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Though the second day of this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival may have been the most comfortable ever, with temperatures dangling in the 70s for most of the day (a stark contrast to the first day’s nearly-disabling chilliness), musically it stumbled over itself in a too-slow midsection from artists like Neutral Milk Hotel‘s Jeff Mangum (fine for the dorm room, lacking on a giant field) and Andrew Bird (the whistling works, but not for an hour) that left many fans scratching their heads about what to do with the time they were biding until sundown, when The Shins, Bon Iver, and Radiohead stepped up the passion on the main stage, and the side-stages-and-tents moved to the sound of electro-beats from Swedes Miike Snow and hype-men SBTRKT.
About that: it’s become clear this year that the electronic side of the festival — long ago mostly relegated to the across-the-field Sahara tent — is becoming nearly as big a draw as the top-line rock acts. Perhaps in years going forward, all three days should end with a main-stage, high-octane electro show following the rock headliners (as the first night did, with Swedish House Mafia following blues-rockers the Black Keys), allowing for a not-as-mass exodus and the ability to execute sets by artists like Martin Solveig, David Guetta and Kaskade so that all the attendees can see them, as opposed to the overflow that mars major performances in the Sahara.
No matter, this year though: the second night’s main stage was closed out by superstar art-rockers Radiohead, appearing at the fest for the first time since 2004 and clearly in an atypically jovial mood. Singer Thom Yorke, clad in a leather jacket with his hair pulled back in a small ponytail (a style choice that made him look like The Sopranos’ not-quite-as-intimidating long lost overseas cousin) danced with wild abandon during even odd-time-signature grooves like “Myxomatosis”, his band’s newly added second drummer adding an afropop percussive element to the entire set. The new song “Daily Mail” starts as a classic piano ballad before embracing a near-pop structure – a rarity for the group, who’s been experimenting more and more with esoterica rather than relateability — and “Karma Police” became a giant singalong, as the band was illuminated by a series of 9 moving video screens that alternately made the stage box-like or expansive.
?Were that The Shins had production elements like that: the newly reformed jangle-rockers sounded great but their minimalist setup made them feel eaten up by the grandiose setting rather than taking advantage of it, an issue as well for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, who opted out of using the on-stage video screens, proof positive that the former Oasis frontman hasn’t lost his unfortunate ego. That lack of production values wasn’t a problem for Bon Iver. Justin Vernon returned to the main stage after last year’s collaboration with Kanye West for a no-frills set stretching from “Blood Bank” to his latest effort.
Early in the day, the rapper Childish Gambino (the nom-de-hop for Community star Donald Glover) made a major impact on the main stage, backed by a full band and as likeable as he was adept. It was also a big day for New York based rapstress Azaelia Banks, rising to the occasion of her packed Gobi set with a sustained zeal that likely appeased the many skeptics seeing her for the first time. Banks padded her small catalog, covering Prodigy‘s “Firestarter” and offering an Amy Winehouse-inspired chorus of “Valerie,” eventually indulging the crowd with an obscene singalong of single “212.”
Some oldsters broke the mid-afternoon tedium: the re-formed Squeeze brought back “Pulling Muscles from the Shell” with some confident heft (and fantastic facial hair), and the seminal punk band The Buzzcocks are as irrepressible in their 50s as they were in their 20s – an affect that could have helped some of the days early bands rise a bit above the ether, even as they were finding their mellow roots.
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