Drastic changes eclipse the Coachella experience

If it ain't broken, don't fix it. It's an important mantra to learn, but Paul Tollet opted to break the cardinal rule. Tollet, founder and main promoter (along with Goldenvoice) of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., decided to stray from his usual organization of the festival and took a new approach.

The popular music fest took place this past weekend, April 16-18, and was the three-day concert's eleventh year of existence. Instead of booking classic, nostalgic acts though (like Prince in ‘08 or Paul McCartney in '09), the organizers chose hip-hop superstar Jay-Z, a radical change for a festival famous for highlighting underground and rising music groups.

If that wasn't enough change, for the first time ever, organizers eliminated the option of purchasing single-day tickets, making three-day passes the only option for hopeful attendees. Tickets were replaced with wristbands, and 15,000 more people attended than last year's crowd of 60,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.

There were some obvious changes that both the concertgoers and the organizers had to adjust to, but everyone handled it well… sort of.

Granted, the artists delivered in both performances and display. Jay-Z brought out the fireworks for his finale, along with his wife, Beyoncé, to perform "Young Forever," one of the rapper's singles off his new album. On the other side of the field, critically acclaimed electronic artist Fever Ray hypnotized the crowd with lasers, tribal masks, and an overall solid performance.

The incredible visuals carried on throughout the weekend, with lasers being the main theme among the artists. Muse, the Saturday headliner, pulled all the stops on their song, "Newborn" with dozens of green lasers shooting from the stage and into the desert sky. The spectacle ended for a while but continued when the UK band played "Undisclosed Desires," their latest single.

Another artist from across the Atlantic also chose the laser route. Little Boots, an up-and-coming singer from England, did not hold back with the visuals, utilizing the lights in the majority of her songs and even whipping out a harp at one point that shot the lights upward.

Hands down, though, the greatest visual display all weekend came from Canadian DJ Deadmau5, who rocked the dance tent with an enormous vibrant platform that lit up in time with his beats. Along with the beaming contraption, the DJ's signature mouse head glowed with the help of small LED lights.

Performance-wise, most artists delivered with the exception of some. Standouts were Phoenix, Jónsi, and Grizzly Bear.

As always, Coachella had some extremely memorable moments. She & Him, a duo that includes indie actress Zooey Deschanel and singer-songwritter Matthew "M." Ward, ended their set a good fifteen minutes earlier than expected, only to come back and announce that they were told they had more time. Then, to make use of it, the two performed a genuinely great cover of "I Put a Spell on You," as the audience ate it up.

Thom Yorke stole the entire festival, however, with his rock supergroup Atoms for Peace. Yorke, lead singer of art-rock band Radiohead, surprised his crowd with two solo renditions of his original band's songs: "Airbag" and "Everything in its Right Place," making his set an instant classic among Radiohead fans in the crowd – That is, if they could hear Yorke's set from the back of the thousands and thousands of heads in the crowd.

However amazing the many bands and artists performed, what good was it if you couldn't even get inside the tent? One would expect a large audience for the headliners and popular acts like Julian Casablancas, MGMT, and Tiesto, but it feels pretty ridiculous when you're trying to weave through hundreds of hipsters and not even reach the farthest speakers.

Plus, Coachella begins to lose its magic after the fifteen-minute wait to use the bathroom after the extremely long line for food.

To continue the negativity looming over the weekend, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano decided to it was high time it erupted. The natural event ended up affecting the music festival here as several European bands cancelled their appearance.

The Coachella website announced the Cribs' cancellation on Friday, and continued announcing several cancellations on their twitter account, including artists Delphic, Bad Lieutenant, and Gary Numan.

It even affected groups that did make it to the festival. Phoenix's lead singer Thomas Mars stated at the beginning of their performance that their light director couldn't make it to the desert, so there would be no light show. Little Boots playfully asked her audience if she could stay at their place because she couldn't get home.

The air flight delays could also explain Gorillaz' quite curious performance. There were no special guests (aside from Little Dragon and De la Soul, artists who also performed during the weekend), and pre-recorded tracks abounded. It was a "like-it-or-completely-hate-it" performance by the Sunday headliner, though in the defense of Gorillaz, the entire gimmick of the group is heavily based on 3-D fictional characters. How could you not expect pre-recorded songs and videos?

There were several top-notch performances, but unfortunately, horrible organization and plain bad luck on Goldenvoice's part. As a music festival, the event was phenomenal and an incredible experience for the average concertgoer. Compared to past Coachella music festivals, 2010 was sub-par.

There is still hope, however, that perhaps Tollet and Goldenvoice will pull it together for next year and tighten the loose bolts. It's unclear whether single-day tickets will ever become available, or whether they'll reduce the crowd size and ticket sales, but like any other change, it'll just have to take some getting used to.