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On April 10 — and then again on April 17 — thousands of sun-worshipping music fans will head out to the desert in Indio, Calif., for the start of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Drake, AC/DC and Jack White will headline the two-weekend event, while Florence + The Machine, David Guetta, The Weeknd, Alt-J, Steely Dan and dozens of other indie bands, dance and hip-hop acts will keep the tunes going nonstop on the festival’s five stages.
As we gear up for this year’s six long, loud days on the Empire Polo Field, spread out over a pair of weekends for the fourth time in the festival’s history, we look back at 20 of the most memorable moments from Coachella’s past.
20. Pharrell Williams Brings the Hits — And Famous Friends (2014)
During the spring of 2014, Pharrell Williams‘ “Happy” settled in at the top of the Hot 100 chart and the super-producer had completed his miraculous career renaissance as a leading man. Coachella, then, was his victory lap, and what a lap it was: Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Busta Rhymes were among the guests, and Williams needed no help to get the huge crowd moving during “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky” and “Happy.” A star-studded pop performance, Pharrell’s set was something that could not be duplicated anywhere outside of Indio.
19. Pavement Gets the Band Back Together (2010)
When Pavement performed at Coachella in 1999, the group was on the brink of dissolution. That made their reunion show at the festival 11 years later all the sweeter: Stephen Malkmus & Co. returned with a triumphant set that ended with a passionate version of “Cut Your Hair,” and started a reunion tour that would stretch well beyond Indio. Coachella had once again become the home of a notable band reunion; that year, Faith No More also got back together at the fest.
18. M83 Blows Out the Mojave Tent (2012)
There have been a lot of great DJ sets at Coachella over the years, but few performances have provoked more spastic dancing than M83’s exuberant 2012 show. Making their first Coachella appearance since 2005, the French synthpop group delivered an absolutely kinetic performance, punctuated by driving dance beats, lush new-wave chords and irresistible sing-along melodies. And when “Midnight City” finally dropped, there wasn’t a silent onlooker within a thousand yards.
17. Lana Del Rey Becomes a Can’t-Miss Performer (2014)
Lana Del Rey came into Coachella with a considerable amount of momentum in 2014, as well as with lingering questions about her shaky early performances. She left the festival as a reliable star, with a new onstage confidence and a gentle interplay with her adoring fans. The singer debuted her single “West Coast” at Coachella, but her older hits — “Born to Die,” “Blue Jeans,” ‘Video Games” — had seemingly the entire West Coast in the palm of Lana’s hand.
16. Blur’s Triumphant Return to the States (2013)
In 2013, Coachella hosted a Britpop revival that featured a closing performance by Madchester kings The Stone Roses — but anyone in earshot will attest that the night belonged to Blur, who gave their first performance on U.S. soil since 2003. With an elaborate backing band that included a choir of backup singers and a thundering horn section, the band kept the energy high with standout tracks like “Boys & Girls,” “Tender” and “Parklife.” And, of course, there was room for “Song 2.” Woo-hoo!
EDM ruled at the 2012 festival, and no DJ had a bigger breakout performance than Calvin Harris, who was killing his set in the Sahara tent long before Rihanna popped up as a special guest. When RiRi appeared midway through the set to perform their hit collaborations “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been,” the crowd reaction was spectacular, and spectacularly loud. Who knew that a quiet Scottish producer could bring Coachella to its knees?
14. Outkast Stays So Fresh, So Clean (2014)
Outkast’s comeback shows at Coachella played out like most Outkast albums — they were flawed and included some down moments, but the high points were so euphoric that they didn’t matter. The first half hour of Andre 3000 and Big Boi‘s return was mind-blowing (“B.O.B.,” “Rosa Parks,” “Gasoline Dreams,” “Aquemini,” “ATLiens”), and although Three-Stacks turned his back to the crowd for “Hey Ya,” Coachella still had “Hey Ya,” being performed live, for the first time in years. Outkast’s live show would become more polished as their 2014 festival run continued, but there was something undoubtedly special about that first time.
13. Skrillex & Korn Destroy The Sahara Tent (2011)
In April 2011, Sonny Moore was still a young producer on the rise, and Korn was a veteran nu-metal act whose fans weren’t necessarily flocking to an alternative festival like Coachella. Nevertheless, the combination of the two artists made the Sahara tent go ballistic when Jonathan Davis and his merry men strolled onstage in front of Skrillex in 2011. Following the success of their collaboration, Korn tapped Skrillex to guest on four tracks of their album The Path of Totality, released later that year.
12. Jay & Bey Stay ‘Young Forever’ (2010)
In 2010, Jay Z became the first-ever rapper to headline Coachella, and he made sure to make his set a crowd-pleaser. Still riding high off the success of his 2009 LP The Blueprint 3, Hov peppered his show with hits like “Run This Town,” “On to the Next One” and “Empire State of Mind,” before bringing out none other than Beyonce to croon “Young Forever” during the encore. Also of note: The setlist included a cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”!
11. Phoenix Gets Remixed by R. Kelly (2013)
Prior to Phoenix’s 2013 headlining set, rumors swirled that the French indie-rockers would be joined by Daft Punk, who had been teasing their album Random Access Memories at the time and had guested with their countrymen during a 2010 Madison Square Garden show in 2010. The robots didn’t show up this time, sadly, but Thomas Mars and Co. proved their headliner mettle with a stylish, uptempo set … and then R. Kelly came out for a mashup of “Ignition (Remix)” and “1901.” It wasn’t Daft Punk, but it was the freakin’ weekend, and Indio had some fun.
10. Kanye West Brings the ‘Power’ (2011)
Coachella wasn’t known for booking mainstream hip-hop acts, but organizers threw the crowd a curve ball in 2006 when, 24 hours before the gates opened, organizers announced that Kanye West would perform on the main stage. ‘Ye returned to the California stage in 2011, bringing along a troupe of dancers, guest appearances by Bon Iver and Pusha T, and enough pyrotechnics to light up the field. He performed everything from the early hits like “Jesus Walks” and “Gold Digger” to Dark Twisted Fantasy crowd-pleasers like “All of the Lights” and “Power.”
9. The Cure Can’t Be Stopped (2009)
British Goth kings The Cure are known for their marathon live sets, but in 2009, the band’s show was literally cut short by the Coachella crew. After playing for more than two-and-a-half hours, frontman Robert Smith began the band’s third encore by informing the crowd that they had been instructed to play only one more song. The band played two more tunes without incident. But as The Cure broke into its 1980 hit “Boys Don’t Cry,” festival organizers cut the main-stage speakers. The band continued to play through their stage monitors, causing the crowd to rush the stage and join in an unprompted sing-along.
8. Roger Waters’ Pig Takes Flight (2008)
Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters brought all of the fog, pyrotechnics and props he could carry to Coachella for his 2008 headlining spot. One of those included a giant inflatable pig that hovered about the crowd during the song “Sheep.” But Waters was surprised to see the graftti’d swine — which boasted the word “Obama” on its underbelly — floating off into the night sky at the song’s conclusion. “That’s my pig,” Waters uttered before leaving the stage (only to return to play Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety). Coachella organizers offered four free lifetime passes and $10,000 to anyone who found the pig, whose vinyl carcass was recovered at a Palm Springs country club several days later.
7. Arcade Fire Blows Minds With Beach Balls (2011)
For their third Coachella appearance, indie kings Arcade Fire partnered with the Vice/Intel-powered Creator’s Project and took the festival beach-ball cliche to stunning and psychedelic new levels. During “Wake Up,” the peak of the band’s headlining set, thousands of LED-enhanced beach balls were dropped onto the unsuspecting crowd, whose squeals of delight intensified as IR transmitters Inside each orb began a syncopated light show that stretched across the field. After the show was over, many audience members left with the coveted party favors, some of which were sold for as much as $1,000 on eBay.
6. Madonna Rules the Dance Tent (2006)
Coachella purists raised their eyebrows when organizers announced the addition on Madonna — the most mainstream act the alt-rock-leaning event had ever booked — as the Sahara dance tent’s headlining act in 2006. But Madge proved that she belonged in the desert as she delivered a dynamic 30-minute set of club hits that had everybody but the Tool fans shaking their asses.
5. Dre & Snoop Resurrect Tupac (2012)
Coachella funked up fans in 2012 when it reunited hip-hop icons Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg to close out both Sundays of its first two-weekend run. The pair’s posse was in full effect during the set, as 50 Cent, Warren G., Wiz Khalifa and Eminem turned up to perform some of their classic G-era jams throughout the show. Easily the most buzzed-about moment, however, was when Tupac rose from the grave (via a life-size, hologram-like 3D projection) to perform two hits for the awed audience.
4. Prince Parties Like It’s 1984 (2008)
Three weeks before Coachella 2008 kicked off, organizers announced the addition of Prince as Saturday’s headlining act. “I [came] to party,” the pint-sized powerhouse screamed to the crowd. “You are in the coolest place on Earth right now.” And just to make sure that was the case, Prince showed up with more than his arsenal of hits — including “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette” — he also brought an all-star ’80s entourage that included percussion queen Shelia E. and members of the Time, who kicked off the set with a medley of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.”
3. Pixies Sell Out (2004)
After an 11-year hiatus, alt-rock godfathers the Pixies answered the prayers of Gen-Xers everywhere and announced a 16-date North American club tour that concluded with a headlining spot at Coachella 2004. The band’s much-hyped appearance drew record numbers to the Polo Grounds, resulting in Coachella’s first sell-out event, and established the festival as one of the globe’s premier music events.
2. Rage in the Desert (2007)
Coachella had hosted many reunion gigs on its grounds before, but nothing shook the polo field quite like the return of Rage Against the Machine. Zack de La Rocha, Tom Morello and Co. brought their politically charged songs to the stage for the first time in seven years and performed in front of an estimated 100,000 people — the largest crowd in Coachella’s history. The show was intended to be a one-off, but thanks to the overwhelming response from fans, the gig promoted a full-scale band reunion.
1. Daft Punk’s Pyramid Lights Up the Night (2006)
Before Daft Punk took the Coachella stage in 2006, the pair had all but fallen off the EDM radar. The excitement for their Sahara tent set was high, though fueled more by nostalgia for group’s late-’90s glory days. But even the loftiest expectations were shattered the minute the French producers, garbed in their iconic robot gear, emerged from inside their now-famous LED pyramid and began dropping beats that sent shockwaves across the polo field. Daft Punk’s 80-minute mashup set of their grittiest, funkiest grooves was quickly christened the greatest show on Earth by dance disciples everywhere and raised the bar to ridiculous levels for every producer who followed in their wake. Nine years later, the pair’s appearance remains Coachella’s biggest were-you-there moment.
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