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Daring sound labs shine

April 29, 2003|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

INDIO — Variety and experimentation help explain the vitality and growing importance of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which closed Sunday in Indio with more stirring music than any one person could ever absorb.

While exciting straight-ahead rock-punk-blues dominated the main stage (with Iggy & the Stooges, the White Stripes, etc.), other daring sounds radiated from the smaller stages, from the Stones-techno blend of England's Primal Scream to the fertile folk psychedelia of Mexico's Cafe Tacuba.

Primal Scream stepped onstage just as the sun slipped behind the mountains, crafting an often shambolic, occasionally rollicking beat for its storm of rock and techno elements. Frontman Bobby Gillespie leaned into his microphone in wraparound shades, singing in tones that were cool but never detached.

A more atmospheric take on that formula came from the Thievery Corporation, whose airy arrangements mixed sitar, hand-drums and electric bass with samples and computers helmed by band masterminds Rob Garza and Eric Hilton.

The group opened gradually with an instrumental piece, though Thievery Corporation fully came alive with the entrance of Icelandic singer Emilana Torrini, one of several rotating vocalists in the band. The result was not unlike the pioneering Massive Attack, with waves of music deeply textured and hypnotic.

Interpol made rock heavily influenced by Joy Division, but with a more accessible pop element, including crisp, even hopeful melodies rising from a dark canvas. Though a new band, Interpol drew a crowd of true believers singing along from the front rows despite the late hour that had many others heading for the exits and the long drive home.

Despite sharp suits and ties, the group was maybe too casual for its own good on Sunday. Interpol's members made three attempts before they could actually finish their first song. Soon after, the group paused again for what seemed like minutes as singer Paul Banks struggled to get his guitar in tune, before intoning with the ominous quality of Jim Morrison or Joy Division's Ian Curtis at their darkest.

A sign of Cafe Tacuba's drawing power could be measured in the crowd, much of which could be seen reacting happily to Spanish-language comments from the band. The group's inventive blend of folk, pop, psychedelia and the occasional flexing of a hard rock riff was unpretentious and endlessly inclusive.

Closing the night in the Mojave tent, Fischerspooner presented a kind of flamboyant pop cabaret that answered the mystery of what Bauhaus or the Cure might have been like playing Vegas in the '70s.

The group was more performance art piece than a normal pop act, though partners Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner have recently scored a club hit with "Emerge." At Coachella, Fischerspooner was all about the show, not the music, with vocalists and a quartet of dancers in fishnets and feather headdresses performing to pre-recorded sounds.

The tent was packed until after midnight, filled with cheering fans and Coachella die-hards who maybe understood that this sort of precious variety and experimentation can be hard to find. Until next year.

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