The Life and Times of Evil E: Wagner vs. Coachella


a special event by Else Duff and Kasey Bomber

Last week had some red letter days for music lovers of all stripe.  Your faithful and generally misanthropic correspondents, Evil E and Kasey Bomber are here to report from both sides of the musical spectrum.  While Evil E rubbed elbows with the opera cognocenti, Kasey braved a sea of fanny packs and body odor in the hot Coachella sun to bring you, loyal Fierce & Nerdy readers, all the news from both fronts, so that you can feel as though you were there.  Can the unlikely duo of a Wagner Opera and an Indie Music Festival make beautiful love, or are the two destined to remain mortal enemies (albeit probably too weak and artsy to actually ever draw blood)?  Which cornucopia of aural extravagance will win in a sonic battle royale? Below, we pit them mano-a-mano, head-to-head, bulging codpiece to pale pigeon chest…you get the idea.

laopera VS. fannypacksdrink


Wagner: Die Walküre is the second of the four music dramas which make up Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Die Walküre is an epic tale of gods and mortals, incest, and it includes Wagner’s best-known piece “The Ride of the Valkyries.”  It took Wagner 26 years to create the Ring Cycle and it first premiered in the United States in 1885 – 124 years later and it finally made its way to Los Angeles!  When done in its entirety the Ring Cycle will last 15 hours, a feat I have always dreamed of experiencing.  However the LA Opera chose to run it in its separate parts over the period of a year. The first part, Das Rheingold, was staged earlier this year and they will conclude the Ring cycle with Seigfried and Gotterdammerung in 2010.  I’m most excited about seeing Gotterdammerung, however I felt like I had waited long enough to experience the Ring Cycle and really didn’t want to wait until 2010 to see part of it.  Being that I couldn’t afford to attend both Das Rheingold and Die Walküre – I picked Die Walküre based on a recommendation from my dad. Plus it turned out that Placido Domingo would be performing the part of Siegmund during certain nights of Die Walküre. Dude!  Frickn’ Placido Domingo!

Coachella: The self-proclaimed ultimate indie music festival celebrates its tenth year at the Empire Polo Fields in Indo, California.  115 bands of various pedigree vie for your attention on 5 stages for three days, nestled in a beautiful grassy valley surrounded by palm trees and mountains.  Because I hate people in general, and especially when they crowd my personal body bubble, I negotiated with my girlfriend that we would go Friday only.  Headliners for the day were the highly contested Paul McCartney (wags say: a member of the Beatles is the farthest thing from indie imaginable), the venerable indie stalwart Morissey, Franz Ferdinand, and the incomparable Leonard Cohen.  Earlier acts ran the gamut from the Mexican Institute of Sound, Beirut, the Ting Tings, Crystal Castles, the Hold Steady, et al.


Wagner: I remember being a little girl and my dad watching Wagner’s Ring Cycle on TV. However, staring at that small screen I didn’t quite get it.  It wasn’t until I saw Wagner’s music used in movies on the big screen that I finally fell in love.  I’ll never forget watching the final scene in the movie Excalibur, as King Arthur is being taken away to Avalon by the three queens; Wagner’s noble and tragic sounding “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Gotterdammerung brought me to tears.  And who can forget the scene in Apocalypse Now as Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” is being blasted out of helicopters as they drop napalm.  However I always felt there was something missing not being able to hear the music performed live.  I was overjoyed to learn of the L.A. Opera’s decision to bring the Ring Cycle to life and couldn’t wait to experience it.

Coachella: Because my girlfriend made me.


Wagner: 90 bucks each for orchestra ring.
Coachella: 125 bucks each for general admission


Wagner: I did a little research before the performance, which included reading reviews of the opera, trying to make sure I would understand the story, and of course printing out a map to the parking lot of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Knowing that the opera would be nearly 5 hours long, I made sure not to drink too much water because you never know if you can beat the crowds to the bathroom during intermission.

Coachella: Packing list.  Sunglasses?  Check.  Sunscreen?  Check.  Empty bottle for free water? Check.  Printed out directions? Check.  Set Times?  Check.  Wait 1 hour in line at the local Enterprise to rent a bright red Ford Focus with a spoiler?  Check.  Repeated mantras that you WILL have fun, you WILL have fun?  Yes, indeed.


Wagner: My devoted husband
Coachella: My bafflingly eager and spunky, but adorable girlfriend


kaseybomberWagner: A night at the opera brings visions of elaborate gowns, top hats, and monocles.  In reality it’s an opportunity to don the formal wear you had to buy for your cousin’s wedding or wear that overpriced scarf you picked up at a sample sale because everything was a size 2 and you didn’t want to leave empty handed.  Knowing that we would be seated for such a long time I chose comfortable but dressy striped pants, a black shirt, a velvet jacket, and I complemented the outfit with a Tarina Tarantino beaded skull necklace and, of course, my Coach purse.

Coachella: Oh, the usual light tank tops and short pants with the requisite hoodies for the cooler desert evening.  But really, it was all about the accessories.  In this case, those being some vodka filled Ziploc baggies stuffed snugly in each bra cup.  This serves two very functional purposes: 1. deepens cleavage.  2.  helps to avoid those pesky $6 billion cocktails.


Wagner: A death crawl from Hollywood to Downtown that never exceeded 7mph.  Took an hour fifteen.

Coachella: A swift jaunt from Los Feliz to Indio = @2hours.  A two mile lurching from the freeway exit to parking lot 5 = @2hours and several calls to a suicide hotline.


outsideoperaWagner: $8, and ten minutes of driving down, down, down the music center parking lot.  Really someone should paint it like Dante’s Inferno – Hey honey did we park on the Purgatory level or Limbo??

Coachella: Vast, flat lots aswirl with dust devils, and later mired in leaked port-a-potties.  But, score!  They’re FREE!  Lot 5, oddly enough, also contained a team of ticket scalpers running around like bandits with bandanas over the lower half of their faces to combat the dust.  One knocked on my window just as I was fashioning one side of my makeshift alcoholic waterbra, but when we waved off that we didn’t have extra tickets, he pulled off his bandana and asked if I used to live in Dallas.  Turns out it was one of my close friends from high school that I met when I used to study at the Waffle House.  He was a cook, and my friend Tran and I used to like to watch his butt when he scattered, smothered, and covered.  Later, he was party to a very scary escape, lugging a passed-out Tran away from a Hell’s Angels’ birthday party after one of the bikers fell, hit his head and started having Vietnam War flashbacks.  I hadn’t seen this guy in 16 years.  We’re having drinks next week.


Wagner: Wagner fans were out in force and while much of the crowd was considerably older, younger fans were definitely in attendance. I saw without a doubt the cutest old man ever:  black leather pants, a walker, and a grin that went ear to ear.  I also saw my first Opera hipsters, guys with too much hair gel, black striped pants, velvet jackets….. uh wait a minute. And of course lots and lots of scarves.  However, fear not the scarf-less!  You can pick one up at the L.A. Opera gift store along with a minaudiere that I believe is supposed to resemble some sort of waterfowl.

fannypacksdrinkCoachella: The last time I went to Coachella (which I vowed would indeed be the last time I went to Coachella), some friends and I invented a drinking game based on the crowd.  It was called Fanny Pack, Hairy Back, Phony Rack (as in fake tits).  Anytime you saw any of those things, you had to drink.  There were lots of those things.  Lots and lots of those things.  This time, however, there was a general increase in fanny packs, and a marked dearth of hairy backs.  Shockingly, all the guys running around with their shirts off were pretty entitled to do so given their lean sunkissed physiques.  However, those clothed did not disappoint with some truly baffling fashion (see photo).  Also, my girlfriend and I made fast friends with an older Latin gentleman named Gilbert when we were crushed in the Sahara Tent trying to watch the Ting Tings, and some Hollywood wannabe girls tried to muscle their bulimic cadavers past us.  Gilbert simply said, “Sorry girlie, nowhere for you to go.”  And proceeded to block their, and every other interloper’s way from getting in front of us.  He was glorious.


Wagner: Took 2 days to get the smell of old lady perfume out of my head.

Coachella: Believe it or not, despite the heat and dust, everything remained relatively fresh in most areas of the festival.  The smell of the food was enticing.  The smell near the port-a-potties in the apex of the sun, however, was about what you would expect.  And during the walk, there were times when the polo stables let rip a nice ripe cloud of horse manure.


mysterybreadsandwichWagner: Half a turkey sandwich on some funky designer bread and way too much mayo: $4.50; plastic glass of Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whisky on the rocks: $10; bottle of water:  $3; really yummy cookie: $2.

Coachella: Really awesome crispy garlic fries with all kinds of stuff to dip them in: $6.  Slice of pizza: $6.  Two frozen lemonades to receive the gift of bra vodka: $5 each.  Two little cups of Heinekin: $7 each.



Wagner: Coffee and cough drops (suggested limit 2 – however it was based on the honor system.)

Coachella: Parking, Playstation games, water (this was a huge score), some CD samplers, a brief lesson on how to be a DJ.


Wagner: The performance had two 20-minute intermissions.  But the bathrooms were small and the minute the lights came on, the race was on.  While the bathrooms were clean and stocked, the most important thing was getting there in time to be able to actually use them.  Please note that no elderly people were harmed or knocked over in the rush to the bathroom, however I might have scared a couple.

Coachella: On the one hand, I’ll give the festival organizers credit for providing plenty of port-a-potties so that there were never any really awful lines to use one.  However, as you would expect, these toilets adhered to what I’ve decided is the cosmic rule for the port-o-let.  I call it Principle Number Two – wherein, no matter how early in the day you catch one of these things, you are 100% sure to find diarrhea floating on the top of the tank.  You are also 100% guaranteed to look in said tank before hovering precariously over the rim.


Wagner: As the first act began I was instantly enchanted since parts of the music reminded me of elements of “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Gotterdammerung. There has been much controversy about the Opera’s staging by German artist Achim Freyer. Hey, the man actually used light sabers!  At times I found the staging to be a distraction, whether it was because I couldn’t figure out why there was a gnome-like creature suddenly wandering around or if certain Valkyries were supposed to have their light sabers off or if they just couldn’t figure how to turn them on; however, I totally dug a big old Residents style eyeball overlooking the stage and well come on – light sabers rule!

I was blown away by Placido Domingo, don’t get me wrong everyone was really good, but you can definitely understand what all the fuss is about. At 68-years-old, Domingo’s voice is phenomenal capturing strength and weakness, arrogance and humility sometimes in what seemed to be the same breath.  And then there was Brunnhilde and the Valkyries who just left me breathless.

I guess if I had one complaint about the performance, it’s that it just wasn’t loud enough, perhaps because I fell in love with Wagner’s music on the big screen and am used to hearing it blasted (literally by helicopters.)  I think whether you are a fan of classical music or rock, then you know L.A. audiences can run pretty cold.  When I saw La Boheme, the guy in front of me was asleep and snoring. During the intermission of The Black Rider, half the crowd left.  Considering that neither of those productions were nearly as long as Die Walkure, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  But the L.A. Opera fans hung in there and at the end there was 10 minutes of standing applause and I w as definitely clapping as loud as I could.

Coachella: Overall, I seemed to see bits and pieces of a lot of bands, and in most cases didn’t feel too inclined to battle the crush in order to get closer.  The above-mentioned Ting Tings, though they went on 20 minutes late, put on a spirited and fun set that I really enjoyed.  Beirut sounded wonderful with their pretty and strange gypsy music.  Franz Ferdinand and Morrissey both put on strong shows as well.  At one point Morrissey ripped his sweaty shirt off, and I have to admit that for a former wisp of a man, he’s looking pretty beefily enticing at age 50.

My least favorite thing about this day at Coachella was the over-abundance of DJs passing themselves off as actual musical acts.  I really just don’t see what’s so awesome about watching Felix da Housecat play Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” followed by a record of his own, followed by a record of Daft Punk.  Big flipping deal.  He’s not even making eye contact with the crowd.  Same goes for NASA, who at least tried to spice it up with some dancers (but still failed).

I missed Crystal Castles, so I can’t give that one a review.  All of these folks I like in my headphones, but I don’t need to battle a stampede just to see them smoke a cigarette while twiddling knobs.

Highlight of the day hands down was Leonard Cohen.  He was as mesmerizing in the back of the audience as he was in the front; His voice sounded impeccable, his backing musicians were very skilled, and he sang almost everything you’d ever want to hear him sing.  I danced a little with my girlfriend, and both of us almost started crying.  Okay, so what if we were a little drunk by this time?

Paul McCartney did indeed make for a strange choice for an indie festival as a headliner. With each passing year, he looks and talks more and more like an old doddering lesbian, but I will admit that I have to give him a tentative thumbs up for at least playing almost the entire Wings “Band on the Run” album.