Waking up from a generous two hours of sleep on Sunday didn’t really do wonders for my outlook on the day, and it was obvious from the moment I entered back onto the festival grounds that a lot of people felt the same way. The whole vibe on Sunday was entirely different from the rest of the festival, a feeling of comedown shaded with “I can’t believe this is almost over.” It was sort of depressing, but the lineup more than made up with it with more of my favorite bands than either of the two previous days.
I first proceeded to the Sahara to see English dubstep producer Rusko, despite my earlier promise that I couldn’t handle any more wobble in my life. Rusko has always been more accessible than the darker dubstep that many of his countrymen prefer, injecting elements of house and dance with an upbeat sound that had the mid-afternoon crowd shaking off any Tiesto hangover they might have brought along. Following that I hustled over to the Outdoor Stage to see a bit of Deerhunter’s trippy live act, a frenetic set unfortunately marred by numerous technical difficulties. Bradford Cox’s unveiling of a new Deerhunter song that name-dropped “Coachella 2010” in the chorus was the clear winner amongst the crowd.
Florence and the Machine had the Gobi tent packed far past capacity by the time the redheaded songstress finally made it on stage fifteen minutes past her scheduled 4:15 start time and damn, can she sing! She was totally into the crowd from the beginning, beckoning them to sing along and thoroughly dominating the stage with her presence and that Voice. Her light duet with Nathan Willett from Cold War Kids, playing their song “Hospital Beds,” was one of the odder couplings of the festival. The band fairly paled in comparison – on tracks like “Dog Days Are Over” and “Kiss With A Fist,” Welch practically drowned them out, particularly the weak guitar tone. It was a shame in what could have been a flawless performance, but Welch’s fiery pipes more than made up for it.
Despite it’s ridiculous lineup, Sunday had the most set conflicts of any day, causing me to make several difficult choices, resulting in me missing Yo La Tengo, Julian Casablancas, and Miike Snow (who I heard lit up the Mojave with an electrifying DJ set that remixed the majority of their self-titled to great effect) for Florence, Jonsi, Spoon, and Phoenix. The Sigur Ros frontman was his normal ethereal self, performing his extremely well received Go album to a relaxed, picnicking audience at the Outdoor Stage. His voice translates quite smoothly to a live venue, and his ability to hold incredible falsetto notes carried well past the stage grounds. While some of the sounds by necessity had to be pre-recorded and played without the benefit of a full orchestra, the five songs I caught were uplifting, especially the swelling optimism of “Boy Lilikoi.”
I had to skip the latter half of Jonsi’s set to catch Spoon, who was performing on the main stage at sunset. The band fairly reeked of cool, strutting onstage and launching into the jagged “Is Love Forever?” with precision and intense focus. Britt Daniels had one of the best frontman presences of the entire festival, and his ripping work on the guitar was ridiculous on the main stage speaker system. Highlights included the furious “Don’t Make Me A Target,” Bradford Cox’s guest spot on “Who Makes Your Money,” and the bouncy “Rhthm and Soul,” which featured a full horn section.
My only regret was not being able to see the band close with “Underdog,” because French indie rockers Phoenix were scheduled to go on shortly after seven on the Outdoor Stage. Although the group’s light technicians were stranded overseas thanks to the Iceland volcano eruption, frontman Thomas Mars promised that “tonight would be all about the music,” and they followed through admirably. The band sound exactly as they do on their record – in other words, they killed it, especially journeyman drummer Thomas Hedlund and Mars, who jumped into the crowd at several points and seemed overjoyed to be playing in front of what was easily the Outdoor Stage’s largest crowd of the weekend. Nearly every song was a hit with the audience, who seemed to know the word to every song and relished the extended buildup the band gave the “Love Like A Sunset” suite. The one-two punch of “Rome” and “1901,” meanwhile, was perhaps the best of the entire weekend, creating an almost rave-like atmosphere with “Rome”’s shimmering guitars and “1901”’s pile driving beat. Numerous people I talked to later on said Phoenix might have put on the show of the weekend.
I caught a bit of seminal ‘90s rockers Pavement at the main stage shortly afterwards, where Stephen Malkmus and company seemed content to relive the glory days of their past by rocking out full throttle in the present. They sounded like they hadn’t lost a step, a feeling aided by the crowd, who seemed to be Pavement diehards to a man and sang along at every opportunity. As a rollicking cut of “Cut Your Hair” closed out the set, Malkmus’ declaration that “we’re happy to see you too” had every Pavement fan practically drooling onto the grass.
Having just missed British electro diva Little Boots and her seizure-inducing light show at the Gobi, I decided to check out Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who was closing out the Outdoor Stage at nine o’clock sharp. He didn’t disappoint, mostly straying away from any Radiohead songs until the end of his set and performing most of his solo record, The Eraser, to great effect. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers unexpected cameo brought a whole new groove-rock dimension to the songs, which just as often meandered into refreshing jams as Yorke kept things focused on his distinctive vocals and masterful keyboards. It was initially shocking to see such seemingly opposed musicians collaborate, but the result was something surreal, something the crowd almost immediately realized: something truly special.
Plenty of people remarked that Yorke and Flea should have closed Coachella itself, as Gorillaz were more of a disappointment than a revelation in the coveted closing slot Sunday night. They certainly knew how to put on a show – an entire symphonic string section backed up frontman Damon Albarn, along with soul singer Bobby Womack, two members of the Clash, and a kaleidoscopic series of videos matching each song in their set. Most of the songs were from their newest effort Plastic Beach, although the best received song of the evening didn’t arrive until the end, when everyone launched into “Clint Eastwood.” There was nothing inherently wrong with the performance, just a feeling that Gorillaz’s chill vibe was not up to closing down such an epic weekend. They would have been far more suited for another headlining night, where their unique spectacle could have been appreciated for just what it was instead of being compared to the superior acts that came before. Of course, maybe everyone was just too damn tired to really get into it.
But it was impossible to be disappointed with Coachella, which once again lived up to its billing as king of American music festivals. You can argue who was good, who was merely okay, who disappointed, but it’s all relative – Coachella is an experience that can’t be judged in subjective terms but must be felt by everyone who goes. You immerse yourself in the heat and sweat and the utter lack of sobriety and come out incredulous at everything – the bands, the people, the overwhelming feel of it all. It’s been a week since I left for Indio and last weekend simultaneously feels both years ago and just the other day. I can’t fucking wait to go back.
Top 5 Sets
4. Thom Yorke
5. She & Him
Coachella by the numbers
- 75,000+ people per day
- 128 total artists
- $500 for ticket/camping pass/camping equipment/gas/food
- $75 worth of merch
- 37 bottles of water (only $2 each!)
- 9 hours of sleep
- 3 autographs (Florence Welch, Britt Daniels/Jim Eno from Spoon, Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura)
- 2 days of PCD (Post Coachella depression)