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Female Acts Tough to Beat on Fest’s Day One

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

During the daylight hours on Day One of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on Saturday, the musical environments were as eclectic as the lineup at the Empire Polo Field.

The performances under the sun by singer-songwriter Pete Yorn, new indie hero Jack Johnson, jam band-flavored G Love & Special Sauce, L.A.’s Forest for the Trees (with a sound that incorporated bagpipes, strings and hip-hop) and a surprisingly jangly Cornershop gave the late-afternoon main stage area a Sunday-in-the-park vibe.

To the many that packed the Mojave Tent to see the Pharcyde or earlier surrounded the main stage while New York rapper KRS-One delivered his hip-hop rules in a gruff, authoritative voice, hip-hop was the order of the day.

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And hundreds of electronic music enthusiasts turned the Sahara Tent into an afternoon dance club while such DJs as Lee Burridge and Miguel Migs filled the room with inviting female vocals and sunny grooves.

After the sun set, though, and the headliners began to take their places, the day came more into focus. This one was about women and the beat taking charge.

Given the paucity of female acts on this year’s package tours, the fact that three slots on the main stage (Princess Superstar, Bjork and the veteran English goth band Siouxsie & the Banshees) went to women is noteworthy.

Siouxsie Sioux led her Banshees, reunited for a brief run of shows, through a dark, guitar-rich set marked by Sioux’s volatility. She was captivating as she commanded the stage with dramatic and forceful movements, but some angry comments, including two at the corporate nature of the festival, seemed to come from out of nowhere.

Bjork, on the other hand, seemed genuinely pleased with the adoration heaped on her by the fans, repeatedly thanking the throng, which stretched as far as the eye could see. Given the intimate nature of the Icelandic singer’s music, it was a pleasant surprise how well the drama and emotion of songs from last year’s brilliant CD “Vespertine,” augmented by a string section and electronic programming, carried in the large venue.

Headlining the main stage were the Chemical Brothers, whose new album, “Come With Us,” was made for this setting. Full of large beats, explosive synthesizers and intoxicating percussion, it’s a dance album made for arena rock, and as the grooves of “It Began in Afrika” filled the night sky, Ed Simons and Tom Rowland pounded their keyboards and computers like mad scientists.

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While the Chemical Brothers reveled in their role as headliners, the always-inspired Sasha & Digweed took the Sahara Tent to another world with their own blend of rising trance segues and world-flavored percussion. On another day, their two-hour-plus set would have reigned supreme, but with women and beats holding Saturday’s bragging rights, it was only fitting that the day’s zenith came from an act that mixed the two.

English drum-and-bass group Kosheen dazzled the Mojave Tent with an hourlong set that obliterated the idea of what a live electronic show can be. Mixing the showmanship and Chrissie Hynde-like attitude of singer Sian Evans with infectious hooks, Kosheen had a blast on stage, and insisted the audience do the same.

What made the performance truly special, though, was the band’s daring. In a genre where stopping the beat is a no-no, Kosheen slowed the tempo with great effectiveness at key points. If a festival can deliver one truly great set and a series of strong performances around it, the day is a success. With Kosheen at the center, and the likes of touted newcomers the Vines, whose blistering punk ethos and short but sweet power-rockers will make a lot of noise this summer, on the periphery, Day One of Coachella 2002 was a memorable one.

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