Coachella Report 09/10 – Let Us Down: Mazzy Star

I arrived at the Outdoor Theatre still buzzing with electricity from Pulp, Madness, James, and all the other Friday acts that brought Coachella to the right start, and when I arrived, Mazzy Star had already begun – though I did not miss much – so I sat down on the ground and let myself enter a more tranquil state for one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend. Finding peace proved a little difficult by then, because my legs were absolutely killing me and it was getting a little chilly. I still had my wits about me though, and I watched the performance; every now and then, standing up to look at the members on the stage. It didn’t turn out as one of the most memorable sets, but I think I’d stop myself short of saying that I disliked it. I think it is more a case that so many acts at Coachella were just very good; meanwhile, Mazzy Star was simply okay. They were what they were.

A lot of these Coachella reports have praised bands for their exciting and energetic performance; and many other acts, which I didn’t mention very much – Grouplove and Death Grips, for example – became highlights, as well, for their frenzied performances. But how do the serene acts go about creating great performances without the luxury of being able to make noise and act crazy? Would an act that creates ambient music need to change the music – in the way I described in SBTRKT’s report, only to a much greater extreme – to make a good performance? Well, I think that acts can perform their peaceful music – unchanged – and people can enjoy the sets. I think we usually bring the mindset to a concert that expects high energy, but that we have the capability to go into something and take great pleasure in silence, slow movements, and atmosphere. A lot of those elements exist in post-rock music – like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor – and they work just as well in a live setting as they do on the albums.

I’ve seen forums on the Internet that ask, “Which was the worst band at Coachella?” and there appears to be a lot of agreement on that band being Mazzy Star. As sad as that makes me feel, I’m afraid that it might be a valid response; however, it might have a lot to do with people wanting Mazzy Star to have been very good, and then being disappointed, rather than the band actually being the worst at Coachella – surely there were worse acts that many people avoided altogether. But as to why Mazzy Star was not good, I believe it was a mixture of atmosphere and the band’s excitement, because the performance itself sounded good – at least, where I was it did. Ideally, I would like to see Mazzy Star in an indoor setting; perhaps, sitting down at a table. But that cannot really be dealt with at Coachella – not without avoided Coachella altogether. What seemed bad about Mazzy Star’s set, however, was that, although there is inherent low energy in their music, the band seemed intent on taking the energy to its absolute lowest. In other words, Hope Sandoval did not look like she wanted to be there. If the band makes their audience feel like an inconvenience, then… well, the band might end up on some “worst of” lists.

Destroyer almost seemed like that at times. Dan Bejar only said, “Thanks,” every now and then; in-between singing songs and drinking his one can of Heineken. But he snuck out a few smiles and gave us some great vocal work. He seemed serious, but not ungrateful. On the other hand, Hope Sandoval was making faces. Maybe she was really cold; but if that was the case, she could have said something about it. She could have said anything about something to make us feel less like a burden. Instead, she would also say her thanks, but somehow when she said it, it felt more like she was saying, “Whatever.” But don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that she hated us – at least, I hope not. I mean, she wasn’t making a big fuss like Ariel Pink did last year – although, his anger didn’t seem directed at us as much as it was toward the sound engineers. For all I know, she was very happy to be there. The point is: The opposite is what was reflected, and what is reflected is all we have to work with.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I didn’t attend either weekend in person, but saw the 1st weekend livestreamed Mazzy performance, & have a video recording of that April 13 Mazzy performance, plus several clips of songs Coachella has uploaded to YouTube from Mazzy’s Apr. 20 set. It sounds like you would have been better off attending Mazzy’s 2nd weekend set instead, as Hope’s voice sounds in much better form on Apr. 20.
    The first weekend, Hope was off key on many notes she normally would have no trouble hitting, as evidenced by recordings of prior shows from Mazzy’s April Calif. tour where she sounds great. Coachella April 13 was just one off night for her, unfortunately.

    Her comment from the stage Apr. 13, “Where’s the bartender”, reminds me of a comment she made a few years back at a San Francisco Warm Inventions show after experiencing repeated sound problems: “I need a glass of wine!” Sound problems are one of the things that get her stressed, & she’s been known to quit the stage over them.

    So, “where’s the bartender” was perhaps her indirect way of saying she felt stressed &/or uncomfortable onstage at that moment about something(s), perhaps the cold, as you suggest. Also, she gets stage fright, & the massive sized audience may have felt intimidating.
    She also gets stressed by bright stage lights, preferring near darkness. I think the stage lights were likely too bright for her Apr. 13.
    On April 20, she reportedly made a point of requesting stage hands
    turn down the lights, & you can see from YT clips of Apr. 20 that the stage is darker, likely making her feel less stressed. And it was much warmer Apr. 20.

    Plus, on April 13 her voice was possibly stressed from her having sung in so many other shows just in the week leading up to Coachella weekend 1, & her voice may have needed a rest, which it received before weekend two, where she sounds better.

    To my ears, the band played very well in both sets. The one difference
    was Hope’s singing wasn’t quite up to par on weekend 1.
    I’d like to find an audio &/or video recording of the full Mazzy weekend 2 set, as that was best of the two, apparently.

    • That’s a great analysis. Thank you.

      I thought they played well on Weekend #1, too, despite that Hope wasn’t in top-shape (I’ll see what I can find on Weekend #2). I mean, personally, I could get past her moodiness. But I know there were people who had a bad taste in their mouth from it. The only reason the set was underwhelming for me was that it did not carry the torch so well after a string of very fantastic performances, but even at the time, I was in need of a break.


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