Sahara tent is an oasis for the underground set

Special to The Times

INDIO -- There may be no question the face of Coachella is evolving with the presence of Madonna and Kanye West among others, but Sunday night proved there will likely always remain room for the underground faves. Massive Attack, the Bristol ensemble who pioneered trip-hop, made a triumphant return.

Taking the main stage under a haze of smoky red lights that reflected its sinewy, sultry sound, the group, joined by several guest vocalists, including the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser and frequent collaborator Horace Andy, opened with "False Flag." With the festival in a post-Madonna hangover, the set didn't really kick into gear until about halfway through with the hip-hop-flavored "Karmacoma," off of 1994's "Protection."

Backed by an unusual five-piece setup that included two drummers, the group fleshed out its dark, atmospheric grooves with a dense, more muscular framework throughout, punctuating several selections, including "Safe From Harm" and the closing "Group Four," with extended solos, the latter rising in a frenzied pace until its explosive finale.

There was plenty of other dance/electronic music spread out over the grounds on Sunday, including the warm sounds of Jazzanova and acid jazz pioneer Gilles Peterson in the Gobi tent. But the heart of the dance scene remained the Sahara, albeit a very different than normal scene. Reconfigured with a massive VIP pit in front for Madonna, the tent took on a live vibe as fans waiting all day in the sweltering heat pressed up against the barricades, turning DJs such as Kaskade into rock stars.

House music favorite Louie Vega made some new fans, but it was Paul Oakenfold, in essence opening for Madonna, who made the most of the night, supplying the packed house with crowd-pleasing expansive trance grooves and such proven hits as Underworld's "Born Slippy."

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