INDIO -- The primary story out of Coachella in 2012 was dance music, the handiwork of oxygen-gobbling sets by superstar DJs such as David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia. And electronic beats are definitely a part of the mix at this year’s festival. Witness the addition of a brand-new dance-music tent, Yuma, and the expansion of the Sahara, where Moby and Benny Benassi are scheduled to perform Saturday.
But on Coachella’s flagship main stage Friday night, guitars made a comeback in the music of Modest Mouse and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, scrappy indie-rock bands gone big. And they figured prominently in performances by the evening’s headliners, beat-friendly Brit-pop giants Blur and the Stone Roses. The smaller Outdoor Theatre was full of guitars, too, with Divine Fits, Local Natives and Band of Horses flashing back to an era before four-on-the-floor beats.
Re-emerging after a bit of time out of the spotlight -- the Washington band’s last studio album came out in 2007 -- Modest Mouse emphasized its gritty textures and discursive song structures, the members hunching over their instruments like lumberjacks brandishing heavy axes. At its best, as in “King Rat” and “Paper Thin Walls,” the group channeled some live-wire energy. But at other points Modest Mouse sounded more ragged than frontman Isaac Brock might’ve intended.
And when it stretched its 2004 hit “Float On” beyond the band’s alotted time onstage, it suddenly found itself without amplification. Coachella had a schedule to keep and appeared to be enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward stragglers.
New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs were more immediate: They took the stage with a gospel choir to do “Sacrilege,” the lead single from a new record due out Tuesday. As she did in a performance last month at South by Southwest, frontwoman Karen O bounced around the stage in a series of wild outfits, donning a miner’s headlamp and a black leather jacket emblazoned with a “KO.”
But once the gospel choir split, the band kept its punky garage rock relatively lean, powering through “Zero,” “Gold Lion” and “Heads Will Roll” like the Empire Polo Club was a super-sized dive.
The Stone Roses pulled off a similar feat, though for a different reason: Halfway through its headlining set, the once-important Manchester four-piece -- playing in the U.S. for the first time since a 2011 reunion -- was performing in front of what amounted to a club-sized audience, Coachella’s masses having drifted off to take in other amusements.
The exodus was justified. Exercising an extremely casual relationship with pitch, singer Ian Brown led the band through long, tediously jammy versions of songs from its influential 1989 debut, including “I Wanna Be Adored” and “I Am the Resurrection.” Guitarist John Squire played well enough, but the music had no charge or charisma; it was aggressively bad. Perhaps a drum machine would’ve helped.
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood