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Six years after breaking through as a mid-afternoon buzz band in a 2005 performance widely (and rightly) heralded as the best Coachella set ever, Arcade Fire’s headlining set on Saturday night at this year’s Coachella proved that history can, indeed, repeat itself. That’s because last night the band once again delivered an hour-and-a-half masterwork, capitalizing on the success of their Album-of-the-Year Grammy-winning record “The Suburbs.” Clearly, as a headliner, they couldn’t solely coast on the kind of pure energy that was their calling card as a younger band anymore — in fact, to step it up next level, they had to have balls.
Literally. They actually had hundreds of them, which were released into the audience during the main set’s final song, the epic “Wake Up.” Launched from atop and to the sides of the stage, each sphere was the size of a beach ball — and each, somehow, was magically lit up in varying shades of blue, red and green by remote control, creating an audience-wide light show as breathtaking and all-encompassing as can be hoped for at a concert on this massive scale. Audience members held the balls aloft through the encore, beginning with the radio hit “Ready To Start” and continuing through the slow-burning “Neighborhood #1”, and the bouncy 80’s throwback “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, all of which which came after an already emotionally hefty, cathartic set full of “whoa-oh-oh” singalongs and hand-clap aggressiveness; in other words, any promise left for Arcade Fire to deliver (and any doubts of their newfound status as festival headliners) was put to rest, mightily.
Of course, Arcade Fire wasn’t the only highlight of the day. Boomers found nostalgia-drenched reggae-rock bounce in a reunion set fronted by Big Audio Dynamite, who, with ex-Clash member Mick Jones leading, closed with their biggest hit, “Rush;” the rootsy, near-bluegrass band Mumford and Sons proved that even the main stage can feel intimate, with stripped-down acoustic wistfulness clearly winning over a surging crowd; and radio hitmakers Cage the Elephant conjured up memories of Nirvana with crossdressing singer Matt Shultz launching himself into his obedient throngs. Los Angeles newcomers The Henry Clay People beat early afternoon heat with shout-heavy youthfulness on songs like “Working Part Time” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” while UK must-see band Foals managed to be both brooding and summery, thanks in part to singer Yannis Philippakis‘ affinity for Cure-style angst and guitarist Jimmy Smith‘s shorts-and-tee-shirt ensemble.
Also notable during the day was lad-sack songwriter Conor Oberst‘s return to form with his primary project Bright Eyes, who provided the soundtrack for a slew of longing kisses with “Old Soul Song (For the New World Order).” Esoteric art-rockers Animal Collective were far too unapproachable for their prime main stage slot; most of their audience emptied instead into a stylish spectacle from New Zealanders Empire of The Sun. There were also a few fest veterans who found new voices with their current projects: Rilo Kiley leader Jenny Lewis‘s side-project band, Jenny and Johnny, pranced through heartfelt swoon-pop, while Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha moonlit as the singer for One Day As a Lion — who sounded like a vaguely more Jane’s Addiction-influenced version of his other band, minus Tom Morello‘s calling-card guitar work.
Per usual for the weekend desert fest, celebrities ranging from Paris Hilton to Danny DeVito were spotted in the VIP section, with Rihanna reportedly also wandering the field. The R&B diva’s presence surely is a preview of a guest spot during tonight’s headlining slot from hip-hop star Kanye West — arguably the only act in the world who can claim to be more at the top of his game than Arcade Fire.
The question for tonight is, then: does he have the balls to top them?
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