INDIO, California — Approximately 100 hours of music was performed at Coachella over the weekend (12 hours times five stages times two days minus set changes), yet the desert festival’s 2006 edition will likely be remembered for two 30-minute flashes.
That’s because, whether it’s technically accurate to say so or not, this was the year Coachella went commercial, with pop superstars Kanye West and Madonna invited to the hipster kids’ party. (Dozens of commercially successful bands, from Rage Against the Machine in 1999 to Coldplay in 2005, have played Coachella, but this was different, hence the “Madonna Killed Coachella” T-shirts seen around.)
And with Kanye and Madonna came a beautiful oddness tailor-made for a festival that prides itself on eclecticism. (Icelandic weirdos Sigur Rós followed Kanye, for example, while metal weirdos Coheed & Cambria started seconds after Madonna finished in the next tent over.) Unfortunately, it also brought along a few elements typical of a commercial concert: Both were about 20 minutes late, a Coachella rarity, and both were also rather sassy, although it played out well during their respective shows.
Kanye, seemingly frustrated by his late start, picked up his set list and crossed off songs, although it might have been his best move as he left nothing but hit singles, from “Touch the Sky” to “Jesus Walks.” In introducing “Gold Digger,” he boasted, “The Grammys got it wrong: This was the Song of the Year.”
And later in the song, the rapper, sporting a Miles Davis T-shirt, encouraged a sing-along by joking, “White people, this is your only chance to say n—a, so you better take advantage of it.”
While Kanye hit the main stage on Saturday, Madonna took the Sahara tent, so the question going into her highly anticipated 8 p.m. show (by far the biggest crowd the “dance” tent has ever seen) was whether it would be a hits set or something for the ravers.
Madonna went the latter route, opening with the same performance of “Hung Up” she did at the Grammys (giant disco ball and all), followed by two more tracks from 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor: “Get Together” and “I Love New York.” Perhaps it was the song choices or the volume, which seemed about half as loud as Paul Oakenfold’s set just before, but the crowd started dispersing early, even though no act was on the main stage.
Maybe Madonna noticed or maybe she was just being herself, but the sass came out in comments like, “Do not throw water on my stage, mother——s” and “Does my ass look nice?”
Madonna, who danced seductively, played guitar on a few tracks and added the line “Just go to Texas and suck George Bush’s d—” into “I Love New York,” got some energy going with “Ray of Light,” and earned her loudest cheers of the night when she asked: “Do you want to hear an old song?” (After which she asked, “Should I take my pants off?” and proceeded to do so.) The feather boa she donned indicated it might be “Material Girl,” but she instead went with her very first single, “Everybody.”
As the track came to an end, a curtain closed on Madonna and her dancers, leaving the crowd collectively wondering, “Is that it?”
It was, for Madonna at least. So it’s a good thing there was another 99 hours of music. And here are a few highlights:
- Kanye and Madonna were all the talk, but the festival’s headliners were actually Depeche Mode and Tool, and both seemingly left their massive audiences thrilled. Depeche front-ended their set with newer, slower material, but those who stuck around were treated to hits like “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.” Tool, on the other hand, came out fighting with “Stinkfist” (and frontman Maynard Keenan saying, “Hello, hippies”) and plowed through their best-known material, with a few new tracks included. Unlike past years, where some headliners have struggled with filling the giant venue sonically, both Depeche and Tool were near pitch-perfect.
- Several acts came out of lengthy hiatuses for Coachella (Tool, Massive Attack, etc.), but the most welcomed back were Daft Punk, who played for a near-Madonna-size crowd at the Sahara tent to close out Saturday. Dressed as robots and perched in a booth high above the stage, the DJs spun an electrifying techno mix (with frequent snippets of their smash “Around the World”) that made it almost impossible not to dance.
- Every Coachella features a breakthrough afternoon tent performance (last year it was Bloc Party, who graduated to the Outdoor Theater this year) and the new breakout was clearly Wolfmother. The Australian vintage rockers ripped through their Led Zeppelin-esque tracks with fervor while afroed frontman Andrew Stockdale worked the crowd with his rock poses.
- With the temperature soaring near triple digits on Sunday afternoon, Matisyahu took the main stage and delivered a spiritual, reggae-fied show fit for the occasion. “It’s divine intervention that I’m here in the desert today,” the Hasidic rapper said. “This is the time in the Jewish calendar when the Jews traveled the desert for 49 days.” Matis also rocked the mic with some serious beatboxing and achieved the Coachella sing-along moment when he closed with “King Without a Crown” (sorry, Kanye), which recalled a similar vibe to Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley singing his dad’s “Exodus” and “Could You Be Loved” the night before.
- If you don’t count their secret club show Friday in Los Angeles, Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse debuted their Gnarls Barkley project Sunday, despite what the former said from the stage. “Gnarls Barkley couldn’t be here, so we’re going to play their songs,” he joked. “We’re called Mean Old Lion and the Hearts.” The joke was a reference to their stage attire, which was inspired by “The Wizard of Oz” with the band as witches, singers as Dorothy and Scarecrow, and Cee-Lo as the Lion. Gnarls could have come out dressed as James Blunt, though, as it was their funked-out soul tunes that turned the crowd, well, “Crazy.”
- A few special guests hit Coachella stages, from Cocteau Twins singer Liz Fraser joining Massive Attack on “Teardrop” to No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont joining laid-back rocker Matt Costa, to some girl in the crowd grinding with Common. The weirder, slightly familiar faces were in the audience, though, including Josh Groban, “American Idol” finalist Lisa Tucker, “Project Runway” finalist Santino Rice, Danny DeVito (enjoying Daft Punk), Nicky Hilton, Nicole Richie and Linkin Park’s Brad Delson.
- Once again, the U.K. served Coachella a smorgasbord of sweet stuff, including the unique grime sounds of firecracker Lady Sovereign, the sexy saxophone rock of the Zutons, the dance-rock perfection of Franz Ferdinand and the feel-good jingles of the Go! Team. Non-exported highlights included New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Stellastarr*, Montreal’s Wolf Parade and Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket.
- Despite the mid-afternoon heat, mainstage standouts the Walkmen still donned their trademark suits, with singer Hamilton Leithauser in a khaki getup. “It was either this or black corduroy,” he said backstage. “This is all I packed.”
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.