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Sound Bites From the Pop Buffet

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a chance to sample some of today's most cutting-edge music. But with so many choices, it pays to know which acts are worth fighting the crowds.

April 25, 2002|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

My favorite memory of the first Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival two years ago was standing in the middle of the Empire Polo Field in Indio and being overwhelmed by music coming from five distant stages. I could hear the roars of the separate crowds as rival bands and DJs took the stages and I tried to decide which one to check out.

Pop music thrives on the discovery of exciting and original new artists--stepping into a club or arena and being so swept away by the artist's imagination and charisma that you feel a page in pop history is being turned.

My own list of memorable first encounters includes David Bowie at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium ... Bob Marley at the Roxy ... U2 at the Country Club ... Prince at Flippers ... Ani DiFranco at the Mayan ... N.W.A at the Celebrity Theatre.

Coachella has quickly become an important date on the Southern California pop calendar because it offers so many chances to find new favorites. Instead of seeing two or three acts in an evening, you can see 20 to 30.

Rock festivals have been a major part of the European pop scene for years because they offer this kind of pop buffet. In the Lollapalooza tour in the early '90s, Perry Farrell brought some of that spirit here. But nothing in recent years in Southern California has approached the pure musical feast of Coachella. Goldenvoice, the L.A. concert firm that stages the festival, has dealt in cutting-edge music for years, and Coachella's lineup reflects that spirit.

The lineups are far from perfect. At a time when rock is blessed with some passionate new arrivals, the dream package would have brought many of those newcomers together in a sort of battle of the bands. Imagine: the White Stripes and ... Trail of Dead on one stage and the Hives and the Strokes on another. As it is, only the Strokes will be appearing this weekend.

Still, there are lots of opportunities for discovery.

With that in mind, Calendar has put together a critical guide to the acts Saturday and Sunday, ranking them on a priority basis from high to low. We start with the A-list.

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