The Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival will bring a youth movement to the low desert this year. After several years of greybeard headliners, California’s signature festival is going back to the future with younger acts including Gorillaz, Muse, Jay-Z, Thom Yorke, MGMT, Hot Chip, Spoon, Vampire Weekend and LCD Soundsystem at the very top of the bill for the three-day concert that begins April 16 at the Empire Polo Field in Indio.
There are some flashback acts, including Woodstock icon Sly Stone and the Family Stone, 1980s alt-rock outfit Echo and the Bunnymen and reconstituted college-rock outfit Pavement, but they’re not leading the bill like Paul McCartney, Prince and Roger Waters were in past years.
The presence of rap superstar Jay-Z will raise the eyebrows of those fans who like to think of Coachella as an indie-music oasis on today’s live-music landscape; hip-hop stars such as Kanye West, the Beastie Boys, Lupe Fiasco and Kool Keith have performed at Coachella in the past but none of them tap into the same street imagery and conspicuous consumption ethos that defines the $150-million mogul.
Jay-Z is also a somewhat unexpected booking because he has a performance — for which tickets are still available — at the Staples Center on March 26. The hip-hop star will close out the opening night of the fest on Friday, when other performers will be LCD Soundsystem, rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Specials and John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols experimental outfit Public Image Ltd.
Saturday night will be headlined by Muse, Faith No More, DJs Tiesto and David Guetta, MGMT, Hot Chip and Jack White’s The Dead Weather. Sunday will close with Gorillaz, Yorke, Spoon, Parisian electronic rockers Phoenix and dance veterans Orbital.
The desert event has won a reputation among fans for showcasing artists on the comeback trail, and rock acts such as the Pixies and Iggy & the Stooges made splashy returns at Coachella. Pavement, a staple of the ‘90s alt-rock scene, has been an expected Coachella headliner since announcing its reunion at the end of 2009.
Gary Bongiovanni, the editor in chief of Pollstar, the concert-industry trade publication, believes Coachella doesn’t need a boomer-friendly headliner such as McCartney, who performed last year, or Waters, who closed the event in 2008. A package built around Pavement, Public Image Ltd. and hipper acts, he believes, might even hold greater appeal for Coachella’s target young audience.
“Pavement was never an arena headliner, but it lends some excellent buzz to the lineup,” Bongiovanni said. “In a way, it’s like looking at what the Super Bowl had to do. They have The Who this year, and if you stop and think about it, ‘What’s the biggest act we can get that we haven’t already done?’ — it’s a tough question to answer. If you take all these little things and put them together it becomes a compelling bill. There’s not a reliance on one name.”
Pavement already has a history with the event. Lead singer Stephen Malkmus has appeared at Coachella with his post-Pavement band the Jicks, and Pavement split soon after appearing at the first-ever Coachella in 1999. The latter performance has gone down in alt-music lore as one that showcased the band unraveling on stage.
Lydon has gone on numerous comeback treks with the Sex Pistols, but this will mark the return of Public Image Ltd. after more than 15 years. The band, which experimented with dance and electronic textures throughout its career, went through numerous lineup changes. The act that takes the stage at Coachella is not expected to feature original members Jah Wobble or Keith Levene, but will include onetime guitarist Lu Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith.
Radiohead’s leader Yorke will be making a return to Southern California after sold-out dates in Echo Park and downtown in October. With Muse on the bill, he’ll be sharing the event with a band that’s long been compared to his showcase act, though Muse hasn’t reached the kind of sales success in the U.S. that it has overseas. Bolstered by its presence in the first “Twilight” film, Muse has become an MTV staple, and its 2009 effort “Resistance” has sold 370,000 copies in the U.S. since its September release, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Synth rockers MGMT have a hotly anticipated album due in 2010, and the act will compete for best new artist at the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards. But MGMT won’t be the only act expected to bring new material to the event, as Damon Albarn’s adventurous electronic-rock outfit Gorillaz has a long-awaited album expected to be released this spring.
Oh, and what about those question marks on Sunday’s text in the concert poster below? No, that isn’t saving a spot for a Smiths reunion or U2 debut on the Coachella stage, it’s the way that Yorke presents himself as a solo star, the marquee at his Orpheum concert had the same punctuational flourish.
The big question heading into last year’s Coachella was whether the economy would take its toll on the festival, and the answer was a resounding no. Paid attendance topped 150,000, said Bongiovanni, and promoter Goldenvoice/AEG put overall attendance at more than 160,000.
Additionally, the festival’s gross reached $15.3 million, according to concert tracker Billboard Boxscore. Those numbers topped such well-known destination events as Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
Coachella also made some recession-friendly concessions, offering fans the opportunity to purchase tickets on layaway, which it is again doing this year. Three-day packages are $269, not including Ticketmaster surcharges. www.coachella.com