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I love Coachella. The bands, the sun, the palm trees, the ever-colorful crowd. I love it so much, I’ll bounce between stages to try and catch as many acts as humanly possible — from my couch.
Before you jump down my throat for being old (true), jaded (false) or lazy (I’ll plead the Fifth), allow me to defend my position in two simple words: live stream. No joke, it’s the greatest musical innovation of the modern concert age. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: a live webcast, like the one being offered this weekend via Coachella’s YouTube channel and hosted by T-Mobile, allows anyone to see for free what most concert attendees shelled out $300 for. Only you have a front-row seat and aren’t squinting to make out the shape of a rock star on a pixelated jumbotron.
Sure, you’re not getting an on-demand offering of all 60-something bands performing in Indio, but so far, the Coachella stream’s three-channel curation has been spot on. For example, on Friday, I got to see the main-stage act, Blur, I likely would have watched from the field dole out the hits complete with audience sing-alongs. I also caught How to Destroy Angels headline the Mojave tent, resplendent in a choreographed light show that could be fully appreciated in a crisp frame accenting all its shadows and geometric patterns.
I saw Karen O do her best Steven Tyler in shiny Elvis pants and colorful scarves and explain the inspiration for “Maps,” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2004 hit: “love.” My curiosity was satiated watching folk newcomer Jake Bugg play the Mojave stage and Passion Pit have their moment in the sun(set). A band I’ve grown to love but have never seen live, Minneapolis’ Polica, did not disappoint at the Gobi tent and even brought out a special guest — and superfan — Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver and Shouting Matches fame, for a song.
I saw Stars and Metric, Divine Fits and Purity Ring; I heard Johnny Marr deliver Smiths favorites and Stone Roses try to reclaim their position at the top of the British reunion heap. All in all, I took in more than seven hours of bands without swapping sweat with a nearby bozo or obsessively checking the phone for tweets more exciting than my own. I sacrificed neither my feet nor my tolerance but got to enjoy the absolute best thing about Coachella: the music.
Admittedly, it’s not my first time opting for the webcast version rather than the real thing. And rest assured, THR still has writers on the ground for many such major fests. I, too, have put in my time pounding the parking-lot pavement at various Warped Tours. I’ve traversed fields of many miles to reach my car at the edge of the Empire Polo Club grounds. I’ve survived lightning storms (most notably, Tibetan Freedom Concert 1998, where the irony of performer Live’s 1995 hit “Lightning Crashes” was lost on no one at Washington, D.C.’s, RFK Stadium) and riots (I made it through 24 hours of Woodstock 99 before escaping for my life), though thankfully have avoided floods and mudslides.
Yet, there’s something to be said for that glorious headlining slot in the pouring rain. Like Foo Fighters’ closing set at Lollapalooza 2011, when frontman Dave Grohl pummeled through anthemic hits “Learn to Fly,” “Stacked Actors” and “My Hero” while giving the middle finger to a potentially dangerous Chicago thunderstorm.
I wasn’t there but can fondly remember watching it from a prime position to the side of the stage — the cameraman’s that is.
And those are the real unsung heroes of webcasts (along with the bands’ management and legal teams that approve the no-doubt long litany of broadcast restrictions): the videographers, at least four by my count for Coachella, who tune in on what you’d want to see, if you had the inclination to park yourself in the front section from 11 in the morning on.
I’m talking about how the shots focus on the fretwork, the mound of guitar pedals, the nonverbal communication between band members, the instrumental add-ons, down to the artist wristband that allows performers backstage access.
For How to Destroy Angels’ dramatic, trip-hoppy set, the HD shot had zoomed in so close, you could practically see Mariqueen Maandig’s nose hairs, if she had any — which she clearly doesn’t because she’s perfect. Regardless, it’s a vantage point only Trent Reznor would have in slumberland. And now, you.
Granted, streaming does have its drawbacks. Buffering or janky bandwidth issues can ruin the experience just as easily as having a drunk d-bag next to you singing above the amplification. And the limited choices can be a bummer if your favorite band isn’t one of the webcast offerings.
No doubt, a-la-carte and PPV options will come into play more prominently in the years to come — a band like Phish has already mastered the model, offering its New Year’s run for a package price of $55 or individual shows for $14.99 each. Indeed, here’s hoping the live stream for such high-profile, multiband events remains affordable. Or better yet, free, because so few these days have their own concert experiences to draw upon. If YouTube is their way in to trying out the real thing, promoters should be pumped and even more inclined to make webcasts available for all.
Hell, all this web viewing has even inspired me to at least consider heading out to Chicago in August for Lollpalooza, where I can catch Nine Inch Nails, The National, The Cure, Mumford & Sons, 2 Chainz, Band of Horses, Kendrick Lamar, Phoenix, the Postal Service, Father John Misty, Grizzly Bear and others on my current wish list. Got all that, Lollapromoters and stream decision-makers?
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