Okay, let’s just get it out of the way. Nightranger, and pretty much any other reviewer you’ll read this week, got to hang out in the VIP area at Coachella, which meant a respite from the brutal sun with misting fans, real bathrooms, couches for lounging and an eyeful of celeb attendees (Steven Tyler, Pink, Kelly Osbourne, Melanie Griffith, Shia LaBeouf, U.K. model Agyness Deyn), not to mention vapid, just-there-for-the-scene (or to show off their tats) types. Thankfully, we scored a wristband to the far more mellow, superduper VIP section, where the artists and their guests played and partied, and it was there that we got to bond with one of our fave performers, French firecracker Yelle; play Frisbee with some guy from Gogol Bordello; and eat free ice cream with Sia’s crew. Still, there’s nothing like watching a band from the field with fervent fans or from inside a bouncing tent as the group and crowd become one, feeding off the enclosed energy. We passed on many of the acts du jour this time, opting to rock out mostly at night and to party by day. Like every other festival where the famous might be, Coachella has become a marketing haven, and there were myriad sponsored bashes to choose from.

Crystal Blue Persuasion

Winner of the music-mag desert-party death match: Anthem magazine! Filter’s lakeside love-in is always a nice way to kick off the weekend, but we missed the bus (literally). Friday’s BPM pool party was chill, but not as fantastical as we’d hoped, what with its planned Smurf theme scrapped. Turned out the company that now owns the cartoon characters didn’t think associating themselves with a liquored-up soiree was such a good idea after all (Hpnotiq’s blue hue was so Smurfect too)! At least the gathering still had Smurfy DJs (Steve Aoki and Joel & Benji Madden) and eats supplied by Kitchen 24 (from the Cinespace peeps, set to open soon on Cahuenga), including burgers and blue potato salad.

Anthem’s bash was even further away from the Empire Polo Field, but it was worth the drive. We actually hopped a ride with the Scion fleet that picked up acts, carpooling with Gobi Tent Saturday opener Yoav and getting some juicy Prince gossip from the driver. (The Artist allegedly hated the mirror in his trailer and had a runner go out and buy him a new one for $300. And way before he went on, he had every intention of playing past the main-stage curfew and paying the fines … yeah, we think he can afford it.) At the fiesta, Tommy Sunshine and Justice’s Xavier de Rosnay spun two utterly incredible sets (heard: Steely Dan into Beyoncé into some weird no-wave shit) for a mix of too-cool Ray-Ban-sporting poolside posers and drunk-off-their-asses party animals floating on inflatables and splashing about. “You couldn’t pay me to get into that pool,” said one cute halter-topped gal to another as they slipped on jeans in the Levi’s gifting suite. “Who knows what’s swimming around in there?” Indeed. We intended to take a dip in the more private pool near the back of the gorgeous estate, but it was already occupied by Black LipsCole Alexander and his posse, who’d only let us snap pics in exchange for controlled substances. Fortunately, the Newcastle we had in our purse was good enough, and we got to chat with the singer, whose raucous set the night before blew us away as always, even without any bodily fluids.

Shamefully, we missed a lot of other desert shindigs: Spin mag’s impossible-to-find Friday fête with Perry Farrell on the decks; Saturday’s T-Mobile Sidekick Bolthouse bash with DJ AM in an airplane hangar; GQ’s bash at the Viceroy; and Indie 103.1 Desert Oasis, which was impossible to get to by the time we popped by, with traffic blocked near its entrance. Yes, even Nightranger isn’t connected enough to get invited to every clambake, and we learned too late about the rumored Prince after-party in Palm Springs, Jeremy Scott’s house party (our eyes hurt just thinking about the flood of fluorescence at that affair) and The Green Door’s gatherings.

Bittersweet Symphony

Nightranger’s favorite main-stage act might surprise you. It was The Verve. Richard Ashcroft — and his bone structure — were mesmerizing, and he kept our attention better than Jack White, Portishead and even Prince. Everyone says Prince was “amazing,” and though we concede moments of brilliance, we were bored at times too. Maybe we were just tired — or not sauced enough. Other disappointments: Goldfrapp kinda fizzled, and Fatboy Slim recalled a crazy uncle trying to deejay at your cousin’s wedding. Faves: Mark Ronson’s revolving sing-a-thon with Kenna, Sam Sparro and Kaiser Chef’s Ricky Wilson; the Black Lips’ set-ending ax destruction (complete with dangerous shards flying about); I’m From Barcelona’s confetti climax; Duffy’s nervous-at-first-but-wily-by-the-end Tammy Wynette–gone-bad ditties (girlfriend needs a good stylist, though); Yelle’s electric French dance explosion (with a scorching drum jam!); and maybe our favorite act from all three days, Does It Offend You Yeah?, who had us dancing nonstop with their eclectic disco-punk and furious into-the-crowd assaults. Even when they drenched us with a water bottle, we were not offended.

Tripped Out

There’s tired, and then there’s Coachella tired. And after just a few hours in the desert, almost all on foot (even with VIP-couch time), a delirium sets in that makes the whole experience surreal. Who needs drugs? Apparently a lot of people. The dance-happy Do Lab village seemed pretty doped out (but wonderfully so), and in the Gobi Tent during Sasha and John Digweed we actually saw one glow-stick-covered denizen get rough-cuffed by two scary-looking goons who ended up being undercover cops. Talk about a buzz kill. It was the only time we didn’t feel totally positive, groovy vibes (except for that Sunday-evening walk back to our car, when we thought our femurs might literally crumble). We’ve been to every Coachella except the first, and what we love about it most is the communal feel. It’s a place where girls can walk around half-naked and not get harassed, where you can bump booties with some freak in a ridiculous outfit (headbands and neon — just say no!) and, best of all, discover your new favorite band, the one that only the indier-than-thou types knew about before last weekend. Coachella gives everyone a chance to be cool — and, of course, hot. Very, very hot.

See the Style Council blog for a Coachella fashion report and the Nightranger slide show for pics from the parties, the pit and everywhere in between.

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