Coachella 2013: Blur, Stone Roses Bring Britpop to the Desert

all photos by Debi Del Grande - click to enlargeDespite taking place in Southern California's sun-baked Indio desert, Coachella 2013 felt a lot more like Glastonbury 1992 this Friday, when the first day of the musicfest was co-headlined by recently reunited Britpop bands Blur and Stone Roses. (Spoiler alert: Not to start a new Britpop war, a la the infamous Blur-vs.-Oasis years, but Blur were the far better of the two.) "For those of you who are unfamiliar with us," quipped Blur frontman Damon Albarn, "we're from England, and we've just had like four months of gray weather. A lot of our songs are informed by our bad weather, so it's nice to enjoy your sunshine here."

Judging from the audience reaction, plenty of Coachella-goers were quite familiar with Blur--the wild crowd singalong to the group's sports-rock stadium anthem "Song 2" alone was evidence of that. But that was only one of many classics that the mod London rockers performed on the Main Stage, starting with their cheeky technopop ode to Ibiza holiday romance, "Girls & Boys"--a perfect Coachella partystarter, for sure--and including "There's No Other Way," "Tracy Jacks," "Beetlebum," "Coffee & TV," "Out of Time," "Trim Trabb," "Caramel," "This is a Low," and an absolutely gorgeous finale with "The Universal."

Other highlights of Blur's pretty much perfect 80-minute set included a rousing rendition of "Parklife" with vocals from Quadrophenia cult actor Phil Daniels, who guested on the original 1994 recording; "Tender," during which Damon, grinning broadly to reveal his gangsta-style gold-capped tooth, set down his guitar and sprinted across the stage to spontaneously hug the onstage sign-language interpreter; and "For Tomorrow," which was dedicated to all the California fans who saw the band play in the early '90s and "showed up on Vespas and made us feel right at home." Aw.

Madchester legends the Stone Roses were up next, but sadly, despite their official headlining status, they drew a much smaller crowd; while Blur had joked about the audience supposedly not knowing who they were, apparently many Coachella fans really weren't familiar with the Roses (as previously indicated by a rash of "Who Are The Stone Roses?" Tumblrs that surfaced in the wake of this year's Coachella lineup announcement).

Those who managed to make it to the Main Stage, either out of underdog fandom or just sheer lookie-loo curiosity, witnessed a mixed show. While frontman Ian Brown was just as iconically simian as ever (all hollowed-out cheekbones, shuffling baggy-jeaned gait, sloping brow, and bowlcut Caesar hair--a Mancunian '90s caricature sprung to life), his voice was…well, let's just say Ian never would have made it past the audition stage of "The X Factor U.K."

Yikes.

Overall, the Roses' druggy, hazy sound sadly lacked the propulsively poppy energy of Blur's stellar set (the two bands' set times really should have been swapped), but classic college-rock hits like "I Wanna Be Adored," "Waterfall," and "She Bangs the Drums" still pleased, if only for nostalgia's sake. And the utter astoundingness of their jammy extend-o-version of "Fools Gold," which practically seemed longer than some other Coachella band's entire sets, was well worth sticking around for.

For more Coachella reportage, check out Yahoo! Music's 2013 Summer Music Guide.