Coachella 2009 Day 2 report: Fleet Foxes, Jenny Lewis get trippy and soulful
For a brief time on Saturday night, one side of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival sounded like a war zone. Air-raid sirens and jarring, inconsistent beats dominated a set from electronic globetrotting artist M.I.A. Meanwhile, across the festival grounds -- the three-day event has five stages of continuous music -- a more peaceful, relaxed setting could be found, where artists such as the Fleet Foxes and Los Angeles' own Jenny Lewis toyed with more rootsy, traditional sounds.
Coachella's paradise-in-the-desert setting has the ability to enhance the right band's appeal, providing a striking backdrop to better get lost in the music. It was easy to guess that the dizzying harmonies of Seattle's Fleet Foxes would be a good fit.
Singer-guitarist Robin Pecknold noted that the band "doesn't feel super comfortable at these things," referencing the large festival gathering. And honestly it was hard to imagine that bassist Christian Wargo felt comfortable in that knit hat as the temperatures rose above 90 degrees. But otherwise, the band seemed at ease during its set.
It's folk-rock with a psychedelic bent. "Ragged Wood" had a coda that came out of nowhere, a sudden '50s-influenced guitar that placed the band in another time or era. But there was little that was retro about the band's performance. One need only have witnessed "Your Protector," where a flash of a church organ gave way to an echoing rhythm and a near fantastical swirl of harmonies. There's plenty of adventurous music at the three-day event, but little in the first two days had gotten as trippy as this.
Later in the evening, Lewis put on a dazzling vocal display of her own, performing a set that drew heavily from her 2008 album "Acid Tongue." The songs show off her range and her easy, almost effortless vocal approach. She's conversational in "The Charging Sky," still one of the sweetest songs to grapple with religious confusion, and then elegantly soulful in "Pretty Bird."
Lewis, clad all in white, had fun with the crowd, acknowledging all the "beautiful women dressed in tiny clothes," and then took them down in the spunky "Carpetbaggers." If anyone took offense, Lewis surely won them back with a bare-boned acoustic take on "Silver Lining," a song she wrote for her non-solo gig fronting Rilo Kiley. Rather than the glossy pop of her rendition with her band, she slowed things down and transformed it into a downright heartbreaking cut.
The showstopper of the set was when she worked her way around the blues jam "Next Messiah." Lewis pulled out some grit when she needed it but also was ready to drop her voice to a whisper, allowing it lurk in the shadows of the groove.
-- Todd Martens
Photo of Christian Wargo, left, and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images