Coachella 2011 was on fire this year – almost literally, thanks to its usual face-melting, 37-degree heat. With hundreds of artists (including headline-making headliners like Arcade Fire, the Strokes, Kings Of Leon, Death From Above 1979, and some guy you may of heard of named Kanye) across six stages and three days, it was impossible to take it all in, unless you had access to a cloning machine (or at least a VIP golf cart) or the ability to magically stop time, of course. But I did my best. So here are the top 12 moments that will stay with me most, long after my sunburn fades and ears stop ringing.
12) Spiritualized & The Creators Project Forge An Artistic Mainline
Concertgoers who were unable to sneak their hallucinogenic drug stashes past Coachella security, or just needed to come down, were wise to head to the Creators Project’s tent. An art/technology collaboration between Vice and Intel, which masterminded the onstage audiovisual collaborations between Arcade Fire and Wilderness Downtown director Chris Milk, Interpol and David Lynch, and Animal Collective and Black Dice, the Creators Project’s most supreme showpiece was the interactive art installation between director Jonathan Glazer and J. Spaceman. A Physical Manifestation of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space featured a surroundsound tent filled with shafts of light and isolated segments of Spiritualized’s signature song playing from all angles, and it served as the perfect meditation space amid all the Coachella chaos. Also, it was just fucking cool.
11) Freak-Folker Aerial Pink Freaks Out
This L.A. eccentric landed a prime afternoon slot in the Gobi Tent, but squandered his opportunity by spending most of his set with his back to the audience while chain-smoking and refusing to sing, then fleeing the stage 15 minutes into his show, saying, “I’m sorry, I know you hate me now.” Maybe he was just going crazy from the heat.
10) Bon Iver Is The Hardest-Working Non-Coachella Artist At Coachella
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver wasn’t officially on the Coachella bill, but he was one of Sunday’s busiest performers anyway, first joining moody Brooklynites The National on ‘Terrible Love’ on the second stage, and then racing over to the main stage to duet with Kanye West on ‘Monster’ and ‘Lost In The World’. If only all the other off-duty musicians at Coachella (including Katy Perry, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to join Kanye for his performance of their new single ‘E.T.’) had taken such initiative.
9) Elbow Celebrate One Coachella Day Like This
These majestic Mancunians may headline Wembley over in their native country, but in America they’re still relatively unknown; the stage they played at Coachella 2011, the Mojave Tent, was in fact the same one they played when ‘Asleep In The Back’ came out years ago. While it seemed that the conflicting New Pornographers and Bright Eyes gigs siphoned off some of Elbow’s audience on Saturday, they still drew a sizeable crowd of diehards, and as they ushered in the sunset with their epic, almost religiously joyful ‘One Day Like This’, everyone sang along, choir-like. This was by far THE feelgood moment of Saturday. Spotted standing up in front: Mumford & Sons’ Ted Duane, popping by before heading over to the main stage to play to an audience about 10 times the size of Elbow’s.
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8) The Gobi Tent Hosts An Unannounced Mars Volta Comeback
No Coachella lineup would be complete without a few hotly tipped reunion or “heritage” acts, and this year’s fest included sets by Big Audio Dynamite, Wire, Suede, and Duran Duran. But one such comeback was unbilled and unexpected, when surprise vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala joined his Mars Volta/At The Drive-In cohort Omar Rodríguez-Lopez onstage for the entirety of what was supposed to be Omar’s solo show. Why didn’t Coachella just have the Mars Volta play?
7) Empire Of The Sun Reign Over Coachella
As these Australian glam-pop warriors prepared to play, the entire Empire Polo field seemed to tilt on the earth’s axis in the direction of the second stage, as thousands of spectators flocked to witness EOTS’s magical mystical stage show. It was well worth the pilgrimage, and practically worth the triple-digit price of Coachella admission alone, to see emperor Luke Steele look so resplendent in his furry Viking helmet and George Clinton mop-wig, flanked by Mylar-leotarded, kabuki-masked fembot dancers. Now, that is how you make an impression at Coachella, people!
6) Trentemøller Nearly Upstages Duran Duran & The National
One of the biggest breakouts of Coachella ’11 was this Danish minimal-techno maestro, who faced the daunting challenge of playing at the same time as Duran Duran and the National, but somehow practically stole the thunder from both those bands. Coachella’s ultimate underdog stunned all onlookers and became the toast of the fest, with Twitter absolutely exploding with raves and recommendations by his set’s conclusion. Perhaps Trentemøller will be headlining Coachella in 2012.
5) Duran Duran Salute John Barry With A View To A Thrill
Currently riding a wave of hipster revivalism thanks to their Mark Ronson-produced comeback album ‘All You Need Is Now’, the gracefully aging new-wavers played a set featuring perennial crowd-pleasers (‘Planet Earth’, ‘Rio’, ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’) and a surprise cameo by the Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic. But the highlight of their Sunday sundown show was a symphonic, slowed-down rendition of their James Bond theme ‘A View To A Kill’, mixed into a Bond-song medley, as a tribute to recently departed composer John Barry. It was a truly goosepimply moment. And it didn’t hurt that Simon Le Bon was wearing a 007-worthy white tuxedo, either.
4) Cee Lo Green’s Set Is One Giant Fuck-You
The usually jolly Cee Lo gave his song ‘Fuck You’ a whole new, quite literal meaning, when he hit the stage a full half-hour past his advertised set time and was shockingly unapologetic, mumbling something about how he’d “just landed” and quipping, “It ain’t my fault; they should have given me another fucking [set] time!” Cee Lo had a point – a star of his calibre probably should have gone on later than 4:30pm – but his incessant griping about his set being trimmed to 20 minutes (due to his tardiness) won him few fans. “I’m fucking pissed off, man!” he shouted, before demanding that the audience flip Coachella the middle finger. Cee Lo managed to get through four songs before the plug was pulled on him just as he was belting out Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, after which he stormed offstage in a huff. Fuck you, indeed.
3) Jeff Goldblum Serenades Coachella For Funny Or Die. Seriously.
The actor shot a video for the comedy website Funny Or Die with his fictional band the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, which involved him playing a piano near the festival entrance for a full hour and a half. Again, who needs drugs at Coachella, when a mind-tricking spectacle like this is going on?
2) Suede’s ‘Dog Man Star’ Rises Again
A band known in America for legal reasons as the London Suede, these neo-glam gods have never really gotten their due in the U.S. Nostalgic retrospectives of Britpop’s golden age always namecheck Oasis and Blur, and maybe Pulp, but rarely Suede. But after their triumphant tour de force at Coachella, perhaps that will change. They basically gave a masterclass in how to stage a proper Coachella comeback, and Brett Anderson, slinking out in unbuttoned-to-the-waist black satin and looking as pencil-slim and high-cheekboned as ever, delivered a performance fantastic enough to make fans overlook the fact that Bernard Butler wasn’t onstage with him.
1) Kanye West Literally Touches The Sky
Coachella is always a massive affair, but leave it to this year’s final headliner to elevate it to a whole new level: literally, by entering the main stage via a glowing crane, rotating 30 feet above thousands of amazed spectators, while asking the musical and apparently rhetorical question, “Can we get much higher?” As far as history-making Coachella moments went, his airborne entrance topped even the Flaming Lips’ man-sized plastic Habitrail ball (Coachella ’04) and Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy’s descending to the stage suspended upside-down in a vampire bat straitjacket (’05). While some indie purists probably didn’t appreciate Kanye acting like he was playing a KISS concert, the sheer entertainment value of his 90-minute set, with all its grandiosity and pomposity and pyro and backup ballerinas, was undeniable.