Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coachella Day 2: Arcade Fire, Felice Brothers, Cults, Francis and the Lights & more!

The Felice Brothers thrilled a small but enthusiastic crowd in the Gobi tent late Saturday night.

I am just getting up. I was at the fest yesterday at 11 a.m. when they opened the gates and didn't leave until after Arcade Fire wrapped up their incredible set just after 1 a.m. this morning. Here is a rundown of the proceedings.

Francis and the Lights performed on the Outdoor Theatre stage in the scorching heat on Saturday. Featuring singer-keyboardist Francis Starlite and his backing three-man band, the quartet turned in a fun-filled set that began with relatively few people positioned in front of the stage. By the time the act finished up a mere 30 minutes later, a large crowd was moving and dancing to the sounds of the infectious tunes.
Francis and the Lights' set brought to mind the '80s soul-pop of Hall & Oates.
Francis had plenty of impressive and distinctive dance moves, and the crowd went crazy as he alternated between dance steps and riffs on an electronic keyboard. One of the best songs he performed was a newly-penned track, "Betting On Us," that had him belting out his vocals against a musical backdrop blending '80s pop and Euro-dance.

Technical woes kept San Diego's Cults from starting on time, and feedback kept the duo (singer Madeline Follin and guitarist-keyboardist Brian Oblivion) from sounding their best. Backed by a solid four-man band, the team nevertheless forged on and performed a winning set of eight songs rooted somewhere between the vocal pop of the 1950s and modern retro sounds of the She & Him.
Although Cults didn't impress like She & Him did in Indio last year, the duo showed plenty of promise, notably on "The Curse," a song where Follin's sweet soprano soared in a melody stripped out of the middle of the 20th century and positioned in a sea of distorted and echo-drenched guitars at a Cure concert.

After catching the full set from Cults, I had to file an early review for the Register. So by the time I finished getting that off, I was only to catch the last couple of songs from Foals. Boy, am I glad I did. The Oxford, England-based alternative rockers were tearing things up in the Mojave tent and a capacity crowd was clearly impressed. Even in the back of the tent, everybody was moving around and it was very exhilarating despite the afternoon's high temperatures.

One thing about this year's mix of artists performing at Coachella is that Americana-styled acts are definitely represented. Jenny and Johnny (Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice) performed in the Mojave tent, featuring about a dozen songs over the course of 45 minutes. The duo released a full-length album titled I'm Having Fun Now in 2010, and played many songs off that disc at Coachella, including the driving "Scissor Runner" and beautiful "Animal," the latter with the two singers' voices blending in wonderful harmony.

Opening with the epic "The Birds," an eight-minute opus that is the first song on the band's latest CD Build a Rocket, Boys!, Elbow would prove to put on the most memorable performance I had caught up to that point of this year's fest. With an explosive sound that blended the expanse of U2 and power of Oasis with the artful approach of '80s Peter Gabriel, I found myself totally captivated by the Guy Garvey-led band's 50-minute showcase. The entire set was terrific, with songs such as the title cut off the group's latest disc and the amazing "Station Approach" among the great songs Elbow performed. A full moon positioned over palm trees behind the open air tent added to the magic of the band's unforgettable performance.

Although I had to get over to the press tent to interview Andrew McMahon (of Jack's Mannequin) by 8 p.m. or so, I still went by the Gobi tent to catch a bit of the performance by Electric Touch. The band performed a late '70s-early '80s style of rock that reminded me of Aerosmith. I left after the band performed an commercial rock-reworked version of the Beatles' "Come Together."

Although my chat with Andrew would ultimately run a bit long, I did get to see most of Mumford & Sons' brilliant set. My favorite songs were the Celtic-tinged "Little Lion Man" and the set-ending performance of "The Cave," with the Americana-styled troupe using dynamics and a rousing approach to unleash its sound on the receptive audience packed by the Coachella stage.

After watching Elbow and Mumford & Sons perform two incredible back-to-back sets at Coachella a bit earlier, I wondered if I would get lucky with a third consecutive winner courtesy of New York’s Felice Brothers. With a mixture of Bob Dylan-meets-Gram Parsons country-folk songcraft and modern art-damage experimentalism, I had nothing to fear.

Before a relatively small but enthusiastic crowd inside the Gobi tent, the quintet brought an arsenal of fiddle, accordion, electronic keyboards, bass, guitar and drums to carve out, beat out and shout out something very raw and beautiful. It’s incredible that brothers Ian and James Felice, plus pals Christmas Clapton, Greg Farley and David Turbeville, didn’t play any instruments when they set out to form a band in 2006.

On Saturday night, the outfit made their debut appearance at Coachella and definitely didn’t waste the opportunity. Opening with the powerful “Fire at the Pageant” (off the band’s fourth full-length album, Celebration, Florida, due May 10), the group employed equal parts freewheeling performance and group-shout vocals as well as front-and-center electronics to achieve a sound moving Americana squarely into the 21st century.

Other memorable songs included the unsettling jazz-tinged “Ponzi” and the sparse “Back in the Dancehalls” (the latter intoxicating with its blend of Moby electronica and Dylan folk authenticity). The band closed with the mighty “River Jordan,” a song whose wide-ranging lyrics and layers of cascading sounds brought the depth and power of Neil Young & Crazy Horse to mind. Good stuff indeed.

I had been looking forward to Arcade Fire's headlining appearance on Saturday night since the Coachella 2011 bill was announced earlier this year. There is something about watching a great band perform at the top of their game, and Arcade Fire's 90-minute concert was a chance to share in that happening that is rare even for regular concertgoers. Singer Win Butler and the rest of the talented group performed each song as if it was the key moment in the night. Although songs from the latest disc The Suburbs formed the core of the performance (the ferocious "Month of May" kicked the set off), Arcade Fire performed a track listing that likely pleased everybody. Highlights from the group's debut and sophomore effort (notably Funeral's wonderful "No Cars Go") fueled the outing too.
The highlight of the much-hyped event was during the crowd favorite "Wake Up," when countless giant glowing balls descended from a box hanging above the polo grounds, casting their surreal light into the night as they floated down. All the while, the music and performance from the stage added to the magic.

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