The 14th Bonnaroo is in the books, as tens of thousands of attendees are sent back to their normal lives, left with the memories of the weekend that was. So when they’re inevitably asked for the highlights, what names will pop up? From Unlocking the Future opening the fest Thursday to Billy Joel closing it out Sunday night, a multitude of acts brought their A-game, but it takes an awful lot to crack the upper ranks of Bonnaroo.
From all that Billboard‘s Chris Payne and Dominick Grillo witnessed in Manchester, Tenn., this weekend, here are their picks for the top 10 sets:
Rock bands that can launch a crowd into a state of mania like Slayer can might be a dying breed. Judging by the showing across Bonnaroo this weekend, they definitely are. ‘Roo was light on metal (shout-out to Pallbearer, though), but Slayer, even at their advanced age, repped thrash’s fearsome legacy and then some. Drummer Paul Bostaph’s breakneck BPMs and frenetic double bass kept the circle pits going strong, as a bunch of kids who never got to see them in their glory days raged in the This Tent on Saturday night.
9. Against Me!
Try finding a live punk band that’s more infectious than Against Me! But what’s just as remarkable as their catchiness is how the quartet balances it with fist-raising, visceral energy, without seeming like they care too much with getting lodged in our heads. Laura Jane Grace slayed the Friday afternoon crowd, with guitarist James Bowman and bassist Inge Johansson filling in the gang vocals and veteran drummer Atom Willard propelling everything into rock and roll glory. Tracks from their awesome 2014 opus Transgender Dysphoria Blues were well-received, and even an old one from their major label days like “Thrash Unreal” threw the crowd into a whirlwind. If you’re still on the fence about this punk rock thing, seeing Against Me! live is a good starting point.
Dan Snaith, better known as Caribou, offered the fans who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get close enough to the main stage for Florence + the Machine an impressive dance-party alternative. With Snaith and his three-member live band, the pulsating cuts, mostly from last year’s excellent Our Love and 2010’s Swim, came alive amid cinematic lasers, atmospheric fog, and the bodies of thousands of dancing audience members. At times, three members of the onstage group were playing percussion, an intensity that only caused the swaying mass to plunge itself further into the grooves.
7. Dej Loaf
One of Bonnaroo’s opening sets was also one of its most memorable. Playing This Tent just an hour after the fest opened Thursday, Detroit rapper Dej Loaf absolutely killed it. “You got a lot of shit on the radio right now,” her DJ pointed out; but it wasn’t just “Try Me” that got the crowd turnt. Tracks from her Sell Sole mixtape, her verse on Omarion’s “Post To Be (Remix), it didn’t matter. Dej Loaf oozed confidence and the crowd lapped it up.
Just think about a bunch of your favorite musicians (whoever they are! anyone!) and what it would be like if they decided to play some of the biggest throwback dance songs of all time together. The yearly gift from the ‘Roo gods, Superjam!, was again an unbelievable, once in a lifetime event that people will undoubtedly still be talking about until next year’s star-studded affair comes along to shock us all over again. With EDM star Pretty Lights behind the boards and Jurassic 5 legend Chali 2na keeping things moving as MC, guest after guest popped in to wow the audience. Where else would you be able to see stars like Zach Galifianakis, Reggie Watts, D.M.C., Jamie Lidell, Chance the Rapper, Cherub’s Jordan Kelley, SZA, and many others working together to perform their favorite dance-ready tunes?
5. Glass Animals
Thursday night is typically seen as a warm-up for the rest of the fest: the two largest stages aren’t used, no headliners are playing, and many audience members won’t arrive until Friday. Clearly, Glass Animals did not get the memo because thanks to singer Dave Bayley’s nonstop dance moves and the band’s insanely catchy grooves. Though they don’t come off as the danciest band on record, there didn’t seem to be a single person near the stage standing still. With a gorgeous backdrop behind the band of tropical animals and trippy visuals, the band led the audience through lush jams like “Hazey,” “Black Mambo,” and the infinitely bouncy “Gooey.”
4. Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian brought their Glasgow charm to a Saturday set just as the sun was going down. It’s safe to say there were no other orchestral indie pop bands on the Bonnaroo farm, so the chirpy hooks backed by horns and strings filled an auditory void and transported the crowd to different place, somewhere colder and probably in Scotland. And then there was the zany randomness of it all — Zach Galifianakis came out as the “head of Bonnaroo” and introduced them “one of the best bands of our generation” and a few songs later, frontman Stuart Murdoch invited Jon Hamm out to throw gummy bears into his mouth. Towards the end, the peaceful poppers almost destroyed the stage by inviting too many people out to dance with them to “The Boy With the Arab Strap.”
3. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar has been hailed as something akin to the next Tupac for years, and after his Friday night main stage show, any doubters should be completely silenced. Tearing into good kid, m.A.A.d city bangers and cuts off of his recent To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar took the hyped-up crowd on a ride through his Compton streets without leaving steamy Tennessee. After professing that the last time he played Bonnaroo the crowd was at about an eight and a half energy level and early Friday night was at a 10, he deemed it necessary to go even further: “You know what? F— an eight and a half. F— a 10. We’re going for 20!” Cue an earthquake-inducing reprise of “m.A.A.D city,” which somehow rouses the crowd to even greater amounts of pandemonium even though Lamar had just completed the song two minutes earlier.
2. Florence + the Machine
By now, most festival goers know that Florence Welch really brings it live. But with an epic weekend down, the stakes felt higher than usual for her Sunday evening set. Cut down to a tidy 60 minutes, she had even less time to pack the grandeur of a Florence + the Machine live show into a Bonnaroo set. The British songstress responded by cramming every ounce of her being into the performance, which meant actually running through the pit (twice!) and serenading the people around her, a security guard running behind her. It’s no surprise she broke a leg at Coachella, and then again, it’s also no surprise she toughed it out and performed there the second weekend. Florence + the Machine is a live juggernaut.
Jack Antonoff, with his thick black rim glasses and a haircut that leaves a little extra on top, may not look like a traditional rock superstar, but he definitely acted like one during his jaw-dropping Saturday evening set. The well-traveled musician took his cues from über rock gods like Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger — directing the audience with his gestures, introducing band members and letting them each take their solo, running around like a maniac for the entirety of the set — in putting on the greatest show of the long ‘Roo weekend.
There were questions as to how Bleachers would fill their 75-minute slot, as they have only released one album and it didn’t even break the 40-minute barrier, but those concerns were completely annihilated as Antonoff and the rest of his stellar band smashed through the entirety of Strange Desire with a few extended cuts and a killer cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Each song felt enormous; these are the kind of epic anthems that have the muscle to fill out cavernous stadiums and keep everyone present on their feet, breathless, and beside themselves in musical ecstasy.
With a thunderous “I Wanna Get Better” to finish off the set, Antonoff made sure there would be no returning to the stage; he tossed his guitar high above the stage until, snapping apart, he threw the pieces into the audience. Who knew Antonoff would rock so hard?
— Hannah Danielle (@sincerelyhannah) June 14, 2015