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What You Missed at Coldchella

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So, after one day out in the madness, it seems that the default nickname of Coldchella is going to stick -- at least for now. For the first time in the history of the festival, the Empire Polo Fields got rain.

It wasn’t crazy rain, just scattered showers that came on when it seemingly felt like it. Occasionally. strong winds accompanied the unlikely weather and even caused the photographers to be escorted out of the photo pit for a few minutes before Jimmy Cliff’s set (the swaying of massive overhead equipment was a bit troublesome).

But knowing that the entire weekend wasn’t going to follow its chilly kickoff, I welcomed it. The typical days of scorch are daunting, and it was lovely not to be sweating within 30 seconds of leaving your car. At times, it seemed downright appropriate -- like during Mazzy Star’s set -- there was just something perfect about a light rain falling while Hope Sandoval sang “Fade Into You."

Of course, there were a few people put off by the lack of blazing heat -- namely the folks who didn’t mind to check the weather report and came dressed in the traditional Coachella next-to-nothing outfits. I can’t tell you how many times I saw a gaggle of bikini-clad girls huddled together making a beeline back to their car/campsite to swap short shorts for sweatshirts.

But, as usual, the music made everyone forget.

I saw an amazing lineup on Friday that went something like this:

  • I started off with Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. I was surprised to see how many people came to see the up-and-coming MC, and even more surprised to see how many women were enthusiastically singing along to choruses like “Pussy and Patrone.” But there was certainly no lack of enthusiasm on either side of the stage, and hands were in the air for most of the set.
  • Next, it was London’s noise rock quartet Yuck. They ripped through a rocking set from their debut record and seemed to live up to the Sonic Youth comparisons.
  • Next up was James, a band I was introduced to a long time ago by an obsessed girlfriend, and it was fun to watch lead singer Tim Booth first survey the crowd, then get down from the stage and sing to them, and then, finally, jump into the crowd and sing with them.
  • Next it was off to the Gobi tent to see Gary Clark Jr. The young Austin guitarist delivered one of the best sets of the day, shredding through pure Texas blues rock, recalling fellow Austin guitar god Stevie Ray Vaughn. This guy is going to be huge before he’s done.
  • Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff was next, and he ran through his greatest hits catalog while being backed by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.
  • Then it was off to see San Francisco’s GIRLS, who played a quality set from a flower-adorned stage.
  • After, I hightailed it over the Mojave Tent to see some of Laurel Canyon classic rockers Dawes, and the Goldsmith brothers were in perfect harmony.
  • I couldn’t resist making my way back to the main stage to catch some of the Arctic Monkeys' set, and the motorcycle jacket-adored Brits delivered once again.
  • Then it was time for some Madness, and the 2 tone Ska masters had everyone dancing.
  • I busted it back to the Mojave to see M. Ward rip through a few awesome tracks while doing his best Gary Clark Jr. impression before getting back to the main stage for an incredible set from Pulp. Frontman Jarvis Cocker was in rare form, jumping, posing, joking with the crowd and running through most of the Brit-pop faves’ greatest hits. I can see a lot of people calling it the best set of the night.
  • Next it was off to see Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All crooner Frank Ocean. It was crazy-packed, er, overstuffed, with rabid fans, and the young soulman proved why he’s been a handpicked collaborator by John Legend, Jay-Z and Kanye. And when Odd Future MC Tyler the Creator joined him onstage for the OFWGKTA hit “Yonkers,” it brought down the house.
  • Mazzy Star was next, and I can finally scratch them off my list. It’s been a long time coming for me to see the morphine-soaked L.A. duo, and it was worth the wait. They played in near darkness –-- damn them, my pictures sucked -- while a gentle rain fell over the crowd. While I enjoyed every second, it was my downfall. They lulled me into a relaxed state, and I was done after that.

I’ve seen the Black Keys 8,000 times, and the Horrors and Black Angels are coming to the Belly Up on Thursday, but I am now kicking myself for missing reunited Swedish hardcore screamers Refused. I should have toughed it out. But sometimes you have to make a decision like that so you can live to fight another day. And that’s just what I did. I’ll be back at ‘em in just a matter of hours.

Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com.

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