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Published: 2013/04/15

Justin Vernon, Alt-J, Phoenix and More Highlight Coachella Week One

The first weekend of the 12th Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival came to a close last night after 190 bands performed over six different stages in Indio, CA. The popular West Coast event drew over 90,000 attendees and countless others who tuned in via live YouTube streams, and fans were left buzzing about unexpected surprises that took place over the course of the three-day music marathon.

On opening day, rising indie stars such as Alt-J and Lord Huron performed their inaugural sets at the festival, and the crowd that gathered for Polica’s show was treated to a sit-in by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon (who also performed with his blues side project The Shouting Matches featuring Phil Cook of Megafaun). Vernon joined Polica for a version of their new song, “Tiff,” which will appear on the follow-up to last year’s debut album, Give You the Ghost, due out later this year. Beach House also performed on Friday, and the duo delivered a set full of their popular dream-pop tunes from both 2010’s Teen Dream and last year’s Bloom. Local Natives, Passion Pit and Tegan & Sara were also among the first day offerings that attracted large crowds of festival-goers.

Although two British bands, The Stone Roses and Blur (who performed their first U.S. show this weekend since their 2008 reunion), were the first night headliners, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Modest Mouse drew significantly bigger audiences in their respective timeslots. Yeah Yeah Yeahs opened with the song “Sacrilege” off of their just-released fourth album Mosquito, with support from the Hollywood Gospel Choir. The rest of their set was energetic with frontwoman Karen O steering the group through new songs and fan favorites such as “Maps” and “Heads Will Roll.”

Modest Mouse’s set was almost brought to a screeching halt during their last song, “Float On,” when the sound was turned off due to the band going over their time limit, but lead singer Isaac Brock powered through regardless, with the crowd enthusiastically singing along to the band’s most popular hit. The most talked about moment on Friday wasn’t a performance at all, however, but rather a trailer for Daft Punk’s forthcoming release, Random Access Memories. The video that premiered on Friday night listed the album’s collaborators, including Animal Collective’s Panda Bear and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, and featured a new song, with the French electronic giants performing with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers.

On day two of Coachella, the newly reunited Postal Service delivered their first performance of the year, full of tracks from the Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello decade-old (and only) release, Give Up, as well as new songs like “Turn Around.” The band featured guest singer Jenny Lewis (who will be featured throughout the reunion tour) and had fans singing along to songs like “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and “Such Great Heights.” The xx made their return to the festival on the main stage, and invited Solange Knowles out to assist on a cover of the late Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire.” Sigur Ros closed the Outdoor Stage at midnight, complete with strings and horns, in a mesmerizing performance of their unique Icelandic musical offerings.

The Saturday night headliners, French quartet Phoenix, performed songs from their upcoming release, Bankrupt!, but the band’s 2009 smash hit, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was still the focal point of the group’s attention, and by the end of the night, all of the album’s songs had been performed. Although rumors of a Daft Punk sit-in didn’t come to fruition, Phoenix’s encore did have a surprise in store: R&B star R. Kelly came out to perform his own “Ignition (Remix)” as Phoenix added their “1901” in the background.

The final day of the festival brought the unfortunate weather that Coachella’s attendees dread, as wind and sand whipped through the Empire Polo Club’s desert grounds. The conditions were especially horrible during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ headlining set, with frontman Anthony Kiedis even remarking that he felt like he was in “Lawrence of Arabia.” The L.A. band still powered through popular (and locale-appropriate) hits such as “Californication,” “Dani California.” Although RCHP had performed at Coachella two times before, Sunday’s show was the first at the event with new guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer. New York hip-hop collective, Wu-Tang Clan, who are in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of their breakout debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) also played a set filled with crowd favorites from the record, like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Bring Da Ruckus,” as well as individual members’ solo hits, like the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ performance didn’t draw the biggest crowd, but an added string section and children’s choir added a special element to the alt-rock stalwarts already dynamic show. Sunday also saw The Lumineers cementing their bona fide breakout star status as a large crowd gathered to hear the band perform most of their self-titled 2012 release. New York favorites Vampire Weekend also performed on the last day, mixing songs from their earlier releases with songs coming out on their new Modern Vampires of the City record, including “Diane Young” and “Step.”

Many fans left Coachella adamant that the weekend’s best set came from Searching for Sugar Man subject Rodriquez. The Detroit singer-songwriter made his Coachella debut wearing his uniform of black (from his hat to his sunglasses to his leather pants), and performed his songs from the early ‘70s that until recently were completely forgotten, including “Sugar Man” and “I Wonder.” Coachella continues to suffer from sound issues, however, as Tame Impala’s simultaneously occurring set drifted through Rodriquez’s own performance, but the audience remained captivated throughout the show, and even RHCP’s Keidis watched from the side of the stage.

The second weekend of the Coachella festival starts on Friday, April 19.

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