Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Coachella Festival #2 review: Day 2 (evening)

My review originally appeared in the OC Register. 
Photos by Kelly Swift, unless indicated. 

Having been to a dozen previous editions of Coachella, I know you can always be assured of seeing people in some of the most outlandish attire around. That's especially true near the expanded Sahara tent, where everyone writhes to their heart's content to EDM music.

I spotted two guys in green head-to-toe "Morph Suits" there who could've easily sprung from a superhero flick. Another young man wore an apron emblazoned with an image of Michelangelo's David.
New Order used similar artwork on the cover of their great 1989 album Technique, but didn't play anything from it during a solid Saturday performance that ended at 1 a.m.

Instead, the influential Manchester synth-pop band's set in the packed Mojave tent mostly focused on earlier material like "Bizarre Love Triangle" (during which leader Bernard Sumner shuffled around), "True Faith" (prefaced by a newish intro) and dance floor classic "Blue Monday" (ambience provided by two scantily clad fans invited onstage to shimmy about).

Battling minor sound glitches throughout, Sumner complained a few times about the high decibel levels floating all the way over from Phoenix's set. Maybe he was also irked about being stuck in Mojave when they played the main stage here last time around, ahead of Nine Inch Nails in 2005.

New Order started off with a rocking "Crystal," with an accompanying video about a pseudo band, where the Killers got their name, shown on a backdrop. It was one of many dazzling images evoking different phases of the band's career.

Highlights among their nearly 90-minute show included a melancholy "Regret," the melodica-infused "Your Silent Face" (with some regal synth lines by recent returnee Gillian Gilbert), the epic display of musicianship in "The Perfect Kiss" and standard encores of Joy Division's "Atmosphere" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart." 

(Founding bassist Peter Hook sure was missed on those last two and his replacement Tom Chapman seemed to over-compensate at times, as if to say "look at me!").

Preceding New Order on the same stage was Franz Ferdinand (pictured, left). The Scots' brand of angular guitar rock was just plain incendiary, the best performance of the day by far – 50 minutes that went by in a flash.

Road-testing a handful of strong new material for a forthcoming album, they also played to a capacity crowd, albeit a little wilder one.

Gregarious frontman Alex Kapranos probably broke a record for mentioning the name Coachella the most times. He and fellow guitarist and backing singer Nick McCarthy and the rest of the band tore through faves "This Fire," "Take Me Out," "No U Girls," "Do You Want To?" and "Ulysses" with a vengeance.

Best of the new lot was the dance-rock-leaning track "Can't Stop Feeling," incorporating the instantly recognizable Giorgio Moroder synth line from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."

One of the festival's most anticipated acts as was the Postal Service, previously a studio-only entity. The indie electronic act's lone album, Give Up, went platinum, is one of the most successful in Sub Pop Records' history and just came out in a deluxe 10th Anniversary reissue edition.

Over on the main stage, the foursome delivered a thoroughly enchanting set, characterized by Ben Gibbard's introspective lyrics and Jimmy Tamborello's melancholy soundscapes. Until seeing them live, I hadn't realized Gibbard played drums as well as guitar and piano. 

A luxurious handling of "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," the magical aura of "We Will Become Silhouettes," the plangent "Sleeping In" (where Gibbard and singer Jenny Lewis played electric guitar facing each other) and the atmospheric calm of "Recycled Air" made the strongest mark in the wide open expanse at the Empire Polo Club. 

British outfit The Selecter was only active in its original early '80s incarnation for a few years, but the ska band later became a pioneer for women in the genre that had a direct influence on both local successes No Doubt and Save Ferris. 

Pauline Black (pictured, left) has led her version of the group for several years now and they just put out the album String Theory.

The tight eight-piece ensemble drew a moderate crowd to the Gobi tent and provided streamlined support for Black's still rich and soulful pipes.

Key examples? The feisty calling card "Too Much Pressure" (plenty of skanking going on for that one), "Missing Words," the trilling vocals of "On My Radio" and "Train to Skaville."

Totally fun.

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