Winehouse proves to be too big for her tent

Special to The Times

At Coachella, it's not the size of the tent you're performing in, but the size of the crowd trying to fit into it. And on Friday evening, the huge crowd that gathered to hear British soul singer Amy Winehouse sing her messed-up-in-love songs completely overwhelmed the Gobi Tent.

People packed the tent, the smallest of the festival's five stages, and overflowed it to the point of clogging the midway and raising tempers as others tried to pass by. Hindsight's 20/20, but Winehouse should've been in the much larger Outdoor Theatre, rather than Peaches, who flogged her shake-your-naughty-bits electro-raunch there, well past the point of tedium.

Still, Winehouse and her band did a remarkable job of rendering her intimate and raw blend of R&B, Motown, and reggae as though playing in a medium-sized nightclub. Strikingly eccentric in high heels, high hair, and short shorts, Winehouse applied her deep, numb-to-the-pain voice to "Rehab" and other selections from her current "Back to Black" album. Unfortunately, the festival's cacophony intruded during the mid-set ballads, jarred by occasional nearby locomotive blasts from the midway.

In the same tent an hour earlier, that same whistle also intruded upon a somber moment from folk duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. But they weren't fazed in their matching sequined red and white Nudie-style cowboy suits. "We wanted to make sure you know we're from Nashville, Tennessee," Welch joked charmingly. Crooning and playing guitar, harmonica, and banjo, she harmonized high-lonesome sweetly with guitarist Rawlings, momentarily transporting the ardent crowd away from the palm-tree-ringed fields with Johnny Cash and June Carter's hit "Jackson" and the pensive fable "Elvis Presley Blues."

If you didn't want to think about the night Elvis died, you could go bounce with the members of Dance Nation in the Sahara Tent, where French DJ Dave Guetta gleefully demonstrated the tribal effect of the beat on your feet. Not to mention the absolutely irresistible tension and release of matching familiar hits like "Tainted Love" with thumping, repetitive rhythms.

The Sahara was a prime source of hands-over-your-head bliss, what with the colorful projections and hypnotic house pulse of Felix da Housecat. Later on, with the U.K.hip-hop/dance fusion of double-drummer-fueled Faithless, the beat even gained political depth. Everyone into the tent, indeed.

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