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(Credit: Jason Persse)

Music

The five most memorable Coachella performances

@notmyyaztattoo

Coachella is one of the most iconic music festivals, if not the most iconic music festival, full stop. Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival began in 1999 and has been going strong ever since — barring a few hiccups, such as a global pandemic.

The event is essentially the world stage for the best contemporary music acts in the business. If you’re playing Coachella, chances are you’ve made it. If you’re headlining, there’s basically no question.

With such a vast history and with so many acts that have passed through year after year, it can be hard to decipher which sets have truly been the best of the best. Sometimes, it doesn’t even necessarily depend on the quality of the artist entirely, but also the specific live performance—which can make it harder and more subjective to pick out the very best. However, there are still some that stick out as the very best, even among these killer lineups.

From Kanye to The Cure, Coachella brings everyone to the desert. But there are some for whom the environment, the timing, and the talent made for some stellar sets. Here are the five most memorable Coachella sets.

The five most memorable Coachella performances:

5. Daft Punk, 2006

Whether you’re an EDM fan or even somewhat of a hater, the events of this set at Coachella 2006 weren’t just memorable, they were borderline historic. With a rumoured 40,000 fans swarming the Sahara tent, those who missed out (be they few and far between) are likely still kicking themselves.

Not only did they introduce what would effectively become the de facto state of EDM for the next decade and beyond, but they also brought out the giant LED pyramid, which surprised the crowd and made a lasting impression that can only be described as iconic.

Music writer John Ochoa said, “Anyone holding their breath for the return of the pyramid should give up all hope. Daft Punk are not ones to repeat themselves, and this performance is one that could never be recreated.”

4. Rage Against the Machine, 2007

Rage Against the Machine’s shows are always memorable, but this one might just take the cake. Not only was this their second turn at headlining the festival, but it was also their reunion show after a seven-year hiatus. They played the inaugural festival in 1999 before disbanding, and when they returned, it was truly something to behold.

They opened the set with ‘Testify’ and tore through a setlist of their most-beloved hits. This kicked off another four years of the band sticking together before their (as of now) last hiatus from 2011-2019. 

3. Amy Winehouse, 2007

This one might have flown under the radar for most because Winehouse most certainly did not headline the festival in 2007. In fact, she was one of the tiny names on the poster. But that didn’t stop her from giving an effortlessly chilling performance. With her stripped-down backing band and powerful backup singers, Winehouse shined on the small stage for a relatively intimate crowd.

In her performance, she looks comfortable, perhaps more comfortable than she did in larger venues as her career progressed. This show allowed her to kick back and have fun, all while giving the show of a lifetime with her incredible virtuosic vocals. 

2. Mac Miller, 2017

The late great Mac Miller played Coachella in 2017, and it was one of his most memorable performances of all time. While Miller could very well have gotten by with simple recorded backing tracks or even just one person mixing sound and providing the beats, the rapper instead chose to go with a full backing band, which gave his music a full, live sound that brings a new life to every song.

There’s something about this show that just feels unique and lively. The crowd is into it, the emotion is there, and the well-rounded musical experience gives the air of his NPR Tiny Desk Concert cranked up to 11. Although this performance took place just a year before he passed, it’s clear that he was such a vessel of talent ready to let even more of it fly into the world.

1. Prince, 2008

Not only was this Prince performance incredibly rare, but it was also extremely unique. By 2008, Prince was performing less and less as it is, so when he agreed to headline Coachella, people didn’t know what to expect from him, and he did not disappoint. Coming in with his own opening acts—Morris Day and Sheila E, he started off by surprising the crowd right away.

In addition to playing his own music during his set, he also introduced a variety of covers, including ‘Creep’ by Radiohead, which eventually took the internet by storm. He also covered The Beatles and The B-52s for good measure.