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After a forgettable 2010, Coachella recaptures the magic

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Coachella headliner Kanye West left the third day crowd without giving an encore performance.
Photo: Spencer Weiner

I’ve got a pair of scissors lined up with the annoying yellow and green band wrapped around my right wrist—the strip of fabric I’ve showered and slept with for three days and nights—and I find myself hesitating to cut it off. Coachella might technically have ended around midnight on Sunday, some 12 hours ago as I write this, but freeing myself from the wristband makes it so final.

It’s a good feeling, actually, one I remember from my first seven years at the SoCal music festival, when I’d drive back from Indio to Las Vegas chatting excitedly about the following year’s lineup possibilities. And then there was last year. I was barely through the door when I grabbed the first knife I saw and hacked the thing off my arm, so disgusted was I with overstuffed tents, congested walkways and inane traffic snarls. Coachella 2010 made me question whether I’d ever come back, but as I sit here staring at my sun-faded wristband, I’m glad I did.

Actually, for a couple of hours on Friday, I wasn’t so sure. Jammed roads and fenced-off parking areas foretold a bleak rerun ... and then the seas parted and order was restored. From my vantage point, the weekend was a logistical success, from quick and painless entry and egress to a noticeably smaller overall head count. A six-acre land add further reduced the crush, and the improved conditions seemed to brighten the mood overall. This was the Coachella I knew and loved.

Brett Anderson of Suede.

Brett Anderson of Suede.

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Musically, I’ve never had complaints, except when I couldn’t get near the bands I came to see last year. If anything, 2011 brought the opposite problem, with lots of acts—from seminal post-punkers Wire to once-beloved indie rockers Interpol—drawing surprisingly sparse crowds. Some, like the dancey !!! (Chk Chk Chk), playing under the searing midday sun, found fans unwilling to exchange energy. Others, like stately British singer/songwriter PJ Harvey, gleamed amid the stares of the devoted.

Friday felt a little like a warm-up, loaded with Gen-Pitchfork buzz bands: Titus Andronicus, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Warpaint, Tame Impala. Hotly tipped hip-hop mob Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) failed to hold a huge crowd in the dance tent. Lauryn Hill held it together quite well on the big stage. Electro-pop acts Cut Copy and Crystal Castles out-partied the night-closing Chemical Brothers. And Brandon Flowers staged an almost-Killers reunion, playing “Read My Mind” and “Mr. Brightside” with surprise guests Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer (paging Mr. Vannucci, Mr. Ronnie Vannucci ...).

Saturday turned out to be the best day, to my ears. The British led the charge: the day-starting, shoegazey Joy Formidable (okay, so they’re Welsh); the fun and fidgety Foals; the dramatic, slow-building Elbow; and the reunited (London) Suede, sounding fit and forceful as ever. On the main stage, Broken Social Scene chugged along unremarkably minus most of its female contingent; Erykah Badu fought through microphone problems to serve notice she might be the truest “artist” on this year’s bill; and the Arcade Fire proved itself a fest-worthy headliner, constructing a monster setlist and adding some splash by way of crane-dropped balloons that lit up and changed colors in time with the beat. As for Animal Collective, well, those hoping for My Girls & Other Hits were driven from the main stage in droves by a performance focused on unrecorded material. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, the promising new compositions or the frightened faces of the bewildered. “We came to bring the weird,” singer Avey Tare explained.

John Taylor and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran at Coachella 2011.

John Taylor and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran at Coachella 2011.

The weird stuck around to hang out on Sunday, sure to go down as one of the strangest days in Coachella’s 12-year history. OFF!, Keith Morris’ latest hardcore outfit, raged above a violent moshpit in one tent; LA’s HEALTH teetered between straight noise and danceable noise in another. Recently returned Canadian duo Death From Above 1979 bashed away angrily on the main stage, then seemed like Enya by comparison when extreme Rhode Island duo Lightning Bolt took eardrums for ransom a couple of hours later. Bodies streamed across the field at the first note of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf,” while elsewhere, Trentemøller, a full electronic band from Denmark performed behind a bamboo curtain. PJ Harvey put an end to the madness, momentarily, by bringing her sublime voice to bear amid church-clear aural conditions. And then the weird made an encore appearance, in the form of no-encore-performing fest-closer Kanye West, who arrived mid-crowd aboard a glowing hydraulic lift, naturally, flanked by dancers and fireworks. Musically? It was okay.

And then the world went quiet, leaving a dull ache in my joints and pang of sorrow in my gut. Wonder who they might get next year … my dream vote would go to Tom Waits … maybe Radiohead will come back … or could they possibly convince David Byrne to start Talking to the other Heads. Only nine months until the 2012 lineup announcement.

Snip.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is Las Vegas Weekly's Managing Editor, having previously served as Arts & Entertainment Editor, Music Editor and a ...

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