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Coachella 2012: James proves sturdy; Girls win hearts

April 13, 2012 |  8:33 pm

Tim Booth of James

About halfway into a set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, veteran English rock band James experienced a Hollywood-worthy moment. Just as lead singer Tim Booth sang of "endless rain" in "Sometimes," a light drizzle began to fall. There's little danger of concertgoers becoming drenched in mud at the well-groomed Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., but the desert fest more typically has been marked by temperatures in the 90s and higher. An odd sight, then, to see hot chocolate lines more than three times as long as those for a pint of beer.

As for the on-again, off-again James, the band's Coachella set was not one for nostalgia. Rootsy instruments such as a mandolin played give and take with digital effects, all while Booth led songs into suddenly triumphant choruses. Songs lifted when it was least expected, and the band proved to have plenty of sturdy rockers throughout its three-decade catalog.

At Coachella, where generations intersect and a band like James can play opposite full-throttle hip-hop newcomers Death Grips, Booth attempted to construct a lineage with festivals of yore and people in the audience. "Do everything your parents would do -- or wouldn't tell you that they've done," he said.

FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2012

More modern was Neon Indian, playing at an opposite outdoor stage. Modern, perhaps, isn't the right word, as Neon Indian songs seemed to spring from tortured vintage laptops. At times it sounded like the band was channelling HAL 9000, and at others it seemed as if the act were engaged in intergalactic warfare. Despite the sonic torrent, songs ultimately built to something rather sleek with an underlying dance beat.

It was, in fact, near the end of Neon Indian's set that I found myself in the center of a circular dance party. As I turned, a man grabbed my reporter's notebook from my hand and ran about 50 feet before dropping it on the grass. As the crowd began dispersing, I thought it was lost forever, but apparently some barely legible notes from a journalist are not a hot commodity here.

Moments later I heard a woman scream, only to turn and see her running right toward me. When I moved out of the way, I noticed she was being chased by debris from a cardboard box that had blown over. The winds at Coachella had picked up, so much so that the now-annual Ferris wheel was temporarily grounded. The Ferris wheel operators bragged that the amusement park ride could withstand winds of more than 150 mph and had been rendered inoperable only by high-flying dust.

Not too far away, fans had been cleared from benches that sat under an art installation. The move was precautionary, said festival workers, as they feared the installation could be bested by the winds. "It was starting to look like one of those YouTube videos of Indiana," said a Coachella worker, referring to the 2011 tragedy in which winds collapsed a stage at a concert in that Midwestern state.

From there, I went to the relatively calming sounds of Girls. Backed here by three soulful singers, Girls came off early in the set as an indie rock Everly Brothers. Things picked up, pace-wise, but the band specializes in harmonies and pleasantly familiar melodies.

Singer Christopher Owens is a crooner, and he sang of losing love and lusting for love. The band's microphones and keyboard were lined with flowers, and whereas some come to the desert to earn buzz and others come to reassert themselves, Girls came to win hearts.

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-- Todd Martens

Photo: Tim Booth of James performs among fans in front of the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio on Friday. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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