It's not easy following Radiohead and the Pixies, two of the most influential bands ever in rock. So Day Two of this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, on Sunday, could not be expected to match that intensity. But several acts delivered memorable sets, including an abbreviated appearance by the Flaming Lips that was staggering in its inventiveness and twisted good humor.
Lips singer Wayne Coyne began the night by stepping into a giant, clear plastic ball and rolling out into the crowd to flashing lights and the band's weird festive rock, walking and falling inside as he went. "If I crushed your head," Coyne told fans immediately after, "I'm sorry."
What followed was just as satisfying, as the Lips played a tight set of songs typically offbeat and emotional, including the anthem-like ballad "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots."
Unfortunately, technical problems caused the Lips to start behind schedule, so its set was cut short. But what the Oklahoma act delivered was so packed with music and astonishing visuals that fans are likely to remember it for years.
Headliner the Cure never quite shook the desert landscape. The hits are still hits, and they connected with Cure fans, but the festival-closing set never had the searing energy of Saturday's concert. Leader Robert Smith was still the spooky auteur in full black pop-goth regalia, singing "Fascination Street" and other songs of lush, swirling rock, but the darkness never took hold.
French duo Air took a more hypnotic path, opening with waves of sound and melody, . Then singer-guitarist Nicolas Godin stepped to the microphone and announced, "The night is here. It is time to dance."
Air emphasized music from its pop albums over the soundtrack work that has earned it as much well-deserved attention. The effect could be disarmingly simple or a subtly complex mix of the electronic and organic, with Godin whistling into the microphone as electro beats throbbed behind him.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club had its own technical problems but still played a charged set, though "Complicated Situation," sung by guitarist Peter Hayes, sounded far more early Dylan than Velvet Underground.
Earlier, New Jersey band Thursday made combative riff-rock in the midday sun.
At first, Belle & Sebastian's lush pop seemed too effete for the desert venue. But the Scottish group's blend of ancient folk and classic pop textures soon rose in energy, not only with singer Stuart Murdoch's guitar flourishes and Mick Cooke's trumpet solos but also from the band's genuine warmth. "This is a beautiful scene," said Murdoch -- as good a description of this year's festival as any.