Well, it's done. The 2011 Coachella Music and Arts Festival had balloons raining from the sky, wristband technology, a way-more-organized ingress/egress system, celebrities from A-listers to Z bags, a ton of great music, and not a lot of drama—which is just the way we like it.
Here's a list of hits and misses at the festival this year:
1. NO LONG WAITS TO GET IN THE FESTIVAL, AND NOT A LOT OF TRAFFIC ON THE ROADS. With a new, offsite Will Call; shuttles taking audiences to and from hotels; and smaller, better-marked parking lots, we were able to get in and out of the festival within 20 minutes each day—even with three different checkpoints at the entrance. That was a big part of the reason this year could be my best Coachella experience ever.
2. ARCADE FIRE'S BALLOON-FILLED FINALE. Phish have done this every New Year's Eve gig since 1995, and it's a trick that never fails: Pour about 2,000 giant, light-up balloons onto a capacity festival audience during the set closer ("Wake Up"), and it's a guaranteed climax. Arcade Fire collaborated with director Chris Milk for the Creators' Project to do it; the balls were equipped with LED lights and infrared receivers. The rest of their set wasn't bad, either; headlining Saturday night's show meant that Arcade Fire sealed the deal: They are now a bona-fide arena band.
3. KANYE WEST SHOWS EVERYONE HOW IT'S DONE. By the time Kanye West performed Sunday night, everyone was stationed at the main stage. And by everyone, we mean it looked like all 70,000 concertgoers had decided Mr. West would be the cherry on their ice-cream sundae of a weekend. When West got dropped off onto the stage by a giant crane, we figured it was the right decision. After all, where else can you find one of the biggest rappers of all time bringing out ballerinas and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon onstage with him? Who needs anyone but Kanye when you can fill a gigantic stage with pure charisma and presence? For all of West's posturing and douchebaggery, he is hugely popular for a simple reason: His songs are awesome, and they will get you on your feet and moving in 0.00001 of a second. And even if there were no Rihanna, Daft Punk, Cudi or Katy Perry (all rumored to hit the stage with him that night), he still was pretty swag, as Odd Future would say.
4. '80S DANCEATHON, CARE OF DURAN DURAN! Before the Strokes sent all the girls' hearts aflutter on Sunday, Duran Duran started the dance party, transforming the polo field—already filled with kids in Day-Glo outfits and high-tops—into a real '80s party with their back-to-back-to-back hits. They kicked off their set with "Planet Earth" and ended strong with "Girls On Film" (somehow, a cameo from Lady Gaga's "Pokerface" made it in there as well). Simon Le Bon still looks amazing, and the band sounded awesome as well. No playing state fairs in their immediate future, thanks to Coachella!
5. FEED ME. For those who couldn't make it, the live Coachella video feed on YouTube got lots of buzz for its surprisingly good audio. Check it out at www.youtube.com/coachella.
1. ODD FUTURE WASN'T THAT GREAT, BUT STILL: BELIEVE THE HYPE. On Friday, we felt Odd Future showed us all they could have in their first five minutes. It proved three things: A) Big-stage rap is for legends only—nobody really hears what the MC spits unless, of course, the audience is already highly familiar with the material. B) When you see these guys rapping the way everybody else raps, the absence of swag is glaring. And C) Wu-Tang comparisons are a blessing and a curse. There's a lot that's great about having a crew who roll a dozen thick in that you get a lot of creative output. But when there are 10 or more live mics onstage at any one time, things tend toward chaos. And not the good kind of chaos.
2. WRAP IT UP, PLEASE. Coachella showed Cee-Lo on Friday it has no qualms pulling the plug on acts who overrun end times, which Erykah Badu learned Saturday evening. The set was nagged by feedback squeals and Badu's intermittent sampler-machine noodling, but it still might have been the smoothest performance of the day.
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3. SOME REUNION SHOWS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. For all the murmurings about Caifanes helping sell out Coachella (okay, mostly by the Weekly!), there just weren't that many people watching them on Friday night. On Saturday, Big Audio Dynamite reminded me of why reunion acts stopped being a big deal. (Seriously. Did anyone even watch Suede?)
Additional reporting by Adam Lovinus.
This column appeared in print as "I See Half-Naked People: Coachella 2011: Hits and misses of the new-and-improved music-and-arts fest."