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by Collin Souter

"I like these bands. I like this movie. Simple as that."
4 stars

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place over the course of two days every year in Indio, California. The idea behind the Festival bares close resemblance to Parry Farrellís Lollapalooza creation, which in itself is a microcosmic Woodstock. Coachella distinguishes itself by the sheer volume of acts booked to perform (the 2006 line-up consists of around 90 bands, hip-hop artists, DJs and solo acts). There doesnít appear to be any root cause for the concert, but to somehow make up for what the major radio stations and music industry lack these days: A sense of adventure.

The movie itself isnít quite as adventurous, but it certainly conveys the feeling of being at an all-day music festival and thatís good enough. I have been to a couple music festivals in my life, but never one of this scope. Drew Thomasí documentary showcases not only a significant fraction of the bands and artists that played Coachella in 2005, but also successfully captures the peaceful, fun-loving vibe of the weekend. No riots or fights broke out (at least none that were filmed anyway). The Festival itself seemed to go off without a hitch. This leaves us with a simple, well-documented concert film that will likely only appeal to you if the bands themselves appeal to you.

Fortunately, for me, many of the bands do appeal to me. The Festival showcases not only the cutting edge of the indie rock scene (Arcade Fire, Polyphonic Spree, Bright Eyes), but also gives its audience a little history lesson. Early in the film, we catch a glimpse of Iggy Pop reuniting with The Stooges, a pioneering punk band that flew in the face of Ď60s Flower Power and a band that appears to be maintaining that reputation three decades later. Later in the film, The Pixies make their triumphant return to the stage, as many audience members and bands reminisce about what The Pixies meant to them before Nirvana came along.

Having just watched This Is Spinal Tap for the thousandth time the same evening I saw this film, it was hard for me to adjust to the interviews, as I kept waiting for someone to say something ridiculous. Coachella doesnít really have any verbal punchlines. Many of the artists and fans interviewed wax philosophic about the importance of festivals and the overall sensation that thousands of people can get together peacefully and just enjoy the music and the messages it brings. Thomas and editor Greg Nash wisely take advantage of a point/counter-point between Saul Williams (music can change the world if we all focus and work together) and Oasisí Noel Gallagher (nobody goes to a festival like this to hear the news).

The concert sequences are, for the most part, nicely edited and beautifully shot, although Arcade Fireís performance could have benefited from less editing, as their shows energize the audience just fine without having an overabundance of cuts attempting to capture the frenzy on stage. While the movie certainly has an obligation to please as many music fans as possible, by design it runs too long and you pretty much just sit there waiting for the Flaming Lips to close the show with something spectacular as promised in the filmís early moments.

When the movie isnít focusing on the artists, it focuses on the people and the eccentric works of art that populate the landscape. Gigantic sculptures that look like they had been put together in BarterTown do double duty as both eye-catching behemoths and political and social satire. At night, people sleep in tents as they try to keep them from blowing away due to the high winds. The next morning, all is well and the second day proceeds with more of the same.

So, as you can see, Coachella doesnít necessitate a whole lot of explanation. It is no more significant than a DVD release from a band in order to appease their fans. But itís a damn good document that successfully conveys what goes down year after year and it does make me want to buy a ticket for this yearís fest (I most likely wonít, but only because I live in Chicago and we have Lollapalooza, which suits me just fine, thanks). Your biggest criticisms of the movie will likely reflect which artists you like and which ones you donít. A friend of mine who saw it with me criticized the music choices, stating that she felt they were too conventional, almost like a Greatest Hits package. Thatís certainly legit, but hopefully a host of DVD extras can make up for that in the future. As the founders of Coachella know perfectly well, variety remains the spice of life.

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originally posted: 03/27/06 09:26:02
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  16-Jan-2006 (R)
  DVD: 18-Apr-2006



Directed by
  Drew Thomas

Written by

  Arcade Fire
  Flaming Lips
  Polyphonic Spree
  White Stripes

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