Coachella 2015: 10 Best Performances

Azealia Banks

The finest sets that ruled the desert in Coachella's first weekend

The first installment of the 2015 Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival was a weekend punctuated by spectacular performances and mind-blowing surprises, spread across the Empire Polo Field's six stages. With so much going on on the grounds, it was impossible to see every one of the bands on the Coachella 2015 bill – but that didn't stop us from trying. When all was said and done, these were the 10 sets burned into Billboard's memory (and heart):

10. Alabama Shakes

How confident were Alabama Shakes in their powerful Coachella set? They didn't even perform their signature hit "Hold On" -- and no one seemed to mind. Leader Brittany Howard is always an electrifying stage presence, but she seemed particularly energized at the band's Coachella coronation, shrieking, testifying, shouting, growling -- whatever the moment needed to make every last hair on your body stand up.

9. Madeon - In the early evening of the festival's final day, French DJ/producer Madeon fired up the turntables for one of the most surprising, effervescent sets at Coachella. Throughout the hourlong performance, the 20-year-old matched slick, arena-sized pop-EDM anthems from his recently released debut LP Adventure with a spectacular light show. The gig was more packed than with some of the bigger names that rocked the same tent this weekend — and rightfully so.

8. Marina & The Diamonds - Marina Diamandis celebrated the release of her third album Froot (April 3) with a highly energized rendition of cuts from the LP as well as the best samples from previous releases. With a pair of oversized cherries affixed to her head and giant fruit items flanking the stage, the singer effortlessly carried the main-stage show despite with tracks like "Primadonna" and "How to Be a Heartbreaker." Marina & The Diamonds may not have any radio hits in the U.S., but the singer's American presence grows with each captivating festival set.

7. Gesaffelstein - It has been widely rumored that Coachella 2015 will be Gesaffelstein's last live festival performance, which is  a real bummer, considering he has perfected the fine art of DJ dramatics. Spinning from his signature marble-esque podium and accompanied by a precisely timed light show, the cutting-edge French producer dug through his biggest hits ("Pursuit," "Hate or Glory") but kept the audience patient, fading to near silence at times. The "wow" moment came during "Hellifornia," which was synched with a visual of a massive American flag that waved on the screen behind him. Gesaffelstein, obviously aware of the effect's impact, abandoned his serious persona for a second to glance up at the crowd with a sly grin.

6. The Weeknd - Abel Tesfaye was always going to be one of Coachella's big winners, but the elusive R&B star certainly did not mail in his main-stage closeout on Saturday night. On the contrary, the Weeknd proved why he belongs with the big boys at the festival, showcasing his earnest hedonism with selections from his early mixtapes ("High for This," "The Morning") and recent Top 40 smashes ("Love Me Harder," "Earned It"). And competing with the bombast of Axwell Ingrosso on Saturday night, the Weeknd's magnetic voice floated across the Coachella grounds and proved to be a sultry alternative to the dance madness. A few of Coachella's performances were star-making, and this was one of them.

5. Azealia Banks

Since her much-heralded breakout in 2011, Azealia Banks has become more famous for mostly the wrong reasons: trolling on Twitter, popping off with fellow rappers and pop stars alike, posing nude in Playboy, offending "fat white Americans." But her return to Coachella after three years was an important reminder: Banks can rap her ass off, sing impeccably and more or less kill a live show. Accompanied by a surprisingly tight band, DJ and a pair of dancers, Banks sang a capella, stepped along with the dancers and yelled into a megaphone. One thing she didn't do? Say anything remotely controversial. In fact, she barely spoke between songs at all, which kept the focus on the performance. Banks may be polarizing when she's tweeting or giving interviews, but as she showed at Coachella, when it comes her musical talent, the love is near unanimous. 

4. Jack White

Jack White is no stranger to the top of festival bills, but Saturday night at Coachella was no ordinary performance for the well-loved rock artist, who came out feverishly hoisting his left hand upward in an effort to pump up his band and audience. The technical craft of White and his band remain jaw-dropping -- they tossed off mind-warping guitar solos and drum fills as if they were commonplace at every Coachella set -- but White's personal vitality and swagger really made the set special. "Seven Nation Army" is always a blast, but the 10-minute "Icky Thump" jam that opened the performance clued the large audience into the fact that they were about to witness something truly special.

3. Tame Impala - Scheduled to take the main stage on Friday night immediately before AC/DC, Australian psych-rock outfit Tame Impala were given a festival opportunity that a lot of other bands would kill for. Kevin Parker and company didn't waste it: unfurling an hour of knee-buckling rock tunes and trippy visuals, Tame Impala made a lot of other guitar-based bands at Coachella look unpolished by comparison. Lonerism gems like "Elephant" and "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" soared, but it was the new eight-minute jam "Let It Happen" that caused the most flower crowns in the audience to bop up and down. From the sound of their newest tunes, Tame Impala keep getting better -- as a studio act and also as a legitimate festival draw.

2. Run the Jewels - The defiantly underground duo of indie-rap old timers El-P and Killer Mike had the awesome surprise guests that Coachella-goers have come to expect: Zach De La Rocha,Travis Barker on drums, Beyonce producer/guitarist Boots and even Gangsta Boo. But they also had limitless energy and good vibes, between their signature syllable-twisting verses, Mike frequently breaking into celebratory dance steps and the normally cynical El-P expressing true awe at the moment. And who could blame him? After years of grinding out tiny shows, the packed-in, raucous crowd that greeted Run the Jewels at Coachella felt like a well-earned prize for the two MCs.

1. Florence & The Machine - Rock music had a main-stage resurgence at Coachella this year, with guitar gods like Jack White and AC/DC's Angus Young protecting their reputations and bands like the War on Drugs and Tame Impala improving their own. Yet at weekend one of Coachella 2015, none of the boys could touch Florence Welch, who so deftly handled her mix of the band's new material and well-worn live staples that the 50-minute set felt criminally short. Florence & The Machine presented the perfect combination of the expected (gorgeous arrangements, valley-sized hooks, a "Dog Days Are Over" finale) and the unexpected (Welch ripping off her shirt, sprinting into the crowd and advising everyone to "embrace each other"), all while the band's leader remained impossible to stop watching. Why would anyone want to? Florence & The Machine dazzled without any seams showing on Sunday night and captured the pole position of this list just hours before weekend one's conclusion.

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