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Opening things up

Hip-hop acts add to the rock 'n' roll party in the desert

May 02, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

INDIO — Two of Saturday's big attention-getters at the opening day of the sixth Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were the return to action of Weezer and a generous infusion of hip-hop into the event's bloodstream for the first time.

Sage Francis masked oddball MF Doom, feisty female rapper Jean Grae, and Toronto's K-Os, who delivered his sometimes Caribbean-flavored pieces in the Gobi Tent with a live band, were among the hip-hop acts, most of the underground variety.

It was hard to tell at times who was more surprised, fans or the rappers.

"You may be wondering who I am and how I weaseled my way onto the main stage," Canadian rapper and DJ Buck 65 said at the outset of his performance early Saturday afternoon. "They call me Buck 65 and I don't know what the hell I'm doing here."

Like most of this contingent, Bfearuck got an attentive and enthusiastic response from an audience that was largely new to his music.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 04, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Coachella festival -- A review in Monday's Calendar section of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival omitted a comma separating the names of two hip-hop acts, Sage Francis and MF Doom. In the same article, a reference to rapper Buck 65 misspelled his name as Bfearuck.

Coachella promoter Paul Tollett said Sunday that "it wasn't that we decided to 'add hip-hop' this year, it's just that when you listened to all that was available, these artists seemed to be among the best. They earned their way on stage."

That main stage is different things to different bands -- an introduction for newcomers such as Buck 65, a step up the ladder for foot-in-the-door acts such as Snow Patrol and Keane, an overdue pat on the back for the hard-toiling Wilco, a coronation platform for Coldplay.

For Weezer, it was a launching pad for a new album -- "Make Believe," its first in four years -- and maybe a validation of sorts for its nebbish rock. Not that the Los Angeles band has been overlooked. Weezer songs, from "Buddy Holly" and "Undone -- The Sweater Song" through "Hash Pipe" and "Island in the Sun" to the new "Beverly Hills," are mainstays of modern-rock radio. Front man Rivers Cuomo has become an against-the-grain, everyman star -- a Woody Allen in a world of Tom Cruises -- and his considerable eccentricities get aired in a Rolling Stone cover story.

Weezer's hourlong set played up the tension between Cuomo's wary, neurotic persona and the yearning and open-hearted emotion in much of its melodic, hook-filled guitar rock.

Whether it was the short time slot or a new outlook, there was none of the extended, spoofy transfiguration-of-the-nerd shtick. The aggressively owlish Cuomo remained resolutely deadpan in manner and straightforwardly intense in delivery, especially on several of the songs from "Make Believe," which arrives May 10.

Some of these, including "Hold Me" and "Peace," express loneliness and longing with heartfelt directness, and when you pair that with Weezer's earlier, buoyant anthems of escape and isolation, its popularity is not such a mystery.

It wasn't just the main stage that showcased possible turning points Saturday, although that was the site for the day's biggest attractions: the huge headliner (Coldplay), the cult reunion (Bauhaus), more of the endless parade of new Brits (Bloc Party, Razorlight) and dance-music superstars (the Chemical Brothers).

At the smaller Outdoor Theatre in the late afternoon, the London band Razorlight made the most of its chance to catch up with the new Brit-rock pack, after canceling a Los Angeles concert this year because of illness and stage fright experienced by singer Johnny Borrell.

Whereas some of the bands Saturday, including the ballad-leaning Irish group Snow Patrol on the main stage, seemed to labor just to keep their heads above water, Razorlight was both loose and urgent, playing as if it had something at stake.

It's hard to believe that Borrell ever had stage fright considering the way he took charge and led his three bandmates through their clean, lean guitar-riff outbursts of desire and rebellion.

It was all a little raw and erratic, and the band isn't tight enough to pull off all the stop-and-starts and drop-aways it tried to execute, but the right attitude can make up for a lot.

"Who's that?" Borrell asked at one point, cocking an ear to the choirboy sounds of Keane drifting over from the main stage. Then he seconded the front-row fans' response: "I'm with you. Who cares?"

Besides the heightened hip-hop presence, Day 1 of the two-day event was a by-now typical Coachella kaleidoscope of contemporary music by some 45 acts, from new British throwback Jamie Cullum ("I'm about to play Cole Porter at a rock festival. Feel free to throw things") to the wistfully L.A. indie band Rilo Kiley to New York prog-metal rock trio the Secret Machines.

At the end of the day, dance-music mega-stars the Chemical Brothers packed the vast Sahara Tent with a remarkably compressed mass of humanity, while in the opposite corner of the field Coldplay performed for a vast crowd of its own.

That's Coachella's recurring lesson: There's plenty of audience to go around.

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