With 190 bands spread across six different stages, it was literally impossible to see every act that performed during Coachella 2013’s first weekend. But that didn’t stop us from trying. Here are our picks for the 10 sets that were not to be missed during Coachella 2013’s first weekend.
10. How To Destroy Angels (Friday, Mojave Tent, 12:00 a.m.)
Trent Reznor is already scheduled to headline Lollapalooza and Made In America later this summer as the leader of Nine Inch Nails, but for Coachella, the rock icon decided to cede the floor to his wife and showcase his new side project. The change-up paid off: How To Destroy Angels, which features longtime collaborator Atticus Ross and Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig on vocals, played one of their first shows ever on Friday night at Coachella and exhibited themselves like they’ve been honing their show for years. With its dramatic stage show (which included a mesmerizing light curtain) and strong songs from it debut album, “Welcome Oblivion,” the group proved to be far more than a tossed-off run-up to the return of Reznor’s more high-profile band.
9. New Order (Saturday, Mojave Tent, 11:35 p.m.)
The departure of founding bassist Peter Hook (who played with New Order during their last Coachella appearance in 2005) could have easily spelled the end for the genre-defining post-punk band. Instead, the remaining members have breathed vibrant new life into the group – a fact that shone through during the group’s late-night Saturday set. Sticking to their arsenal of dancefloor-ready ‘80s and ‘90s hits, New Order delivered a non-stop dance party that even had teenagers rocking out with the same hand-raising enthusiasm as their chaperoning parents.
8. James Blake (Sunday, Mojave Tent, 6:00 p.m.)
Sunday afternoon is chillout time for many Coachella attendees, and no one serenaded the festival’s final sunset better than England’s James Blake. The buzz surrounding the 24-year-old musician was palpable, as his swaying crowd spilled out past far the tent on the dusty afternoon. Blake lived up to the lofty expectations and unleashed a stunning set of bass-heavy downbeat grooves that held the audience in rapt attention for most of his debut Coachella appearance.
7. Hot Chip (Saturday, Coachella stage, 7:35 p.m.)
Hot Chip is no stranger to Coachella; 2013 marks the British dance-rock band’s fourth appearance on the polo field. But for those who caught them on Saturday, Hot Chip’s main-stage debut felt like the first time. Coupling underground hits like “Over & Over” and “Ready for the Floor” with music from their excellent 2012 album “In Our Time,” the mad professors of indie dance helped ignite a party that lasted all night long.
6. Wu-Tang Clan (Sunday, Outdoor Theater, 9:15 p.m.)
When every living member of the Wu-Tang Clan is gathered onto a single stage, odds are high that a frenzied hip-hop showcase is about to occur. But when all the members look noticeably thrilled to be standing next to each other and shouting along to their cohorts’ lyrical high points, that’s when you know you’re witnessing something special. While still-rising MCs like 2 Chainz, Action Bronson and Danny Brown all made impressions on Coachella crowds, the Clan was in the front for the largest rap audience of the weekend and delivered a loving tapestry of esoteric rhymes straight from the slums of Shaolin. Twenty years after the release of “Enter The 36 Chambers,” Wu-Tang Clan is still nothing to f–k with.
NEXT PAGE: Postal Service, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix & More
5. Savages (Saturday, Mojave Tent, 2:55 p.m.)
Although their debut album doesn’t come out until next month, Savages is no secret: performances at CMJ and SXSW, coupled with unrelenting blog coverage, have turned the all-female post-punk act into a hot commodity. Still, the quartet exceeded the hype on Saturday afternoon, playing to a Mojave Tent crowd that swelled in size and enthusiasm with every song played. SInger Jehnny Beth ripped through songs like “She Will” and “Husbands” while stomping her red pumps, but the real revelation was bassist Ayse Hassan, who looked wholly at ease while firing off dense riffs.
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Friday, Coachella Stage, 8:40 p.m.)
Each time the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to Coachella, they bring something different to the table. For this, their third mainstage appearance, the group brought along the Hollywood Gospel Choir (who joined them on set opener “Sacrilege”) and a newly-blonde ‘do for kinetic frontwoman Karen O. But as the band tore through their set of gritty garage rockers and atmospheric ballads, everything about the Yeahs seemed bigger, bolder and more badass than ever before. After 13 years in the game, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have mastered the art of owning a festival stage, proving themselves worthy of headliner status next time around.
3. The Postal Service (Saturday, Coachella Stage, 8:50 p.m.)
“We might see you again, we might not.” That’s how Ben Gibbard, the erstwhile Death Cab For Cutie leader and one-half of the Postal Service, wrapped up the latter group’s main stage performance on Saturday — a fitting sentiment, considering that the side project took a decade to cobble its current tour together and may never hit the road again. The fleeting feeling made the Coachella performance all the more special, as Gibbard, along with Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello and Rilo Kiley leader Jenny Lewis, turned their unassuming songs into deeply personal anthems. Lewis and Gibbard often danced next to each other onstage and exhibited a chemistry that made Lewis’ presence in their live show absolutely essential; without her backing vocals, songs like “Sleeping In” and “We Become Silhouettes” would have had a fraction of their power.
2. Blur (Friday, Coachella Stage, 9:55 p.m.)
On Friday, Coachella hosted a Britpop revival that featured a closing performance by Madchester kings Stone Roses. But anyone in earshot will attest that the night belonged to Blur, who gave its first performance on U.S. soil since 2003. Led by sneering frontman Damon Albarn, the band had Union Jacks waving proudly in the air as they masterfully crafted their catalog of hits for the ex-pats and Anglophiles crowded around the stage. With an elaborate backing band that included a choir of backup singers and a thundering horn section, the band kept the energy high with standout tracks like “Boys & Girls,” “Tender,” “Parklife” and the anthemic “Song 2.” We happily accept the Stone Roses reunion as a once-in-a-lifetime event, but Blur’s powerful performance left the Coachella masses begging for more.
1. Phoenix (Saturday, Coachella Stage, 11:35 p.m.)
Simply put, Phoenix’s Saturday night headlining set at Coachella was excellent for its first hour and became transcendent in its final 20 minutes. Of course, that last frame included a surprise visit from R. Kelly, who performed “Ignition (Remix)” as a mash-up with the French group’s “1901.” But it also held a tender acoustic take on their “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” highlight “Countdown,” as well as a thrilling act of derring-do from frontman Thomas Mars during a reprise of “Entertainment,” during which he ran to the soundboard tower in the middle of the formidable crowd, climbed atop the scaffolding and thanked the audience that surrounded him on all sides. Like the group’s catalogue, Phoenix’s headlining set was made up of sleek, consistent indie-rock punctuated by flashes of wild brilliance, like the fuzzed-out opening chord to “1901” or the yelping hook to “Long Distance Call.” Whipping R. Kelly out of their back pocket was the West Coast version of their 2010 Daft Punk live collaboration, but long before that unforgettable moment, Phoenix proved themselves a capital-H Headliner at a major festival, and ultimately won this year’s Coachella.