Steely Dan performed at Coachella on Friday (and will again next week), and Donald Fagen has offered to chronicle his experiences in several installations of a tour diary. The following are his words, untouched and unedited:
Friday, April 10
In the late afternoon, we drove east on Rt. 111 from Rancho Mirage to the gig. After a while, the upscale strip malls give way to gas stations, used car lots, bail bonds offices and funky-looking gyms. This is the town of Indio. The polo field that is the site of the Coachella Festival is adjacent to this town where the median family income is about $35,000. Aside from the music and the polo, one can visit a local gas station that features a brass plaque commemorating the 1991 arrest of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart for driving on the wrong side of the road in the company of a prostitute. Swaggart was once in a band with his cousins Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Good story.
After being yelled at by security (a pretty cowgirl in a pickup) for trying to get in the wrong gate, our driver finally got us to the right backstage area. I sat in a little dressing trailer listening to the ferocious roar of the air conditioning unit, wondering how long I could last in a box like this before hanging myself with the shower curtain. A few minutes later, a monstrously loud band started playing, which shook the trailer with every thump of the kick drum. Such is the touring life.
After hearing a few different bands through the open door, I noticed that many of them sounded a lot like the folk rock bands of the Sixties that were born in the wake of Bob Dylan’s electric switchover, only louder and dumber. At the silliest level, Barry McGuire came to mind. Unfortunately, none that I heard approached the elegance and originality that Roger McGuinn brought to the Dylan-inspired group, the Byrds.
Apparently, the big attractions are the EDM tents (that’s Electronic Dance Music, dad) where ravers get off to pulsing sound and lights. As with the live bands, it seems to me that the wellspring of this genre happened 40 years ago: Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s production, I Feel Love, featuring Donna Summer. Session players used to call this sort of thing a porn loop.
Climbing onto the stage in front of an ocean of souls, many dressed in retro hippie gear, I was a little nervous. I thought we played a slammin’ set, though (we could only play for an hour due to the town curfew). It happened fast and it was over. As we drove away in the dark, the illuminated, carnival-like festival grounds reminded me of the famous bit in Apocalypse Now where Lance drops acid at the Do Long bridge, where a fierce battle is raging. When Willard asks a wild-eyed soldier who’s in charge, the soldier answers: “Ain’t you?”
Tomorrow night: A show in Vegas. Cheers.