yesterday’s Jay-Z post put it, “Muse will be by far the best act all weekend, learn about something before you talk about it.” Well, I’ve just come home from seeing Muse perform, and I can say I’ve learned that the British rockers might very well be the biggest, loudest, showiest act all weekend. But the best? That’s another question. Read why after the jump – plus my full report on seven other notable acts from Saturday afternoon and evening.Several ardent fans have already pre-emptively chastised me for underrating Coachella 2010’s night two headliners. As one commenter on
Arriving on the festival grounds shortly after 4 P.M., I headed straight for the second-biggest side tent to see Beach House. Like their pals Grizzly Bear the day before, the Baltimore duo had the misfortune of being placed directly next to a clangorous dance tent. Through no fault of the band’s own, background noise threatened to obscure the qualities that make Beach House’s music so special. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, joined by a drummer, fought through this distraction admirably. “Norway” came through crystal clear, its arrangement as sparkling as the diamond-shaped objects revolving over the band’s heads. So did “Used to Be” and “Master of None,” which turned out to be pretty danceable (or at least swayable) themselves. Somewhere in there, if my ears did not deceive me, Beach House covered Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade,” taking the Atlanta rapper’s chipper chorus slow and sultry. This combination, fairly random unless you noticed the band tweeting about “Lemonade” two weeks ago, worked better than I could have imagined. According to Scally, the cover is “a work in progress.” Beach House hereby must record and release their version as soon as possible.
I meandered over to the main stage, where Tokyo Police Club was playing an afternoon set. The Ontario quartet’s presence at that top venue was mostly aspirational for now – it was still well before sunset – but they looked right at home on those big screens. Some of the new tunes they played were earnest power-pop anthems, while others had a Sonic Youth/Broken Social Scene guitar squall thing going on. Nearly all made me want to hear more. After releasing two excellent EPs in 2006 and 2007, followed by a hit-or-miss full-length in 2008, this band seems to be growing nicely into its sound. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tokyo Police Club playing the main stage after dark in a year or two’s time.
Even among admirers, the whispery nothings on the xx’s 2009 debut have a reputation for translating inconsistently to live settings. I’m sorry to say that the British trio’s second stage set did nothing to dispel this impression. In the studio, they build an often alluring atmosphere from repetitive guitar licks and low-key vocals. If a nightclub isn’t quite the right place for that sound, though, an open-air field full of jostling elbows is even less so.
Bitte Orca is a precisely composed album, too, no tangled guitar line, start-stop rhythm, or swooping vocal line out of place. The band reproduced that sound with remarkable fidelity on stage, bringing tunes like “Knotty Pine” (from the Dark Was the Night charity compilation),”Temecula Sunrise,” and the instant classic “Stillness is the Move” to vivid life. This is how it’s done. Best of all were the intertwining voices of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle. I’m a sucker for most any band that foregrounds multi-part harmonies, but the way those three sing – sharp and piercing one moment, clear and melodious the next, in and out of sync with one another – is something else.Striving to pass no judgment on the xx’s recorded output, I bowed out of their set a few minutes early to make sure I caught all of Dirty Projectors’ back in the second side tent. I’m glad I did. Last year’s breakout
In an unfortunate scheduling conflict, Corinne Bailey Rae was playing the first side tent exactly when I was spellbound next door at Dirty Projectors. On my way out, I stopped by for her final two songs, both well worth it: “Diving for Hearts,” from this year’s The Sea, and a soulful cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera.” Speaking of voices, Bailey Rae’s is extraordinary, rising like a ribbon of smoke above her backing band’s jazzy notes. Hearing her masterful delivery on those tunes made me wish I’d been able to hear everything that preceded them.
Hunger prevented me from seeing any more of the reunited Faith No More than scattered glimpses of a red-suited Mike Patton howling like a wild man and bounding around the main stage while I dined nearby. After that it was on to the second stage for MGMT, who had drawn a huge crowd. The band proceeded to tease the casual fans among them by playing a series of jittery psychedelic jaunts, drawn from their just-released left turn Congratulations and from the album tracks on 2007’s Oracular Spectacular. I happen to love this stuff, but a large portion of those present were clearly there to hear MGMT’s big electro-pop singles. When, halfway through their set, the band finally obliged with “Electric Feel” and “Time to Pretend,” the thinning audience perked up immediately. I can’t blame them – those songs are lots of fun. Still, something tells me the Congratulations cuts that so bewilder everyone the week of the album’s release are going to age even better.
I looked up from one of MGMT’s last songs to see that Muse had already taken the main stage. No delayed gratification here: Unless I missed something before dashing over, Muse opened right away with their hit “Uprising.” So began an hour and a half of trembling falsetto vocals, histrionic guitar solos, gnashing bass lines, and brutal drums. As if the music wasn’t bombastic enough, the band pulled out all the stops visually, too, barraging us with images of robot armies and colonizing the night sky with a Matrix-green laser show. Look, I understand the appeal of presenting songs like “Resistance” and “Time Is Running Out” with maximum melodrama. Many Coachella attendees seemed to be having a blast while Muse performed; I certainly don’t begrudge any of them their enjoyment. But Muse spent its entire set dialed to 11, and after a long day of listening to bands, that kind of relentless spectacle wasn’t what I needed.
At last I made my way back to the second stage for the Dead Weather, Jack White’s other other band. Sleep deprivation was starting to set in by now, but they kept me awake, all right. Lead guitarist Dean Fertita rained down mean electric licks as lead singer Alison Mosshart flailed about like she was demonically possessed and White…kept competent time behind a drum kit. I still don’t quite understand why White mostly drums in the Dead Weather when he could be singing or slinging his axe – no knock on Mosshart or Fertita, who fulfill those functions more than vigorously enough. But it undeniably upped some energy factor when White finally stepped out from his kit to sing B-side “You Just Can’t Win,” putting a vaguely gothic spin on his latter-day bluesman persona. I couldn’t help noting that the only accompaniment this band required for its performance was a pair of black-and-white video screens. Sometimes less really is more.
The night was still comparatively young, with sets from Dutch trance deity Tiesto and post-punk provocateurs Devo yet to come. I, however, was by now constitutionally incapable of rocking any further, so I cut my losses and went home to start anticipating Sunday. (Gorillaz! Thom Yorke!! Pavement!!!)
Were any of you at Coachella on day two? What were your favorite acts?
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