The Most Iconic Coachella Performances

As we prepare for the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival, what better time to look back at some of the past performances that have made Coachella one of the biggest music festivals in the world? From Kanye West in 2011 to Radiohead way back in 2004, these are the most iconic Coachella performances.


Image via Getty/Christopher Polk


Since its humble beginnings in 1999, Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival has gone from a few days of desert vibing to a two-weekend extravaganza, headlined by some of the biggest artists in the world. Birthed from the minds of Paul Tollet and Rick Van Santen, Coachella has set attendance records every year, and grossed almost $115 million during its 2017 installment.

Coachella has both allowed artists who have already cemented their status to reinforce their greatness, as well as created a platform for artists flying under the radar to become household names. Nights (and days) in the desert have taken bands like Arcade Fire to heights previously unseen. From bands reuniting for the first time in years, like Rage Against the Machine did in 2007, to artists performing songs from a recent album for the first time live, to frontmen of bands past re-emerging, the festival is known for a number of iconic performances.

This collection of musicians at different stages in their careers has made for some unforgettable moments, from Jay-Z becoming the first rapper to ever headline Coachella to Daft Punk changing how EDM concerts functioned. Even moments met with a whirlwind of controversy, like the appearance of Tupac Shakur in holographic form at the 2012 installment of the festival, are unlikely to fade from the public’s memory any time soon.

With Beyonce set to headline this year’s festivals, and a lineup that features The Weeknd, Eminem, Cardi B, Migos, St. Vincent and many, many others, it feels like the perfect time to look back at some of Coachella’s best performances, from Arcade Fire’s coming-of-age set to Amy Winehouse and the White Stripes’ singular performances, which are forever etched in time. These are the most iconic Coachella performances.

Arcade Fire (2005)

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In 2005, Arcade Fire was still flying under the radar, despite their immense talents. Thankfully, they killed the stage at Coachella, propelling them to previously unexpected levels of fame.  Things would never be the same.

Jay-Z (2010)

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Becoming the first rapper to headline Coachella is a momentous achievement, and who better to scale that mountain than Jay-Z? In 2010, Hova opened Coachella with a bang, bouncing between hits like “99 Problems,” “Big Pimpin’,” and “Hard Knock Life,” all while backed by a live band to further enrich his sound. Before his set was over, he brought Beyoncé onstage, who was rocking a white T-shirt with “Girls On Top” written on it in Sharpie, for a stirring duet on “Forever Young.” Needless to say, the crowd went bonkers.

Kanye West (2011)

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Kanye West’s performance at the festival in 2011 raised the bar for iconography all the way up  into outer space. Breathlessly running through some of his biggest hits (the transition from “Power” to “Jesus Walks” to “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” was something special), Ye’s set was a never-ending march of greatness. From the opulent sets behind him to the array of ballet dancers twirling around him during “Runaway,” Kanye West’s performance in the desert will never be forgotten.

The White Stripes (2003)

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Though it happened 15 years ago, the White Stripes first and only performance at Coachella in 2003 is still talked about as one of the festival’s very best. Jack and Meg White, dressed in their custom all-red outfits and less than a month removed from the release of their album Elephant, sped through a dizzying set that included the infectious “Seven Nation Army.” If you think that sports fans get hype to that song, just imagine a festival full of music fans.

Rage Against the Machine (2007)

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Coachella has a bit of a reputation for being the “reunion” festival, a moniker cemented by Rage Against The Machine’s rousing reunion on the main stage in 2007. With the backdrop of George W. Bush’s final year in office, the band made up for a few years of silence with their set, raging (no pun intended) through songs like “Know Your Enemy” and “Killing in the Name Of.” Though they’d been gone for a while, they felt right at home.

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (2012)

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On the third day of Coachella in 2012, underneath a blanket of darkness, Tupac performed for the first time since his death 15 years prior—sort of. In what continues to be one of the most talked about moments in Coachella history, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg unveiled a Tupac hologram during their headlining set.

“What up, Dre?” The hologram asked. “What up, Snoop?”

And then, in a moment that sent shivers down thousands of spines, Tupac turned to the crowd, arms raised, and belted, “What the fuck is up, Coacheeellaaaaaa?”

It was Dr. Dre’s idea to bring back his friend, albeit in hologram form, for one night in the desert, and it elicited strong reactions; some loved it, and some didn’t understand why it was happening. Still, Tupac running through “Hail Mary” and then collaborating with Snoop Dogg on “2 Of Amerikas Most Wanted,” was something to behold.

Daft Punk (2006)

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With 40,000 rabid fans ready to lose their minds, Daft Punk delivered. Rocking their trademark space helmets, and sitting high atop a pyramid backed by blinding LED lights that turned the show into a full-blown rave, the duo put on one of the most iconic performances not just at Coachella, but anywhere.

Amy Winehouse (2007)

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Fresh off the success of Back to Black, Amy Winehouse rocked the Coachella stage in 2007 at just 23 years old. With her gravelly voice floating through the tent, the British phenom gave the crowd all of her hits, from “Rehab” to “You Know I’m No Good.” She would go on to win multiple Grammys that year.

Kendrick Lamar (2017)

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Cornrow Kenny’s headlining set at Coachella in 2017 was special for a lot of reasons. He trotted out Future, Schoolboy Q, and Travis Scott, all unannounced, and ran through some of his older hits, much to the crowd’s delight. Most notably, he performed the majority of DAMN., for the very first time. He even had a ninja join him on stage for his rendition of “DNA.”

Madonna (2006)

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Madonna? Coachella? How could this combination not make for an absolutely epic performance? Madonna’s performance in 2006 offered a sexiness that the festival hadn’t yet dabbled in. She bounced through some of her most famous hits, as well as some of her newer ones, including “Ray of Light,” which sent the crowd into pandemonium.

Prince (2008)

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In 2008, Prince performed goosebump-inducing renditions of classics like “Little Red Corvette” and “Purple Rain,” but also spent time covering songs like Radiohead’s “Creep” and The Beatles’ “Come Together.” Of all the shows that have made this list, few come close to touching what Prince pulled off that night.

Radiohead (2004)

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Fans who waited sweated out a 100-degree day in the desert to watch Radiohead play the main stage in 2004 were richly rewarded. The band’s performance of jams like “Creep,” “Karma Police,” and “Paranoid Android,” helped turn Coachella into one of the preeminent musical festivals in the world.

Roger Waters (2008)

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Though the most memorable moment of the former Pink Floyd frontman’s Coachella set didn’t have anything to do with music, but instead with the inflatable pig that came loose from his set and floated above the crowd, Roger Waters’ show in 2008 was still a huge hit. Playing hits like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Wish You Were Here,” Waters set a precedent for some of the frontman of yesteryear to feel comfortable rocking the Coachella stage.

The Stooges (2003)

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It had been almost 30 years since Iggy Pop shared the stage with The Stooges when the band reunited at Coachella in 2003, instantly turning their performance into one of the festival’s most iconic, before Coachella was as big as it is today. Their show also spurred five straight years of touring together afterwards, which feels like as big of a deal as anything.

LCD Soundsystem (2007)

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LCD Soundsystem has played Coachella a handful of times, but no set has been as epic as the one they put on in 2007. By many accounts, their live performances of tracks like “North American Scum” fully eclipsed the studio versions tenfold, and the buzz of the crowd inside the Sahara Tent only buoyed what was already a momentous set.

The 1975 (2016)

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After performing more of a muted set at Coachella in 2014, The 1975 came roaring back two years later, culminating in a louder, more succinct performance that helped transform the band’s sound into what it is today. Some people discover bands by seeing them perform at Coachella; The 1975 found itself.

Jack White (2015)

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11 years after blessing the stage with Meg White for an epic White Stripes performance, Jack White rocked the Coachella stage with a solo set of his own. Blending together hits from both the Stripes as well as his solo catalogue, White reminded everyone why he’s widely considered one of the best guitarists of this generation.

Björk (2007)

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In 2007, Björk was the only woman to have headlined Coachella, and her performance that year is still talked about today. Her 90-minute set saw the singer replete in a sort of skeleton dress, performing hits like “Army Of Me” and “All is Full of Love.” With her haunting voice and collection of strings, synths, and backup singers, Björk’s performance is often described as “magical.”

Oasis (2002)

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When Noah Gallagher and company headlined Coachella in 2002, the festival looked nothing like it does today.

“It was very much just a gig in a field,” Gallagher told Rolling Stone in 2012.

That being said, the size of the festival at that time is actually what makes Oasis’ performance even more iconic. Their set helped cement Coachella as a force to be reckoned with not just in the United States, but worldwide.

The Pixies (2004)

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Another classic Coachella’s reunion. The Pixies, who had been disbanded since 1993, came together again in 2004 for the first time since their breakup. The set was a smash, and some still think that it usurped Radiohead’s.

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