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Pop Music Review

A Musical Menu With Plenty of Choices

The secondary stages and early acts on the main stage at the Coachella festival offer successful mix of non-rock acts.

April 30, 2002|STEVE BALTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

INDIO — Sunday's closing day of the weekend's Coachella festival at the Empire Polo Field offered a rock-heavy lineup on the main stage, but the secondary stages and early acts on the main stage provided an abundance of highlights for those who weren't feeling the rock. As was the case Saturday, much of the event's success came from its eclecticism.

Hip-hop was again a big draw, starting with acclaimed MC Mos Def, who displayed his versatility in an early afternoon appearance on the main stage. The New York rapper did his own spin on Jay-Z's "Rock This," interpreting the song in an aggressive style he dubbed "ghetto rock." Sandwiched around the attitude-laden track were two numbers with bouncier beats that provided a nice contrast. L.A.'s Dilated Peoples headlined the second stage and also proved to be a crowd favorite.

The second stage provided some of Sunday's more noteworthy performances. Acclaimed Scottish band Belle & Sebastian, which rarely tours, offered finely crafted pop/folk tunes with a gentle lilt that echoed back to Nick Drake and Donovan.

The surprise was the buoyancy in the music and the group's stage presence. Songs such as "Boy With the Arab Strap" featured a healthy kick under the folky arrangements. And singer Stuart Murdoch addressed the problem of competing with the noise from the main stage with an improvised lyric, " ... With the sound of the Foo Fighters passing by."

That sonic conflict also provided some easy one-liners for the atmospheric Zero 7, one of whose members quipped, "Would someone please ask the neighbors to turn it down?" If only the septet's songs had the same personality as its noisy neighbors, the Prodigy. When Zero 7's two female vocalists took turns fronting the languid jams, the sound was effective, particularly during the slow blues drawl of "Waiting Line." However, the outfit killed its momentum with the ill-advised "Truth," a lengthy song whose themes felt out of place in the day's festivities.

Zero 7 could have taken lessons in crowd-pleasing from L.A.'s DJ Dan, who took the Sahara Tent up a level with a flavorful mix of percussion and jungle-esque tracks that turned the venue into a large party. Though not as heralded as many of his European counterparts, Dan is among the best at working a large crowd. But British DJ Pete Tong, who mixed his tribal-influenced set with showy gesturing, and BT, in a rare DJ appearance, met the high standard he set.

Superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold was coming off last year's disappointing appearance on the main stage, and with the release of his first studio album imminent, Sunday's set marked an important point for the DJ. Though he's done a great job of promoting himself, the time had come for Oakenfold to live up to his reputation, and he came through with the set everyone knew he had in him, even if they hadn't seen it in some time.

What raised the performance to a high level was the way he reinvented himself. Instead of relying on his signature expansive trance hooks, he showcased his diversity, including a Prince-like funk block, haunting world music chants that took on a goth quality, and a segment in which he layered the keyboards with a powerful bass line.

Just as important, he fed off the energy of the crowd, which clapped along during the long builds and celebrated his triumphant performance.

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