April 18th, 2011 | Live reviews

The beauty of Coachella: Arcade Fire and Scissor Sisters playing at the same time on different stages, both awesome in thoroughly different ways.

Arcade Fire drew the typical Saturday night main stage crowd (read: huge), cementing their oddly natural status as the coolest stadium rock band ever. (When you first heard “Wake Up,” you may not have envisioned it performed in front of tens of thousands, but it totally makes sense, right?) Win Butler seemed genuinely stoked, saying he would never have imagined in 2002 that they’d be headlining Coachella, and given that their first studio album came out in 2004, it’s a good bet most fans wouldn’t have guessed it, either.

Scissor Sisters—who started and ended while Arcade Fire’s set was still going — brought a giddily explosive contrast to the dignified reserve of the main stage act, with singer/hypewoman Ana Matronic praising the women for dressing like sluts (her word, not ours) and imploring men to add more hot pants to their wardrobe (possibly preaching to the converted). Musically, the joyful atmosphere never wavered through songs like “Filthy/Gorgeous” and their discofied cover of “Comfortably Numb.”

The bands weren’t without their similarities. Both employed audience participation-ready props; with inflatable orbs housing multicolored lights infiltrating the Arcade Fire crowd, and Scissor Sisters assailing their fans with silver foil tendrils at the start of their set.

Suede drew a disappointingly thin crowd at the Mojave Tent for their first US performance in more than a decade, though they did overlap unluckily with Arcade Fire, Animal Collective and Empire of the Sun. The folks that showed were clearly die-hards, amping up lead singer Brett Anderson through tracks like “Animal Nitrate” and “So Young” in an impeccable greatest hits-filled set. Post-punk legends Wire, playing a couple of hours earlier, also played to a sparse crowd.

Another older-skewing act, Big Audio Dynamite, got a respectable crew to listen to hits like “E=MC2” and “Rush” (no “The Globe,” oddly), with Mick Jones pushing things to the 21st century by connecting their song “Beyond the Pale” to present immigration issues and saying that “A Party” was kind of about Gaddafi — not that the Libyan leader wasn’t around the first go-round for BAD.

Jenny and Johnny‘s later afternoon set marked the third act Jenny Lewis has played with in the last four festivals (Rilo Kiley in 2008, solo in 2009), making a run at Perry Farrell in the game of Coachella Bingo. The LA residents even dedicated the song “Just Like Zeus” to Jumbo’s Clown Room, and pulled out a couple of numbers from the 2008 Lewis solo record Acid Tongue (“The Next Messiah,” “Carpetbaggers”).

In the bizarre schedule conflict of the day, Broken Social Scene and the New Pornographers — referred to by my Canadian friend as the Beatles and Stones of our neighbor to the north — overlapped in the early evening, with head Porno Carl Newman pausing during their set to acknowledge their countrymen’s presence. Neko Case (American) joined the band, though third lead singer Dan Bejar was absent — Case noted that it was her first time at Coachella, as surprising as that sounds.

Bright Eyes did a smattering from his discography, which feels a smidge schizophrenic in a short set — there’s a lot of sonic distance between “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” and “Take it Easy” — though in context it was cohesive enough. Closer “Road to Joy” challenged all those who see Conor Oberst simply as a perpetual saddo, climaxing with the impetuous final lyric of “fuck it up boys, make some noise!”

Other things I saw: Erykah Badu in a set that ended with the plug being pulled, appropriately trippy kaleidoscope visuals accompanying Animal Collective, and a spontaneous, irony-free high five after One Day as a Lion’s Zack de la Rocha stage dove to punctuated their performance. 

—Albert Ching