Coachella, Days 1-2 -- Concert Review

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Corrected: 4:51 p.m. PT Tuesday, April 20

After a slow start owing to traffic backups and a massive tangle at a two-fold ticket and security check-in for tens of thousands, the 11th Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was in full swing by late afternoon Friday and back to its happiest-musical-place-on-Earth status Saturday.

According to officials, 75,000 or more attended daily, and that's not counting the many thousands more working the event, plus performers, their crews, entourages and guests. At times, it felt like perhaps too many in the venue; navigating around was not easy, making it more difficult than during past years to catch a little of this and that.

Friday's headliner, Jay-Z, turned in a commanding performance backed by a 10-member band that included a drummer and percussionist, a cut-loose guitarist and a brace of horns. It was slick and flashy at times but brought to mind soul revues of old, with a contemporary cutting edge.

The rap kingpin and marketing mogul seemed touched by the crowd's enthusiasm, overwhelmed by the event -- wanting to be part of it, not above it. His set ranged from openers "Run This Town" and "Takeover" to "Hard Knock Life" and a surprise finish with a cameo from wife Beyonce for a duet on the romantic "Young Forever." While her music is as non-Coachella as it comes, it was hard to deny it was one cool festival moment. Jay-Z was cocky, he was humble and, most of all, showed he can be more, certainly onstage, than just a crafty studio hitmaker.

Equally powerful and quite epic Saturday was bill-topper Muse. The melodramatic British prog-art rock trio delved into its current album, "Resistance," and delivered such anthems as the demand of "Hysteria" and the yearning pulse of "Starlight" (attn. "Green Lantern" film-music supervisor: this song must be on your soundtrack).

Singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy played the ax hero, quoting from Hendrix several times, including Woodstock's "Star-Spangled Banner." The urgent "Time Is Running Out," one of many audience-refrain sing-alongs, brought to mind the world's recent slew of disasters, man-made and natural. A lengthy encore featured the galloping, cinematic sweep of "Knights of Cydonia," which still evokes the feel of a great, lost U.K. sci-fi TV series theme.

Muse's sound was made for arenas, stadiums and festivals, not bloated but just huge -- an awing super-massive black hole that sucks one into its gravity well of power.

Coachella's most anticipated reunion of the weekend, Faith No More, did not disappoint true believers Saturday night. The grunge-era band of the early 1990s, best known for its hit "Epic" and the sarcastic novelty number "We Care a Lot," fiercely pummeled on the main stage.

Faith was contrasted down the field by a double-shot of happy at the secondary Outdoor Stage, coming from Brit dance-beat boys Hot Chip then bouncy MGMT, which harkens to 10cc, along with a touch of Bowie, in the way the group delightfully plays with pop. The pair drew some of the night's most massive, hard-to-wade-through throngs, many in the throws of delirious abandon, though upset the group did not play its biggest hit, the roller-rinky "Kids."

Friday saw other crowd-pleasing and mark-making turns: LCD Soundsystem -- New Yorkers, Brooklyn division, just like Jay-Z -- played tribal dance-rock that had the field in front of the main stage madly dancing to lengthy jams rooted in dizzy rhythm. The heavy-duty firepower riff-slinging blues rock of the all-star Them Crooked Vultures -- featuring drummer-singer Dave Grohl, Led Zeppelin legend John Paul Jones on bass and more, singer-guitarist Josh Homme and guitarist Alain Johannes -- was mighty monstrous, living up to the hype.

There were plenty of '80s flashbacks Friday: An ever-snide Johnny Lydon with the reunited Public Image Limited appeared late into the night while Jay-Z was still on; earlier, Echo and the Bunnymen's enduring melancholy, including "The Killing Moon," had the faithful swaying at Outdoor Stage; and the ska and bluebeat of the Specials fired up the main stage during the early evening.

Other Friday highlights included an appearance by iconic pre-rap, spoken-word/jazz '70s artist Gill-Scott Heron, and massive, overflowing crowds in the Mojave and Gobi tents for Grizzly Bear and Le Roux.

Also appearing Friday were New York art-pop preppies Vampire Weekend and the dance-centric Passion Pit.

Saturday found dance-music conjurer Tiesto holding court on the main stage; post-Muse, Jack White debuting his latest project the Dead Weather, also featuring Allison Mosshart of the Kills; and in the Mojave, the band that was nerd central before it was cool, Devo, whipping things up.

Saturday stand-outs in the Gobi and Mojave tents included the soul power of the Gossip and the reverberating surf-music, girl-group and Phil Spector-styled sonics of Denmark's Raveonettes as well as the swagger of Band of Skulls. Earlier in the day, the main stage featured the alt-pop of White Rabbits and Tokyo Police Club and the down-home Americana of Old Crow Medicine Show.

Several acts were grounded in Europe, unable to fly out and play because of the volcanic ash from Iceland.

Both days, dance-minded revelers partied it up in the Sahara to the likes of Perry Farrell vs. Steve Porter, Benny Benassi, David Guetta and Z-Trip, and also gathered in the field's DoLab for what looked like a futuristic summer camp with beats.

There was all that plus new art installations that included a Buddha hologram and a Ferris wheel on the grounds, too, for a view of the enormity of it all, from oceans of surrounding parked vehicles, a vast array of erected structures and the mass of bodies. Only at Coachella, where, still, anything's possible.

Venue: Empire Polo Field, Indio, Calif. (Friday-Saturday, April 16-17)
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