Coachella’s 23 Greatest Performances: From Kanye’s Sunday Service to Daft Punk’s Breakthrough Pyramid

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For the first time since 2019, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival returns with a lineup packed with the best and brightest in contemporary music, from headliners Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Swedish House Mafia and The Weeknd to young upstarts fiery like Koffee, Amyl and the Sniffers and Rina Sawayama.

We have already rounded the 12 acts not to be missed if you’re headed to Indio for Weekend 1 (April 15-17) or Weekend 2 (April 22-24) this year, but now is the time to look back on past editions of the festival and set the bar high set by music legends who have graced the stage in years past.

Here are the craziest moments in Coachella’s 23-year history.

Rage Against The Machine kicks things off with a bang – 1999

The first Coachella in 1999 was headlined by Beck, Tool and Rage Against The Machine. It was this last group, fresh from the ill-fated Woodstock ’99, that had the biggest and strongest impact. The band broke up the following year shortly after releasing their fourth album. Renegades. Where did they choose for their 2007 meeting? The Coachella main stage, of course.

Jane’s Addiction Reunites – 2001

Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell is well known as the founder of the extravagant Lollapalooza festival, but he also found time to help out the fledgling Coachella festival in 2001 by reuniting his band for the first time since the 90s and delivering a set full of success.

Iggy and the Stooges, finally reunited – 2003

Prior to Coachella 2003, Iggy Pop hadn’t played with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton in 30 years. After headliners The White Stripes and The Beastie Boys, it was the reunited original Stooges line-up that brought the festival to a delirious climax with a timely delivery of raw power.

Wayne Coyne crowdsurfs in a bubble – 2004

Coachella first sold out in 2004, helped by the long-awaited reunion of the mighty Pixies, but that wasn’t the only memorable performance of the weekend. The Flaming Lips set is well remembered for when frontman Wayne Coyne’s crowd surfed above the audience in a man-sized plastic bubble.

New Order pays tribute to Ian Curtis – 2005

Playing Coachella just a month before the 25thand anniversary of the tragic death of bandmate Ian Curtis, New Order did something they hadn’t done in nearly two decades – they played Joy Division songs. The powerfully moving performances of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Transmission” provided the most heartfelt moments of the year.

Daft Punk during their famous performance at Coachella in 2006

(Getty Images)

Daft Punk’s Revolutionary Pyramid – 2006

Arguably the most famous and influential Coachella performance of all time – at least before Beyoncé. Daft Punk landed in the festival’s Sahara tent in a pyramid that eerily resembled a spaceship and delivered a standout performance that changed the course of dance music. He proved so influential on a generation of young producers that this show was to EDM what the Manchester Free Trade Hall Sex Pistols were to punk.

Amy Winehouse defines an era – 2007

2007 saw standout sets from Björk, Red Hot Chili Peppers and a reunited Rage Against The Machine. However, it was a much lower British soul singer in the line-up who captured the public’s imagination. Like Vice wrote: “Amy may not have been the headliner of the festival, but she was the definitive interpreter of Coachella in 2007, the axis of cultural elite and messy starlets who defined the era.” In addition to performing at the peak of her powers, Winehouse partied with Paris Hilton and Kelly Osbourne and even found time to be photographed backstage with Danny DeVito.

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Roger Waters Proves Pigs Can Fly – 2008

We remember 2008 for a superb Prince title and for Roger Waters doing double duty, playing his own set and a complete passage of Pink Floyd. The Dark Side of the Moon. During “Pigs”, he launched a double-decker inflatable pig into the skies. The pig icon had the words ‘Don’t be led to the slaughterhouse’ painted on it alongside a cartoon of Uncle Sam holding two bloody cleavers, lest anyone accuse Waters of subtlety.

Morrissey storms backstage after smelling ‘burnt flesh’ – 2009

Performing on Friday night, shortly before fellow vegetarian Paul McCartney, the former Smiths frontman ended his show early after picking up the smell of meat on air. “I can feel burning flesh…and I hope that’s human,” Morrissey said before choking and walking away halfway through “Some Girls Are Taller Than Others.” He finally came back on stage saying, “The smell of burning animals makes me sick. I just couldn’t bear it.

Phoenix Survives a Volcano – 2010

In 2010, a series of volcanic eruptions in Iceland blocked transatlantic flights. That meant many bands, including The Cribs and Gary Numan, simply couldn’t make it to Coachella. While French indie rockers Phoenix managed to arrive on time, their lighting technician did not, leaving them no choice but to perform in front of simple white lights. It turns out that was all they needed, and their set went so well that they were asked to headline back in 2013.

Kanye touch the sky – 2011

The news that Kanye West has dropped out of Coachella this year will be disappointing to anyone who witnessed his title triumphant debut in 2011. West set the bar by appearing above the main stage atop a glowing crane at 30 feet above thousands of amazed fans. There was only one rhetorical question on his lips: “Can we go much higher?”

The late Tupac Shakur makes a virtual appearance at Coachella 2012

(Getty Images)

The resurrection of Tupac – 2012

During a festival closing set by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, rap icon Tupac magically appeared to join them, undeterred by the fact that he had died in 1996. His appearance in hologram shocked fans and divided critics, but Tupac’s performances of “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” were certainly unforgettable.

Fall Out Boy makes a surprise appearance while filming 2 Chainz – 2013

As unlikely collaborations go, rapper 2 Chainz bringing out emo rockers Fall Out Boy to perform “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Remix)” is definitely up there. The Georgian artist’s fans were left largely bewildered by the whole incident, despite his assertion on stage, “Not only did I come to save hip-hop, I came to save rock and roll.”

nas party Illmatic with Jay-Z and Diddy – 2014

Nas knew that the 20and anniversary of his genre-defining rap album Illmatic was something worth celebrating, so for his midnight set in 2014 he was aided by a few icons: Jay-Z made a surprise appearance on “Dead Presidents,” while Diddy took the stage for “Hate Me Now”.

Madonna kisses Drake – 2015

Drake’s Sunday night closing set of Coachella 2015 is best known for when Madonna herself interrupted a performance of the Canadian artist’s song “Madonna” by strutting around on stage, singing a few of his own songs, then planting a long passionate kiss on the headliner. Looking flustered, Drake could do nothing more than laugh, “What just happened?”

Axl Rose and Slash bury the hatchet – 2016

Coachella has developed a reputation for bringing bands together long after they seem to have quit. In 2016 they brought back not only LCD Soundsystem but also Guns N’ Roses, with frontman Axl Rose, guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan playing together at a major event for the first time since 1993. Unfortunately, a metatarsal broke meant Rose had to play from a seat straight out of The iron Thronebut in better news, fans enjoyed a cameo from iconic AC/DC guitarist Angus Young.

Lady Gaga headlining and a movie star is born – 2017

Lady Gaga’s 2017 track showcased the pop icon at her best, seamlessly transitioning from massive club-ready dance bangers to jaw-dropping soulful piano ballads like “Edge of Glory,” which turned out to be a real heartbreak. Then she dusted herself off and shot scenes with Bradley Cooper that would continue to be used in 2018. A star is born.

(Rex Features)

Beyonce (and her fanfare) conquers Beychella – 2018

Beyonce was scheduled to perform at Coachella in 2017 before finding out she was pregnant. She finally took the stage in 2018 for such a breathtaking performance that when the festival ended, the festival was temporarily renamed “Beychella”. The whole production was so epic it formed the basis of his own documentary film. Back home, which highlighted the eight months of choreography and rehearsals required to stage the historic concert.

Kanye Takes Coachella to Church – 2019

When Kayne West returned to Coachella in 2019 for his Sunday Service performance, he delivered a truly religious experience. Not only were there gospel singers and celebrity cameos from Donald Glover and Chance The Rapper, but it all took place atop a purpose-built mountain of grass in the festival campsite. Rumors swirled that West might have performed on one of the festival’s main stages, but apparently that was a hill West was ready to die on.

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