By Mikael Wood
11:05 AM EDT, April 14, 2013
It was Coachella's best-kept secret.
At the end of a day filled with speculation that Phoenix would share its headlining set on the main stage with Daft Punk, the French band instead brought out R. Kelly, the one-of-a-kind R&B star, for a supremely unlikely mash-up of its song "1901" and Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)." The surprise shocked the festival crowd, which responded -- after the inevitable surge of camera-phone flashes -- in the only way possible: by turning the grounds of the Empire Polo Club into a vast dance floor.
Yet if Phoenix's guest of honor was an outlier Saturday, the band's overall dependence on groove (which Kelly certainly bolstered) felt like part of an established pattern. Earlier in the evening the wry English group Hot Chip spun out shimmering electro-disco grooves on the main stage, followed a few hours later by Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand in the Mojave Tent. Each was offering Coachella a way to stay connected to its indie-rock roots while catering to an audience with an increasing appetite for the pulsating rhythms of electronic dance music.
Beyond its left-field duet with Kelly, Phoenix -- which broke out in the U.S. with 2009's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" and will release an anticipated follow-up next week -- layered fuzzy guitars over crisp beats in new songs such as "Entertainment" and "The Real Thing," the latter of which openly echoed Prince's "Little Red Corvette." And it went deeply spacey in a long rendition of "Love Like a Sunset," pushing its meticulously crafted pop-rock to trippy extremes.
Franz Ferdinand avoided any such appearance of self-indulgence: Its well-attended performance was a study in precision, with the band's sharply dressed frontman Alex Kapranos offering pithy thoughts on sex and romance over pointed riffs that got straight to the point.
"It's been a wee while," he said near the beginning of the band's set, acknowledging the four-year gap since the band's last record. (A new one is reportedly due this year.) Franz Ferdinand has aged surprisingly well, though: When it slid into the half-time slow-down that defines its 2004 hit "Take Me Out," the tempo shift felt like the rock-band equivalent of the so-called "drop" in dubstep. And it appended a bit of the late Donna Summer's groundbreaking "I Feel Love" to its song "Can't Stop Feeling." The result wasn't "1901"/"Ignition (Remix)." But the music delivered a distinctly modern thrill.
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood
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