Last year, when Southern California's Coachella festival expanded to two identical consecutive weekends, the musicfest's participating artists were faced with a conundrum: what to do with themselves during their days off in Cali between weekends one and two? But this year, Los Angeles's KCRW solved that problem for three of Coachella's top-draw acts, when the tastemaker radio station hosted private "mini-Coachella" showcases at famed engineer/mixer Bob Clearmountain's refreshingly air-conditioned, no-sunscreen-required Apogee's Berkeley Street Studios.
Monday night, many L.A.-area music fans were still recovering from Coachella weekend one, but the lucky few who made it into Berkeley Street Studios were treated to a stellar 10-song set by British R&B/dubstep/electro auteur James Blake. James's session--his first radio session promoting his just-released sophomore album, Overgrown--included stunning covers of Feist's "Limit to Your Love" and Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," and it will air on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on April 24.
Even more special was Nick Cave's surprisingly loosey-goosey session at the studio on Thursday night. Casting aside his usual untouchable undertaker persona, a wryly smiling Nick solicited requests from the delighted intimate audience, which included Evan Dando of the Lemonheads and Z Berg of the Like/JJAMZ. Of course, Nick turned down most of the requests, but he did so in such a charming way, no one really seemed to mind. "We can play all that…but we’re not going to," he said, as fans shouted out various classic Cave song titles. "Eventually you'll say one of the songs on this very short list." When one fan asked for something off 2004's Abattoir Blues, Nick quipped, "I don't know anything off that f***ing record!"--but that retort was still met with rapturous audience laughter and applause.
The show felt more like a Bad Seeds rehearsal, as the band hashed out chords and arrangements while onstage; stopped and started new song "Wide Lovely Eyes" (for the second try, a girl in the front row held up a lyric sheet for Nick); and only played a few bars of "Breathless" before giving up and moving on. But it was all part of the thrill of being so up-close and personal with someone who usually seems so scary and intimidating. "Sometimes there are songs that just get away. That's what makes us the Bad Seeds. One in three get away--but hey, that's better than the Red Hot Chili Peppers!" said Nick, making a playful dig at his fellow Coachella Sunday main stage performers. As the crowd cheered the RHCP diss, Nick told the soundman, "Edit that [out]. They're lovely people. I meant Stone Roses!"
The Seeds' set of 12 (well, 12 and a half) songs included old favorites like "Mercy Seat," "Into My Arms," "People Ain't No Good," "God is in the House," and "Jack the Ripper," along with haunting new tracks from the band's 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away. Nick declined to have the session videotaped (maybe that's why he felt free to keep it casual), but the audio will air on "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on May 20 as the band's first proper radio session in the United States.
KCRW's Apogee spree wrapped up Friday night with college-pop prepsters Vampire Weekend, who performed songs from their forthcoming third album Modern Vampires of the City, including "Diane Young," "Step," "Unbelievers," and "Ya Hey," as well as fan faves like "Campus," "Oxford Comma," "Holiday," and "One (Blake's Got a New Face)." The band also participated in an amusingly awkward Q&A with "Morning Becomes Eclectic" DJ Jason Bentley, during which they were queried about their skills in the kitchen, in the studio...and even in the bedroom. Vampire Weekend's KCRW session will air May 15, the day after their new album's release.
James Blake, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and Vampire Weekend all return to the Indio desert this Sunday for their weekend two Coachella appearances. For full Coachella reportage, check out Yahoo! Music's 2013 Summer Music Guide.