If not for COVID-19, weekend two of Coachella 2020 would be starting today (the fest is rescheduled for October, but we'll see). We know it's not the same as actually going to the desert, or even streaming actual new sets live as they happen, but since there's no new Coachella this weekend, we are bringing you videos of 15 of our favorite sets from throughout Coachella's history. The list includes stuff from all across Coachella's board, from major comeback sets like Bauhaus, Pulp, and Leonard Cohen to smaller bands we wish would reunite again like Neutral Milk Hotel and Sunny Day Real Estate to huge stars like Beyonce, Prince, and Madonna, and more. Hopefully this brings you a little joy during these trying, no-concert-having times.
For even more Coachella stuff to watch from home, the new documentary Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert is out now and you can stream it for free. It's a good watch. Also, the fest has been uploading pro-shot concert footage from their archives.
Read on for our list...
Bjork in 2002
2002 was Coachella's first year as a two-day event, and Bjork made history as its first female headliner on Saturday, April 27 (Oasis headlined Sunday). Pregnant, dressed in white satin and under a full moon, she ran through a gorgeous set drawing heavily from Homogenic and Vespertine (which had come out the previous year) and featuring some of her greatest songs. Amazingly, you can spot people in the audience moshing and crowdsurfing along, which wouldn't have been my response, but it's pretty clear evidence of how moving it was to see this set in person. Sadly there isn't a lot of video evidence, but it's a treat to take a look back at this bit of Coachella history all the same. [Amanda Hatfield]
Radiohead in 2004
There's a good argument to be made that 2004 was Coachella's best year. On day one, you had Radiohead making their Coachella debut as the day's headliner, and right beneath them on the poster was the newly-reunited Pixies and Kraftwerk, and on day two you had a headlining set from The Cure. Radiohead are always an amazing live band, but this was an especially good era for them. Their legendary Glastonbury set was a year earlier, and like that set, they opened this one with "There There," which is still one of the greatest ways Radiohead have ever thought to open their shows. From there, they remained on fire throughout their 20-song set of favorites from all throughout their discography up through Hail to the Thief, and fortunately this one was professionally filmed for a DVD release. [Andrew Sacher]
Bauhaus in 2005
There have been a lot of great Coachella set entrances over the years, but it's hard to top Bauhaus's 2005 performance where frontman Peter Murphy was lowered from the rafters, hanging by his feet in pure vampire style, while belowing "Bela Lugosi's Dead." From there, with Murphy firmly on the ground, they ran through most of their goth classics, including "In the Flat Field," "She's in Parties," "Kick in the Eye," "Stigmata Martyr" and a particularly ripping "Dark Entries." "You can say now that you were there," said Murphy as a goodbye to Coachella, and even if you weren't you can watch these clips.
Madonna in the dance tent in 2006
One of the things that stood out to me in the Coachella documentary was how, back before booking pop music at Coachella was a normal thing, they had this crazy idea to book Madonna and put her in the dance tent instead of on the main stage, where you'd expect to see any pop star playing Coachella today. It was a smart and easy way for Coachella to ease into pop -- Madonna was already a legend that Sonic Youth had deemed cool enough for the indie crowd way before Coachella even existed, and putting her in the dance tent was this cool way to approach her the same way crate-digging DJs had done for years -- but even in a post-Beychella world, the idea of seeing Madonna in the Coachella dance tent is badass. And as even this blurry video shows, it looked as badass as it sounds on paper. [Andrew Sacher]
Daft Punk in 2006
Speaking of epic 2006 dance tent performances, does it get any more epic than Daft Punk?? It was the first show of their first tour in nine years and first since the chart-topping "One More Time" made them stars, so surely a lot of people were seeing them for the first time and had no idea what to expect, and here emerge these two robots on top of a giant pyramid with an incredible light show and a relentless setlist. They haven't toured since, so even now, when you hear the phrase "Daft Punk live," the image of that 2006/2007 tour probably pops right into your head. [Andrew Sacher]
Sonic Youth in 2007
Sonic Youth, one of the greatest live bands of all time, played Coachella twice, once in 2003 and 2007. I haven't found any videos of the 2003 set, but here's a playlist of some crappy videos from 2007, when there were presumably more portable video cameras in the audience. Crappy or not, these videos do a fine job of showing Sonic Youth putting on a typically great show. They were touring behind Rather Ripped, one of their best late-career albums, and they kept the set heavy on songs from that album but also broke out the classics "Candle," "100%," "Mote," and "Shaking Hell." Even at a big festival like Coachella, you can't go see Sonic Youth and expect a greatest hits set, but whatever unpredictable set you would get would be so worth it. [Andrew Sacher]
Prince in 2008
Prince was never been one for half measures, and he brought it when he played Coachella in 2008. He brought the hits ("1999," "Little Red Corvette," "U Got the Look," "Housequake"), he brought the guests (Morris Day, Sheila E), and he brought his charisma which is visible from the moon (and through this not-the-greatest quality video). This is also the set that sent the crowd further into hysterics by covering Radiohead's "Creep." Like everything else he touched, Prince knocked it out of the park.
The Cure in 2009
“They say we can only play one more song – are we fuck,” Robert Smith told the Coachella audience as The Cure ignored the festival's curfew and kept playing for another 33 minutes, for a 32-song, nearly three-hour set to close out the 2009 edition of Coachella. That included hits ("Lovesong," "Pictures of You," "In Between Days," "Just Like Heaven," "A Forest," "Boys Don't Cry"), deep cuts ("The Kiss," "Push," "Fire in Cairo") and lots more. Appropriately enough, The Cure were playing "Grinding Halt" when the plug was finally pulled.
My Bloody Valentine in 2009
If the sun and winds weren't battering crowds enough at Coachella 2009, then shoegaze icons My Bloody Valentine -- who played right before the Cure on the 2009 edition's final day -- completed the sensory assault. Their reputation for being one of the loudest bands ever had them playing with no near competition -- the two closest stages had no acts booked during MBV's set, and a good percentage of the crowd (especially those who weren't that familiar) spent the show with their fingers in their ears, and that was before the all-out noisefest that is "You Made me Realise." For others, though, it was blissed out sonic overload. Videos from this show aren't the greatest but there's a terrific audio recording of their whole set to balance things out.
Leonard Cohen in 2009
2009 was quite a year for Coachella. In addition to The Cure and My Bloody Valentine (see directly above), the festival also had Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Throbbing Gristle, Paul Weller, TV on the Radio, Conor Oberst, Franz Ferdinand, Fleet Foxes...and a guy from that indie hotspot of Montreal, Leonard Cohen. Wonder how many people learned it wasn't Jeff Buckley who wrote "Hallelujah" that day? (Or thought Cohen was covering it.) Coachella was one of the many stops on Cohen's first tour in 15 years, and he delivered a bravura set of showstoppers. He told the crowd the last time he was on the road, "I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream.”
Sunny Day Real Estate in 2010
Never ones to do what's expected of them, Sunny Day Real Estate reunited in 2009/2010 before the whole emo revival craze took off and they still haven't played again since (though they did release one new song in 2014 and Jeremy Enigk put out a really good solo album in 2017). The last time they ever performed in the US was Coachella. SDRE are probably best in a dark club, but even on this -- clears throat -- sunny day, their classic songs sounded great and the band looked genuinely happy to be playing them. Please reunite again, guys! [Andrew Sacher]
Pulp in 2012
There aren't a lot of true superstars left like Jarvis Cocker, who were born to be a frontman and can make a crowd swoon with the flick of an elbow while wearing earth-toned corduroy. He may have even honed his craft more in the dozen years Pulp were disbanded, so that when the Britpop band reformed in 2012, they felt like they were somehow even better. Jarvis' stage moves and Pulp's danceable anthems about the bookish and horny were meant for festivals and the Coachella crowd was eating broken biscuits out of their hands the whole set.
Neutral Milk Hotel in 2014
Two years after Jeff Mangum performed solo at Coachella in 2012, he returned, this time with his finally-reunited band in tow. The camera shy frontman's booming voice is truly stunning live, sounding magical paired just with a guitar, but the addition of horns and other instrumentation into the mix made for a totally unforgettable experience, and transported the crowd, who sang along to every word. Hearing those beloved songs performed under the desert sun feels almost holy, and thankfully there is a full set, audio-only recording of the whole thing. We also included a few fan-taken videos from the crowd to give you an idea of what it looked like, too. [Amanda Hatfield]
Kendrick Lamar in 2017
Kendrick first played Coachella as a bottom-of-the-poster act in 2012, before good kid, m.A.A.d city came out and changed his career forever (and he also was a guest during the Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg headlining set that featured a Tupac hologram that year), and five years later he returned as the headliner. This time he had just released DAMN. two days earlier and he played almost every song from it. There aren't many artists who could headline Coachella with half a set of songs that are 48 hours old and still win over the crowd, but Kendrick did it. [Andrew Sacher]
Beyonce in 2018
Beyonce was going to turn Coachella into Beychella just by stepping foot on stage, but she went way above and beyond and truly stole the stage from, well, maybe anyone else who ever played Coachella. Her unrealistically good performance is now one of the best concert films around (and if you have a Netflix account, just skip the fan-shot YouTube we embedded and go watch it there), and even before Netflix released it, the whole world was talking about it because of the livestream. The Coachella livestream existed before Beyonce, but Bey really catered to those watching at home just as much as she catered to those in attendance, with the kind of performance you might put on if you were, say, playing the Super Bowl. Just like Madonna was a smart and easy way for Coachella to ease its way into pop, Beyonce was a smart and easy way for Coachella to ease its way into pop headliners. (Lady Gaga technically headlined the year before Beyonce, but that's because Beyonce dropped off due to being pregnant with twins, and Gaga replaced her.) By 2017, Beyonce already had released two of the most highly acclaimed albums of a generation, and the acclaim came from the same types of critics who championed the music Coachella was booking in the Radiohead/Pixies/Kraftwerk era. She was the perfect artist to fully bring Coachella into the pop arena, but she still tackled her performance like she really had something to prove. [Andrew Sacher]
We've been posting a selection of our favorite live videos (not just from Coachella) every weekday during quarantine. For more, head here.