"I tell you, that's a very loud ice-cream van over there," Damon Albarn told his audience Saturday at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival's Outdoor Theater.
It wasn't actually an ice-cream van. It was dance-music star Tiësto, the only DJ at this year's festival to be given a spot on the main stage, from which position he mowed down all neighboring communities with his monumental beats. That included the nearby stage where poor Albarn was trying to play something a little more subtle with his new project, the Good, the Bad & the Queen, a supergroup of sorts, with Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Nigerian drummer Tony Allen.
That was a shame, because Albarn had brought along a top hat to wear and a string section to help the band play a start-to-finish rendition of its debut album, a low-key and downbeat look at modern England and the price of war.
It sounded rich and strong, with Allen given room for some explosive drumming, but the mood could never take hold because of all the distractions. It was another snapshot for the Coachella scrapbook, Albarn and company playing "Herculean," the string players sawing like mad against the wind, and Tiësto.
Saturday's lineup, with a solid and soulful set from main-stage headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a searing statement of intent from the powerfully rocking Kings of Leon, had some memorable moments lower on the bill.
Roky Erickson, who helped form the template for garage-rock and psychedelia in the 1960s before incurring drug damage and other psychological problems, is active again, and his first West Coast show in ages was like something from another time. Erickson led a classic four-piece rock combo, tearing into one crisp, minimalist rocker after another, his raspy voice strong and his manner confident.
In one five-hour stretch on Friday, two L.A. groups and two from Britain alternated on the festival's main stage, a centerpiece sequence that summarized Coachella's knack for presenting bands at a point of notable emergence, transition or rebirth.
Even the least dramatic of these, the Arctic Monkeys, is a much-watched enterprise, since the young band was accorded such acclaim with its debut last year. The quartet's new collection, "Favourite Worst Nightmare," isn't as emotionally embracing as the debut, but performing tunes from both, frontman Alex Turner sang vivid accounts of youthful longing and confusion with a voice packed with character.
The Los Angeles band that preceded them, Silversun Pickups, is writing a success story of its own. Its Coachella set will be logged as a major momentum accelerator, as the foursome won the crowd with a humble but confident manner and music that conjured majesty from a simple, guitar-focused foundation.
Finally, Friday's set from the influential Jesus and Mary Chain did everything its highly anticipated reunion should have. Feisty brothers Jim and William Reid were back together but never visibly acknowledged one another, and when William attacked his guitar, it sounded as if he were exposing the grinding bowels of the Earth.
Jim, looking tense but determined, sang their dark, soaring songs with deadpan concentration and conviction, and their one new song contained an image-shattering couplet: "I don't want to fry / I don't want to die."
A Coachella moment to remember.
POP MUSIC REVIEW
Subtle but memorable at Coachella
Damon Albarn is among highlights from lower on Saturday's bill.
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