IT’S ORGANIC Cut Copy delivered the live-dance action on the Mojave stage.
"Sun's out, guns out," proclaimed a shirtless Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons late Saturday afternoon at the WFNX Sapporo House, the Phoenix's golf-resort home base for interviews and acoustic performances, about a mile from the Coachella Music & Arts Festival fairgrounds. It was a fitting declaration for the weekend, as an estimated 70,000 revelers packed the grasses of five stages across three days in near 100-degree temps, and organizers and more than 150 performers from all genres brought their musical muscle to Southern California. When the sun set each night over a serene Indio, the big-ticket guns on the schedule shone brightest.
As opposed to SXSW's aim in breaking new artists, Coachella is about the headliners who combine to define the indie and mainstream landscape. The man who walked away tallest was Kanye West, whose three-hour closing set Sunday night was an instant classic. A tireless 'Ye hit the stage via a boom crane above the crowd, traversed his deep catalogue, and announced, "This is the most important show to me since my mom passed."
Saturday night saw two of the most important acts in indie stand just as proud on the main stage. Arcade Fire's late-night set felt like The Suburbs' long-awaited public Grammys party between band and fans, augmented by giant glowing orbs (courtesy of the Creators Project) that bounced across the audience. And Mumford & Sons' eclectic folk defined a new breed of dancing summer-festival gypsy hippie while establishing Marcus Mumford as the chillest guy in music.
The next night, Mumford joined the throngs of hipsters in losing their shit to the Strokes — as a few dozen thousand folks sang "Hard To Explain," the New York garage band consolidated their immeasurable impact on the previous decade, Julian Casablancas fast becoming this generation's Lou Reed.
Opening-night star power was carried by a tight, if not overcooked, Kings of Leon, and a delayed-but-worth-it Chemical Brothers, who ripped the rave out of the smaller Sahara, Oasis, and Mojave stage tents across the grounds and boosted their electronic-dance longevity.
Of course, Coachella is also a prime slot for a rising buzz band to take that next step. NYC's Sleigh Bells brought a sonic boom to the Mojave and made crunchy white kids on drugs dance. Sultry rock duo the Kills confirmed Blood Pressures as the best album to shag to in 2011. And Crystal Castles' blitzkrieg of beats spearheaded a seizure-inducing LED light show that propelled animated muppet vixen screamer Alice Glass deep into the crowd.
Unannounced guests popped up too: Pharrell joined Odd Future on Friday, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig saxed up Chromeo on Sunday, and the National were joined by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who would later accompany West on stage. Other tweet-able moments: an irritated and tardy Cee-Lo Green throwing a fit under the sweltering 5 pm heat, cutting his set short and dedicating "Fuck You" to Coachella (classy!); Aussie's Cut Copy delivering an organic live dance set at Mojave (shiny!); and Sir Paul McCartney making jaws drop as he strolled through the VIP tent. The Beatle was later spotted behind the decks with Dutch DJ Afrojack (seriously!).
Saturday also saw an explosive 40 minutes from reunited Britpop kickstarters Suede, who didn't mind pitting androgynous '90 glam against beat conquerors Paul Van Dyk and Animal Collective, or the dance-hungry kids in general. "We're not trying to compete with Crystal Castles or Foals, it's a whole different thing," said Suede's Brett Anderson. "When you get on stage and the energy is there, it's just about the raw power of a live band."
At Coachella 2011, that power was everywhere.