Coachella 2011: Festival's greatest hits (and a bomb)

Over the 72 hours of the 12th Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, which took place this weekend at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Times writers for the Pop & Hiss music blog roamed the grounds chasing music, talking to fans, artists and organizers, and recording the moments that captured the essence of the festival. What follows are snapshots. For complete Pop & Hiss coverage, visit

Party favors from Arcade Fire

If Woody Allen's orgasmatron (from "Sleeper") mated with a beach ball, you'd have something like the glowing white bubbles that poured from the top of the stage into the sea of people at the end of Arcade Fire's Saturday night headlining set. For a few minutes, the audience pummeled and tossed them back and forth. From the stage, frontman Win Butler grinned, looking as though he was watching kids open presents on Christmas Day.

Then the LED orbs started shining red, purple, orange, yellow, green, sometimes a mélange of all colors. That's when the balls stopped bouncing: Some audience members wanted to keep their power (if only to stuff them under their car seats an hour or so later) for themselves.

In one corner of the grounds, away from interlopers, five kids dressed in neon bathing suits, neon face paint and feathered headdresses danced around an orb they'd spirited away. They were ecstatic to circle it in a tribal conga, perhaps waiting for it to explode, talk or read their minds.

Another guy simply rendezvoused with his alone, sometimes cradling it, other times thrashing it skyward. Until he tripped on a water bottle on the ground and almost lost his grip on his prize. Then he beat a hasty retreat for the exit, possibly sensing that his position on the field was too vulnerable.

— Margaret Wappler

A psychedelic Collective freakout

At Animal Collective's set Saturday night, a man stood next to me in a vest, tie and sports coat, not the usual Coachella get-up. He turned to me with a question. "If we teletransported someone from 50 years ago to this moment now, would that person think we've gone insane, based on this show?"

We both agreed: Yes.

For the last 20 minutes, the psychedelic rhythm band had been assailing the crowd with video footage from fellow New York experimental noisemakers Black Dice. Three giant digital-screened cubes hovered over the band, slaves to a sequence of color-saturated imagery that veered from pixels soaked in virtual LSD to nature imagery soaked in virtual LSD to some rippling coil shape that might've been your esophagus on real LSD. The two screens on either side of the band projected the same. It was basically meant to melt your mind.

Musically, the mission was the same. Animal Collective does have actual songs with beginnings, middles and ends, but you wouldn't have known it from Saturday night. Verse-chorus-verse sticklers were out of luck. Then again, you don't see Animal Collective with the hope that it'll cover a Mumford and Sons song.

— Margaret Wappler

Jones plays one for Strummer

The crowd for a reformed Big Audio Dynamite set Saturday night wasn't the largest to gather around the festival's second outdoor stage. Yet the audience provided one of the larger cheers of the day. When B.A.D. leader Mick Jones said midset that the next song would be one he "wrote with the late, great Joe," the anticipation level was high.

"Joe" is Joe Strummer, who passed away in 2002 and with whom Jones co-anchored the beloved and influential British punk band the Clash. That group had always resisted a reunion, but Jones isn't using his post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite, which never achieved either the critical successes or lasting mythology of the Clash, to cash in on past glories.

"If I were you," Jones said when asked if B.A.D. would ever tackle maybe one or two Clash songs, "I would not expect that to happen, no." At Coachella, Jones paused to let the crowd shout at the mention of Joe's name, and then lifted his guitar only to strike it down for the opening notes of "V. Thirteen," one of a handful of mid-'80s B.A.D. tunes to feature a Jones and Strummer collaboration.

— Todd Martens

Big parties to make one feel small

As the designated reporter on the Coachella party beat, I visited three parties Saturday afternoon: Desert Gold at the Ace Hotel, Mist Poolside Lounge at Agua Caliente Casino & Resort, and the Belvedere Music Lounge in a private residence near the polo field.

All three were wildly different happenings, with Ace claiming the drunken hipster crown formerly worn by the notoriously debauched Anthem Ranch party.

I can generally gauge the success of a party based on the extent of my feelings of inadequacy. The more insecure I feel, the better the party. At Ace my insecure-o-meter registered an 8 out of 10. However, my sense of superiority balanced the situation nicely, topping out at a healthy 7.5 because it was early and I was sober while everyone else teetered around with glazed lollipop eyes.

Still, the party was fun. There was a lot of bleached blond hair and strong mojitos as well as swank gifting suites by Doc Marten, Converse and Ray-Ban that actor Adrien Grenier was rumored to be visiting. There was also a really unusual new vending machine in the lobby by a company named Opening Ceremony that dispensed crystal pendants, "love" mix tapes, tribal earrings and signature-printed condoms by Jeremy Scott. It was as if the vending machine knew just what kind of party it was.

— Jessica Gelt

Surprise — it's Jeff Goldblum

Until the time the actor hopped onstage with his five-piece band, most festival-goers hadn't even fathomed the words "Jeff Goldblum" and "Coachella" in the same sentence. That was exactly what website Funny or Die was thinking when it hatched a plan to trot out the actor for a surprise performance on the campground. For a full 90 minutes he and his band — the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra — commandeered the campground for a mockumentary on the actor's first-ever Coachella gig. With one minor catch.

"It's not even inside Coachella," said Funny or Die producer Allison Hord. "It's on this cheap wedding stage on the campground with people walking by wondering what the … is Jeff Goldblum doing at Coachella." She said they'd done similar comedy videos at Bonnaroo and South by Southwest. Though the audience wasn't in on the joke Saturday, most bystanders offered up the desired brow-furrowing reaction.

"Is that … Jeff Goldblum?," wondered one husky, shirtless camper. The man squinted and visored his hand over his eye to make sure he it wasn't a mirage.

Nate Jackson

From their hearts to Jumbo's

"This is a love song" said Jenny Lewis, introducing the song "Just Like Zeus" from her new project with collaborator-boyfriend Johnathan Rice under the name Jenny & Johnny. Alas, for romantics, it was a love song "dedicated to Jumbo's Clown Room," the East Hollywood bikini bar.

For fans of sickly neon and tattooed stripper dilettantes, it was the sweetest mash note of the weekend. Jenny and Johnny may be one of indie rock's first couples, but their love songs come riven with images of drawn knives, venomous snakes and Hollywood vice pits.

Their music draws from a well of Evan Dando-Juliana Hatfield '90s slacker rock but livened up with classic country grace and meticulous harmonies. "Big Wave" rode a thicket of distorted guitars and doo-wop catcalls; Rice's more harrowing "Animal" made up for its severe Israel-Palestine musings with a more haunting declaration: "If you lose your fear of God, you are an animal at heart." But most of it was otherwise genial. Lewis is one of the best wise-crackers in rock, and clearly her mod-Stevie Nicks fashion vibe informed the dress code for about 99% of the women in attendance.

— Margaret Wappler

Fans angry at Cee Lo's late start

Showing up late to your own gig at Coachella only gets you so far. For Cee Lo Green, it got him nothing but grief.

Restlessness and anger quickly spread through the swarm of fans that had convened to see the singer on the main stage Friday afternoon. With the sweltering heat beaming down, it didn't take long before profanity-laced outbursts about when he'd show started to ring out.

"If we're coming to your show and you don't even show, I'm like … you!" a shirtless fan sang, adapting a line from Green's profanity-laced hit song otherwise known as "Forget You." Nearly half an hour — and plenty of walkouts — later, he arrived.

"Sorry, guys, I just landed. Y'all still gonna party with me? I only have 20 minutes," Green said. "It ain't my fault. They should have … given me a better time slot." The statement got him nowhere, as people piled out and flipped him the bird through his drastically abbreviated set. He was able to tackle five songs, including hits "Crazy" and "… You," the latter of which had taken on a new meaning.

— Gerrick D. Kennedy

Where things got rolling early

Music manger Laurel Stearns helps organize pop-up skating rinks with Down & Derby and oversees the 120-by-100-foot wooden rink at the onsite campground constructed just for Coachella and the upcoming country-focused Stagecoach. On Thursday night-Friday morning, early camping arrivals flooded to the rink, said Stearns, who said she had 400 pairs of skates rented in one hour. All told, 700 Coachella campers came by to rent the $5 skates.

As the clock crawled toward 1 a.m., fans were still trickling into the roller rink. Some, like 18-year-old Ventura resident Lauren Emily Brown, had never really skated before. As Brown struggled to stay on her feet, Stearns noted that each night usually results in a sprained ankle or two, but there haven't been any major injuries — "nothing fatal," Stearns said. For Brown, she had no intention on calling it a night. The rink, she said, "was here, and I like disco."

— Todd Martens

Rocker has a moment of modesty

Deep into the Kings of Leon's headline set Friday, frontman Caleb Followill remembered a Coachella of yore — and tapped into an insecurity.

"Last time we played, I didn't wear a shirt. I apologize," he said sheepishly. "I've gained a few pounds since then so I'm keeping the shirt on." A girl next to me empathized, saying "aw" and burying her face in her boyfriend's arm. Feeling self-conscious about one's physique is an old tradition at Coachella, as reliable as the presence of crushed water bottles on the polo field. Even fancy rock stars aren't immune to it.

— Margaret Wappler

You did this, Jimmy Eat World

Jimmy Eat World let loose its optimistic, self-affirming brand of mainstream, college-friendly alt-radio rock on Sunday at Coachella to a surprisingly large crowd that seemed to grow every minute.

And in the course of its nearly 50-minute set it proved that, if you were alive in the late '90s —no matter how cool and impenetrable you thought you were — you're still vulnerable to the siren call of candy-coated early emo rock. The Mesa, Ariz.,-based quartet doesn't make music that blows your mind, but when it comes on the radio, you always sing along.

The world has Green Day to thank for the sugary birth of Jimmy Eat World and bands like the latter to thank for the chaffingly infantile emergence of bands like Blink 182. These newcomers have universal appeal to so-called super bros, the brand of testosterone-fueled males that have come to dominate Coachella in place of disheveled hipster troglodytes that once played king of the polo field. It's a backward devolution, but one that will remain at home in America's dorm rooms for years.

Jessica Gelt

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