INDIO, California — Leave it to the least likely star to grace the Coachella headlining stage to best sum up 2010′s festival.
“I wanna be forever young,” [artist id="1236911"]Beyoncé[/artist] sang as fireworks erupted Friday, helping husband [artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist] close his much-anticipated set.
Not only was there a cavalcade of age-defying acts among the three day festival’s 100-some performers, it was often the over-40 club delivering the most commanding sets, Jigga Man included.
Before Jay powered through more than 30 songs on Friday, super group [artist id="3207883"]Them Crooked Vultures[/artist] (featuring [artist id="986"]Foo Fighter[/artist] Dave Grohl, [artist id="993"]Led Zeppelin’s[/artist] John Paul Jones and [artist id="503135"]Queens of the Stone Age’s[/artist] Josh Homme) and Street Sweeper Social Club (starring [artist id="1010"]Rage Against the Machine[/artist]/ Audioslave guitar hero Tom Morello) both won over large crowds — not with familiar songs, but with sheer performance flair. Ditto [artist id="1452174"]Thom Yorke[/artist], [artist id="745"]Faith No More[/artist], [artist id="85"]Devo[/artist], the Specials, a reunited [artist id="1005"]Pavement[/artist] and many more throughout the weekend.
Even Coachella itself has improved with age. Now in its 11th year, the festival set attendance records, selling out 75,000 three-day passes. (Single-day tickets were not available for the first time ever.)
Because flights were grounded overseas due to the ash cloud created by the volcanic eruption in Iceland, seven bands missed Coachella, including the Cribs and Frightened Rabbit, as well as Phoenix’s light tech. “So, we’re just gonna go simple and make it about the music,” Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars said, before deftly staying true to that promise.
Also absent was Dr. Dre, who was widely rumored to guest during Jay-Z’s set. Actually, with the exception of Beyoncé and his own 10-piece band, Hova had no guests, a bit surprising considering the tall order at hand as the festival’s first hip-hop headliner. Instead, Jay relied on his own swagger and arsenal of hits, beginning with “Run This Town” and ending with, of course, “Encore.”
As California first lady Maria Shriver enjoyed the set next to Beyoncé and Hayden Panettiere, video screens showed President Obama doing the “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” gesture.
After cheering from the sidelines (and enjoying a cold beer), Beyoncé took the stage with a giant smile and a punk-rock T-shirt with the Never Mind the Bullocks logo (perhaps a nod to Sex Pistol Johnny Lydon, whose Public Image Limited was playing at the next stage over).
Jay, who entered by rising from a platform below the stage, hardly played a song in its entirety and could have done more for this crowd with his rock-leaning songs like “99 Problems.” At Glastonbury in 2008, after Noel Gallagher said there was no place for hip-hop at the festival, Jay opened with Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” His DJ played that song at Coachella too, but it felt out of place in the middle of his set and without context.
As has been his habit at concerts lately, Jay gave several shout-outs to specific crowd members. “To the guy who looks like The Situation,” he said to much laughter. It was a genuine, raw moment the set needed.
It was Saturday’s headliner, Muse, who clearly delivered the best performance, giving a master class in energizing an audience, beginning with a rollicking “Uprising.” And just to ensure that every single person sang along to the epic tune, the words flashed behind them as singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy hit each one. Heck, the band’s light and pyro show was worthy of its own Coachella slot.
Bellamy borrowed from the best throughout the 90-minute set, windmilling around the stage like Pete Townsend and picking through the national anthem like Jimi Hendrix. (The Brit also wore an American flag shirt to go along.) He even paid tribute to big band, a genre memorialized across Palm Springs, by crooning Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” from a clear grand piano.
Coachella’s best cover actually came from Faith No More, whose Mike Patton took the stage in a red leisure suit and cane, and sang a deadpan rendition of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” with the fitting chorus, “Reunited and it feels so good.” Somehow the song blended right in among classics like “We Care a Lot” and “Epic.” It was difficult to hear their hard-fueled rock and not think of all the bands they influenced, from System of a Down to Incubus, whose Brandon Boyd was spotted backstage.
Gorillaz headlined Sunday and got off to a good start with a video of an animated Snoop Dogg introducing the band, who appeared in the flesh. Damon Albarn was in prime vocal form, but the show lacked the visual excitement expected of the group. The animated members rarely appeared, let alone as holograms or anything else. Bonus points, however, for bringing on some real guests, including De La Soul, members of the Clash and Bobby Womack, who sings on the new single “Stylo.”
Headlining Sunday’s second stage was Thom Yorke, who showcased his own super group, Atoms for Peace, which includes Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Beck drummer Joey Waronker and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. The virtuosos made Yorke’s solo record The Eraser their playground, inflicting jittery beats and funky bass grooves all over the singer’s wide-ranging vocals.
At first the blue-haired Flea looked almost bored, but he quickly got into the show, dancing with Yorke, or whatever you call the shaking they did many times through the 90-minute set. For an encore, Yorke returned solo and played a new song on which he layered his own vocals with looping pedals. Then he treated his fanboy audience (which included Jay-Z and Russell Simmons) to a couple of Radiohead tunes, including “Everything in Its Right Place.”
Also playing late, although not intentionally, was Sly Stone, who in perfect Sly fashion, missed his 7 p.m. slot, showed up 40 minutes late to his rescheduled 10:30 slot, and then performed what could only be described as a train wreck. He ranted for 10 minutes about his old manager, stopped songs midway through, forgetting lyrics, and abruptly jumped off the stage and left. Axl Rose has got nothing on this guy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were Matt & Kim, the band happiest to be playing Coachella, or at least the one who showed it the most. The duo recounted their favorite memories from the weekend (“Beyoncé gave me goose bumps,” Matt said), shared manscaping tips and had their very own streaker (“Hooray for that man’s penis!” Matt cheered). And the music was just as entertaining, like when the drum (Kim) and keys (Matt) duo broke into “Apache” during the middle of their awesome single “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare.” They also pounded ferociously through Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2.”
Other Sunday stand-outs included French sensation Phoenix, who gathered one of the largest crowds of the weekend and whipped them into a frenzy from the opening “Listomania” to the closing “1901″ and everything in between. Spoon had the most sing-alongs, but it was Yo La Tengo and Pavement who educated the main stage audience on alternative rock’s roots, while Sunny Day Real Estate, featuring Foo Fighters Nate Mendel on bass, reminded the second stage of emo’s origins.
Julian Casablancas ignored the desert heat and donned a black leather jacket for a set that included both solo and Strokes material, while Miike Snow took the stage in matching black suits and white masks, looking like a scene out of a Stanley Kubrick movie, and kinda sounding like one too.
On Saturday, maybe it was that Muse and Faith No More were so good, but the highly anticipated MGMT and Dead Weather sets seemed to fall flat. Both acts waited until mid-show to play their best-known material, which can be risky when there are four other stages going at the same time.
Coheed & Cambria are not exactly hit-makers, but the MTV March Madness champions are performers and proved the perfect warm-up for FNM and Muse. For their closing, the Rush-inspired rockers brought out members of the USC marching band, adding to an already full sound.
Band of Skulls turned in a break-out set, putting a more radio-friendly spin on blues rock. Think Wolfmother or the Black Keys meets Blink-182. Other Saturday afternoon highlights included perennial partiers the Gossip (who were also remixed later in the 2 Many DJs set) and Australian newcomers the Temper Trap, whose “Sweet Disposition” was one of those perfect hot Coachella afternoon anthems.
Friday’s show-stealers were Them Crooked Vultures and Street Sweeper Social Club, the former fronted by Indio’s own Josh Homme, who mixed some subtly humorous banter in with his guitar shredding. While introducing the band, for instance, he said “and on pretty much everything, John Paul f—ing Jones!” The Zeppelin legend played mostly bass, but opened the show on a stand-up electric slide guitar contraption, and later took to the piano for a beautiful interlude (a nice smoke break for Homme). Grohl’s drumming was ferocious from the first beat, a reminder of what Kurt Cobain saw in him years ago. The dude just loves to rock out and it shows.
Similarly, Tom Morello was on fire throughout Street Sweeper Social Club’s 5 p.m. set, soloing on nearly every song, pumping his fist like he meant it and leading the charge on a masterful re-creation of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” Boots Riley could be a slightly better MC, but the band still brings something special live.
LCD Soundsystem are a special live act too, but fell a little short by playing several new songs and saving the favorites for the end. Vampire Weekend followed a similar strategy, but what hurt them most was a 10 p.m. set time. Late afternoon would have been a much better fit for their sun-soaked, eclectic song collection.
She & Him had that slot instead and owned it with a breezy, relaxed set. For an actress, Zooey Deschanel could have a little more stage presence, but her voice is angelic like Jenny Lewis, who has fit in nicely at past Coachellas.
Friday’s breakout act was Sleigh Bells, a Brooklyn duo featuring Derek Miller’s metal riffs and firecracker Alexis Krauss’ rhymes over sampled beats. Sounds odd and very 1999, but it’s infectious and fun.
And finally a special shout-out to DJ Lance Rock, who not only spun the kids’ songs from his show, “Yo Gabba Gabba,” but also brought along all his friends from the show. Forget Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens; Kristen Stewart, John Mayer or Katy Perry. Forget Paris Hilton, Kate Bosworth and Mischa Barton. The biggest celebrities at the fest were the felt favorites Muno, Broobee and Foofa.
Were you at Coachella? Share your own reviews of the fest in the comments below!