INDIO, California — One played tender melodic rock, the other fierce industrial metal, but at the heart of Coachella’s headliners was the same thing: a man with a piano and something to say.
On paper, Coldplay and Nine Inch Nails, who topped Saturday and Sunday’s lineups respectively, represent the wide diversity that is the Coachella Valley Music Festival. However, when it came to their performances, both bands drew from deep emotions for sets that, despite the massive setting, felt intensely intimate. Whether it’s “Yellow” or “Hurt,” there’s just something profoundly personal about a piano solo under the stars.
While new parent Chris Martin clearly had love and happiness on his mind (one of their new songs is even titled “Love”), Trent Reznor’s song selections stuck to his signature declarations of hatred (at himself and others) and isolation. “Don’t you f—ing know what you are?” he screamed over and over during one new track.
Now in its sixth year, Coachella has mastered the recipe for the perfect weekend festival: enough buzz bands to fill a season of “The O.C.,” a couple of chart-toppers and a pinch of under-the-radar show-stealers to perform for 22 hours over two days on five stages. All this and not one stage named after a corporate sponsor.
With attendance back to about 50,000 per day (last year topped 60,000) and temperatures 20 degrees below 2004’s scorching 100-degree days, navigating the five stages was much more bearable, although there was still the juggling act of trying to catch all the anticipated shows. It’s not easy when the Bravery, the Futureheads and Tegan and Sara are playing simultaneously, but here at MTV News, we did our best. Here are some highlights:
- “I know, it’s cheesy,” Coldplay’s Chris Martin told the largest assembled audience of the weekend at Saturday’s end after changing “And it was called yellow” to “And it was Coachella” during the band’s breakthrough hit. Martin also called himself ugly, apologized for rambling and asked, “I know we’re foreigners, but will you give us a chance?” Maybe the sleepers in the back made him insecure (hey, it was almost midnight), but the thunderous roars for both their old and new songs and the constant flicking of camera flashes had to have been ego-boosting. Coldplay previewed several new tunes, including the heart-tugging ” ’Til Kingdom Come,” which Martin said was written for Johnny Cash.
- Wait, is that Trent Reznor in white? Perhaps symbolic of the new, sober man behind Nine Inch Nails? Regardless, he shed the shirt for a black tank top after a few tunes, around the same time the band really got going with Pretty Hate Machine anthem “Terrible Lies.” Reznor, whose new band tore into its instruments like untamed beasts, mixed favorites such as “Piggy” and “Closer” with the heavier tracks from the upcoming With Teeth, including the title track and “You Know What You Are?” For the finale, the sweat-covered singer marched through “Hurt,” “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole,” the best of Nails’ three eras.
- The Arcade Fire, one of the biggest buzz bands of the weekend, appeared to live up to the hype as the Outdoor Theatre crowd pogoed for most of the group’s high-energy set. Singer Win Butler has a rock-star persona similar to Conor Oberst (whose Bright Eyes played later), but the fun was in watching the rest of the band, whose various members not only switched instruments constantly but also screamed every lyric, climbed the rafters, banged on everything in sight and wrestled each other to the ground.
- Snow Patrol, Keane and Wilco drew surprising numbers to the Coachella stage Saturday, but it was Weezer who brought the hits. The band played radio single after radio single, and the audience sang along “just like Buddy Holly.”
- Not only did several bands inspired by New Order and Joy Division perform — among them the Secret Machines, the Bravery and Bloc Party — but so did New Order themselves. They dusted off “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle,” as well as JD’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
- Filling in for the Cocteau Twins (who backed out of their reunion) were reunited legends of a different genre. Performing as Black Star for the first time in years, Mos Def and Talib Kweli rose to the difficulty of following Nine Inch Nails by bringing out the festival’s only surprise guest, Common, for his “Get By” and the Black Star collabo “Respiration.”
- With the wall of sound from the Raveonettes on the Coachella Stage echoing beside him, British jazz crooner Jamie Cullum literally stomped on his piano keys to lure in curious early arrivers Saturday afternoon. Although he wondered aloud what he was doing there (“I’m playing Cole Porter at a rock festival!”), Cullum answered his own question with a set every bit as rock and roll — in spirit at least — as the other piano men on the bill. For his closer, Cullum delivered his cover of Radiohead’s “High and Dry,” ambitiously adding audience participation, some piano freestyling and a drum solo he played standing while his drummer kept the beat on the same kit.
- Later Saturday on the Outdoor Theatre, after shirtless Razorlight singer Johnny Borrell channeled Iggy Pop in a blistering set that blended infectious rock with politically charged punk, Rilo Kiley stole alt-country fans on their way to see Wilco by beginning with their single “It’s a Hit.” Singer Jenny Lewis, one of only a few females performing at Coachella, and her angelic, pitch-perfect voice proved a soothing soundtrack to the desert sunset, especially on the sexy “love song” (her words) “I Never.”
- Sunday had its own angelic voice on the Outdoor Theatre in Jem. The British singer played “They,” “Wish I” and other sunny tracks from Finally Woken for her early afternoon show, as well as covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster” and Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” “I don’t know if this is PC to say here, but I did this song when I was the wedding band on ’The O.C.,’ ” Jem said with a smile. “Oh, come on, it’s a guilty pleasure.”
- In the Sahara tent, which was definitely the spot for the techno heads fiendin’ for a rave, UNKLE stole the show Saturday with a set that ended with a remix of the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” followed by U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
- While Kasabian whipped the Mojave tent into a frenzy for a solid hour Sunday afternoon, a crowd spilling out of the nearby Gobi tent caught Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. After she ended her set with the single “Galang,” the crowd’s screaming brought her for a rare Coachella encore, a freestyle to the beat of Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’.” Earlier that afternoon, M.I.A.’s DJ and boyfriend, Diplo, dropped tongues in the Sahara tent by working in mash-ups of Outkast with the Cure and Ying Yang Twins with the Bangles into his set of Brazilian hip-hop.
- It was all worth it for the goth kids (and there were many) who sweated out hours of desert heat in their black PVC pants, mesh shirts and black lipstick when Bauhaus took the main stage Saturday (oddly, in between Weezer and Coldplay). Singer Peter Murphy, in shocking bleach-blond hair, took the stage by being lowered upside-down on a wire, while the band took care of its biggest hit, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”
- Although not spotted together, ’NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez both took in Coachella. JT and girlfriend Cameron Diaz mingled in the VIP area before joining Gwyneth Paltrow on the side of Coldplay’s stage. Meanwhile, Chasez was seen checking out a DJ set from Perry Farrell, the only artist to perform at all six Coachellas. Chloë Sevigny, Danny Masterson and Danny DeVito were also seen around the festival.
- A star is traditionally born at each Coachella, and while Rilo Kiley’s Lewis and the Arcade Fire’s Butler are this year’s frontrunners, 2005 saw the festival’s first actual birth: Although it took place at a nearby hospital, a woman went into labor at the festival on Saturday afternoon.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.