The Most Relevant Coachella Performance You Probably Missed: Ezra Furman

By Kyle Heise

The first Youtube comment reads “It was hot and early in the day...”  And I’m sure it was. Now, I didn’t attend the festival held in the desert out in Indio, but I can imagine the hardcore festival go-ers were not up early to see San Francisco-via-Chicago transplant Ezra Furman give the most relevant monologue of the festival. Angled shots of the crowd confirm the scant attendance. But that doesn’t stop Ezra, a gender fluid punk rocker dressed in a black dress,  pearls and hot red lipstick, from dropping some very real and apparent truths towards the beginning of his set. Furman began speaking “isn’t this a joyful kind of music” as the drums kicked in to his strident track “Tell ‘Em All to Go to Hell”, adding “it’s about frustration, I’d say.” The saxophone began tooting and Furman drizzled into riffing across the stage.

As the song breaks down into heavy breathing and what Furman describes as a “good B-flat rhythm,” Furman unloaded a heartfelt monologue to the crowd. He prefaced by dedicating the song to the parent company of Coachella, AEG, and its owner Philip Anschutz. Coachella is owned by Golden Voice, who is owned by major conglomerate AEG, Anschutz Entertainment Group. What followed was a scathingly powerful, yet very real truth about Coachella and consumerism.

What many people overlook in regards to the festival’s past is that its roots began in 1993 as a free concert put on by Pearl Jam against the service charges added on top of regular ticket prices by Ticketmaster. Following a public tussle, the band opted to play far out in the desert for free rather than play in LA proper and subject their fans to the service fees. Fast forward over two decades laters Now the festival is one of the most corporatized events in California each year; Hollywood loves to hire and pay people to attend to help market themselves. It’s almost less about the music and more about taking a sweaty and delirious photo in the desert. The festival even went full corporate minion in 2012 by spreading the festival over two weekends under the guise of better attendee experience. Safe to say, profit margins drove that decision.

And money does drive our society, says Furman in his attack against his “main man” Anschutz. Furman begins by explaining Anschutz is the “son of an oil tycoon, oil tycoon himself” and describes him as a complicated man who is “big proponent of wind energy” and has dabbled in “highly invasive” oil exploits. Easy to see that Furman recognizes power in Anschutz and his role in the Establishment. Furman belts that Anschutz “sues towns” that refuse to allow him to frack in there and paints a powerful image of Anschutz’ ambitions. But Furman also hints at knowing the history of the festival and how money (or in Pearl Jam’s case lack of it) can make a statement.

Furman, himself, a member of the LGBT+ community, revealed Anschutz donates wildly to anti-LGBT+ causes and far-right Christian groups. “So,” Ezra says addressing a crowd most likely in support of his side of the cause, the “triple-digits” (certainly many people spent thousands) paid to attend the festival “line billionaires pockets, do you understand?” He’s reminding the audience that they made a choice to attend the festival and are fortunate enough to have the funds to be there. In our modern consumer American society, money is speech. And Furman concurs. In turn he essentially told the audience how spending money is how we express our political beliefs in the modern society: “You do have a say in that shit,” he remarks. And it’s entirely true. So, when AEG and Anschutz or whoever the corporate tycoon is who markets products ignores “the values you [the consumer] profess to try to live by,” Furman delivers some telltale advice with just “seven little words:” Tell ‘em all to go to hell. Don’t remain silent and realize that your money can actually be used to fight back. Just like Pearl Jam decided to opt away, so can consumers. I don’t think Furman is suggesting people skip attendance of the festival. On the contrary, I think he is just reminding people of the matrix in which money is entangled these days and that your money can be speech in regards to many contemporary issues. As if we didn’t realize, Furman reminds us midway through his monologue: “It’s protest music.” Yes indeed, Ezra: you tell ‘em; keep telling us all the truths we need to hear.