BEST CHEEKBONES, SENIOR DIVISION: DURAN DURAN
With their creased smiles, dapper blazers, and overall air of Euro-aristocracy, the gentlemen of Duran Duran have, over the years, morphed from their early ’80s image of playboy dandies to 2011, where they could be mistaken for villains in a James Bond movie. Actually, forget I said that: With the puppetmaster-like control they showed over the giant crowd at the main stage — who sang along with each and every chorus of lush pop classics like “Rio,” “Girls on Film,” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and about a dozen others that are currently lying dormant in your brain — these guys could probably raise an army and threaten to blow up earth unless the world’s leaders ponied up a trillion dollars. Stay on the side of good, Duran Duran. For all our sakes. — DAVID MARCHESE
BEST CHEEKBONES, YOUTH DIVISION: FOSTER THE PEOPLE
Young L.A. dance-rockers Foster the People, whose debut album Torches is out May 24, definitely have a fall-back if this music thing doesn’t work out — these handsome lads look like they walked off the pages of a Gap ad. But if the massive overflow crowd dancing to the band’s slick, Maroon 5-reminiscent groovers is any indication, it’s unlikely that the quartet will be showing up at any modeling cattle calls anytime soon. — D.M.
BEST DISPLAY OF “WINNING”: WIZ KHALIFA
It was no accident that the Pittsburgh rapper’s DJ opened with “All I Do Is Win,” a non-Wiz song. Khalifa drew a huge crowd to the unshaded main stage in the thick of the midday heat, and he was full of vim and vigor despite the high temps (and even higher times). He also made a point to celebrate the kind of lifestyle choices currently being espoused by a certain actor in the news — rhyming about burning cash (“Time is money, so I went and bought a Rolex”), reckless relations (“Tonight you wanna get drunk tonight and fuck someone famous”), and permanent intoxication (“Wake up drunk/Go to sleep fucked up”). If there was a dark undercurrent to all of that, Wiz didn’t catch it: “They say all I rap about is bitches and champagne/You would too if every night you saw the same thing.” Probably true. — CHRIS MARTINS
BEST STAGE BANTER: THE STROKES
Julian Casablancas is right: California doesn’t get his sarcasm. During the reformed New York City quintet’s set on the Coachella main stage, the wisecracking singer went off the script, rambling hilariously — to some. Others, not so much. “So, there’s a lot of fine looking tail up in this place tonight,” he joked. “I just flew in on my diamond-encrusted jet.” Then, “Wow. Is this real?” and, “Did you guys check out Duran Duran? Was that a flute solo I heard?” When the stage lights came up, he said, “Can we make it brighter in here?” Then, worst of all, he said, “Anybody here from California? Okay. I won’t say what I was gonna say. Love you too.” Grumbling abound in the crowd. Luckily, the band’s tight set saved Casablancas’ ass. “Under Cover of Darkness,” off their new album Angles, and Is This It oldies like “Someday” and “Hard to Explain” were met with spirited applause and sing-alongs. “I gotta get my shit together,” Casablancas later joked. “I just say random shit.” You sure do. And that’s why we (well, at least some of us) love you. – WILLIAM GOODMAN
BEST RETURN FROM OBSCURITY: DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979
The banner behind the Canadian dance-punkers was adorned with a tombstone reading “DFA 1979, 2001-2006,” a reference to the last time anyone heard anything from them. Well, close to the last time. “How’s this for a first real show?” said drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger before correcting himself. “I’m not going to play down the fact that we had a riot at SXSW. The cops came onstage, a horse got punched in the mouth.” Word is DFA were scheduled for a tent billing until festival organizers heard about the duo’s dust-up in Austin, and watching them, it was easy to understand just how the ruckus got started. The pair were loud and rude, but incredibly tight, burning through a set of seven-year-old songs — including crowd favorites “Black History Month” and “Blood on Our Hands” — as if they were written yesterday. — C.M.
BEST OUTFIT: CSS
The daytime temperatures soared towards 100 degrees on Coachella’s final day, but, sartorially speaking, things were mild for most bands — t-shirts and jeans were the norm. Natural, then, that CSS’s bopping oddball of a frontwoman, Lovefoxxx, would do something different, donning a sparkly red toreador jacket and matching jodhpurs. The heat may have been too much — she eventually stripped down to short shorts and a halter top, but the Sao Paulo band’s music kept the flair going. A carnaval of punkish energy and lithe, skittering rhythms, CSS’s music is dance-y the way the B-52’s were dance-y — it’s not so much any particular element you can point to as hip-swinging as it is the overall fun-loving vibe. I gotta say, though, Lovefoxxx’s comment, “Let’s get very dehydrated!” fell flat on a day when about a third of the attendees had the pallor of lobsters, but her heart was in the right place, as was everyone lucky enough to see her band’s set. — D.M.
WORST ADO ABOUT NOTHING: DUCK SAUCE
Yeah, so it turned out the group with the novelty hit wasn’t so hot in person, but the many thousands who showed up to party with the guys behind “Barbara Streisand” shouldn’t be faulted for the show of faith. Members A-Trak and Armand Van Helden are experts in their respective fields (hip-hop DJ, house guru), so why did Duck Sauce wind up sounding like a mediocre Eurodance club night blaring from a basement with bad speakers? Who knows, but it speaks volumes that their b-game set was literally overshadowed by a gigantic inflatable duck. — C.M.
BEST REASON TO ARRIVE EARLY: FUN. & JACK’S MANNEQUIN
The typical Coachella game plan involves sleeping late, lounging by whatever pool is closest, then hitting the Polo Grounds in the early afternoon. Bad idea. These two indie pop bands were reason enough to shake the hangover and brave the blistering noon-hour sun. Jack’s Mannequin and fun., playing simultaneously on the main Coachella Stage and the nearby Outdoor Theatre, respectively, offered a double whammy of sunny, uplifting indie pop with plenty sing-alongs to disappointingly thin crowd. On “La La Lie,” Jack’s frontman Andrew McMahon – who made a full recovery from lymphoblastic leukemia in 2005 — pounded the piano and crooned about “friends that helped me pull through” in a super-infectious melody. Next time set your alarm, Coachella. – W.G.
BEST COVER: ELLIE GOULDING DOES ELTON JOHN
It was a fitting selection for a British singer-songwriter hung up on pop’s roots and love’s hardships: 24-year-old Ellie Goulding performing Elton John’s 1970 ballad “Your Song” with a whole lot of emotional verve, to a fervent crowd at the Gobi Tent hanging on her every word. “This is a chance for you to have a mellow moment,” she said before starting the song, which she recorded last year and took to the top of the British charts. Though they knew every word to the electro-tinged indie-pop hits from her new album, Bright Lights, some were too young to recognize the Elton tune — “Is that a new song?” asked one girl — but a couple in their early-20s seized the mood for a serious makeout session that lasted so long the girl’s cigarette burnt to the butt before they were done. – W.G.
WORST ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE ALBUM: PHANTOGRAM
On their 2010 debut Eyelid Movies, this stylish Greenwich, New York, duo matched their moody pop to a production palette that was so airy and tinkered-with that the songs threatened to float away. Live in the Gobi tent, the band, joined by a drummer, played the same material, but with unexpected (and completely welcome) muscle and fuzz. Josh Carter’s guitar was crunching where on record it chimed, Sarah Barthel’s keyboards were crackling instead of tinkling, their singing was passionate and hungry rather than wispy and coy, and on the lovely, swooning “Mouthful of Diamonds,” thwomping live drums lent much-needed heft to the gentle melody. Guys, remember this show — it’s how you need to sound on your second album. — D.M.
BEST HEADBANGING: HEALTH
The highly experimental L.A. noise band had a beastly spirit animal in bassist John Famiglietti, a six-foot-plus fury with a shock of perfectly straight, nipple-length hair that’d make a Norwegian death metalist blush. Though singer Jacob Duzsik gave a haunting performance, the lanky thrasher was rightly given center stage, and proved to be oddly graceful as he swung his axe around and whipped his mane to the din of rolling drums and lo-bit digital skronk. He eventually inspired an entire pit of kids to snap their necks in time with HEALTH’s crossover moment, “Die Slow.” — C.M.
BEST CHEERLEADER: TINIE TEMPAH
The crowd was in a crummy mood before Tinie Tempah took the stage Sunday afternoon in the Gobi tent. Technical problems meant the schedule was running behind, and big chunks of the audience were booing out of restlessness before the English rapper was finally permitted to play. But the MC quickly won everyone over with his pulsing, playful rave-rap and some aggressively positive stage banter. “I love America!” he shouted, to raucous cheering; “Who’s ready to party?” he yelped over and over; he dusted off the old standby, “Say yeeeah!”; and dropped my personal favorite, “If you love music in general, make some fucking noise!” Hard to argue with that — especially when David Hasselhoff is dancing up a storm in the photo pit. — D.M.
BEST SING-ALONG: JIMMY EAT WORLD
Never underestimate the power of a nostalgic Jimmy Eat World sing-along. During their early afternoon set at the Outdoor Theatre, the band dropped the back-to-back classics “The Middle” and “Sweetness,” urging the entire beer garden to holler along, including the dude at the ATM, whose woes of paying a $4 service fee were eased when he responded to frontman Jim Adkins’ request to “sing it back — whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh!” – W.G.
BEST WAY TO GO DEAF: LIGHTNING BOLT
Not only were Lightning Bolt one of the noisiest bands to play Coachella in 2011 (or any other year for that matter), they had their amps set at 11 the entire time. “Thanks for taking a break from Duran Duran,” said drummer/yelper Brian Chippendale to the small crowd — fewer bodies to baffle the sound — but the idea of the two bands sharing a single fan seemed absurd in light of what followed. Wearing a freaky mask with a mic inside of it, Chippendale wailed like a caterwauling pile of detuned guitars while pummeling his kit. Brian Gibson, for his part, made the bass roar like a pissed-off dinosaur. Brutal and fantastic. — C.M.
WORST PLACE TO HALLUCINATE: RATATAT
The Brooklyn electronic rock duo played a pitch-perfect set of their simple, catchy, wordless jams, but their offbeat visuals set a stranger scene. Behind the bongos and bird chirps of “Grape Juice City,” hundreds of avian heads bopped in time with the beat — falcons, doves ostriches, gulls — but fans near the front of the stage found themselves face-to-face with a 3-D holographic parakeet bigger than most men. If that wasn’t enough to put the reality-impaired over the edge, no doubt the jerkily edited kill scenes from Predator did the trip — err, trick. — C.M.
BEST STARBUCKS FAVE: ANGUS AND JULIA STONE
Here’s some easy listening for your next double chai frappe mocha latte: Australian brother-sister duo Angus and Julia Stone, who are poised to be the next big artists to bank off the folk/American movement currently sweeping the charts and music world with Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, and hot up-and-comers the Head and the Heart. Angus and Julia’s sound is an exercise in general-interest mediocrity: It’s not too folk, not to hippy-dippy, not too rockin’, and not too boring. It’s just right, which is why their sophomore release, Down the Way, became highest-selling album by an Australian artist in 2010, and their singles have landed in TV shows 90210, Grey’s Anatomy, and Good Morning America. If you don’t already know ’em, you will soon. – W.G.