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Coachella: Day 1

Fans line up for the 2010 edition of the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival in Indio, California, which saw a large number of gate crashers and counterfeit tickets. Organizers have increased security for the 2011 festival. (Courtesy of Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

After 2010, when festival organizers found out very quickly that their eyes were bigger than their stomachs, 2011′s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival arrived on Friday with few of the logistical nightmares that had become standard at past installments of the desert get-together. With Goldenvoice and Co. realizing that less really is more, Coachellites were able to enjoy day one relatively hassle free. Crowds mere manageable, traffic was bearable and parking was orderly. Cell phones actually worked. And the new chip-carrying wristbands were surprisingly efficient.

After all, with the elaborate preparations leading up to this year’s event, from the dressing and personalized shipping of wristbands to the addition of a sixth stage, the 12th edition of the Coachella Music Festival may not have been bigger, but it certainly was better, at least from Friday’s experiences. With the source of most of the problems — the crowd levels — kept at bay, day one will be remembered as all Coachella opening days should be: a 12-hour ribbon-cutting to a desert oasis that had fans running across the polo fields from Odd Future to Lauryn Hill, soaking in mist and ear-slamming bass at the Do LaB or dancing the night away at Cut Copy. This was the festival experience we’d been waiting for. Welcome to Coachella.

Cee Lo Green

Cee Lo Green was a full half hour late, and he was pissed about it. “Sorry guys, I just landed,” he shouted to the audience. “We only have 20 minutes left — still wanna party with me?” And with that, his all-girl backing band started pumping out an instrumental cover of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Green, who later reiterated, “I’m fucking pissed off” — presumably at his set time — faced an audience of festival-goers who were also fucking pissed off that his set had been shortened. His set was sprinkled with quips like, “Hope y’all are high ‘cause I’m completely sober, and it’s a bummer.” Green ran through a couple other Gnarls Barkley songs, and before hitting the requisite “Fuck You,” he encouraged audience members to “put your middle fingers in the air” and they willingly obliged. His performance was off during the short set, with him pacing around and singing without much verve. Just as he seemed to hit his groove, with the opening chords to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” — the plug was pulled. Sound went off exactly when his set was scheduled to end, and though the audience cheered, Cee Lo was out.

 

Best Coast perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California, Sunday, April 17 2011. (Courtesy of Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Kele Okereke

Laying in the grass behind the Gobi Stage before the show, Kele Okereke looked more tired spectator than Coachella performer. Dressed leisurely in sport shorts and a tank top, he only rose from his catnap minutes before his 7 p.m. set time, clutching a bottle of Jagermeister as he casually approached the stage. Stepping into the spotlight, Kele tapped into energy reserves not usually expended while leading Bloc Party and burst into “Walk Tall” and ”On the Lam” from his debut solo album “The Boxer” “As some of you may know, I have another band,” Okereke said, grinning. “We’re called the Black Eyed Peas.” Transitioning from solo cuts to Bloc Party material, Okereke and his backing band played a flowing and revamped Bloc Party medley of “Blue Light,” “The Prayer” and “One More Chance,” as the lead singer danced across the stage, losing hat and microphone stand in the process. And given his last appearance at the festival with Bloc Party was five years ago, Okereke recalled his band’s brightest times as he closed with “This Modern Love” and the dance-ready “Flux” to end a memorable Coachella return.

Cut Copy

In a day full of male divas (see: Ariel Pink and Cee Lo Green), Alice Glass cut the bullshit. Playing with a broken ankle, which had been mangled in an accident at a show in Tokyo in June, the Crystal Castles frontwoman not only proceeded to perform at the Outdoor Theatre, but announced her presence by stage-diving into the crowd during “Baptism,” ankle boot and all. Shocking, sadistic but always professional, Glass hopped, crawled and crutched around stage as she screamed into the mic and quickly cemented her place as the Kerri Strug of this year’s music festival. Along with bandmate Ethan Kath, Glass made the Crystal Castles set an unforgettable assault on the eyes and ears of fans with “Vietnam” and “Not In Love” proving to be highlights of the 50-minute set. As the band ended on “Untrust Us,” Glass ended her set right where she started: riding the outstretched arms of fans, mic in hand and broken ankle aloft.

The Black Keys

The Black Keys, who last graced the desert stage in 2009, were all business on Friday night. The only glitch was on the festival organizers’ side — the screens on the side of the main stage were out for the first 15 minutes of the set. The band, framed in front of a giant shimmering disco ball, ran systematically through both their best radio hits (“Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ For You”) plus some of their highlights from “Brothers,” including “Next Girl” and “Ten Cent Pistol.” Dan Auerbach stretched “I’ll Be Your Man” out to its limit, repeating the title line over and over and pulling the audience with him. They closed with “I Got Mine” and proved that a band doesn’t have to pull crazy stunts to be a memorable act this weekend.

Robyn

Sustaining America’s love affair with Scandinavian musicians, Swedish pop singer Robyn sashayed through her nighttime slot, risking intermediate whiplash as her blond head cut side to side. She launched into her set, countdown and blastoff effects included, with a DJ’ed-out version of “Fembot” and followed with a club-worthy set of electropop-savvy gems. It was a shame, though, that the video screens were down for the first half of her performance, as her shuffling, flash-dance choreography was a must-see for the day. She admirably brought “Body Talk” to life, emoting her heart out with album single and chick-flick anthem “Dancing on My Own.” The dueling keyboard section of “Indestructible” was her greatest non-singing moment of the night, as she directed the fight la Mickey in the “The Magician’s Apprentice.”