Giant inflatable props, a high-tech light show, awe-inspiring pyrotechnics and a set running significantly past the two-hour mark left little room for doubt — arena rock has arrived at the typically indie-minded Coachella fest in the form of Pink Floyd bassist-songwriter Roger Waters. After Saturday’s partylike atmosphere, the ninth edition of the festival slowed down Sunday, with fewer bands on the bill, noticeably smaller crowds and slightly overcast (but still triple-digit) weather. For the most part, the day was laid-back and easygoing.
Waters delivered an hour of material from throughout his career — “Wish You Were Here,” “Perfect Sense” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” — before jumping into “Dark Side,” a program with which Waters has been touring over the last two years. Having such a big name headliner changed the normal dynamic for Coachella; two of the other four stages were dark during Waters’ bloated 150-minute set, presumably so sound leakage would not interfere with the quiet parts.
With fewer alternatives than usual, festgoers flocked to Waters in droves, while the Mojave tent was relatively empty for the stomping neo-psychedelia of Black Mountain. Normally, it’s unlikely that Chromeo, a Montreal two-piece who play minimalist electro, would be such a big draw, but with fewer stages in operation, any audience member who craved something besides rock found it only with them.
In a happy coincidence, Waters’ set-closing fireworks were launched just as French DJ duo Justice, who closed the fest in the Sahara tent, began their highly anticipated latenight performance. Bringing a rock aesthetic to their Daft Punk-inspired club music (they dress in leather jackets and perform flanked by no fewer than 18 Marshal amps), Justice proved to be a hugely popular choice for the remaining festgoers.
Louisville, Ky.’s My Morning Jacket has been steadily building a formidable arsenal of increasingly experimental country-fried rock that’s getting more and more difficult to classify. It’s easy to think of them as the only jam band that matters, but that tag is too limiting. Frontman Jim James is a vocal chameleon, going from deep, soulful growls to ear-splitting falsettos with ease. The quintet’s musical chops were in rare form Sunday, and it was an unexpected treat to see M. Ward sit in on the lengthy reggae-tinged jam “Off the Record.”
Among the better acts: Love and Rockets looked and sounded sharp; gypsy rockers Gogol Bordello combined eclectic styles (punk, metal, klezmer, reggae, hip-hop) into a cohesive whole; and Holy F*ck and Does It Offend You, Yeah? displayed winning combinations of electronic sounds and rock conventions.
Not as sharp were U.K. soul singer Duffy, who played an unremarkable set to a sparsely populated tent; Swervedriver, who came off as surprisingly dated; and Chicago rapper Kid Sister, who didn’t offer much in her abbreviated mid-afternoon set despite some obvious raw talent.