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The 11th Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival didn’t exactly go out with a roar at its longtime home of the Empire Polo Club, but it certainly ended with performances playful and reaching by Gorillaz and Thom Yorke along with the welcome return of indie-rock heroes Pavement.
In the past, Gorillaz have come off as a musical cartoon, the artists behind the curtain while video images fit for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim hour would fill screens. But this time, the group was out front and with friends that included Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea, the Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (in sailor suits, yet, just like the group wore), soul legend Bobby Womack and ’90s rap-pop group De La Soul, which had performed earlier in the day on the same main stage.
Frontman Damon Albarn of Blur was in high spirits as the material ran from novelty dance-club fun to a bit more serious pondering. Womack turned up for “Stylo,” off the group’s latest release, “Plastic Beach,” and also at set’s end for an acoustic “Cloud of Unknowing.” The group also offered the album’s title track, which lifts from “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” the legendary pre-rap jazz poem by another Coachella weekend performer, Gil-Scott Heron, and De La Soul joined in on “Feel Good Inc.”
There still was plenty of video imagery and sonic tricks, but Gorillaz showed it can work as a genuine live act, more party-minded than wowing, yet capturing the feel of much of Sunday in particular at the festival.
Debuting his new solo-oriented band Atoms for Peace (billed on fliers as Thom Yorke) on the “smaller” Outdoor Stage, the Radiohead frontman drew an audience as massive as any of the previous days’ top acts, delivering numbers from his 2006 solo album, “The Eraser.” Most of the material was off-center, rhythmic and probing, though anchored by his piano or guitar. He dedicated the song “Atoms for Peace” to Pavement and also offered up versions of Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” and an acoustic take on “Airbag.”
Pavement, reunited after a decade apart, played on the main stage just before Yorke. Still a bunch of regular guys — no star turns here, thank you — they are sharp musicians and skillful songwriters. Frontman Stephen Malkmus has played the festival in the past with his band the Jicks, so if he found the large stage daunting, it didn’t really show.
The superb hour-plus set included such still-winning tunes as “Shady Lane,” “Summer Babe” and “Cut Your Hair,” hook-enriched and bolstered by guitar workouts. The irony is that Pavement was ahead of the radio-programming learning curve and never received the airplay garnered by those that followed.
The band was focused and tight but might have even come off stronger on a smaller stage or even in one of the tents, as Pavement actually drew fewer by the thousands than Phoenix over on the outdoor stage, looking as though it’s surely the next big thing.
An enthusiastic audience included Jay-Z and wife Beyonce with entourage, checking things out from just behind a mass of photographers in front of the stage, as the group kicked off with “Lisztomania” from its album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”
The French band is another group making the jump after a previous Coachella spot. Its surging power-pop is uplifting and filled with celebration, and the masses filled half the field for one of the weekend’s largest crowds.
Other main stage appearances in the evening included semi-jammers Spoon and New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo, while the Outdoor Stage featured the alt-rock bursts of Sunny Day Real Estate and the tranquil and soothing falsetto-carried pop of Jonsi, just right for sundown.
In the Mohave Tent, the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas was very rock star, holding court as fans packed in and chanted his name before he took the stage. In the midafternoon, Mute Math’s electronic-dapped rock held sway as well.
An expected early-evening performance by Sly Stone was delayed, and he didn’t appear until much later that night. The set was said to be chaotic, though some raved about seeing the soul music icon. Other standouts in the tent included the R&B shots of Florence and the Machine and the quite-inviting pop blend of Mayer Hawthorne and the County, all in suits despite the day’s heat.
In the dance world of the Sahara tent, highlights included Orbital, Infected Mushroom and the touted Glitch Mob.
The Doo Lab’s continuous dance party on the field with water hoses cooling off revelers during the day looked more like spring break, but the sheer wacky joy radiating in an around the area — with anything-goes dancing, Slip ‘N Slides and plenty of smiles — summed up this final day of Coachella 2010 quite well.
Venue: Empire Polo Field, Indio, Calif. (Sunday, April 18)
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