Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Coachella Festival #2 review: Day 1 (evening)

My review originally appeared in the OC Register.

Anglophiles enjoyed a wealth of musical riches as the first afternoon of Coachella Weekend 2 turned into evening.

Blur, closing on the main stage this time instead of the Stone Roses – as was the plan all along, not, as Rolling Stone initially reported, an unprecedented schedule shake-up – turned in a sharp 75-minute set.

It varied only slightly from their other appearance here, adding 1997 album cut  “Death of a Party” but nothing else from a set list that suggested more alternatives.

The Britpop band, whose ’90s albums all sold respectably in America, reunited its original lineup in 2009 (with Graham Coxon on guitar) and finally re-emerged stateside last weekend in Indio.

Bolstered by a three-piece horn section and backing vocalists on selected tracks, the quartet’s rich sound was easily heard above the din emanating from elsewhere on the grounds.

Opening with the bouncy New Wave-ish hit “Girls & Boys” and then the propulsive “There’s No Other Way” got fans amped up early. Frontman Damon Albarn (pictured left) indulged some leaps and ventured into the crowd at various points as Coxon often injected jagged guitar shards into cuts like “Out of Time” and an extended “Coffee & TV”).

British actor Phil Daniels returned for his spoken cameo on the fun, jaunty “Parklife.” A dramatic “This is a Low” and the gospel-tinged “Tender” were highlights, both conveyed with more passion than last weekend. It was easy to get swept away by the grandeur of “The Universal.” Finally, “Song 2” capped things off explosively. Overall, a welcome return.

Another U.K. group back after a long absence is the Stone Roses, who reformed last year at home. The influential foursome notched several Top 20 singles and a pair of smash albums in England during the late ’80s/early ’90s but only made minor inroads on these shores.

At Coachella, they drew less people than Blur, but their fans were more boisterous.
The set was merely satisfactory, including epic-length versions of “Fools Gold,” “Made of Stone” and “I Am the Resurrection” that mostly served as a display of John Squire’s classic rock riffs. Ian Brown’s vocals were low in the mix and he seemed perturbed that people weren’t dancing enough. Still, “This Is the One” and “She Bangs the Drums” retained their anthemic glory.

Earlier, I managed to catch the end of highly touted young U.K. folk artist Jake Bugg and was definitely impressed by “Taste It” and “Lightning Bolt.”

photo by Kelly Swift
After decades of hearing the Smiths’ guitar lines played by Morrissey’s musicians, it was a thrill to finally witness some played here by the master himself, Johnny Marr.

The packed Mojave tent was awestruck to behold great versions of “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and the spiraling “How Soon Is Now?” 

With a rose in his teeth, Marr and his crackling band started with a stomping “On the Right Thing, Right,” from brawny new solo album The Messenger. Among the other highlights were “Upstarts” and “New Town Velocity.”

Over at the Outdoor Theatre, the skittering synths on Divine Fits’ Gary Numan-esque “Salton Sea” (how very apt) immediately drew me in, and “Flaggin’ a Ride” and the downcast “Shivers” proved just as compelling. Singer/guitarist Britt Daniel dedicated the latter to Nick Launay - he produced their '12 debut, one of my picks for albums of the year - who was watching from in front. 

Palma Violets’ brand of garage-rock went down a storm before a small, yet devoted crowd in Mojave. The young London band came off like an intoxicating mix of the Walkmen, Manic Street Preachers and early Stones. Bassist/singer Alexander Jesson serves as ringleader onstage, easily garnering crowd participation. They fared best on “Best of Friends” and “14” from just-released album 180.

Yet another small but devoted audience turned out in the same tent for veteran L.A. art-rock duo Sparks. Making a rare Southern California festival showing in support of new live album Two Hands, One Mouth, the set reached all the way back to their early ’70s efforts.

The piano-and-vocal format accentuated Russell Mael’s theatrical bent and his brother Ron’s classical flourishes on “Beat the Clock,” “No. 1 Song in Heaven” and others. Some songs were even spruced up with a modern EDM sheen that could have fit in the nearby DJ-friendly Sahara tent.

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