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Coachella Day Two: Rock Around The Clock

Portis Reasons To Love You: Back from a nearly decade-long hiatus in the United States, Portishead delivered a jaw-dropping set that blended earlier material with songs prepped for their much-anticipated upcoming release, "Third." Opener "Silence" and other new tracks such as "The Rip" fared well alongside the band's previous work. "Sour Times" took on an added heft in the live setting, while other "Dummy" tracks such as "Wandering Star," "Mysterons" and "Glory Box" similarly impressed, as the band layered their trademark noir-ish instrumental strokes around singer Beth Gibbons' pleading, haunted vocals.

No set at Coachella has had better sound -- even the slightest sonic details were clearly audible to the sizable Main Stage crowd. These included exceptional snare drum hits, gorgeous Fender Rhodes and Moog organ trickles and discordant guitar cascades. Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow's instrumental arrangements dazzled, as did the band's striking multi-screen visual presentation. Layering real-time black-and-white footage of the performance with manipulated graphic effects, this element added the perfect complement to the group's spooky beauty.

Computer Blue:
We're not quite sure exactly what was happening onstage during Kraftwerk's set, or if there were even human beings on the stage at all. But the music sounded so good we didn't care. "Autobahn" and "Computer Love" were early highlights, the latter of which we're sure had more than one listener wondering why the group was ripping off Coldplay. During "Radioactivity," animated visuals of atoms and molecules danced across the screens, while a delightful first-person point-of-view film shot on a train offered the perfect accompaniment to "Trans-Europe Express." It sounded like R2D2 was making love onstage during "The Robots," even though he may have just been checking email for software upgrades. Computerized musical notes dripped over the screens like water during closer "Music Non Stop."

The Sound Of Sweating To The Oldies:
Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard looks like he's been having a shake for breakfast, lunch and a sensible dinner. Honestly though, he looks good. Now he and Seth Cohen can share the same-sized ironic t-shirts. The Seattle-based group was mostly on-target with only a few missteps during their early-evening set on the Main Stage. New single "I Will Possess Your Heart" from their upcoming "Narrow Stairs" finally won us over once we woke up from our nap during the three-minutes-too-long intro.

The band's more streamlined, melodic material fared better than their kookier, more meandering tunes from previous albums. The new record's "Long Division," as well as earlier faves "New Year," "Soul Meets Body" and "The Sound of Settling" stood out. "Why You'd Want to Live Here" proved overly peppy and less satisfying, lacking the emotional weight of the stronger material. Chris Walla added smart layers of harmonies, keyboards and guitar, despite needing desperately to unbutton his shirt's top button. It's hard to know whether to award Death Cab the Coachella High 2008 yearbook superlative for "Most Likely To Succeed" or "Most Improved." Nevertheless, the group seems to be winning over new fans with each new release for all the right reasons. Have a great summer. Don't change.

Baby, It's Bad News: The last time we saw Jenny Lewis in the Coachella Valley, she was starring opposite Fred Savage in 1989's heartwarming video game coming-of-age story "The Wizard." Sadly, her teenage chemistry with Savage proves far more potent than with any of her current bandmates in Rilo Kiley. In fact, we're pretty sure that if Lewis actually had a jock strap, no one else in the group would even be able to carry it.

The big crowd assembled for their sundown set in the Outdoor Theatre seemed content to enjoy the cooling temperatures, while gearing up for the rest of the evening. Whether it's from her acting background or not, Ms. Lewis has a strong sense of narrative, both in her songwriting and her onstage demeanor. However, her bass playing on "Dream World" and "Moneymaker" couldn't help elevate the tunes above their '70s Fleetwood Mac-homage origins. New album "Under the Black Light" seems too much a character study in California disco pastiche, rather than an authentic expression of the group's original potential. "Portions for Foxes" from 2004's "More Adventurous" offered the sole glimpse of what the band could and should be as a group. Without the emergence of more such material, we're left to simply wait for the ongoing launch of Lewis's solo career (as well as a long-overdue sequel to "The Wizard").

MGMT provided one of the few early highlights of the afternoon. During "The Handshake" and "Electric Feel," the band unleashed a noisy, intense psychedelic romp. The rabid response of the sizable Mojave Tent crowd belied the band's relatively recent emergence. The band seems tailor-made for Coachella --incorporating a wild array of dance, rock, THC and R&B influences. For closer "Kids," Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden sang together backed only by pre-recorded instrumental tracks. The band's ABBA-on-meth anthem "Time to Pretend" successfully connected with listeners both on and off the wagon.

Greatest Show On Earth: Devotchka
turned the Outdoor Theatre into a Turkish bazaar, complete with accordion, tuba, upright bass, skittish drums and acrobats. Seriously -- The Amazing Slavic Sisters (as they were introduced) twirled and tumbled as they climbed 40-foot red and black curtains hung from the stage scaffolding while wearing sequined leotards.

Kids Don't Follow: The Cold War Kids'
aggressive indie blues-rock seemed to go down harshly in the hot mid-afternoon sun. So did the fact that they chose to sing songs about being on death row, despite their middle-class Orange County backgrounds. "Hospital Beds" made good use of moody piano in crafting a more original take on the band's blues-indebted skronk. But otherwise, the band has yet to find its own worthwhile spin on the influences that it so openly mimics.

Go Back, To Those "Gold Soundz":
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks ran through a leisurely set in the Outdoor Theatre that included tracks such as "Dragonfly" and "Hopscotch Willie." Malkmus looked kind of like a scarecrow, wearing a floppy fisherman's cap. The guitar and bass seemed to be chasing each other around like an indie-rock "Tom and Jerry" cartoon, but former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss gave everything as much backbone as she could. Malkmus tossed in his usual rambling, free-associative between-song banter, much to the confusion of the audience -- many of whom were still in pre-school in the days of "Slanted and Enchanted."

Dance 'Til You Drop:
Short of climbing the rafters in the massively overcrowded Sahara Tent, Hot Chip and MIA were not to be had by festival-goers arriving late to the party. The proceedings took on a decidedly post-Spring Break vibe during the opening moments of Hot Chip's set, and nowhere else was the reefer as pungent.

April 27, 2008 in Coachella | Permalink


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