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Coachella 2011: Festival's greatest hits (and a bomb)

Arcade Fire is bubbly; Animal Collective leads a freakout; Cee Lo Green has a title hurled back at him; Big Audio Dynamite gives a nod to Joe Strummer; plus, skating, Jeff Goldblum, parties, more.

April 18, 2011
  • Jenny and Johnny perform Saturday, at the Coachella Vallley Music & Arts Festival in Indio.
Jenny and Johnny perform Saturday, at the Coachella Vallley Music &… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Over the 72 hours of the 12th Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, which took place this weekend at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Times writers for the Pop & Hiss music blog roamed the grounds chasing music, talking to fans, artists and organizers, and recording the moments that captured the essence of the festival. What follows are snapshots. For complete Pop & Hiss coverage, visit

Party favors from Arcade Fire

If Woody Allen's orgasmatron (from "Sleeper") mated with a beach ball, you'd have something like the glowing white bubbles that poured from the top of the stage into the sea of people at the end of Arcade Fire's Saturday night headlining set. For a few minutes, the audience pummeled and tossed them back and forth. From the stage, frontman Win Butler grinned, looking as though he was watching kids open presents on Christmas Day.

Then the LED orbs started shining red, purple, orange, yellow, green, sometimes a mélange of all colors. That's when the balls stopped bouncing: Some audience members wanted to keep their power (if only to stuff them under their car seats an hour or so later) for themselves.

In one corner of the grounds, away from interlopers, five kids dressed in neon bathing suits, neon face paint and feathered headdresses danced around an orb they'd spirited away. They were ecstatic to circle it in a tribal conga, perhaps waiting for it to explode, talk or read their minds.

Another guy simply rendezvoused with his alone, sometimes cradling it, other times thrashing it skyward. Until he tripped on a water bottle on the ground and almost lost his grip on his prize. Then he beat a hasty retreat for the exit, possibly sensing that his position on the field was too vulnerable.

— Margaret Wappler

A psychedelic Collective freakout

At Animal Collective's set Saturday night, a man stood next to me in a vest, tie and sports coat, not the usual Coachella get-up. He turned to me with a question. "If we teletransported someone from 50 years ago to this moment now, would that person think we've gone insane, based on this show?"

We both agreed: Yes.

For the last 20 minutes, the psychedelic rhythm band had been assailing the crowd with video footage from fellow New York experimental noisemakers Black Dice. Three giant digital-screened cubes hovered over the band, slaves to a sequence of color-saturated imagery that veered from pixels soaked in virtual LSD to nature imagery soaked in virtual LSD to some rippling coil shape that might've been your esophagus on real LSD. The two screens on either side of the band projected the same. It was basically meant to melt your mind.

Musically, the mission was the same. Animal Collective does have actual songs with beginnings, middles and ends, but you wouldn't have known it from Saturday night. Verse-chorus-verse sticklers were out of luck. Then again, you don't see Animal Collective with the hope that it'll cover a Mumford and Sons song.

— Margaret Wappler

Jones plays one for Strummer

The crowd for a reformed Big Audio Dynamite set Saturday night wasn't the largest to gather around the festival's second outdoor stage. Yet the audience provided one of the larger cheers of the day. When B.A.D. leader Mick Jones said midset that the next song would be one he "wrote with the late, great Joe," the anticipation level was high.

"Joe" is Joe Strummer, who passed away in 2002 and with whom Jones co-anchored the beloved and influential British punk band the Clash. That group had always resisted a reunion, but Jones isn't using his post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite, which never achieved either the critical successes or lasting mythology of the Clash, to cash in on past glories.

"If I were you," Jones said when asked if B.A.D. would ever tackle maybe one or two Clash songs, "I would not expect that to happen, no." At Coachella, Jones paused to let the crowd shout at the mention of Joe's name, and then lifted his guitar only to strike it down for the opening notes of "V. Thirteen," one of a handful of mid-'80s B.A.D. tunes to feature a Jones and Strummer collaboration.

— Todd Martens

Big parties to make one feel small

As the designated reporter on the Coachella party beat, I visited three parties Saturday afternoon: Desert Gold at the Ace Hotel, Mist Poolside Lounge at Agua Caliente Casino & Resort, and the Belvedere Music Lounge in a private residence near the polo field.

All three were wildly different happenings, with Ace claiming the drunken hipster crown formerly worn by the notoriously debauched Anthem Ranch party.

I can generally gauge the success of a party based on the extent of my feelings of inadequacy. The more insecure I feel, the better the party. At Ace my insecure-o-meter registered an 8 out of 10. However, my sense of superiority balanced the situation nicely, topping out at a healthy 7.5 because it was early and I was sober while everyone else teetered around with glazed lollipop eyes.

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