all on their own, resulting in beautiful beach-side scenes with swirling guitars and reverb-laden vocals that harken back to the Beach Boys’ later works. The third track on Real Estate’s sophomore album, “It’s Real,” is a standout that will make you want to relive the sunny days of Coachella long after their done performing.
Band of Skulls
Band of Skulls produce so much garage-rock goodness from three people that you’d think they have hidden members below the stage. These Brits just released their second album of old-fashioned American rock-n-roll — carrying on The White Stripes torch with a Zippo lighter held high. One hell of a live band, they will most likely filling every inch of the tent they play in with big, bombastic rock.
A lot has happened in the past two years for Brad Oberhofer. Forced to pack things up after his parents house burned down, Oberhofer moved to the budding music scene in Brooklyn, New York. In that tiny space of an apartment, he’s crafted out lots of melodic “coincidence pop,” as he has deemed it. And the title fits, Oberhofer’s music is unpredictable at best, but the melodies and musicianship are consistent throughout.
British dance-rockers Metronomy sure now how to put on a live show. Through years or touring, they’ve incorporated various light shows and dancer routines to match their funky synths and tightly precise bass and drums. The band was chosen by Coldplay to open on their North American tour, so expect plenty of new and crazy live set ideas at their “warm-up gig” in the desert.
Housse de Racket
Not much is known stateside about the French dance dance-pop duo Housse de Racket. They got a nice Kanye West co-sign a few years ago. They cut their chops as studio musicians for the likes of Phoenix and Air before forming the band in 2008, which fits their progressive-yet-retro take on danceable guitar rock — perfect for a nice mid-Sunday energy boost to finish out the festival.
-Derek Sedam, CBS Radio Los Angeles