Beneath a cloudless sky in the California desert, the 2011 edition of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival erupted with eclectic force on Friday, hosting a dependably diverse range of sounds – from the swaggering southern rock of Kings of Leon to the forward-looking beats and high glam of Robyn. “The last time we played here, I didn’t wear a shirt,” said KoL singer Caleb Followill, referring to the band’s 2007 daytime set. “I’ve gained three pounds since then – I’m keeping the shirt on.”
The band brought some traditional muscle to the desert, stepping up from their appearance at last year’s Outside Lands Festival with a mix of old and new songs that landed with the force of a cymbal crash. There was explosive classic rock guitar work from Matthew Followill on “Sex On Fire,” but also something more understated in “Mi Amigo” (from last year’s Come Around Sundown album).
Some of the most energetic moments of the evening came during Robyn’s excited set, as the platinum-haired Swedish singer hopped and waved to the keyboards and live percussion of “Dancing On My Own” and “Indestructible.”
Before KoL took the stage, the Black Keys uncorked molten blues riffs and a roundhouse beat. Watching singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney work to fill the huge space, the strange and inspiring sight recalled the White Stripes’ performance on that same stage in 2003.
The sweat-drenched Cold War Kids arrived onstage at dusk to sing anguished post-modern blues, including “I’ve Seen Enough,” flowed by the sultry indie hit “Hang Me Out to Dry.” There was icy rage from Interpol and playful riffs and beats from Sleigh Bells, and Brandon Flowers stepped further away from his work with the Killers with a set heavily weighted with Eighties dance and pop elements. His “Magdalena” (from last year’s Flamingo album) was festive with a bit of swampy twangy, while a cover of the 1981 pop hit “Bette Davis Eyes” replaced the original Kim Carnes rasp with breathless glee.