Reunions were the major theme of the three-day Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which wrapped up its ninth year Sunday as one of the world’s premiere music gatherings.
Despite scorching 100-plus-degree heat, more than 180,000 people from around the world attended the festival, which brought together long-dormant Rage Against the Machine, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Happy Mondays and Crowded House for performances. But it was hardly a nostalgic affair, as political overtones ran through a number of sets, and new bands such as Sweden’s Peter, Bjorn and John, and Puerto Rico’s Yeva established themselves as newcomers to be reckoned with.
Here are some highlights, and a few disappointments, from the front lines of this weekend musical mecca in the desert ...
It was difficult not to shudder as psychedelic-rock pioneer Roky Erickson screamed the blues in songs rife with devils, beasts and ghosts—much like the ones that plagued him through decades of mental illness. Yet the Texas artist sounded in fine form as his remarkable comeback continued.
Yeva, a nine-piece band from San Juan, proved there’s still life in the rock en espanol movement by pouring on the polyrhythmic groove while horns brayed and guitars slashed—a volatile blend of finesse and ferocity.
Best political rabble-rousing
Tie, between El-P, the Brooklyn rapper who channeled the anxiety of post-9/11 New York into a performance that was alternately hard-hitting and chilling, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, in a solo set as the Nighwatchman. “Songs like this, days likes this ... are a reaction against illicit and immoral wars ... torture, and the rollback of civil liberties,” Morello said during a set heavy on protest songs.
Perry Farrell and the Coup’s Boots Riley joined Morello for a rousing version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” focusing on the song’s lesser-known protest verses. These transformed the song from a declaration into a challenge, one that questions just whose land it really is, and why.
Actress Scarlett Johansson somehow got the call to sing backing harmonies with the Jesus and Mary Chain on “Just Like Honey,” and ended up flubbing the assignment.
Coolest anti-fashion statement
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings looked ready to step onto the stage of the Grand Ol’ Opry in their matching rhinestone outfits. They further enhanced the vintage Nashville mood with a sassy version of the Johnny and June Carter Cash hit “Jackson.”
Song of the weekend
The Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and John performed “Young Folks,” a melody that swept through the Internet last year and has been used in several television ads and shows. Each component of the song was loudly cheered as it was introduced: the trip-hop beat, the bubbling bass line, the co-ed harmonies and, best of all, the whistled melody line.
Set of the weekend
LCD Soundsystem stole the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ thunder in dueling sets on Saturday night. LCD received the wildest crowd response of the festival—that is, until Rage Against the Machine’s closing-night performance—with a meld of mirror-ball beats, rock dynamics and emotionally intense lyricism that belied singer-producer James Murphy’s reputation as a wiseguy.
Most disappointing set
Perry Farrell could run for mayor of Los Angeles and have a fighting chance, but his new band, Satellite Party, is nothing special. The songs paled next to “Stop,” which was the one Jane’s Addiction song performed.
A tossup between whatever that was Bjork plopped atop her head (some kind of magic mushroom, with dangling roots?) and the towering beehive hairdo sported by U.K. singer Amy Winehouse.
Tourism run amok
Winehouse, again. She’s got a terrific voice, but her slavish homages to Motown, Memphis, Jamaica and other `60s and `70s centers of soul music left one wondering if she was little better than a karaoke act.