Far from being a repeat of the recent Woodstock disaster, the ambitious two-day Coachella Music & Arts Festival, held in a 78-acre, palm tree-lined field on the outskirts of the California desert city of Indio, was by most accounts a rewarding success for all involved, with only the extreme heat and modest first-day attendance putting a damper on the festivities.
The eclectic musical lineup — hosted on two stages and three big, steamy tents — was the big payoff for Angelenos who made the 2-1/2-hour drive, as well as for the attendees, who reportedly came from more than 40 U.S. states. The added features of plentiful water and shade, the bounty of arts and crafts vendors and free ample parking made the event complete.
Saturday’s lineup included stand-out performances from Beck (who previewed his upcoming new album), the Chemical Brothers, the mysterious Morrissey (who offered a few Smiths songs), Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell and electronic champs Underworld
While it drew only about half-capacity, day two drew a sell-out, mostly motivated by the enticing double-headlining bill of Tool and Rage Against the Machine, L.A. bands long connected by friendship and their explosive music.
Sunday crowd was slow to fully gather as the long day unfolded, with the likes of hip-hop acts Spearhead, Ugly Duckling and Jurassic 5 working the second stage in temperatures above 100 degrees.
Trip-hop and moody dance music was provided by Lamb, Esthero and New York techno ace Moby, who had to compete with Rage, which was simultaneously playing on the large stage.
Under the large white tents, DJ sets from such notables as former Beastie Boys collaborator Mix Master Mike, LTJ Bukem, Autechre and DJ Q-Bert, among a host of others, created wild and sweaty grooves that held some of the kids indoors dancing for most of the day.
Singer-guitarist Ben Harper and his Innocent Criminals were among the musical highlights of the day. Harper played an hour’s worth of blues and roots-flavored rock songs — including some from his new Virgin Records album — while seated with his guitar on his lap, manipulating a series of foot pedals for smoldering effect.
Thoughtful college rock heroes Pavement were a bit out of place on the mainstage playing to a bunch of impatient Rage and Tool fans, compounded by singer Stephen Malkmus’s sore throat. “If I was John Mellencamp or Radiohead, I would have blown this show off,” he told the barely-interested crowd. He then proceded to sing the band’s former single “Stereo” in a low-range growl that added much-needed levity to the band’s struggles.
As the sun finally set, the crowd surged forward, anticipating another strong set from Rage Against the Machine, and they got it. The political-minded metal-rap quartet (Daily Variety, Aug. 6) offered old faves like “Know Your Enemy,” featuring an appearance by Tool singer Maynard James Keenan, and “Killing In the Name,” as well as some great new songs like “Testify” and “Broken Man” that are tabbed for the band’s long-anticipated new Epic album, due in November.
Tool is slowly working on a new record, following the resolution of a lawsuit with its record company, Zoo, so the foursome didn’t play any new material.
Favorites such as “Sober,” “Forty Six & 2” and “Aenema,” from the group’s groundbreaking two older albums, were enough to drive the festival to a fevered closing pitch. Guitarist King Buzzo of the Melvins joined the band for a song by bassist Justin Chancellor’s old band Peach.
Brooding singer Keenan –covered in body paint — sang his passionate songs of cleansing and pain recalling Black Sabbath’s unrelenting groove approach. Keenan’s enveloping and chilling vocal style made for a memorable 70-minute program.