Day two of Coachella saw the hardest, dangerous edge of indie rock best represented by the Kills and Cage the Elephant, while headliner Arcade Fire and newcomers Mumford & Sons made a case for inspirational folk-rock with rousing, passionate performances.
"If you had told me in 2002 that we'd one day be headlining Coachella ... I'd have said you were full of shit," Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler told the masses spread out in front of his band, who were making their first appearance at the Southern California festival since a spectacular set in 2004. "Don't think we take this for granted for even one second."
The band's night-closing show was another peak in a year when they won a Grammy for Album of the Year for The Suburbs. Looking like a small orchestra of guitars, strings, percussion and keyboards on the big stage, the band delivered a performance that was soaring, theatrical and emotional – from the new album's aching title song the band's epic signature, "Wake Up."
As that song came to its soaring crescendo, Arcade Fire released 2,000 large balloons from above the stage, blinking in shades of red and blue as they tumbled across the top of the crowd. It was a stunning, otherworldly sight, and small groups of fans were soon seen gathering round the glowing orbs all across Coachella's vast polo fields.
Mumford & Sons faced one of the night's biggest crowds of the night. They layered acoustic guitar, banjo and a brass section on "Winter Winds," a song of faith and heartbreak, while "The Cave" a became a huge singalong for much of the crowd, connecting on a massive landscape that few venues beyond Coachella can provide.
The Kills were a different kind of volcanic presence, kicking at the warm desert air, as guitarist Jamie Hince built crushing riffs equal parts ancient blues and Velvet Underground. Singer Alison Mosshart barked and purred for "No Wow" and prowled the stage during "Kissy Kissy," a seething duet. The duo were briefly joined onstage by a trio of soulful backround singers, adding a warm layer of honey to the Kills' broken glass.
Crowd-surfing and stage-diving were central to the afternoon set by Cage the Elephant, most of it by singer Matt Shultz, who wore a little red dress. His band fired up speedy, intense songs inspired by punk, Sixties garage pop and Stooges-style fury. British punk pioneers Wire played to a small but excited crowd in the Gobi tent for an hour-long blast of guitar from Colin Newman and touring sideman Matt Simms. And Clash co-founder Mick Jones led his Big Audio Dynamite through a forward-leaning blend of rock, hip-hop and beat culture from the Eighties.
Earlier, Erykah Badu led a hypnotic set of modern soul grooves, Broken Social Scene unspooled its eclectic indie rock jams and Bright Eyes leader Connor Oberst sang with typical force and bite. As the sun slipped behind the mountains, Oberst declared, "Damn, the darkness feels good right now."