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Coachella Comes Alive

Radiohead, Cure, Pixies heat up California desert

May 3, 2004 12:00 AM ET

This year's Coachella festival, the fifth annual event in Indio, California, featured the strongest lineup to date. With Radiohead and the reunited Pixies headlining Saturday, and the Cure the top draw on Sunday, the festival sold-out for the first time.

An estimated 60,000 people braved the 100-plus-degree heat on Day One and jammed the grassy knoll of the Empire Polo Fields. An acoustic set by Beck in one tent led to a massive traffic jam that echoed the line of cars trying to get in and out of the venue. As people spilled out the doors of the tent, bodies packed together thousands deep to try and get a glimpse of Beck.

For those that strayed off the beaten path prior to the Pixies and Radiohead, there were highlights to be found. (International) Noise Conspiracy and Mexican dance-fusion favorites Kinky shined on the main stage, while French DJ Laurent Garnier and the U.K.'s Danny Howells rocked the Sahara Tent with ninety-minutes each of dance music bliss.

Stereolab, in the midst of their first tour since the tragic death of keyboardist/vocalist Mary Hansen, had the Mojave Tent overflowing for their blend of comely electro-pop. Desert Sessions, the side project of Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, featured guest appearances by Joan Jett and the Distillers' Brody Dalle, as well as Mark Lanegan.

By all accounts though, this was one day where the headliners delivered the goods. The Pixies rocked their way through an hour-long performance highlighted by "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man." It was the Saturday set fans spent most of Sunday talking about.

Still, main stage headliners Radiohead would not be upstaged. The group delivered a hits-rich set, including "Paranoid Android," "National Anthem," "Karma Police," and "Creep" during the encores, to a massive swell of fans.

Most of those people crammed their way into the Sahara Tent following Radiohead's set for Kraftwerk. The German forefathers of electronic music didn't disappoint those able to push their way in. The group drew on material from throughout its thirty-year-plus career, including "The Man Machine," "Computerworld," "Radioactivity" and "Musik Non Stop," during a ninety-minute set.

All this made for a hard act to follow on a sweltering Day Two, but another reunited band got the day off to a good start on the main stage. L.A. favorites Thelonious Monster, who just released their first album in twelve years, cranked out an enjoyable forty minutes featuring old favorites like "Sammy Hagar Weekend" and songs from the new California Clam Chowder, an album devoted to influences of the band. Anthony Kiedis and Flea joined the group for the finale, "Elton John Song."

Among other Sunday highlights was British hip-hopper Dizzee Rascal, who also made an appearance during the Basement Jaxx's crowd-pleasing soul and dance revue; the melodic pop/rock of Australia's Sleepy Jackson; the goth-punk of the Killers; Atmosphere's emo-hop; Thursday's hard-edged tribute to the Cure; and Air, whose French electro-pop was perfect for a dusk soundscape.

All this led up to the Cure's debut Coachella appearance. Robert Smith and Co. skillfully mixed a few tracks from their upcoming album with a slew of old favorites, from "Love Song," "Just Like Heaven," and "Boy's Don't Cry" to the more atmospheric "Fascination St." and "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea."

 

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