INDIO, California — If not for the palm trees and smoldering temperatures, it would've been easy to forget that the Coachella festival was in the Southern California desert.
This past weekend, Queens of the Stone Age and Ben Harper gave homecoming performances of sorts (both are from nearby towns) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson and Black Eyed Peas made the two-hour drive from Los Angeles, but for the most part it was all about England, New York and Detroit. (Click to see photos from the festival.)
From England came Blur, Johnny Marr and Primal Scream, along with the bubbling-under Libertines, the Music, South, Badly Drawn Boy, Gomez, Groove Armada and countless DJs. New York brought Saturday's headliner, a standout show from the Beastie Boys, and fellow icons Sonic Youth, along with Interpol, Fischerspooner, the Rapture and the Mooney Suzuki. There's only two of them, but the White Stripes had no problem representing Detroit's garage scene, while the Von Bondies and Whirlwind Heat were two of the most talked about breakthrough bands on the bill.
Coachella featured more than 75 acts playing on five stages over two days. Here's a rundown on some of the more memorable performances:
- The Beastie Boys took the stage Saturday without their instruments, but DJ Mix Master Mike more than made up for it with his own ill communication, tweaking every track and mixing in beats from Missy Elliott's "Work It" and Erik Sermon's "React." The trio rapped parts of at least three new tracks, all of which had the hip-hop simplicity of their latest single, the anti-war anthem "In a World Gone Mad." Mostly, though, the set was heavy on party starters — "Root Down," "Body Movin'," "So What'cha Want," "Intergalactic" and even a bit of the old gem "Brass Monkey" — a sharp contrast to Adam "MCA" Yauch's political banter between songs. "At the next election, vote anyone but Bush," he said at one point.
- Like the Beasties, the Chili Peppers focused their headlining slot on keeping the sun-drenched festival-goers on their feet. Though the band mellowed some on last year's By the Way, their hit-filled live show Sunday was as energetic as ever. Short of sporting only socks, the guys were their old selves, jumping around like caged animals, spouting random dialogue and giving it away now.
- N.E.R.D.'s one-hour set on Saturday was a bit misleading, as the first half was all Spymob, the Minneapolis rock group that doubles as N.E.R.D.'s live band, performing Police-inspired songs from their upcoming debut. When Pharrell Williams and company finally came out, they played three songs before taking a break so friend Kenna could sing his new single. For a finale, Williams brought out Kelly Osbourne and Black Eyed Peas' Will.I.Am for "Rock Star," though Osbourne proved hardly that, running offstage midway through.
- "Who here doesn't like the Hives?" singer Pelle Almqvist asked, silencing the crowd. "Who here came for the Hives?" he followed to a deafening roar. "Point taken." Obnoxious confidence is part of their shtick, but he did make a point. Both the Hives Saturday and the White Stripes Sunday drew enormous crowds curious to hear two of last year's breakthrough bands.
- In their sharp formalwear, Interpol easily rivaled the Hives for best dressed. The NYC band conjured its swanky interpretation of Joy Division, combining bleak atmosphere with pop hooks, and delivered nearly flawless renditions of songs from Turn on the Bright Light. Despite going up against the Chili Peppers, Interpol generated a large crowd that even lingered for a good while in hopes of an encore that never came.
- While "Song 2" and "Girls and Boys" generated the loudest response, Saturday's crowd was quite receptive to the moody and eclectic tracks a retooled Blur previewed from their forthcoming Think Tank. Frontman Damon Albarn dedicated a song to the late Joe Strummer during a set that mixed Think Tank tunes like the infectious "Crazy Beat" with Britpop classics like "Beetlebum."
- "Scottish people and the desert don't mix very well," Idlewild singer Roddy Woomble joked Saturday afternoon. The floppy-haired lads struggled against the sweltering heat as they began "Little Discourage" from 2000's 100 Broken Windows, but they'd found their places by the song's chorus, easing smoothly into several of the driving and emotive tunes from this year's The Remote Part and earlier tracks like "I'm a Message" and "Roseability."
- Damon Gough was dressed even more poorly for the weather, sporting the cap, beard and thick denim that have become synonymous with his Badly Drawn Boy persona. Gough, more than willing to show off his prowess with a guitar, harmonica and piano, even sang about playing Coachella. "I was told I was headlining the show," he crooned with his typical combination of wit, self-effacement and mock arrogance. "And I am, 'cause that's how I feel."
- Despite sound problems, Hot Hot Heat gave a blistering performance that brought over a herd of VIPs, including Tony Hawk and Kelly Osbourne, who were singing the catchy "Bandages" like everyone else when the show was over. The problems escalated as the night went on, and ended with the Libertines playing only two songs — not good for their first U.S. performance. Organizers squeezed them back in on Sunday so Stateside tastemakers could see the band British journalists are calling the next Strokes.
- Anyone expecting an explosion similar to their former band's musical bombast may have been disappointed by ex-At the Drive-In members Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez's set with the Mars Volta on Sunday. Latin rhythms and long percussive jams were the name of the game as Bixler's nearly Whitesnake-like falsetto soared over every hacky sack and Frisbee game on the far reaches of the field while Rodriquez split his time between barely distorted picking (with scarcely a metallic palm mute to be found) and effects-drenched noise.
- Ben Folds played only the keys in his largely improvisational set, which ended with the singer/songwriter bringing "Song for the Dumped" to a crawl and ad-libbing vulgar yet hilarious lyrics. In a similarly fun set Saturday, Ben Kweller played a little piano, too, spewing out some of the poppiest songs of the weekend.
- On Sunday, Jack White and Juliette Lewis took in an early show from bare-bones rockers the Von Bondies in the Mojave Tent. Later, Los Angeles' Rooney finally gave that stage something that sounded local, blending Beach Boys-like harmonies with Phantom Planet-like tunes (singer Robert Carmine is Jason Schwartzman's brother). And finally, Fischerspooner treated a packed tent to a theatrical show complete with choreographed routines from dancers in feather hair extensions and fishnet bodysuits. The only group that could compete with that kind of spectacle was the Blue Man Group, who closed out their visual orgy with a cover of the Who's "Baba O'Reilly."
- A legion of Smiths fans gathered to catch a glimpse of former guitarist Johnny Marr and his backup band the Healers on Sunday, with so many of them proudly rocking vintage Morrissey T-shirts and tattoos that it almost seemed as if Marr's post-Smiths work with Electronic and other artists had never happened. Despite being cut short by organizers, Marr delivered a laid-back but potent performance of swirling tunes punctuated by his smooth croon. Much-buzzed-about English upstarts the Music were even more psychedelic the night before, invoking the spirit of the Stone Roses and basking in the glow of an impressive light show.
- While a majority of the rock bands at Coachella pounded out fierce odes to the Velvet Underground and the Clash, there were a few who offered a soundtrack for enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of the venue. Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and G. Love & Special Sauce all gathered huge audiences who toasted warm beers to their blends of blues and folk.
- In the group's first performance in more than 25 years, the Stooges (with Mike Watt on bass) treated Sunday's crowd to classics like "TV Eye" and "Fun House." Even those who had no idea who the group was ("Iggy who?" a security guard near the stage asked a friend) were able to enjoy Iggy Pop's erratic stage demeanor.
- Though Ian MacKaye has been notoriously particular about when, where and how he'll be interviewed during the two decades he's run Dischord Records and played in bands like the Teen Idles, Embrace and Fugazi, the two question-and-answer sessions he submitted to at Coachella were total free-for-alls, with kids asking him about everything from straight edge to music, politics, tour stories and the time he was kicked out of Disneyland. One member of the crowd asked the 41-year-old punk icon why he was willing to appear at an expensive festival while Fugazi refuse to play shows with high door prices. "My friend Patti Smith was saying that anyone who has a chance to get in front of a microphone right now and say they're against war should do so," he replied.
- Is Dallas the next Detroit? Two of the most talked about Coachella performances came from that city's Polyphonic Spree, whose 23 members offered a truly original orchestral pop sound, and Eisley, the female-fronted rock quintet handpicked for Coldplay's summer tour.
- Coachella would not be complete without surprises, and while Radiohead rumors proved untrue, Perry Farrell did pop into the tiny Gobi Tent for a surprise DJ set that mixed house music with the kind of tropicalia he explored on his solo album. Farrell's appearance makes him the only artist to play every Coachella.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.