The Pixies and The Cure turn up the desert heat at the fifth Coachella Festival

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Flaming Groovy

Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival

INDIO, CALIFORNIA, SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, MAY 1 AND 2

California’s burning. Down the road in Palm Springs, it’s 112 degrees. Bush fires are threatening to torch Santa Barbara and right here in Indio, three hours desertwards from LA, Frank Black is screaming into the glare: “Now there’s a hole in the sky/And the ground’s not cold/And if the ground’s not cold/Everything is gonna burn/We’ll all take turns…”

The reformed PIXIES are the red hot triumph of the fifth Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival and you couldn’t ask for a more apposite theme song for the blistering weekend than “Monkey Gone To Heaven”, delivered at a speed that wouldn’t shame The Ramones in the midst of a celebratory set of should-have-been hits. “Here Comes Your Man”, “Debaser”, “Caribou”… songs that were shunned by American radio over a decade ago now sound more fucked and alive and relevant than ever.

Thom Yorke, whose RADIOHEAD have the unenviable job of following Frank and co in the Saturday headline slot, pretty much admits defeat, dedicating “Creep” to the band and telling the crowd, in an uncharacteristic address, that “the Pixies changed my life. “This is the final stop on the ‘Head’s year-long, worldwide tour and Thom’s throat’s so wrecked he’s already cancelled some shows this week. Which might explain the band’s rather desultory showing. Still, they cram in “You And Whose Army” as an encore and send a large proportion of the 50,000-strong crowd away happy, legging it across the lush polo field to the Sahara Tent where KRAFTWERK close down the first day with the same flawless set they’ve been touting around the globe on their latest re-emergence.

Sunday belongs to THE CURE, who start uncertainly with the harsh, new “Lost” but build to something approaching their ancient majesty with a set that includes their poppier nuggets “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Just Like Heaven” and “Pictures Of You.” The American press is calling Smith’s hoary bunch “the mother of all emo bands” and, with the forthcoming Ross Robinson-produced album titled defiantly and definitively The Cure, they seem to have rediscovered a focus they’ve been lacking for years.

Prior to all the lipstick and mascara, Wayne Coyne cheekily tries to steal The Cure’s thunder by appearing on stage with THE FLAMING LIPS inside a huge plastic bubble. It might have seemed a good idea at the time, but staggering out over the crowd inside the wobbling orb takes up most of the set, which is reduced to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, an anti-Bush harangue and a communal happy birthday to Beck’s unborn child.

BECK is Saturday’s surprise guest. Appearing in the tiny Gobi Tent, he strums through a downhome set that includes Big Star’s “Kangaroo”, The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” and The Kinks’ “Nothin’ In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About That Girl”. Elsewhere, Josh Homme’s DESERT SESSIONS ensemble unleashes some goth splendour and guest appearances from The Distillers’ Brody Dalle and sometime Queen Of The Stone Age Mark Lanegan, while Jane’s Addiction’s PERRY FARRELL makes it five appearances in Indio in five years with an afternoon DJ set.

Coachella 2004 is the first total sell-out in the Festival’s history. It is now America’s hottest alternative rock ticket. Quite literally.