Coachella 2010: The Power Rankings


Last weekend marked the eleventh time that the folks at Goldenvoice have produced the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, bringing together over one hundred acts of disparate musical genres and throwing them all together in the desert heat to see what sticks and what melts away. This year’s Coachella had its fair share of legends (Sly Stone, Public Image Ltd.), indie darlings (She & Him, Vampire Weekend), titans of their genre (Jay-Z, Faith No More), and once-in-a-lifetime acts with production that you’ll never see anywhere else (Plastikman, Fever Ray, Orbital, and Gorillaz). It also had its fair share of snags: parking was a nightmare, huge crowds created gridlock, and there was a surprising lack of fantastic art other than an enormous white paper crane.

After the jump, read our power rankings for some of the acts who we saw at the festival, based on each band’s buzz points coming into their performances and cred gained or lost after the fact. You might be surprised by some of the results; if you were there, let us know who you saw at the festival and whether you agree with our judgments.

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Major Lazer Buzz: 2 Cred Gained/Lost: +3 Total = 5

The recorded throbbing of Major Lazer is nothing too exciting musically; it’s just decent dancehall music that’s easy to dance to, and that seems to be all Diplo and Switch care about. But the manic fireball of energy Skerrit Bwoy turned the set into an unironic celebration of mindless partying. He brought random girls up on stage, repeatedly stage-dove, climbed the stage light rig, and paraded around pant-less. The (literal) climax was when he brought out an industrial ladder, incited the crowd like a professional wrestler, pulled down his pants, and took a flying leap onto fellow hype-girl Mimi to perform sexually explicit dance moves only separated from pornography by a thin layer of clothes.

LCD Soundsystem Buzz: 10 Cred Gained/Lost: -3 Total = 7

James Murphy and Co. were coming off of celebrated small-venue performances in New York City, the ferocity of their live attack evident on new songs like “Drunk Girls” (modeled after the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat”) and Murphy pining away in the lovelorn “I Can Change.” However, the Coachella set suffered from the band being out of their element on the sprawling main stage, the thick disco of “Yeah” and the emotionality of “All My Friends” detracted by a disinterested crowd who seemed focused on either pushing their way out to Vampire Weekend or shoving their way in to try and get a better spot for Jay-Z.

During “Losing My Edge,” Murphy inserted a diatribe against DJs who don’t even buy vinyl to spin (which couldn’t have been a popular sentiment considering the digital poster boys throwing down in the Sahara dance tent) and dedicated the entire performance to fellow Coachella performer Gil Scott-Heron. At the end of the truncated set, a clearly touched Murphy looked out at the swelling crowd and thanked them, saying “Thank you for Googling the first Suicide record, and the second Suicide record. Thank you for giving a shit.”

Photo credit: Beta Mike

Jonsi Buzz: 5 Cred Gained/Lost: +3 Total = 8

The lead singer from Sigur Ros brought beautiful songs from his solo album Go to the Outdoor Theater on Sunday, his sunny inspirational singing demeanor and joyfully eclectic song accentuated by his frilly Admiral-of Never Neverland outfit. Buoyed by intriguing instrumentation like an old suitcase stomped for percussive effect, Jonsi later donned a chieftains headdress, refracting light and swaying with the wind during an endless falsetto crescendo during set closer “Grow Till Tall.”

Photo credit: Beta Mike

Owen Pallett Buzz: 5 Cred Gained/Lost: +4 Total = 9

Underneath the blazing sun at the Outdoor Theater, Pallet again showed why his reputation of a live performer is so strong in spite of his densely-constructed violin loops. Dapper in a spring suit, Pallett kept the atmosphere light with his high-pitched laugh and stage banter, such as admonishing his violin for not being able to stand up to the sun. Later in the set, after bellowing through songs from Heartland, Pallett also delivered the best line of the weekend in reference to the sexuality of some of his fellow performers on the outdoor stage: “I feel like they should just call this the gay ghetto stage. They stick me, Bradford (Cox, of Deerhunter), and Jonsi all in one place, out of the way. Thanks, guys.”

Photo credit: Lauren Trzaska

Faith No More Buzz: 7 Cred Gained/Lost: +3 Total = 10

The sarcastic jokesters of Faith No More have the benefit of never looking like they actually give a shit, accentuated in their reunion at Coachella by choice covers of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” and Michael Jackson’s “Ben,” which culminated in multi-voiced lead singer Mike Patton jumping into the crowd. Earlier in the set Patton had made like Willy Wonka, stumbling around on a cane for a song or two before tossing it angrily at the bright red backdrop. The band chugged through a one-two punch of crowd singalongs to “Midlife Crisis” and “Epic,” and during the closing song a shirtless Danny DeVito momentarily sashayed across the stage, bewildering the audience and maintaining the set’s tongue-in-cheek vibe.

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She & Him Buzz: 7 Cred Gained/Lost: +3 Total = 10

During the dead spots of She & Him’s Saturday set, a discussion erupted in the crowd around me as festival-goers loudly debated the possible competitors to Zooey Deschanel’s status as indie-rock queen. The closest they could come up with was Scarlett Johansson, but Johansson’s album of wispy Tom Waits covers can’t stand up to the smile-inducing happiness of Deschanel and M.Ward’s retro love songs. Deschanel banged away at simple piano chords while M. Ward stoically provided jaunty guitar lines, the strong and silent type to her bubbly nature. M. Ward had his time in the spotlight during a fierce cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” and the ringing guitar outro of “In The Sun.” However, it was the closing cover of “I Put A Spell On You” that showcased the musical couple at their best, bluesy guitar cutting across Deschanel’s suddenly transformed, lustily roaring vocals.

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Steel Train Buzz: 4 Cred Gained/Lost: +6 Total = 10

Flavorwire caught up with members of Steel Train following their early Saturday main stage set, which drew a steadily growing crowd as the band tore into rock n’ roll stories from their upcoming self-titled album due out June 23rd on self-created record label Terrible Thrills. As lead singer Jack Antonof explained, Steel Train proudly identifies as a Jersey band, devoted to family (Antonof’s dad came out and played guitar on one song during the set), thriving despite “never being accepted as a part of anything.” Catchy melody lines, heartfelt lyrics (Antonof says he is “only capable of telling my own stories; I’m not a good enough songwriter to tell the stories of others”), and a commanding stage presence anchored by Antonof’s jerky, spastic guitar playing are all capable of bringing in wide-ranging audience, particularly for those who sense plastic product permeating in most modern rock. Following in the footsteps of their Jersey musical godfather, Steel Train included Bruce Springsteen cover “Dancing In The Dark” near the tail end of their short set, self-assured and sounding like they could fill an arena as easily as the Boss himself.

Photo credit: heather.romney

Gorillaz Buzz: 15 Cred Gained/Lost: -3 Total = 12

Stumbling over to Gorillaz was a difficulty considering the band was playing completely unopposed, but Damon Albarn and Co. commanded the main stage like they had more than just three albums to their name. However, the set lacked spontaneity (necessary considering the synchronization with entrancing video visuals), and guest spots failed to live up to the ungodly hype of the performance. Songs from most recent album Plastic Beach came off much stronger in a live setting, even considering such trip-ups as missing musical guests (due to flight issues) and Bobby Womack forgetting his verses on “Stylo.” The set closed with De La Soul roaring through the manic yowls of “Feel Good Inc.” and Womack delivering an impassioned performance of “Cloud of Unknowing,” his voice shaking with pain and age as a full strings section swirled around him, carrying his voice further and further away like a steadily disappearing god. It was a downtempo end to an incredible weekend. Highly enjoyable, yes, but with so much of Albarn fueling the hype flames (proclaimed by proxy through Gorillaz character Murdoc) the set could have been so much more.

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Yeasayer Buzz: 8 Cred Gained/Lost: +6 Total = 14

“There is almost nothing about Yeasayer that is not completely contrived,” guitarist and vocalist Anand Wilder told Flavorwire before the band’s ultra-packed set on Friday afternoon. Wilder explained the band purposely subverted all the details that made All Hour Cymbals critically popular in favor of nerdily analyzing danceable music as wide-ranging from Sly and the Family Stone to Chaka Khan to Tears for Fears. Odd Blood material dominated the set, highlights including abrasive opener “The Children” (which Wilder explained as his attempts to make guitars sound like an axe hitting steel) and the explosive “O.N.E,” a reverb-drenched ’80s throwback with a springy bassline that the band stretched out to maximum jammy length, the crowd yelling along with the refrain, “Hold me like before/hold me like you used to/control me like you used to,” Yeasayer sounding for all the world like a mind control outfit of maximum danceability. The crowd was the largest I saw at a tent set all weekend, and even if Wilder makes good on his expressed desire to continue to reinvent the bands sound on future albums, Yeasayer’s popularity should only continue to grow.

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Plastikman Buzz: 8 Cred Gained/Lost: +7 Total: 15

Plastikman (the alternative music-making moniker for Richie Hawtin) initially drove out the candee kids and ravers not expecting such a minimal set, but those who stayed were rewarded with deep bass that shook the stomach as much as any chunky dubstep and a spacious crowd with plenty of room to dance. With such a large and complicated production (you could sync the visuals with your iPhone if you had one), it’s unlikely the tour will be extended beyond Coachella and a later date at the Detroit Movement Festival, so the rarity of the act made it extra special. Unfortunately, I was not able to make the entire set in order to not be be miles away for the headlining set by the Gorillaz; leaving Plastikman early is my biggest regret of Coachella 2010.

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Orbital Buzz: 8 Cred Gained/Lost: +8 Total = 16

The English techno pioneers delivered the best set of the weekend in the Sahara dance tent, their psychedelic and acid-tinged contemplations stretching out for miles and drawing a mostly older crowd bored by the typical booms and bangs of the weekend’s dominant electro. The two brothers mixed in their big hits like a hallucinatory “Halycon” and an endless “Chime,” with their performance of “Satan” punctuated by a group of people in the crowd tossing up an ungodly amount of glowsticks during the initial bass drop, the glow eventually permeating the entire tent. Moments of sheer joy were especially evident in a screaming mashup of “Heaven Is A Place On Earth/You Give Love A Bad Name,” the lights shining out on the crowd in such a way that could make even the most jaded observer feel like they were transported back to some random English field in the mid-1990’s, a moment of pure communal humanity roaring together in life.

Photo credit: Brian Indrelunas

Jay-Z Buzz: 10 Cred Gained/Lost: +7 Total = 17

This career-spanning set would be a coronation for any other artist, but for Jay-Z it just seemed like another day’s work. The song selection ranged from a medley of older hits to smaller guest verses from such songs as “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” and “Swagga Like Us,” as well as busting out the big guns like “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” and a ferocious “Big Pimpin’.” A huge backdrop of LED screens chronicled Hova’s rise from the projects all the way to self-proclaimed killer of Auto-tune, even including clips of Barack Obama along the way and a mock-up of the New York City skyline during “Empire State of Mind.” Hov claimed to be losing his voice by the end of the set and his ragged flow suffered accordingly, but he managed to stomp through “Encore” and call out thanks to specific constituents he spotted in the crowd, as well as name checking Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, and Yeasayer. Extra points go for his flawless live band, glossy horns and thumping drums bringing the songs to higher levels than a DJ deck could possibly manage. Of course, the evening culminated with Jay-Z bringing Beyonce out for a surprise contribution to “Young Forever,” the couple looking voluminous and regal underneath the main stage lights as fireworks exploded all around them.