Every festival, even one as determinedly diverse as Coachella, develops some underlying motif, a way of organizing the massive buffet of sounds and images. Early in Sunday’s lineup, Canadian collective Broken Social Scene provided the theme, ending a set by telling the crowd, “It’s all been done before. You make it original.” It’s hard to argue with the first part, especially when the Cure is headlining; it was the bands who tried to make things original who provided the day’s most enjoyable sets.
And if there was a band that could be legitimately called sui generis, it’s the Flaming Lips. Band’s blissed-out, celebratory show, filled with dancing furry animals and video projections, is ready-made for a festival, and frontman Wayne Coyne took full advantage of the possibilities, starting off the Lips’ set in a giant, clear plastic bubble and being rolled off the stage into the aud. At times it made for a lovely, uplifting image as Coyne looked to be walking just above the crowd’s outstretched hands, only to roll around flat on his back moments later.
It was like the Lips in a nut-shell — a band unafraid to stand on the precipice between awe-inspiring and goofy and accept the results either way. Now a full band, the Lips rely less on backing tapes, giving the perf a relaxed, giddy energy.
The Lips was followed by the Cure, a band moody even under the best of circumstances, and Sunday was not one of Robert Smith’s better showings. Listless and enervated, his perf stood in stark contrast to the Pixies’ triumph the night before. But then Smith is burdened by having a new album to flog, and the four songs previewed Sunday night didn’t impress.
Older songs, such as “Fascination Street” and “Charlotte Sometimes,” were slowed and stretched out, losing their fizzy appeal in the process. Only during the encore did the Cure pull out the hits, but it was too little, too late, and the crowd headed for the exit in a steady stream.
If the Cure provided dull punctuation to Coachella, there was still plenty of good music to be heard. The aforementioned Broken Social Scene surged along on thickly strummed guitars, with lightness and genuine sweetness to its songs. BSS even belied its name by uniting a couple as a band member proposed to his girlfriend from the stage.
Basement Jaxx had no other ambition but to get the outdoor stage crowd up on its feet and dancing. “Get Your Club On,” Jaxx insisted, as bits of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and “50 Cent” spun into propulsive loops.
Belle & Sebastian’s breezy pop often sounds like an old-fashioned summer hit, and not even sound problems could dampen the Glasgow band’s high spirits. British rapper Dizzee Rascal impressed with his hard-edged dancehall flow and 2Many DJs delivered jaunty dance rhythms.
At the start of the day, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra’s James Brown/Fela grooves had a political edge, and Sidestepper ended the night in the Gobi tent with some driving Afro-Cuban vibes.
Cooper Temple Clause and the Sleepy Jackson both favored raveups over songs, although the latter’s broad take made a better impression than the former’s wobbly shambles.
Bright Eyes also was something of a shambles, but for fans of the Omaha band, the unvarnished nature of Connor Oberst’s songs is proof of their authenticity. To the unconverted, through, tunes sound like journal entries and the band’s cluttered arrangements make the whole project come off as a lumpy first draft by a talented if undisciplined per-former. But Oberst at last sounds like himself.
Outside the studio and multiplex, the French band Air is Pink-ish Floyd. For a band that has experienced much of its success in the soundtrack world, the set’s lack of a strong visual aspect was puzzling. Muse comes off as a butch Queen, stripped of Freddie Mercury’s feyness and pumped up on steroids. While almost totally lacking in taste or restraint, it’s a sound that should appeal to modern rock radio.