15 Coachellas and Counting: 2007

Post Author: Jeff Cubbison

A life-changing weekend unfolds in the desert with help from Rage Against The Machine, Arcade Fire, Rodrigo y Gabriela & more

The year is 2007. It’s the month of January, the start of the second semester of my senior year of high school. I was done applying to colleges, things were now out of my hands, my grades no longer mattered, and I was way past the point of caring about anything school-related. Myself and every other senior at wildly overachieving Torrey Pines High School had entered the cruise control phase of our high school existence, ready to put in as little effort as possible heading into graduation. The number one thing on my mind at that exact moment in time…was the Coachella lineup.

By now, you’ve heard of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, otherwise simply known as Coachella. It’s the most celebrated live music event in all of North America. An international tourist destination. A a singular household name, whether you’ve attended or not. It’s a totally commercialized musical world’s fair. Or better yet, Disneyland for adults.

But once upon a time, in Coachella’s earlier days, it was a slightly more low-key affair; smaller, more independent or alternative-minded, and featuring a much different type of crowd in attendance. And aside from the other major tentpole festivals like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, there wasn’t much else on offer that could match the scale and rising buzz of Coachella back in the 2000s. The music festival bubble had not come close to bursting. The majority of the crowd that attended Coachella “back in the day” mostly included dedicated music lovers; hipster teenagers, indie rock college kids, aging yuppies and Gen-X scenesters, burners, wooks, underground ravers, and any other alt-leaning subset of music fandom. In the mid 2000s, if you went to high school in southern California and identified as an art, theater or music kid – or if you were a trust fund baby whose parents gifted you an awesome graduation present – then attending Coachella was both a rite of passage, and an opportunity for bragging rights later on. It wasn’t quite the mainstream juggernaut it is today. But it would soon get there.

By 2007, I’d been dying to go to Coachella for years. The first time I heard about it was back in 2003, when the lineup featured Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and my favorite band at the time, The White Stripes. I’d heard of music festivals like my local Street Scene, but this just seemed way too good to be true. An event with all of the coolest bands in music, performing in the same place over one single weekend? Other than set time conflicts, and high ticket costs, what’s the catch? Unfortunately, according to my parents, I was too young to attend (fair play to them, I was in 8th grade at the time). Next year, I was unsurprisingly still “too young” in when Radiohead, The Cure, Pixies, and Kraftwerk donned the top lines. But once again, I was deemed “too young” in 2005, which featured Coldplay, NiN and Bauhuas, and somehow “too young” once again in 2006, a year that featured Tool, Depeche Mode, Madonna, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Daft Punk’s infamous, out-of-this-world Alive pyramid show. I still weep for my younger self having to miss that.

But in 2007, with my 18th birthday just on the horizon, I knew neither my parents or my bank account could stop me from finally going to Coachella. Every day in January, before I went off to school, I’d rabidly refresh the Coachella site – on pins and needles waiting for a lineup drop. And when that poster finally dropped, I lost my mind. Björk! Red Hot Chili Peppers! A reunited Rage Against The Machine – playing their first show in 7 years!? A whole 90-act undercard featuring the hottest names in the peak of the golden era of indie sleaze! With a family friend’s desert condo lined up, I T9-texted my best friends and roped in two of them, Max and Mike. By the following morning, the three of us had bought our tickets for around $250 – a ton of money back then but insanely cheap in comparison to today. A little over three months later, we were stepping through the entrance gates and setting foot on the glorious green grass of the Empire Polo Club in scorching hot Indio, CA. Right when I walked in, I was hooked. 17 years later, I’m still riding a Coachella high that I don’t think I’ll ever come down from.

With this column, I’m excited to recap my Coachella adventures year-by-year, which will unfold over the next few weeks and leading up to 2024 edition of the festival. I hope to set the scene and put you in my shoes as I reflect on all the best moments throughout my 15 different Coachella experiences, starting with 2007.

The Vibe: Different

At this point in my life, I’d never gone on an out-of-town trip with just my friends – sans parents. It felt like newfound freedom. On the road trip over, we played a burned CD with all our most anticipated Coachella artists on it. We’d been to small music festivals and concerts before, but nothing on the gargantuan scale of Coachella. There were so many unknowns. It was both exciting and a little nerve-racking. Those young adulthood vibes and the feelings of discovery were at an all-time. Everything just felt new and different.

When we parked at the fest, we traded off swigs from a water bottle full of hard alcohol that one of us had stolen from our parents. You know that trick where instead of taking a lot from one bottle, you just take a tiny bit off the top from every bottle in the cabinet – not enough for anybody notice? And then what you’ve got is a disgusting, brown-ish blender of several different types of liquor in one water bottle? Yeah, we were those guys. A very Bohemian DIY band set up and played a cacophonous acoustic set in the parking lot as we passed the bottle around, gagging and barely resisting our urge to puke in the 97-degree heat.

Inside the festival grounds, I’d never seen so many people in one place. Tents packed to the gills with crowds. A constant stream of bodies everywhere, but no chaos whatsoever. Everyone was just vibing together as one, like a hive-mind Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario, but everyone’s fully into it. We were just about the youngest people at the festival, but I don’t think anyone batted an eye – even as random older strangers shared their joints with us at various points throughout the weekend. Which is pretty crazy in hindsight, because now that I’m well into my 30s, you wouldn’t catch me dead smoking out a teenager. A W for us, nonetheless.

Something that definitely stood out about Coachella’s earlier years was the lack of social media influencer types. From its inception to about 2009, the vast majority of Coachella-goers were music lovers who went for the music, first and foremost. There was definitely an element of the broader party culture there, and perhaps a few people attended just to say they did (for the clout, as they say). But back then, and especially in this particular year, a massive percentage of the Coachella population came just to see Rage Against The Machine. At the festival, there were quite a few a vendor booths dedicated to left-wing political causes. My friend Max, deeply knowledgeable about politics but also a stickler for consistency in political messaging, engaged in a full-blown verbal spar with a vendor over the perceived hypocrisy of him selling communist literature and DVDs at his booth. It was a very cyclical debate, but I think Max ultimately won.

Elsewhere, the musical lineup reflected the absolute peak of slightly pretentious, Hipster Runoff blog rock, indie pop, dance-punk, and any other Myspace-adjacent subgenre that dominated the indiesphere at the time. “Indie sleaze,” as it’s been affectionately dubbed. As such, 2007 was maybe the most hip crowd Coachella has ever attracted. In general, everything was just bigger than I expected. The festival grounds, the stages, the large-scale art (the monolithic tesla coils), the crowds, everything. It was on an epic scope that I’d never seen before. The perfect playground for so many of my life’s most fun moments to come.

The Headliners: Björk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine

This headlining trio could not have looked better on paper when the poster dropped. Here, you had three ’90s icons, each representing a slightly different sphere of alternative music, and still mostly operating at the top of their game.

For Björk, it was her second time headlining. Björk’s appeal has since retreated a bit from the mainstream eye. She’s not at the level of a headliner anymore, but her place as a legendary elder stateswoman and figure of nostalgia means she’s totally worthy of sub-headlining, as she did last year with her “Björkestra.” But in 2007, she was still the QUEEN of the modern alt-electronic scene. In the very large crowd at her set, I was actually blown away at how dense and pushy-shovey everyone was acting. “This is Björk, not Metallica!” an angry dude in his late twenties lamented as he took an elbow to the side. From what I could tell, Björk was still all the rage back then. And despite leaning a bit too heavily on her recently released Timbaland-produced album Volta (which hasn’t aged all that well), her set was downright magical. Backed by a choir and orchestra dressed in medieval sci-fi aesthetics, and looking beautiful in her nymph-like wardrobe, the quirky Icelandic goddess led us through old and new hits that hit stratospheric levels of enchantment. All was full of love. Even so, it was my first time ever camping out for a Main Stage marathon. Woefully underprepared and severely lacking in hydration, by the time her set was over, I don’t think I’d ever felt so tired in my entire life.

To be honest, I don’t remember too much from Red Hot Chili Peppers on Saturday night. I remember that they played a very good, straightforward set featuring all of their greatest hits (with the notable exception of “Californication,” shockingly). I remember they didn’t play for all that long, only about an hour and fifteen minutes, and they had to wrap up quickly without an encore, since Tiësto was scheduled to play after them (even though they were technically the headliners on the night). I also remember Arcade Fire kinda-sorta upstaging them right before (more on them later). All in all, one of the more forgettable headliners in my Coachella history. But then again, I was never the biggest RHCP fan. Still glad to have seen them!

For me, it was all about Rage Against The Machine. They’re one of those rare bands that’s been one of my favorites for almost my entire life. As a young kid, I sort of grew up on ’90s rap-rock and nü-metal. I’ve grown out of a lot of trends throughout my life – I quickly gravitated away from the cheesier acts of that era like Korn and Limp Bizkit – but I’ve still preciously held onto Rage. Minus Tool, they’ve aged a whole lot better than any of their peers, and I still consider them to be a legendary pillar of heavy music. On Sunday night of Coachella, with the temperatures still mercilessly hovering in the mid-90s, the band performed what I still consider to be the most visceral show with the most violent crowd I’ve ever witnessed. All day, that Main Stage area had campers squished in like sardines, braving the heat through disparate acts opening like The Roots, Crowded House, and even Willie Nelson and counting down the seconds until Rage’s set. By the time they finally hit the stage and launched into “Testify,” the place had turned into a war zone.

Either you were mangled in a massive throng of bodies around you, or you were flung face first into the most chaotic mosh pit you’ve ever seen. Through tracks like “Bullet In The Head,” “Down Rodeo,” “People of the Sun,” and the iconic closing track “Killing In The Name,” I felt like Jon Snow in the Battle of the Bastards – dangerously avoiding brutal carnage from every angle all at once. There was no escape. To be honest, this set feels like a fever dream to me. I saw some shit. Like a guy with a fully broken nose get crowd-surfed to safety, blood oozing down his face and neck. To this day, a part of me wonders how I made it out alive with minimal bumps and bruises, or that not even a single concertgoer died in that melee. But hey, performance-wise, Rage objectively killed it. I’ve still never experienced anything quite like it again.

Saw Them Before They Blew Up: Tokyo Police Club

Although they never really quite “blew up” big, the wily Canadian alt-rockers Tokyo Police Club would go on to do some great things in the indie sphere, and they still have quite a dedicated following in certain circles. At the time, they were a lower line act playing early in the Gobi Tent, and they definitely gave the audience a nice introduction and a hint of the sort of trajectory they would eventually follow. Solid band, solid set.

Smaller Act That Kinda Stole The Show: Rodrigo y Gabriela

My first real exposure to any sort of traditional Mexican music was through discovering Rodrigo y Gabriela when their name popped up on the 2007 lineup. A tag-team of dueling acoustic guitarists hailing from Mexico City, the duo’s talent was spellbinding as they cranked out imaginative, stripped-down flamenco-style rock and metal jams. With the crowd absolutely enthralled, they launched into a spirited cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” with fans singing along to every single lyric in ecstasy. Rodrigo capped off the performance with a spindly solo where he used a beer bottle as a slide, and afterwards chugged the beer to everyone’s delight. Truly virtuosic stuff.

Reunions: Rage Against The Machine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Crowded House.

Over the years, Coachella has been a hot-bed for reuniting bands, and 2007 was a big year for that. Aside from the aforementioned Rage Against The Machine, the bill featured the first show in a decade from The Jesus and Mary Chain. With a prime slot on the Main Stage before Interpol and Björk, the Scottish noise rockers held their own as they played hits like “Head On” and “Just Like Honey,” for which they brought out THE Scarlett Johansson on back-up vocal duties, a cute move considering the song’s iconic moment in soundtracking the end of Lost in Translation. I really dug them, however, I will admit that they were extremely loud and abrasive at times. And while I’m a huge nerd for shoegaze, my friends Mike and Max were not, and they just about hated The Jesus and Mary Chain. Different strokes, indeed.

Faring worse, however, was Australian pop rock act Crowded House, who were also performing their first American show in a decade…to a crowd of angry Rage fans. While it wasn’t quite as bad as you’d think, their vibe just not sit quite right with the rabid Rage crowd, who were eager to let loose and cause mayhem. I think at one point, Crowded House’s singer got pelted with a water bottle to the face. One of those live-and-learn moments for Coachella organizers, for sure.

Remember Them? The Kooks, The Fratellis, Kaiser Chiefs, Manu Chao

Lord almighty, was the post-Britpop scene alive and well at Coachella in 2007. On Saturday, I caught one-hit wonders/iPod commercial alums The Fratellis, whose swanky cock-rock was very much a sign of the times. They did play that iPod track “Flathead,” along with a bunch of other sweaty, same-sounding tracks. A bit forgettable. I’m pretty sure they’re still a thing in Britain, but they quickly disappeared stateside following that brief moment of buzz.

On Sunday, the melodic balladeers The Kooks made a much better impression. They played a lot of tracks that still hold up today, including “She Moves In Her Own Way” and “Naive,” a song I’m still quite fond of. While still popular in the U.K., The Kooks never quite made it huge in America, although they’ve fared better than most of their post-Britpop peers. In 2008, as part of a promotional campaign behind their new album Konk, they performed an acoustic set on the steps of my UCLA fraternity to a decent-sized crowd. I’ve still got their autographs on a copy of their debut album Inside In/Inside Out in my CD collection. Good guys, solid band, but never quite reached the heights that they maybe could have.

And then there was Kaiser Chiefs, another cast-off from the post-Britpop mid ’00s, who surprisingly played a primetime slot on the Outdoor Theater at sunset. Even today, the only track I know of theirs is “Ruby” – mostly because it featured on Guitar Hero 2, which I played a ton in college. Also, that song is a total bop, and it did bop live, so good for them! I don’t remember the rest of their set, as I was sitting down enjoying a godly asai bowl. I’ve tried listening to other Kaiser Chiefs material, but nothing else ever did it for me. Like so many other bands of their ilk at the time, their buzz quickly faded in the U.S. on subsequent album cycles.

Finally, I must mention the once-huge (?) worldbeat French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manu Chao who subbed for Rage, which is kind of shocking in hindsight. Unlike Crowded House, he and his band actually held it down pretty well in front of the Rage crowd, delivering a high-energy mix of Latin alternative, ska, and other worldly music stylings. His pointed political messages definitely helped the situation, and the mosh pits built intensely as the set wore on. A better-than-expected warm-up for Rage, I never kept tabs on Manu Chao afterwards, and I’ve rarely heard anyone ever mention him since. But at one point in time, he commanded this coveted slot. Crazy right?

Elsewhere, this lineup was absolutely stacked with flavor-of-the-moment indie talent who never really totally capitalized on their buzz in a meaningful way. I didn’t see acts like CSS, Tapes N Tapes, Tilly and the Wall, Digitalism, or Teddybears, who are all somewhat fondly remembered, though remain relics and vestiges of the indie sleaze scene.

Acts I Wish I’d Seen: Klaxons, Arctic Monkeys, Sonic Youth, Amy Winehouse, LCD Soundsystem

My biggest regret regret of 2007 was missing Arctic Monkeys to see Stephen Marley, at the strong behest of my reggae-loving buddy Max. AM were a whole vibe and a half in ’07. To be totally honest, I only really fuck with their first two albums, and if there was ever a better time to see that band live, it was back then when they were truly on the cusp of greatness. Ditto LCD Soundsystem, who played in the Sahara Tent opposite the headlining Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sonic Youth, meanwhile, was a bit of an unfortunate miss, since they overlapped with Interpol, who were one of my favorite bands back then. If I could do it all again, I’d opt for Sonic Youth, only because they broke up shortly after that and I’ve seen Interpol countless times since. But at the time, I had no way of knowing. You win some, you lose some. Also, I missed Amy Winehouse simply because she was not on my radar then, otherwise I most definitely would’ve seen her. RIP Amy.

With the power of hindsight, I can say the dumbest mistake I made was missing Klaxons to see Placebo. What was I thinking? It’s not like Klaxons were the pinnacle of music back then, but they were a very fun and quality band who made a strong impression amongst the crop of buzz bands in that particular time and space. That hybridized brand of blog rock and dance-punk, cheekily referred to as “nu-rave” by the British press, was all the rage back in 2007, and Klaxons had a truly unique grasp on the style. While their trajectory eventually plateaued and they broke up years later, I look back on them with a great deal of respect and joyful nostalgia, and I’ve been pining for a reunion ever since. Silly me!

Worst Acts: The Nightwatchman, Placebo

With all due respect to Tom Morello, his set under his solo moniker The Nightwatchman was just awful! Without Zack de la Rocha, Morello’s songwriting is generally lacking, and his whole Woody Guthrie schtick of folksy one-man-band political posturing came off flat, emotionless, and boring. And worst of all, he’s a terrible singer. It was all bark and no bite, and we left his set early. I must’ve been very Rage-pilled at the time to have even bothered seeing him in the first place.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what the hell we all went and saw Placebo (especially over Klaxons), as I’ve never been a fan of that band at any point in my life. All I really remember is seeing a guy in the crowd who was standing and reading a book instead of watching them. Maybe he was waiting to see Air (who I heard had bad sound problems), and he just really needed to study? Funny visual nonetheless. In any case, Placebo was bad and we left early.

Best Acts: Rage Against The Machine, Björk, Interpol, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Arcade Fire

Interpol have admittedly never been the strongest of live performers. By nature of their music, they’re quite placid and statuesque on stage, and they play their songs to sound as close to their live recordings as possible. With Interpol, what you see is what you get – for better or worse. In 2007, they were arguably at the peak of their popularity, and their sub-headlining set on the main stage before Björk just worked. By then, all of the best material of their career had already come out, so it was a tightly-executed set with little filler, and they sounded spectacular. They didn’t go above and beyond, but they gave the audience exactly what they wanted. It’s still the best Interpol set I’ve seen, and the last touring cycle to feature the dapper, mustachioed Carlos D on bass.

Beyond all the acts I’ve already mentioned, Arcade Fire deserve special recognition. In 2007, their sophomore album Neon Bible had proved to be a worthy follow-up to Funeral, and they were poised to take the next step in their budding level of fame. Their incredible sunset performance on the Main before RHCP was transcendent, and absolutely helped them unlock that next level of buzz. They not only held their own before the Peppers, but they fully blew them out of the water, delivering the type of show that would become their bread-and-butter over their career; explosive crescendos, operatic harmonies, bombastic rhythms, and anthemic singalongs. When they launched into crowd favorite “Wake Up,” I’m pretty sure I levitated off the ground. Arcade Fire are one of those groups who I’ve managed to see at pretty much every stage of their career, and their close personal connection to Coachella has been a joy to watch as they’ve evolved. I’ve grown up and with them, and this set was the very beginning. They would go on to play the festival another three times, twice as headliner. Since the very beginning, their reputation has been partially built around them being amazing live performers, and this set was a defining moment for them.

Miscellaneous Notes: The first act I ever saw at Coachella was Brother Ali, the heavy-set, balding, gravel-voiced, albino underground rapper who lit up the underground hip-hop scene for a minute back in the day. I haven’t kept tabs on him since, but he was a great live performer and I hope he’s still out there doing his thing.

Also, throughout the weekend, my friends and I engaged in a mini-love affair with the acai bowls at one of the food stands. When I say this was the best acai bowl I’ve eve had, I am not exaggerating. They were so heavenly, we nicknamed them GOD. “I need to go find God,” might’ve been the catchphrase of the weekend. I’m still chasing that acai high all these years later.

Also, my group got separated during Rage, and afterwards Max prevented us from being able to leave for over an hour because he got lost in a horse pasture on his way back to the parking lot. He wins that year’s C’MON, MAN award.

Coachella Score: 10/10

This was absolutely a life-changing weekend that opened my eyes to a whole new culture of experiencing live music. I’ve become better at “festival-ing” over the years, but when it comes to Coachella, nothing can ever really top your first time. With great company, a great atmosphere, and some of the best sets I’ve ever seen, Coachella 2007 stands at or very near the top of my Coachella rankings by year. I was bit by the festival bug, and I’ve been infected ever since.