Coachella is a fest of many sounds and sizes, a setting for grand gestures and insurgent new music, and Saturday's crowded roster made for impossible choices. Muse and Faith No More delivered big, muscular rock on the main stage, but fans could also have spent the entire day planted across the lawn at the smaller Outdoor Theatre, where sets by MGMT, Hot Chip, the xx and the Dead Weather drew some of the festival's biggest crowds.
Just a month after their relatively stripped-down performance at South By Southwest, Muse were back to thinking and playing big, filling the towering Coachella Stage with bright lights and maximum crescendos. Singer-guitarist Matthew Bellamy presided over the 90-minute performance with much more excitement than prog pretension, crooning ballads from a grand piano ("Feeling Good") and bellowing mountaintop rock epics ("Uprising"). There were extended instrumental jams, a brief slip into a note-perfect recreation of Jimi Hendrix's spontaneous Woodstock reading of "The Star Spangled Banner" and also a sultry "Undisclosed Desires," where the band sounded more like classic Depeche Mode.
Faith No More opened its first major U.S. festival performance in a dozen years with an unlikely, if fitting cover of "Reunited," the 1978 R&B hit from Peaches & Herb. Dressed in a demon-red suit, singer Mike Patton played it straight, trading lines with keyboardist Roddy Bottom, and then erupted with the band through 50 minutes dominated by the hard funk and punk of "We Care A Lot" and "Epic," delivered at full, frantic force.
On that other outdoor stage, the xx adjusted their otherwise rigid black-on-black attire for the desert gig, putting singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft in a cream-color jacket, and earth-toned shirts on singer-bassist Oliver Sim and beatmaster-keyboardist Jamie Smith. The trio's late-afternoon set time tends to be prime-time for any act at the festival, unfolding just as the sun slips behind the mountains, and it was well-suited to the xx's minimal, deeply felt songs of torrid romance and hurt.
To the driving pulse of Smith's beat-boxes and Sim's rippling basslines, Croft sang with heartfelt affection on "VCR": "We live half in the day time ... and we live half at night ... I think we're superstars." At one point, Sim looked across the field toward the main stage, where Coheed and Cambria were waging intergalactic warfare with big guitars and bigger pyro, leaving smoke billowing into the sky. "The roof is on fire," Sim said without alarm.
The Dead Weather stormed the same stage after dark, ripping through raw madman blues, as singer Alison Mosshart danced unsteadily at the very edge of the pit, leaning over, climbing on her monitors, falling to her knees. Singer-drummer-mastermind Jack White called her "Baby Ruthless." Together, the unrestrained four-piece detonated panicked songs from last year's Horehound and the upcoming Sea of Cowards.
With the band dressed in matching black denim and leather, White pounded the drums behind the grinding hypnosis of "Hang You From the Heavens," as Dean Fertita ignited some oppressive riffs, a guitarist not at all interchangeable with White's epic blues, but with a searing musical voice of his own.
MGMT had their full lineup and gear pushed to the front of the stage, up close and personal with the fans, leaving no hierarchy (and no room). The Brooklyn-based band faced a huge crowd of swaying, dancing devotees, and performed the eccentric, provocative rock of "Weekend Wars" and "Time to Pretend." Some of the new songs from their just-released Congratulations were less immediate than the hits, but equally adventurous and bursting with energy and personality.
Hot Chip returned to Coachella for their third appearance to face a crowd as big as almost any of the weekend, performing smart electro-pop with thick grooves and beats on "Hold On" and "I Feel Better." The band closed with the danceable soul of "Made in the Dark," and singer Alexis Taylor signed off with the promise, "We'll see you at the Devo concert."
Devo closed the night in Mojave tent, with an hour-long set list combing quirky songs from throughout their career, adding new songs from the upcoming Something for Everybody, the band's first album in more than a decade. At Coachella, Devo stood like grown-up Booji men in matching gray jumpsuits, opening with "Don't Shoot" and Peakaboo," while a hyperactive video screen flashed comic, if sometimes dark images behind them.
Earlier, Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto marched and danced across the stage like a classic pop diva, utterly self-assured singing her band's vibrant modern dance music ("Dimestore Diamond," "Four Letter Word," etc.), to urgent, irresistible beats from drummer Hannah Blilie. Gossip left a Coachella impression not unlike Amy Winehouse's barefoot, star-making appearance in 2007.
"I am 100 percent sweaty," said Beach House guitarist Alex Scally, appearing on the Mojave stage with singer-organist Victoria Legrand, performing seductive tunes from the Baltimore-based act's new album, Teen Dream, to an overflowing tent. Off stage left, Jay-Z and Beyonce waded into the afternoon crowd to take in the indie buzz band, causing the usual commotion of excited fans lifting their cell-cameras toward the rapper, paparazzo-style, but Jay-Z kept pointing back at the stage, where things were really happening. (The power couple were also spotted earlier mingling in the crowd for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.) After rocking the desert floor in his triumphant mainstage set Friday night, Jay-Z was there not as a headliner, but to hear some great music, just like any other fan.