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Offering plenty of alternative

Special to The Times

INDIO -- "I see how the desert can be a spiritual place." Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney was reacting to the afternoon scene in front of her, addressing thousands of sun-baked music fans gathered near the big stage Sunday at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Like others on the bill, Sleater-Kinney is an esteemed indie-rock band accustomed to creating its loud, contemplative sounds in theaters. But the annual festival takes things to an epic scale, delivering adventurous rock, dance, hip-hop and other sounds to a massive audience hungry for the challenge.

Although spaces this big don't often lead to optimal musical experiences, quality sound is a tradition of Coachella, and Sleater-Kinney made the most of it, with an edgy, springy guitar sound and a wild, feminine wail all its own, performing several songs from the trio's newest album, "The Woods."

Alternative rock sounds (punk, indie rock, etc.) have always had a special place in the history of Goldenvoice Productions, which founded the fest in 1999. And Sunday's lineup offered a full collection of that and more, including Bloc Party's sometimes manic, danceable rock -- echoing early Buzzcocks -- and Mogwai's waves of melody and eruptions of guitar angst, turning hypnotic shoe-gazing sounds into jarring passages of ecstatic noise.

The Swedish band Dungen brought a different flavor of noise, the kind of sound that could easily turn to sludge with the wrong mix, but the band soared often with a roar sometimes straight ahead and loud, other times surreal and also loud. The quartet of young dudes kept the ancient tradition of wailing rock guitars vivid and contemporary.

This year's festival also experimented with a bit of world music, with the blind West African duo Amadou & Mariam and, later, the urgent tropical acoustic songs of Seu Jorge. As the fest's huge Tesla coil erupted nearby with crackling, purple bolts of electricity, Jorge performed songs rich with warmth and energy.

One of the festival's finest, weirdest, funniest moments came at the very end of the day, as the young five-piece British act Art Brut wailed with a farcical sound drenched in excitement. The band's set opened with the epic metal riff of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," which quickly shifted into Art Brut's signature song, "Formed a Band." Singer Eddie Argos vented and kicked the air during sharply written tunes that rocked with a frayed post-punk grace and the challenges of the modern world in songs with titles such as "Bad Weekend" and "Moving to L.A."

It was a vivid, hilarious way to close the night and the festival, delivering one last new band to exhausted fans before the long drive home -- always one of the best reasons to come to Coachella.

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