By the end of Coachella, over 100 bands had fanned out across five stages, more than 150,000 people had sweltered through the desert heat and at least as many bottles of water had been guzzled.
But there was one who rose above all others.
Prince, in his Saturday evening headlining performance, firmly established himself in Coachella lore among famous concerts from years past, including the Pixies and Rage Against the Machine. Prince, for certain, didn’t plan to share the mantle.
“From now on, this is Prince’s house!” he declared at the end of his set, which went well beyond midnight.
Few seemed inclined to argue after Prince put on a funky, rollicking show that featured passionate performances of classics like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Purple Rain,” as well as unexpected and creative covers of Radiohead (“Creep”) and the Beatles (“Come Together”).
Walking off stage, Geoff Barrow, the band’s soundscapist, referred to Portishead’s decade of dormancy: “Thanks for waiting,” he told the crowd.
Diverse mix of sounds
Friday night’s headliner, surfer singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, appeared too mellow for the plum gig, as many left the festival grounds as he played. He followed a performance by the Verve, another reunited British outfit. Their psychedelic Brit Pop sounded of another era but was still impressively powerful and self-assured.
Sunday night’s headliner was to be Roger Waters, who was expected to play “Dark Side of the Moon” in full, the masterpiece album by his former band, Pink Floyd. Southern rockers My Morning Jacket was also play on the main stage.
Coachella, which is put on by concert promoter Goldenvoice, is a hugely diverse mix of sights and sounds — and there were many over the weekend. The uber-cool MC M.I.A packed them into the Sahara Tent on Saturday night, where even the backstage area was teaming with at least a hundred clamoring for her.
I’m From Barcelona, which, alas, is from Sweden, made perhaps the festival’s best entrance, taking the stage Sunday 17 strong and bearing dozens of giant red balloons. As the balloons circulated and confetti rained down, it launched into “Treehouse,” and lead singer Emanuel Lundgren jumped into the crowd.
The Denver-based gypsy band DeVotchKa also displayed theatrics. As the four-piece group thumped away on upright bass and tuba, the Amazing Slavic Sisters acrobatically ascended 30 feet up hanging tapestries flanking the stage.
Many more played, as well, among them the Raconteurs, Death Cab for Cutie, Kraftwerk, Vampire Weekend, Fatboy Slim, MGMT and Aphex Twin.
Unofficial summer kickoff
Located in the Southern California desert a few hours’ drive from Los Angeles, Coachella has emerged as one of the country’s biggest music events and the unofficial kickoff to the summer festival season.
Drawing electronic music, indie rock and pop acts, it’s fostered a cool identity of sun-drenched dancing. The crowd was largely composed of fashionable hipsters showing plenty of skin in dry, hot weather that at times cracked 100 degrees.
Battalion Chief Bart Chambers of the Indio Fire Department said about 25 people had been hospitalized by late Sunday afternoon, many of them because of heat-related injuries.
Coachella is a well-run festival where five stages are laid out in an expansive U-shape, behind which a veritable racecourse of golf carts runs, shuttling musicians and VIPs to the stages. Hundreds of fans camped on the festival grounds, and a few dozen took more posh digs in $4,000 tents, complete with air conditioning and candles.
In the middle of the grounds are giant sculptures, typically brought from the Burning Man festival. At night, many of them glow, and the surrounding mountain ranges and palm trees create a memorable environment. Notably absent is corporate advertising.
Coachella’s proximity to Los Angeles also has traditionally meant a visible celebrity contingent. Though Paris Hilton and Alicia Silverstone were among those in attendance, the festival didn’t appear to have the same celeb buzz as it has in years past — like when Madonna played in 2006.
Sean Penn did stop by on Sunday to speak twice, urging the young crowd to be more politically active and join him on a cross-country bus trip leaving Monday for New Orleans.
Wearing a T-shirt and jeans and smoking a cigarette while he sat on a stool, Penn said he unfortunately couldn’t perform his “a cappella Celine Dion cover act” since he had “compromised his upper register.”
He was one of the few to raise political issues at Coachella, where the crowd was more eager to, as Prince sang, go crazy.