Music Reviews

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Empire Polo Field, Indio, Calif.
Sunday, April 29


Rage on, it's a political feeling. The tone was set all weekend for Sunday night's fierce reunion of Rage Against the Machine that closed out the third and final day of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.

Each day, a row of antiwar, anti-Bush booths had been handing out literature while encouraging concertgoers to join their mailing lists. Indeed, the group's reformation seems less musically motivated and more a rallying point to galvanize a political community and rouse them to further action.

Taking the stage for their first performance together in seven years, vocalist-rapper Zack de la Rocha spit out heated vitriol while guitarist Tom Morello issued clanging metallic riffs and drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford brought the rest of the noise as the quartet kicked off with "Testify" and never let up.

The band was relentless and yes, didactic lyrically, the slamming salvo of call-to-arms protests including "Guerrilla Radio" and "Killing in the Name." Clearly, in the current political climate, the group's late-'90s work is more topical and potent than ever.

But the sad irony is that some hard-core Rage fans seemed more about the blistering pummel than social ideals and had little interest in what turned out to be perhaps the most varied lineup of the three-day event.

While also political at times -- and vocal about it, taking shots at Bush -- Manu Chao was still much more about celebration, its Latin rock rich in flowing rhythms and joyous vocal cries. Many in the audience got the message and danced along, especially women.

Drawing massive crowds at the secondary Outdoor Theatre were sonic landscapers Air and romantic fatalist Damien Rice, with his usual tension-and-release introspection and cathartic howls. The melodramatic, sneering rock of Placebo was dynamic and supple, with Britain's Kaiser Chiefs' ramshackle run more cheeky but engaging.

It was quite a sight around sunset to see alternative music fans singing along with Willie Nelson -- who was celebrating his 74th birthday -- during "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."

Just earlier, the crowd delighted in the funk/soul/hip-hop stew of the Roots, featuring all sorts of covers, including Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida," Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" and some Dick Dale surf guitar for "Apache" with rapping on top of it. The group also protested the Iraq War, transitioning from a take on "The Star-Spangled Banner" into Dylan's "Masters of War."

The impressionist Explosions in the Sky let loose with few bomb bursts but was mostly the stuff after afternoon grass naps, with the temperature down a few degrees from the first two days and light winds blowing.

Other notable reunions Sunday included Crowded House, whose mellow pop may have been better suited for daytime than the band's night slot on the main stage, and Happy Mondays, who brought their slinky Manchester dance-pop sound of the early '90s to the Sahara Tent.

Among the assorted delights of the day in the Gobi and Mojave tents were the stirring flamenco-acoustic metal of Rodrigo y Gabriela; boisterous London nu ravers the Klaxons, beating the hype as a little juggernaut-that-could like punks crashing a dance club; saucy U.K. chart darling Lily Allen and her playful ska-ragamuffin party; the acoustic-based folk blues of Amos Lee; and the U.K.'s sharp-rocking Kooks.

The wacky award goes to the Teddybears, a bunch of guys playing consciously cheesy pop-rock wearing giant bear heads while the video screen showed them in film parodies of "This Is Spinal Tap," "Aliens" and "Easy Rider," among others.

For those who sought options other than Rage's weighty thunder, there was the bubblegrunge of the recently re-formed Lemonheads or the swirling trance band Infected Mushroom.

In fact, one of day's early main-stage bands, the Feeling, might have been the ultimate cheery yin to headliner Rage's angry, dark yang. The group's blissful sunshine pop even included a version of the Buggles' ditty "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Most of all, Sunday truly lived up to the festival's promise. By just circling the field throughout the day, hitting the various stages, one could experience a remarkable array of sounds, styles and often gifted artistry, fulfilling Coachella's vision of infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
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