With its wild, discordant sound and bizarre song structure, Modest Mouse is one of the most unlikely superstar rock bands of modern times. Similarly, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the grungy pop rock band helmed by the unstoppable Karen O, seems like a band you might come across at a local underground rock club. Which is why it’s so remarkable to see both on the mainstage at Coachella this year.
It’s not that either band recently broke out. They both have had massive hits and have accumulated a worldwide fan base. It’s just that they remind us that indie rock is alive and well, and their performances at Coachella on Friday night proved that.
Modest Mouse took the long road to fame, having formed in 1993, and putting in years on the road until it saw mainstream takeoff. That’s why it was so great to hear singer Isaac Brock joke about how the band prepared for its Coachella set. Lighting, check. Elaborate stage rigging, check. Backdrop, check. And a wild sunset crowd to prove it matters.
Later, Yeah Yeah Yeahs took to the stage like a firestorm with Karen O aflame in an embroidered canary yellow rock ‘n’ roll pant suit. With her choppy bleach-blond hair, smeared mascara, single leather motorcycle glove and wild stage moves, O is by far one of the best frontwomen of our time. She’s like a cross between Joan Jett and Debbie Harry, but with an early aughts twist.
“Cheers, Coachella!” she yelled midway through the band’s energetic set, raising a clear plastic cup that looked like it definitely contained a cocktail.
From there it was all raw and wired rock ‘n’ roll with O swinging the mic over her head like a helicopter, bouncing up and down on the drum riser, getting down on her knees before a raucous guitar solo and once balancing the mic in her mouth upside down with no hands.
“Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound,” she sang during “Cheated Hearts,” her voice blasting through the night like a rusty hinge.
And as the crowd sang along, dancing with abandon, it was clear that, yes, she was.