Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg may have crowned Sunday on the 2012 Coachella poster, but I had another main event in mind as I entered the Empire Polo Field on that last day: The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye climbed to the top of my priority list not very long after the line-up released and I came upon his website, where his three magnificent mixtapes – House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence – found heavy rotation on my iPod. Finally there was a flavor of popular R&B that didn’t bore me to death – probably thanks to the alternative nods like the Beach House samples in “The Party & The After Party” and “Loft Music,” but also with much help to the music’s rich electronic taste – like the latter section on “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls.” I was prepared to stand among the sing-along crowd and lip-synch – so that I could spare my neighbors of my sad noise.
Arriving from a superb performance by The Hives (more on this in a later installment), I found a place in the massive crowd just in time to hear “High For This” whispering out of the Outdoor Theatre. I infiltrated deeper into the crowd, hunting around hip gatherings for an elusive sound that kept bounding away no matter how much nearer I drew. I even removed my Etymotic plugs – an essential tool for any concert fanatic – something I rarely do in the presence of live music – because The Weeknd always remained a faraway sound that could not rise above the gross chatter of so many people talking about things unrelated to what was happening onstage. In fact, it felt as though I were listening to a band from one stage while they played on another stage, plenty yards away, muffled and weak.
I wanted to push my way toward the soundboard – not the stage – and shout at the technicians for allowing such a crime to happen. The general rule should probably state this: Beyond the stage’s signpost – where its set times are located – the music should be loud enough so that you cannot hear your neighbor without their shouting at your face. I mean, really, if your unprotected ears do not ring after the set, something went wrong with the volume. And I didn’t want to fight the crowd for a spot near the rail, where the sound might have been found; I just wanted to enjoy one of my highly anticipated Coachella sets in the way that I enjoyed many of the other sets that came previous to The Weeknd’s performance. Needless to say, I felt grumpy – I even became suddenly aware of a stomachache – and I miserably swayed to “The Knowing” after returning to my initial spot away from the stage, having given up on my dreams.
The real tragedy is that, in the faint murmurs of The Weeknd’s performance, I could hear hints of a wonderful set – the set I wanted. Tesfaye’s voice sounded very good, the band played well, and the setlist contained just about everything I wanted to hear; it was all just a victim of the dreaded “bad sound,” which may arguably be worse than a set falling flat because of an act giving a dismal performance – it is something that could (or should) have been prevented during sound check. And I can’t even imagine why the sound was the way it was, because I heard solid sets from the Outdoor Theatre earlier, and I could even hear Florence + The Machine when she played the same stage later – and I was practically standing at the opposite end of the polo field!
I will be writing more reports like this about my experience at Weekend #1 of Coachella 2012. Most of them will be much more positive than this account. I am not attending Weekend #2, unfortunately. (Or, fortunately; I’m dead tired.)