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Coachella 2010: Who had the scarier visage, Fever Ray or John Lydon?

April 17, 2010 |  1:47 pm


For those few not in an Empire State of Mind at Friday's small-hour sets, two equally spooky punims awaited you at Public Image Ltd. and Fever Ray at far corners of the field.

Which was more terrifying? Well, one was a death-gripped grimace with acrobatic head adornments that suggested a pagan god-beast. The other was Fever Ray in makeup.

We jest though, Mr. Lydon. Public Image’s reunion-of-sorts set was actually a surprisingly eager traipse through the foundations of post-punk. For kids who have never known a nightclub without the Rapture or Bloc Party on repeat, it’s strange to imagine a time when disco beats and punk venom seemed an antithetical and radical pair. But cuts like “This Is Not a Love Song” and “Tie Me to the Length of That” had all the snarl of Lydon’s pioneering punk act the Sex Pistols, but atop a still-ambitious and spacious take on disco, dub and avant-garde effects. Lydon’s aging ungracefully in all the right ways – like the picture of Dorian Gray, his music in PiL feels ever more vital, while he makes Keith Richards look like Taylor Lautner onstage.

Fever Ray is one of very few bands that didn’t benefit from Coachella’s pastoral setting. The Nordic-noir Swedish electronic act (helmed by the Knife’s Karin Andersson) needs a pitch-black, claustrophobic space for her stunning stage sets to work their spatial magic. Indio’s palm trees kind of broke the spell, even if her tunes were as spectral and spine-chilling as ever, and a perfectly immersive nightcap to a long day.

But in the end, there was a clear winner in the battle of Coachella’s most haunting complexion. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous comment about drunkenness, when the bands hit the showers afterward, Fever Ray scrubs hers off.

-August Brown

Photo: Johnny Rotten of the band Public Image Ltd. (PiL) performs at Coachella on Friday. Credit: Karl Walter/Getty Images