The British have invaded yet again.
California’s long-running Coachella Music and Arts Festival has often featured big-name headlining acts from across the pond (Radiohead, Oasis, Muse, and others), but rarely has the event’s preference for Brit bands been as pronounced as it was Friday night, the first of three days of music and revelry in the desert town of Indio.
Closing out the main stage was the return of the Stone Roses, an event that seemed to be the second coming for some, while bewildering many others unfamiliar with the group.
Kingpins of the dance-infused late-’80s “Madchester” scene, the Stone Roses only released two albums in their prime before breaking up. Their acclaim and success in the U.K. never quite translated to the U.S. They reunited in 2012 and toured all over Europe and Asia, but this was their first show in the U.S. since the ’90s, and the Coachella weekends are their only scheduled dates in North America for the foreseeable future.
The Roses opened with the one-two punch of hits “I Wanna Be Adored” and “Sally Cinnamon” from their 1989 self-titled debut, which is considered a cornerstone of Britpop, inspiring the likes of Blur, Oasis, the Charlatans U.K. and a gaggle of mostly forgotten acts.
Tthe group meandered their way through their brief catalog (even throwing in a couple of Brown’s solo tunes), before closing with a seemingly endless jammed-out rendition of the cheekily-titled “I Am the Resurrection” that’s probably still going on.
laconic frontman Ian Brown seemed to have little interest in singing in key or in addressing the dwindling audience, while guitarist John Squire got in a few choice solos. With stiff competition from the other stages’ closing acts (more on them in a bit), the Roses played to what was easily the sparsest crowd I’ve ever seen for a Coachella headliner.
Preceding them on the main stage was another recently reunited Britpop band, although one with more commercial cache in the States. Blur, in their first show in the U.S. since their 2008 reunion, reminded music fans why they left most Britpop bands in the dust in the late nineties.
The band’s arrival at Coachella was a long time coming. Ace guitarist Graham Coxon left the band in 2002, during the recording of their seventh album “Think Tank.” Blur played Coachella that year — sans Coxon — and frontman Damon Albarn has since returned with side projects Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad and the Queen.
But tonight was Blur’s night — and Albarn and Coxon looked more than at home onstage together, along with bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree.
Kicking things off with the throbbing, gender-bending disco-pop of “Boys and Girls,” the London quartet — augmented by a keyboardist, a small horn section and four ace backing singers — pulled out all their hits (“For Tomorrow,” Beetlebum,” and the early hit “There’s No Other Way” among them), reaching highs with the anthemic “Tender,” and the crowd-moving “Song 2” (altogether now: Woo too!).
The set’s energy only sagged in the middle as a trio of lesser-known newer songs sapped some of the band’s energy. It was on these tracks that Albarn displayed the same musical qualities he’s shown in Gorillaz, leading the group more as a conducter than a frontman.
Stealing crowd members from the Stone Roses’ set were a trio of acclaimed North American acts.
Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor appeared at midnight in the mid-sized Mojave tent with his latest band How to Destroy Angels. Also featuring his wife Mariqueen Maandig (formerly of West Indian Girl), and his “Social Network” soundtrack collaborator Atticus Ross, H.T.D.A. employed one of the best stage spectacles yet seen at the fest.
Beginning their show behind an ever-shifting wall of illuminated curtains, the quartet — all lined up and standing behind their keyboards like Kraftwerk — were slowly revealed as the curtains were drawn. Like some of NIN’s softer material, only with female vocals (Maandig has a strong voice that was sometimes overused and pushed too far on some tracks) augmenting Reznor’s familiar snarl.
The group played a number of tracks from their debut full-length “Welcome Oblivion,” which came out in March. It was their first major show backing the release, after a small warm-up gig in Pomona, CA earlier this week.
At the same time in the adjacent Gobi tent, L.A. rapper Earl Sweatshirt put in a rare performance, joined on a few songs by his Odd Future compatriot Tyler, the Creator, who scaled the lighting rig on the side of the stage while performing.
Across the field, Canadian sister duo Tegan and Sarah drew an impressive crowd to the outdoor stage that clearly rivaled the number of people watching the Stone Roses at the much roomier main stage.
Earlier in the night, New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs unveiled a number of new songs that will be heard on their upcoming release “Mosquito.” Singer Karen O. wowed the crowd with her funky fashion finds — coming out as a sort of psychedelic-ancient Egypt-thrift shop-punk before slowly morphing into a leather-jacketed bad girl and then returning full-circle.
They opened with the slow-burning new song “Sacrilege” and were joined by a gospel choir.
The group drew the biggest cheers with earlier hits “Zero,” “Gold Lion,” and at the end of their set, the plaintive “Maps” and the fuzzed out dance jam “Heads Will Roll.”
Veteran indie act Modest Mouse unfortunately had less luck on the main stage. Their dusk set was initially tripped up by a number of sound glitches, including some glaring feedback. They fumbled through an off-sounding take on their excellent “Ocean Breathes Salty,” before finding their way. The Washington State band closed on a high note with their biggest radio hit, “Float On.”
One more major reunion took place on Friday. SoCal hop-hop collective Jurassic 5 called it a day in the mid-2000s, but recently reunited with Coachella being their first gig together. Their old school-flavored flow won over a large and devoted crowd who recited lyrics and cheered on DJ Cut Chemist’s deft turntable manipulation. It’s good to have them back, and hopefully they’ll launch a full tour now that they’ve taken the first step.
Saturday’s highlights include Phoenix, Sigur Ros, Janelle Monae, The Postal Service, New Order and many others.
Check back at HitFix.com for further updates this weekend.