Reporting Scott T. Sterling
It was a moment so surreal that “unexpected” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
While many in the packed field in front of Coachella‘s main stage on the festival’s second night were hoping to see Phoenix use their headlining slot to repeat the magical moment in 2010 when Daft Punk joined them onstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden, what they got was something far more inspired than a mere (albeit desirable) rerun.
Toward the end of Phoenix’s crowd-pleasing set, out strolled none other than R&B mega-star R. Kelly, wearing a bejeweled baseball cap and motocross gear, to sing his hits “Ignition (Remix)” and “I’m a Flirt” over the band performing the melody of their own hit, 2008 single “1901″ and new song “Chloroform.” (Watch video here)
While some in the crowd seemed legitimately confused at what was occurring onstage in front of them, a majority of the masses gathered for Phoenix’s set were excited by the surprise pairing, lustily singing along to R. Kelly’s lyrics.
No one appeared more excited by the proceedings than Phoenix themselves, who flashed huge grins throughout the song, with Kelly exchanging hugs with frontman Thomas Mars and guitarist Laurent Brancowitz on his way offstage.
Phoenix had knocked out a spectacular set all on their own prior to R. Kelly’s arrival, opening with anthemic new single, “Entertainment” (from their forthcoming new album, Bankrupt!, due on April 23), before launching into a singles-heavy set that also featured a grip of well-received new songs heard by most of the audience for the first time. Cruising through songs like “Fences” and of course, “Lisztomania” from their breakthrough full-length, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they also made sure to touch on older fan favorites like “Long Distance Call” and “Too Late.”
Frontman Mars left his own indelible imprint on the night, ending the show by running through the crowd and climbing atop a massive truss in the middle of the polo field before crowd-surfing his way back to the stage, all set to a rousing reprise of the set’s opening number, “Entertainment.”
Phoenix wasn’t the only Coachella act to inject a dose of pure R&B into their set. British dance-rock minimalists the xx welcomed Solange Knowles to the stage for a dynamic duet with singer/bassist Oliver Sim on late soul-pop heroine Aaliyah’s 1996 song, “Hot Like Fire.”
It was just one of many highlights in the xx’s dreamy but beat-driven set preceding Phoenix. Known for the almost skeletal arrangements on both of their studio albums, the xx continued to evolve and reinvent themselves in concert. Powered by the deft hand of drummer/producer Jamie XX, the trio both sank deeper into their own grooves and sonically filled in a lot of wide open spaces of their sparse recordings. The band’s performance flowed seamlessly like a DJ set, with shifting rhythms and deep bass rumbles underneath Romy Madley Croft’s ringing and reverb-soaked guitar lines.
One of the biggest highlights of Coachella’s Saturday night line-up was the much-heralded live return of Postal Service, the indie electro-pop super-group featuring Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and producer Jimmy Tamborello.
There was much early ’00s nostalgia throughout the Postal Service’s set, which was augmented by the presence of L.A. indie icon Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley and Laura Burhenn of Nebraska band the Mynabirds. The crowd sang along to songs like “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” taken from the band’s now-legendary debut (and only) album, the million-selling Give Up, which still holds the distinction of being the best-selling LP on Seattle indie label Sub Pop since Nirvana’s full-length debut, Bleach.
A great moment during the Postal Service’s set found Gibbard, lost deep in the beat and really getting his dance groove on before catching himself and sharing a sheepish smile with Lewis, all captured on the large screens flanking the main stage. When he wasn’t dancing the night away, Gibbard also spent a lot of time behind the drum kit throughout the performance.
These evening-ending shows on Coachella’s main stage were just the cherry on top of a day power-packed with dynamic performances from the likes of rapper 2 Chainz, Irish flag-wavers Dropkick Murphys, Moby rocking the Sahara tent with a DJ set and Diplo‘s Major Lazer, who crushed the Gobi tent with bombastic global beats, vuvuzelas handed out to the crowd and lots and lots of skin, both from a shirtless Diplo to the countless party people (including a large number of females) who followed his lead and eagerly doffed their tops. Express yourself indeed.