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Coachella 2011: Safe and sound [Updated]

Kh0y3znc The Internet's instant responders sighed with contentment but did not experience hysteria when the Los Angeles Times revealed the lineup for this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival late Tuesday. The announcement silenced the din of whispers that builds excitement for the April event -- a rumor mill that this year featured talk of the Rolling Stones headlining, Daft Punk returning and Lady Gaga luring her fan army of "little monsters" to the Polo Grounds.

These tantalizing possibilities were left unfilfilled in the wake of worthy but more predictable headliners, many of whom have made big impressions at the festival before. The Arcade Fire is finally claiming the Saturday night anchor position that's been its destiny since the band's thrilling sunset set in 2005, and the Kings of Leon move up from the side stage the band burned down in 2007. New York's Strokes, finally reunited, can wow the kids too young to have seen them in 2002. Kanye West, who played Coachella in 2006, adds another notch to a designer belt already marked by performances at outdoor festivals Sasquatch (2005; he slayed) and Bonnaroo (2008; he flopped).

A grumbler could go on. Duran Duran will surely entertain in the big legacy-act slot, but the New Romantic royals have been back for a while, no news there. PJ Harvey's decision to grace the festival after a rumored multi-year courtship will surely result in fireworks -- the band's February release, "Let England Shake," is a killer of an album -- but it's hard to imagine Polly Harvey cutting a more stunning figure than she did in her Victorian finery during her 2007 White Chalk tour. And the overwrought "whoas" issuing forth from certain indie palaces about the reunion of the Toronto-based synth-punk duo Death From Above 1979 seem to be overplaying a marginal event in the absence of more significant ones. 

What this year's Coachella line-up really does is thoroughly smack down the argument that a major music fest should stake its fortune on once-in-a-lifetime moments. Below the headliners, the weekend's bill unfolds impressively, containing a huge percentage of the artists earning accolades and buzz on the capricious cutting edge of pop.

Ldd5g2nc The bill includes fully half of the Top 10 album artists on the Village Voice's just-published annual critic's poll, Pazz & Jop, including the National, Sleigh Bells and the Black Keys. The poll's singles chart topper, Cee Lo Green, and dance-pop darling Robyn will also appear. For every absent high achiever, there's at least one counterpart, and sometimes more.

Lovers of girl-boy drone pop might have wished for Beach House; but there's Best Coast and Sleigh Bells and the Kills. Arty freaks may miss Joanna Newsom, but they can turn to Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. The dance tent may be lonely without David Guetta, but Fedde Le Grand will fill the gap. Latin rock lovers can protest Ceci Bastida's omission, then go drown their sorrows in the rhythms of Bomba Estéreo.

Old punks would have relished time with Gang of Four, but they'll be happy with Wire and Big Audio Dynamite. Hip-hop heads longing for Drake or Janelle Monáe can console themselves with Wiz Khalifa and Erykah Badu. (Lauryn Hill's on the bill too, but it's best not to expect too much from her.)

This all adds up to the musical equivalent of a Hawaiian vacation; a satisfying immersion experience that makes up in vivid sensual fun what it may lack in adventurousness. And given Coachella's position at the forefront of the 2011 festival season, going with what definitely works isn't just a smart business move on the part of Goldenvoice promoter Paul Tollett. It's the right one for pop music culture as a whole.

Last year's slump in concert ticket sales loosened the last solid brick in the foundation of the conventional music industry. Some festivals, including Coachella, still did relatively well, and in doing so, helped build excitement for new artists and maintain the value of more established ones. With the public's attitudes swiftly changing about what music is worth --  both financially and attention-wise -- the success of an event such as Coachella can offset a lot of bad vibes and offer hope, which translates into concrete opportunities, for musicians and fans alike.

 So I'm happy to have Goldenvoice take me to Hawaii, even if I'd had my heart set on Bhutan. Tourists visiting Coachella's alterna-pop Eden will find much to discover there. Regulars can relax amid familiar riches. That sounds like a great package deal.

-- Ann Powers

Top photo: PJ Harvey. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

Bottom photo: Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Credit: Karl Walter / Getty Images

[Updated, 12:22 p.m.] The original version of this post said that Kanye West would be making his first Coachella appearance. He performed at the polo grounds in 2006. We have updated the post accordingly.

Comments () | Archives (14)

I love that Duran Duran will be on the bill. They haven't been touring lately except for a few small venues here and there. Big Audio Dynamite will be awesome as well.

Pssst - Kanye did play Coachella before, in 2006.

I think what a lot of critics are missing about this lineup is that Coachella is so much more about the experience than the bands themselves. I've gone to every Coachella so far, and have never had a bad time. For everyone groaning that "Ugh, I've seen Best Coast before! Strokes? Big deal," you've got 30,000 younger kids who have never been and will get to experience this awesome lost weekend in the desert for the first time.

Also, lest we forget some of the greatest live acts that don't get enough love: Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello and the Aquabats. Those three are worth the price of admission alone.

This line up is flat out disappointing. You're not polishing a turd but I would never pay anywhere close to the $400 I paid at the last minute to go last year. AEG messed the show up this year. The headliners are stale and all of them are SNL musical guests from recent years. What happened to Coachella being where new supergroup's premiered? What happened to bands playing their only concert of the year just so they could play Coachella?

I think when AEG realized they could get a sell out at Coachella by selling only 3 day passes the lineup was permanently taken down a notch. Why shell out for a good show if a mediocre one will sell out too?

This lineup is missing the Wow factor of previous years, there's no "Must See" act although Kanye could be cool if he amps it up.

The first was the only one I attended. Autechre, Tool, Underworld, Morrissey. Every line-up since then has gone further and further downhill and this latest one continues that trend.

I agree with The Truth-nothing to get the heart racing in this lineup. Only 3 or 4 acts a day are must-sees for me; well perhaps that is worth the price of admission except they are not headliners -or even close except for PJ Harvey.

I'm glad Plan B and Tame Impala are on the bill, that should mean their stuff will come out domestically.

There's some great Australian acts with solid Festival experience. Most feature regularly at Parklife, Future Music, Good Vibes, Field Day etc eg - The Presets, Cut Copy, Empire of the Sun, Tame Impala, Angus & Julia Stone.
Wish I was going!

Nas & Marley, OZO, DJ Marky, Paul VD, Duran Duran and interpol! I'm there!

"Some festivals, including Coachella, still did relatively well"

didn't Coachella sell out last year? kind of an understatement, don't you think?


The thing that makes Coachella lineups spectacular is that they feature bands that you are not expecting, that haven't become well-known quite yet and/or you haven't listened to for some time. I think that although rumors are that people are disappointed with the 2011 lineup (mainly with the headliners), the weekend will once again be filled with great music that people will be kicking themselves for not listening to before. Whether its a blast from the past (ahemm, The Strokes), a native Coachella-er with a new album (Kanye) or chart toppers (Cee Lo Green and Kings of Leon) it is going to be an awesome weekend.

Whats really disappointing about the release of the Coachella lineup? Hearing all the jaded supposed die-hard festival goers complain about how bad the music selection is! Coachella is all about the music and the experience; i personally think there are a lot of solid B+ artists worthing seeing but if all im going to hear are people boo-hooing about the lineup then my experience will be tainted.

Kanye was terrible at Coachella when he performed at Coachella. He went long and that resulted in terrible feedback and a late start for Sigur Ros (an amazing Icelandic outfit that deserved better!!!!)

I am happy to see Arcade Fire, Duran Duran, Kings of Leon and the amazing Jack's Mannequin on the bill. I will be in Indio come April for sure.


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