My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, Public Enemy Perform at Coachella '09 - Rolling Stone
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Coachella ’09 Headline With My Bloody Valentine, Cure, Public Enemy

The man in the front row wearing a Trojans condoms T-shirt had just one thing to yell over and over again as My Bloody Valentine unleashed ear-shattering noise and melody on the final night of this year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival: “Play louder!” (Plunge into the desert fest in our Coachella gallery.)

The hour-long performance by the influential quartet was one of the most anticipated of the three-day SoCal event, and it was plenty loud. The reunited My Bloody Valentine also epitomized what has always been a core mission of Coachella since its 1999 birth: gathering the finest artists of forward-looking rock and dance music in an epic desert setting for pop connoisseurs hungry for groundbreaking music and the next new thing. While Paul McCartney’s euphoric, emotional appearance Friday will be the most talked about set of the weekend, fans are likely to find lasting inspiration in Sunday’s crowded roster of daring music acts, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Kills to Public Enemy and the bizarre, punk-era experimentation of Throbbing Gristle.

(Read about Paul McCartney and day one, plus the Killers and day two.)

Headlining were the Cure, making their second appearance on the desert main stage, with two hours of playful, tearful songs of sadness and fleeting moments of love. Bandleader Robert Smith conducted the evening with ease and a knack for timeless pop hooks. “The End of the World,” from the band’s 2004 album The Cure, was equally forlorn and soaring with blasts of electric guitar. The band’s new album, 4:13 Dream, is among their strongest in recent years, but an undeniable clarity of vision fueled his best-known songs on Sunday, from “Pictures of You” to “Lovesong.”

My Bloody Valentine delivered a different style of beauty and noise, drawing mostly on the band’s acclaimed 1991 album, Loveless, their final recording before breaking apart. Most fans never had a chance to hear these spasms of feedback and melody live until last year’s first wave of reunion shows. At Coachella, guitarists Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher strummed heavy hypnotic patterns in the dark, their vocals acting mostly as another layer of pure sound on “Only Shallow” or the chiming “Soon.” Unsurprisingly, the band honed to understatement between songs. Shields’ main comment of the evening was the greeting, “Hello, Coachella people!” There were flashing lights, clouds of fog and bleak psychedelic images on the big screen, but the band’s main special effect was the wall of Marshalls behind Shields.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs began with a smoldering “Runaway,” from the just-released It’s Blitz!, as Karen O vogued across the stage in a shimmering dress draped in golden discs. The band sparked up a dramatic “Dull Life,” while presided over by a giant inflatable eyeball, swaying gently in the late-afternoon desert air. Nick Zinner occasionally worked a small keyboard but otherwise stayed behind his electric guitar, putting it down only to pick up another. There’s a strong dance-floor element to much of the new YYY’s album, particularly within the bouncy keyboards and disco beat of “Heads Will Roll,” but Zinner’s role as master of raw, post-punk riffs was largely unchanged live. They did a straight-ahead psychobilly reading of the Cramps’ “Human Fly,” either as tribute to that classic punk act’s late frontman, the endlessly seething Lux Interior, or the fly tattoo on Karen O’s left shoulder. The YYY’s own “Maps” remained a passionate modern torch song, with sparks of electric guitar and feedback, ending with Karen O putting the mike to her heart, eyes closed.

The Kills delivered a typically explosive rock’n’blues exorcism in the Mojave tent, opening with a tough “U.R. A Fever,” Jamie Hince slashing at a beat-up, hot-rodded guitar that looked like pieces were missing. Singer-guitarist Alison Mosshart paced the stage anxiously, lunging over the front rows, crawling on the floor, suggesting that her new band project with Jack White (The Dead Weather) has sapped none of her creative juices. The Kills left a strong impression, all sharp edges and sexual energy.

Hip-hop revolutionaries Public Enemy mixed DJs and live musicians into a powerful new sound. The election of the first African-American president has not softened their approach, though vocalist Flava Flav brought out his toddler son, Karma, to meet the crowd, before diving back into such late-80s classics of agitation as “She Watch Channel Zero!?” and “Rebel Without a Pause.”

Earlier, Peter Bjorn and John performed pop hooks rooted in ’80s modern rock, while Antony and the Johnsons combined live strings and electronic keyboard for haunting and festive operatic pop, with vocals equal parts Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley. DJ Roni Size and his band collided new breakbeats and modern, meaningful soul. There was first-wave L.A. punk from X, and Paul Weller’s afternoon set included an appearance by Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, just days after his former bandmate Morrissey’s set. The Smiths reunion remains elusive and unlikely.

Throbbing Gristle crafted a storm of wild experimentation, layering the disturbing “Hamburger Lady” with the pulsating sounds of laptop, loops, violin, guitar and the graceful howls of Genesis P-Orridge. He performed a song for his late wife, Lady Jaye, whose face was tattooed onto his forearm, which he kissed as he began a tragic song about “someone else’s history, someone else’s mystery . . . It’s become about you and me.” P-Orridge sounded prepared to go on. Intense musical experimentation is never in or out of fashion.

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