Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The Darkside of the Moon Also Rises
I despise that brief moment after waking in a strange place wherein you have no idea what brought you there. This feeling is almost always accentuated by fatigue or alcohol and as my crusty sunburned eyes opened I found myself drenched in both, hopelessly imprisoned by an endless sea of human legs. The only solace in these moments of terror was my old friend Bobby Dylan, playing the hits to an audience estimated near ten thousand. Now I’m not talking real Dylan, or weird Dylan, or even angry Dylan, but the classic album Bringing It All Back Home, being played to calm my battle hardened nerves and prelude perfectly into the closing set of The Coachella Music and Arts Festival 2008.
Outlaw Blues was just getting rolling as the Sun made its final goodbyes and melted behind the desert peaks of Indio, California. I was here on the job, thousand words for Rolling Stone.Com, all expenses, payment unlikely. This was not the writing economy of Fitzgerald and Jake Barnes. Money be damned was my mantra, this job was about honor, and the chance to see ¼ of Pink Floyd live. After three days of camping in an abandoned polo field, in 100 degree temperatures, with a mob of raging dope fiends from all over the world, it was time for the headliner Roger Waters.
Unbeknownst to most of the Indie hipster groove-addicts that frequent this festival, Mr. Waters is the man behind the legend of Pink Floyd. His Floyd fraction would be more like 5/8ths, singlehandedly writing every note of the bands albums after the original singer left, and before he himself left the group. The Floyd most people know and love is the Roger Floyd. So seeing him perform his songs isn’t like seeing War with one surviving member, P-Funk without Bootsy, Zeppelin without Bonham, or the latest bastardization of a Hoonless Blind Melon. This was Pink Floyd, the composer, the genius, The fuckin Wall man!
As I stood and rubbed the Lophophora from my eyes, I noticed one last tribulation I had to face after a weekend of bitter trials. While sleeping through the country vibrations of My Morning Jacket, I had been surrounded on all flanks by restless natives. My pasty redhead skin shone like a beacon of shame hovering in a thick brown Los Angeles sky. Being one hour from Mexico it shouldn’t have been a shock, but after a weekend of self-inflicted physical and mental abuse my mind gave way to The Fear, and I don’t steal that phrase lightly.
Ad Astra Per Aspera. I must present them with the most rigid manifestations of a firm and manly will, and all that shit, but not here, not now. I was too emotionally invested in this show to cover it in any professional manner. I had witnessed a mind-boggling stream of live music ranging from Prince, to Flogging Molly, to Dwight Yokam, to Gogol Bordello, to Fat Boy Slim, to Aesop Rock, to Rilo Kiley, then Aphex Twin, Death Cab, Autolux, Portishead, and including a long line of various acts from the cream of the Indie-Rock/Hip Hop/Electro crop. My senses were cranked, my body pushed to the brink of its physical threshold, and all at once 18 years of white suburban brainwashing floated like a bubble through my growing paranoia.
Why were they here in such great numbers? There were no matching sequined hats or accordions here. Their presence could only mean most certain destruction. Where in the hell were the gringos? Where were the bad blond dreads and acid grins I expected to wake to? I found myself in this situation earlier in the festival during the Mexican Maestos Café Tacuba. They nailed it. They were all peace, beats, and rooster lucha masks. But I was prepared mentally for this culture shock; I expected to be the only white person to be seen and was. What I woke to here was a much harsher vibe. These people were tired, not quite exhausted, not yet, yet tired of the endless heat, 8 dollar beers, 10 dollar nachos, and long bearded, smelling, hippie-gringos trying to get down while smoking spliffs many a gram larger than their own. I had spent the cash and eaten all the expensive drugs, so I assumed they would just beat me to a bloody pulp in some warped reenactment of West Side Story.
These thoughts were completely irrational, a simple tetrahydra-delusion, these weren’t even Puerto Ricans. Or were they? These emotions were frightfully overpowering in my weekend state and hell bent on ending my mission of honor. Then I saw them, two bull looking vatos with pulsing necks like telephone poles. They possessed all the features of a toro bravo, save the tail and bloodstained fur, which must have been removed at birth. There were horns by God, and whether real or imagined, I knew very well what a precisely placed horn could do to a man’s innards. If they charged I would simply do my best faroles, despite being severely handicapped with nothing red. Why must I read Hemingway in some vain attempt to be literary? I had no fear of bulls before reading The Capital of the World, and would probably have none after Death In the Afternoon, yet here I was in the ring. Dylan was gone, no red cape, no sword, and the dishonor of 200 years of racist immigration policy was bearing down on me like the 8:35 to Treblinka.
My fear left as quickly as it had come. The black background of the stage was suddenly filled with a mountainous musical image towering over us all several stories high. The giant 50’s era radio blared Hound Dog at top volume. As the crowd lost their minds to screams, I glanced up to a smoke filled sky not known since Marley’s last show in Kingston Town. A wave of people rippled through the crowd and I was carried away from my demons and placed in a considerably safer location for my type of journalism. Two girls in Dead shirts, couple a gay dudes arm in arm riding out their amphetamine psychosis, fat bearded kid from Alaska, dilated eyes, I was home. We knew he would play Darkside of the Moon, as advertised, but we all secretly hoped for an additional Pink Floyd set, rather than a spirit crushing set of solo career crap.
A giant hand reached from behind the stage and switched the station on the 747 sized radio, out came Coltrane, then We’ll Meet Again, and one last beautiful song, Ella’s version of My Funny Valentine. With a loud spark, smoke poured out of the old radio and then there was silence, the lights dimmed, and out He came.
Roger carried his bass with authority and had the look of a man wizened with age rather that beaten by it. There was a burst of light, a rush of adrenaline, an "Ein zwei drei... ALLE!" and the band roared into the first chords of In the Flesh, from The Wall. Not the first version of course, but the second more neurotic version, Pink's version. Marching hammers were everywhere, glorious signs indeed, this was going to be a Pink Floyd show.
The band stayed with The Wall, playing everything the fans longed to hear, including Mother, Is There Anybody Out there, and Goodbye Blue Sky. Always drifting at their will into the earlier albums, Wish You Were Here, Saucerful of Secrets, and Animals. The awesome visuals you would expect of the most influential psychedelic band of all time towered over the players, morphing with the music as political pigs floated above the crowd and hippies wept openly.
I was lost in the trance of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, one of the first songs Roger wrote after taking up the helm of this strange ship, when I heard it. The first note of Shine On You Crazy Diamond vibrated through me like a tazer as the visuals transported us all into the far reaches of the galaxy.
It can be troubling sometimes while hallucinating to witness a near life size nebula pulsing and moving towards you, as one of your favorite songs is played live at ear crushing levels. Few are built to withstand something like this. About halfway through the song I realized I too was crying. I was knee deep in a two and a half hour Pink Floyd set, all the while thinking, they still have to play Darkside! They still have to play Darkside!
The crowd became very strange after the first few songs. They were respectful to a point of surreal reverence I have only witnessed in a church or funeral home. I have never felt anything close to it at a concert, and the three days leading up to this had been extremely wild, even by concert standards.
They finished up Shine On, the ode to Pink Floyd’s original singer and songwriter Syd Barret, who was forced out of the band due to serious mental problems. Syd set the template for The Floyd and Roger Waters put it to diabolical use. As Syd's heartbreaking image faded from the screen, Roger closed the first set with Vera Lynn from The Wall, and we all shouted along with the lines, “Bring the boys back home again! Bring the BOYS back home! With the warmth of a story telling grandfather he finished the song saying, “Well thank you! There goes my pig. We’re going to take a short break, and then come back and do Dark Side of the Moon.”
Once they left the stage the reverence was immediately broken. The shoving, shifting, and ass grabbing had begun again, and to my horror I noticed the two bulls standing nearby snorting and giving serious stink eye. The black screen shown with a small moon and the soothing sound of soft rolling water poured out of the speakers. Every time I glanced away from the moon to perform reconnaissance on my antagonistos, I noticed the moon had doubled in size and the bulls were getting closer. After ten minutes the moon filled the entire screen, and mi amigos were right behind me. I thought I could hear my heart beating louder and louder, until the crowd lost it at the return of the band, and I realized it was the speakers beating, announcing the beginning of the greatest album every made.
It was all joy and musical ecstasy as we screamed along with Breathe, smoked to On the Run, tripped to Time, cried at the beauty of Great Gig in the Sky, danced to Money, thought of midgets dancing during Us and Them, and struggled to hold onto our upper vertebrae as the band closed out the album with Brain Damage and finally Eclipse. We all lost our voices shouting with hopeful abandon, the words we could never remember until this moment, "And all that is now, and all that is gone, and all that's to come, and everything under the sun is in tune. But the sun is eclipsed by the moooooon!!"
I could feel the red eyes of the bulls to my left and I expected the warm tearing of their horns at any second. The crowd was still going nuts for Rog and an encore was eminent, but it was now or never for me. I saw a people train moving quickly towards me through the dense mob realized this was my last chance to escape the crowd and flee from the natives like Indy in Raiders of the Lost Arc.
I jumped into the moving line and the bastard carried me straight towards the bulls and there god damned glistening horns. As I passed right in front of them the big one flashed something that rattled my soul. Not a switchblade, or a nine, nor even a single shiny horn, but a smile. Not any smile mind you, but a grande Mexican smile. He raised his hand in the international Bro greeting as I approached and I high-fived him as I passed out of the crowd feeling like a member of the Hitler Youth.
My reality had been completely backward during most of the show. I saw my fellow Floyd fans as guests in my ultimate musical fantasy when in actuality I was a guest in theirs. By all righteous accounts I was standing in old Mexico. This was their land, stolen by my people and held up in the air in a massive toddler tantrum. The United States has no right to keep the privileges and rewards of this land from its native ancestors, none. Holding these blessings at bay for a select few is epic racism that could only be perpetuated by a people who moved in unwanted, slaughtered their new neighbors, shit in the rivers, and wiped their asses with the forests. The singer for Café Tacuba summed it up very eloquently in broken English saying, “We don’t come here for money, or to live. We come to dream, just to dream." Cheesy? Certainly. True? Definitely. The American Dream. The Americas are a much bigger place than the U.S. Jorge.
I washed these thoughts to the back of my mind with two waters and a grape Gatorade. Thinking that sort of shit could get man burned at the stake and beheaded in the near future. I collapsed hydrated to the ground near the back of the crowd and waited for the encore. The night was pleasantly cool and a breeze of joy drifted through the audience. Tomorrow we would all go home and tell our loved ones what happened, but they wouldn’t understand, not really, but we would always know.
The band was back, for a minute, closing of course with fireworks, flying rainbow shooting prisms, and the encore staple Another Brick in the Wall. I leaned back on the grass gazing at the stars and spotlights stretched infinitely to Oberon. This show would be hard to top, but if it had to be attempted, why not me? I passed out sometime before the second guitar solo of the standard show closer Comfortably Numb.
All pictures are from Mr. Kemp's personal camera. Our photographer was last seen in the V.I.P. ingesting a white substance with Fisher Stevens and The Hoff just before Prince's Saturday evening set. He has yet to check in with the main office.