Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Coachella Festival 2012 review coverage: April 22

photo by Robert Kinsler
My review originally appeared at

If I could anoint a queen of Coachella’s second weekend, Florence Welch would take the festival crown. The golden-throated Englishwoman led Florence + the Machine through a transcendent final-night performance that capped the Outdoor Theatre proceedings and left fans clamoring for more.

Emerging from atop a stairwell to begin the 55-minute set in regal fashion with “Only If for a Night,” Welch commanded the stage. The first time she stood resplendently with arms outstretched and gorgeous dress blowing in the breeze, I thought: “This is rock royalty.”

Subtle gestures, vocal wails and backing singers helped elevate the chamber-pop drama of “Never Let Me Go,” “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up),” the hit single “Dog Days are Over” and the gospel-styled fervor of “Shake It Out.” The band sounded sleek throughout, and at various points their welcoming chanteuse urged female empowerment and inclusiveness (notably right before “Spectrum”).

After watching the Hives put on a blazing show at the Glass House last week, I figured it wouldn’t be hard to tear myself away from their performance on the Coachella Stage. Yet while the Swedish garage-rockers were tearing things up on the Polo Field with “Wait a Minute” – the initial single from their coming album Lex Hives – I begrudgingly left and rushed over to Mojave because Gotye was not to be missed.

The lanky Australian singer (real name Wally De Backer), currently has a No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100. As expected, the tent became a makeshift sauna and was packed like sardines. Two large inflatable balls sporting the Aussie flag bounced around the crowd.

Gotye’s inviting vocal timbre and sense of musical experimentation draws parallels to prime Peter Gabriel. Those qualities, along with striking percussive touches, a high likeability factor and animated screen projections, all equaled one brilliant set in Indio.

The mysterious “Smoke and Mirrors” (a fan request not played at the first weekend of Coachella), his emotive vocals on a billowy and propulsive “Eyes Wide Open,” the mild rocker “Easy Way Out” and the aforementioned smash “Somebody That I Used to Know” (which fans sang loudly, filling in for absent co-vocalist Kimbra) were among the sharpest selections.

Half an hour later, Beirut drew a large (though not quite as massive) audience at the same spot. Zach Condon and the group weaved indie rock and exotic world music sounds into an intriguing tapestry that encompassed his ukulele and trumpet work alongside horns, accordion and upright bass.

New Mexico resident Condon enthused about spending time in the desert over the past week to do some recording (most likely at Josh Homme’s studio). He often sang in a measured croon à la Morrissey on tracks like “Santa Fe” (off last year’s The Riptide), a mournful take on “The Shrew,” plus “Vagabond,” “Elephant Gun” and “Postcards from Italy.”

Friends have raved to me about U.K. male/female trio Band of Skulls for a couple years now. I finally saw what all the fuss was about when they totally smoked on the Coachella Stage Sunday afternoon. Their Led Zeppelin-influenced blues/rock sound was really hard-hitting for “Death by Diamonds and Pearls” as well as the chunky riffage throughout “The Devil Takes Care of His Own.”

Real Estate, a Pitchfork-approved New Jersey band in regular rotation on college radio, were extremely low-key in the Gobi tent. Still, the atmospheric keyboards and electric guitar tones on songs from their most recent album Days were mostly irresistible, coming across like a satisfactory mix of Ocean Blue and Cocteau Twins.

Out in the Gobi tent, Fanfarlo front man Simon Balthazar had a pink plastic flamingo with him onstage. Much like a pond you’d typically see housing those birds, the London-based indie pop band’s music often has a tranquil quality.

That vibe translated well during their charming early afternoon set. Sporting a pink triangle shirt, he played sax, electric guitar, dueled with a trumpeter (“Walls Are Coming Down”); Cathy Lewis switched back and forth from violin to flowery keyboards and added heavenly backing vocals. It all was very Belle and Sebastian at times.

Balthazar’s Bryan Ferry-esque pipes on selections from the new effort “Rooms Filled with Light” – especially “Lenslife” – got a good response from the moderate, relaxed crowd.

Next up on the same stage was Parisian electronic rock duo Housse de Racket, which brought to mind fellow countrymen Phoenix, albeit with a denser sonic scope. Singer/guitarist Victor Le Masue and drummer Pierre Lerouxt (both wearing matching white attire) even sang a couple songs in French. “Human Nature” and “Chateau” came across best.

No comments: