two years ago this spring, i bit the bullet and flew to the coachella festival in indio, calif., outside palm springs. a college buddy sprung for festival tix, so i couldn’t say no. besides, gang of four was on a reunion tour at that point, and coachella was the closest i was gonna be to seeing these brits.
if you haven’t been to coachella, go. yes, bottled water is $7 (give or take), yes smokes are about as much, and yes, you’ll probably wind up with a sunburn. but, next to bonnaroo, you’ll won’t see more cutting edge bands huddled together in one sitting.
the empire polo fields double as the festival grounds every year, with roughly six stages, some DJ tents, some open-air, strategically placed so the sound from one stage doesn’t bleed into another.
gang of four was on the main stage, and they know how to make an introduction. the sound men cued up a tape of native american drumming until one of their crew, their manager, can’t remember which, walked out before their set began and addressed the audience. loosely paraphrased: “you are about to hear the most musical thing to come out of punk, and the most punk rock to come out of england, but for now, listen to the sound of your own cultural imperialism.”
this wasn’t white guilt. this was fact. gang of four holds sway like few other punk bands do. they were the fugazi of their day, and everyone was paying attention.
45 minutes in, GOF is off to the races, proving its mettle. they’re older, fatter and generally wiser, but no one can deny their stamp on every band, large and small, indie or not.
then, east of the main stage, the dirge guitar of arcade fire’s “wake up,” off 2004′s funeral, compelled a tidal wave of bodies to jump ship on legend. writhing and galloping, the crowd flew to the front of the stage, stripped of all inhibition, watching win butler, regine chassagne and the rest of these montreal troubadours put on a clinic. it was, simply put, unforgettable.