As weekend one of Southern California's Coachella music festival wrapped up on Sunday, the two side stages were the perfect places to see and be scene--not only because those tents offered some of the coolest buzz acts of the entire festival (Cloud Nothings, DIIV, Deap Vally, Thee Oh Sees), but because they offered much-needed shelter from the Indio desert's bizarrely sudden gusts of eyeball-exfoliating sandy wind. At times it seemed like Sunday's sandstorm would loosen the smaller Mojave and Gobi stages' moorings and send the tents skyward, a la Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz (side note: I'm not kidding, at one point a blast of wind literally lifted me off my feet and hurled me a couple yards across the field). But maybe, just maybe, some of the Sunday Coachella acts' stormily forceful rocking was partially to blame for all the commotion.
These were some of the highlights from the Coachella festival's wild and windblown final day:
1. Grimes showed Katy Perry how it's done…
The afternoon set by Grimes, aka Vancouver's quirky goth-dance waif Claire Boucher, aka the Rayanne Graff of electropop, drew one of the largest Gobi Tent crowds of the weekend. (Why was this rising star, who was just named one of Elle magazine's "Women in Music," playing the smallest stage on the grounds?) I couldn't get close enough to even see much of Grimes on the jumbotron. But Katy Perry was up in the front, elbow-to-elbow with the rave kids who'd temporarily left the dance tent to check out Grimes's wispy witch house revue, giddily tweeting, "No one does adorbies better than #Grimes!!!" And Katy was right: Grimes may very well be the future of female dance-pop. While Grimes's shrill and babyish voice was at times barely audible over the noise of the conflicting stages (or the screaming for her biggest hits, "Oblivion" and "Genesis"), her can't-look-away stage presence and irresistible dream-pop floor-fillers compensated for all that. I fully expect to see Grimes on the Main Stage at Coachella 2014--and I wouldn't be surprised if Katy was in the front row again, when that happens.
2. A "British takeover" rocked the Mojave Tent…
Sunday afternoon otherwise belonged to the Brits, starting with the lovely and talented Jessie Ware, a rising blue-eyed soul star along the lines of Annie Lennox, Lisa Stansfield, Swing Out Sister's Corrine Drewery, and Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn. "It's a British takeover today!" Jessie announced proudly, thrilling an impressively large afternoon audience with the sensual sounds of her critically heralded debut LP, Devotion. And the throng grew even larger for South London soul star Alex Clare (aka Amy Winehouse's ex), who was up next, wowing festivalgoers with his incredibly ragged and raw voice. Alex's bluesy cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry" was predictably crowd-pleasing, and the spectators dutifully learned the lyrics to his "Where the Heart Is" on the spot so they could sing along. But when Alex ended his set with his monster hit "Too Close," he joked, "I don't think I'll have to teach you this one." He was correct. At one point the (keytar-augmented!) band abruptly and without warning stopped playing, and the fans, already belting along in earnest, didn't miss a beat, filling the tent with their a cappella voices until the music kicked in again.
The Mojave stage's British Invasion continued with two dancey sets, starting with sexily R&B-tinged downtempo dubstepper James Blake, who unfortunately struggled to be heard above the over-amplified din of Social Distortion on the Main Stage (this resulted in what sounded like THE worst mashup ever). But he still impressed the ridiculous number of uber-hipsters in attendance. This was followed by the comeback of gone-too-long synthpop duo La Roux (aka the coolly Tilda Swinton-esque, helium-voiced Elly Jackson and her sidekick, Benjamin Langmaid), who packed the tent beyond capacity. La Roux had canceled their appearance at last year's Coachella to concentrate on finishing recording the follow-up to their 2009 debut album, and while their set (their first Coachella appearance since 2010) relied heavily on that first LP, old upbeat hits like "In for the Kill," "Quicksand," and the finale "Bulletproof" clearly whetted excited fans' appetites for the duo's (still-untitled, still-unscheduled) sophomore release. And judging by the sound of the two new songs those fans got to hear, "Sexy Talk" and "Tropical Chance," the album is going to be awesome. Can it please come out already?
3. Sunday finally started to actually feel sunny…
Back over on the two larger open-air stages, the increasingly face-blasting winds were definitely thwarting fans' fun-in-the-sun plans. But then neo-psychedelic Aussies Tame Impala hit the second stage with their face-blasting rock, and finally, Coachella Sunday started to feel like a proper festival. With their Nuggety nods to Hendrix and Floyd and indulgent yet enjoyable drum solo, the band's Outdoor Stage set was immaculately time-capsuled retro-rock that somehow also sounded incredibly current. Tame Impala provided one of the best Coachella moments of the day, as fans hippie-danced on the grass with abandon to the band's psychotropic grooves.
A similar vibe ensued about an hour later at the Main Stage, when college-pop prepsters Vampire Weekend played their most grass-dance-worthy jam, "A-Punk." While much of the band's set, featuring new tunes from forthcoming third album Modern Vampires of the City, was underwhelming (let's face it, they graduated from Columbia University years ago, and their eggheady aesthetic is starting to get a little old), the Afropop beats of "A-Punk" inspired a mass outbreak of skanking on the Empire Polo Field, and this was one of the day's most feelgood festival moments.
4. Old-school acts kept it classy…
The nattily suited Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds trotted out a children's choir for their Main Stage opening number, "Jubilee Street," and over on the Outdoor Stage, the Wu-Tang Clan were joined by a string section for "C.R.E.A.M." Nice!
5. The side tents hosted a late-night '80s dance party…
Yes, I know the Red Hot Chili Peppers were Sunday's official headliners, and I am sure that RHCP bassist Flea spoke for much of the hard-partying Coachella crowd when he gleefully announced, "The acid is just starting to come on, and I feel my d*** getting hard!" (So much for keeping it classy.) But the real party, '80s-prom-style, was happening across the field, thanks to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. OMD's frothy dance melodies made them one of the most successful groups of the 1980s' MTV-driven "British takeover," but unfortunately and unfairly, they weren't really taken seriously by critics or music snobs at the time. However, revisionist history has been kind to OMD, as younger generations of electronic artists have rightfully namechecked the pioneering synth act--and OMD's 2010 reunion album, History of Modern, was largely hailed as a triumphant comeback by critics. Founding members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys certainly seemed triumphant as they hit the Gobi Tent stage on Sunday night, with Andy proudly proclaiming, "Do not be frightened by middle-aged men playing synthesizers!" There was nothing to fear. Andy had more energy than most of the glowstick-brandishing kids raving in the Sahara Tent ("I'm 53 years old, and I can still dance this bad," he joked), even during OMD's epic seven-and-a-half-minute single "Metroland," from their excellent new album English Electric. But the band wisely crammed most of their show with hits, hits, hits ("Enola Gay," "Tesla Girls," "Sailing on the Seven Seas," "Forever Live and Die," "Secret," "Joan of Arc," "Sister Marie Says"). The biggest crowd-pleasers were, expectedly, the John Hughes-popularized "If You Leave" ("Oh, okay, let's play that one from the film," laughed Andy), and the final number, "Electricity," described by Andy as "our oldest and fastest song." It was incredible to realize how a tune penned in 1976 somehow sounded as fresh as anything that Coachella's baby bands played all weekend.
The Faint are not an '80s band, but the modern-day Nebraskan new-wavers, whose 2001 opus Danse Macabre was one of THE best albums of the entire 2000s, definitely brought the danse-party retro vibes to the Mojave Tent. While the black-clad electro combo only played four Danse Macabre tracks ("The Conductor," "Glass Danse," "Let the Poison Spill From Your Throat," and the office-drone anthem "Agenda Suicide"), their 11-song set was a true synthy thrill, and I may or may not have dansed like a Red Bull-swilling Andy McCluskey to a few of the Faint's tunes. (I hope no one Vine'd that.)
The perfect retro comedown for the festival, following the Faint, was the evening-ending set by aging-gracefully new-agers Dead Can Dance. As the desert winds whipped the wild tresses of the regal Lisa Gerrard, aka the high-priestess Renaissance Faire lady of alternative rock, the recently reunited 4AD legends' yoga-music sounds concluded Coachella in soothing style.
So next Friday, Coachella weekend two kicks off (this is the second year that the mega-festival, due to popular demand, has been expanded to two weekends). It will be the same lineup...but no two Coachellas are exactly the same, of course, so come back then, when we do it in the desert all over again.
For more Coachella reportage, check out Yahoo! Music's 2013 Summer Music Guide.