Coachella 2013: Phoenix and Sigur Ros compete for late night crowds

Day two of Coachella came to a close with a difficult decision for music fans. 

With nearly 200 acts gracing 6 stages over the California music festival’s three days, there is frequent, inevitable overlap between sets, and Saturday night presented one of the weekend’s biggest quandaries yet: Phoenix vs. Sigur Ros.

Sigur Ros, who closed out the Outdoor Stage at midnight, returned to the fest — they previously played Coachella in ’01 and ’06, while lead singer Jonsi did the solo thing in 2010 — with their etherial Icelandic soundscapes in peak condition.

Their hypnotic stage show featured a mesmerizing video display and beautiful lamp-art pieces with exposed lightbulbs that flared in time to the music. The group was joined by string players and a horn section, with the members primarily arranged side-by-side. The overall effect was like watching a widescreen film, which echoed the band’s expansive cinematic sound. 

However, at the exact same time, Phoenix closed out the main stage to a much larger crowd.

When the lineup was first announced, some naysayers didn’t think the French dance-rock band was ready for the big headlining spot (they were billed much lower when they played Coachella two years ago), but Phoenix proved that they’ve indeed earned the honor.

Eschewing the arty aspirations of Sigur Ros’ performance, Phoenix instead aimed to get the crowd moving. Ten of thousands of fest-goers eagerly obliged by dancing to the group’s hits such as “1901” and “Lisztomania.”

Ultimately, Phoenix only edged out Sigur Ros by unveiling a secret weapon: R. Kelly.

The R&B superstar joined the band for a take on his 2003 hit “Ignition (Remix),” much to the astonishment of the crowd. 

Earlier in the evening, the Postal Service was another huge draw for tens of thousands of fest-goers.

A decade ago, Death Cab For Cutie architect Ben Gibbard and acclaimed producer Jimmy Tamborello struck a chord with music fans with the melancholy dance pop of their sole full-length “Give Up,” and their legacy has seemingly only grown since then. 

On the main stage at Coachella, Gibbard and co. spun some new tracks, including “Turn Around,” which blended in nicely with “Give Up” tracks like “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” “Sleeping In” and their biggest hit, “Such Great Heights.”  

Former Rilo Kiley leader Jenny Lewis appeared on a handful of tracks the album, and is a full-fledged member on their reunion tour. Her contribution on Saturday night was invaluable, as she and Gibbard played off one another vocally, adding another dimension to the sparse tunes. 

Unclassifiable singer Janelle Monae delivered the best set that I caught on Saturday, as she sang, danced, jumped, shimmied, moonwalked and screamed her way through a blistering set that featured a 12-piece band.

Taking the stage some 15 minutes late, Monae more than made up for lost time with boundless energy, impeccable dance steps and a flair for performance rooted in legends like James Brown, Prince and Michael Jackson. She even performed a pitch perfect cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

The evening provided several other acts worth highlighting.

Reunited D.C. group The Make-Up burned through a rip-roaring set of their patented punk-garage-gospel. Brit space rockers Spiritualized alternated between ear-splitting intensity and lush, hypnotic grooves. Grizzly Bear was as impressive as always. Longtime radio favorites The Violent Femmes inspired a number of sing-alongs, and Two Door Cinema Club provided solid, extremely tight dance-rock. 

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