Phoenix rises with a little help from R. Kelly at Coachella
Solange and John Legend make unexpected cameos while The Postal Service still sounds fresh
By Robert Spuhler
Special to MSN Music
INDIO, Calif. -- First, it was rumored to be the Rolling Stones. Then, it was supposed to be Daft Punk. After the Coachella lineup was announced and Phoenix took on the mantle of Saturday night headliner, a slot filled in the past by acts like Radiohead, Prince and Depeche Mode … the actual headliner was still rumored to be Daft Punk. On the second night of Coachella, Phoenix took to the main stage as the final act and did everything in their power – including getting help from R. Kelly, of all people – to send concertgoers home happy.
Starting with a strong opening trio of new single “Entertainment,” remix magnet “Lasso” and viral hit “Lisztomania,” Phoenix wasted no time hooking the audience. Despite the homogenous nature of some of the band's songs on their last album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” the crowd ate up favorites like “1901” and “Armistice.”
The moment that will be talked about for the foreseeable future, however, came a little less than an hour into the set, with lead singer Thomas Mars wishing the crowd goodnight and the band leaving a darkened stage. When the lights returned, there was R. Kelly, launching into the remix of “Ignition,” while Phoenix played “1901” behind him. The insta-mashup got stranger when the R&B superstar got in a chorus of “I'm a Flirt” during his limited time. Watch video of the performance below.
There was so much talk before the festival about what was wrong with Phoenix as a headlining act, mostly reduced to complaints that the band isn't “big” or established enough, that it was easy to overlook what was right about the idea. Songs like “Lisztomania” and “1901” are part of the recent music canon, tracks that everyone has heard either on the radio, on a television show or as the background for an inspired mash-up of John Hughes films on the Internet. Being a band with universal appeal is important for any festival headliner, and while Phoenix may not have the fervent fan base of Daft Punk or the history of the Stones, the French imports did their best to show they belonged under the brightest of lights.
Before Phoenix took the stage, The xx had their own guest spot from an R&B star, with Solange taking vocal duties on a cover of Aaliyah's “Hot Like Fire.” It was the liveliest moment for the English downbeat electro-poppers, whose dreamlike tracks may have lacked the energy or pace that many in the crowd sought. Still, while lesser-known tunes may have prompted some to check out other stages, songs like “Sunset” and “Intro” managed to get listeners swaying and, on the outer reaches of the crowd, twirling.
There may not be a band on the main stage with a smaller catalog of songs to draw from than the Postal Service, which proceeded the xx. The duo of Ben Gibbard (from Death Cab for Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (who performs solo under the name Dntel) have one 10-song album and a couple of B-sides to their name.
Joined onstage by the original album's backup vocalist (and ex-Rilo Kiley frontwoman) Jenny Lewis, the band still felt relevant. Tamborello anticipated the rise of dance music by a decade, and while the beats behind the Postal Service don't hit as hard as a David Guetta or Calvin Harris house track, there's enough force to propel the songs forward and make a crowd move. Meanwhile, Gibbard was in fine form vocally, especially when playing off of Lewis. Between this set and the recent release of the 10th anniversary edition of the band's lone album, “Give Up,” it is understandable why fans want to hear more.
Earlier in the evening, Alaskan export Portugal. the Man played their '70s-influenced indie rock to a large crowd at the Outdoor Stage, with an atmosphere perfectly suited to the setting desert sun. The prolific quintet's extended jams at the end of songs like “Everything You See” (which also featured a quick taste of Weezer's “Say It Ain't So”) allowed the band's biggest fans to dance and gave curious onlookers camped out further from the stage perfect background music for dinner or staring at the sky. The sing-along ending, with “Sleep Forever” segueing perfectly into “Hey Jude,” also gave the audience a chance for crowd participation.
On a day when indie rock dominated the top of the lineup, both a rapper and a soul singer proved that each belonged on the main stage. One, 2 Chainz, did so by drawing a crowd to his 4 p.m. show that spilled out of all sides of the Mojave tent. Unfortunately, the rapper's show did not end up starting until 4:20 p.m., with a portion of the crowd giving up before he took the stage with his verse from Kanye West's “Mercy.” The rapper formerly known as Tity Boi will not challenge Rakim for the title of “greatest lyricist alive,” but at a massive outdoor festival, all the crowd really wants to hear is the verse from “Beez in the Trap” anyway, and Chainz delivered.
Meanwhile, in terms of stage presence, there may be no one at Coachella who puts on a bigger show than Janelle Monáe. The diminutive singer also got started late (thanks to what looked like technical difficulties), but once underway she had the entire Gobi tent dancing. If there were people who weren't moving by the time she finished her cover of the Jackson 5's “One More Chance,” they hid themselves well.
Other highlights: R. Kelly and Solange were not the only R&B guest artists performing with Coachella acts on Saturday: John Legend took to the Sahara tent stage to perform “Dance the Pain Away,” his new collaboration with house DJ and producer Benny Benassi. … Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo introduced the band thusly: “We're Violent Femmes, and we play songs.” When they lead off their set with “Blister in the Sun,” they don't have to do much else.
Photos: (Top) The crowd at Coachella. (right) Grimes. Photos by Alexandra Wyman/AP
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