Between a thunderstorm-induced evacuation on Saturday and an arrest on Sunday, Firefly 2015 — an otherwise laid-back festival situated in a woodsy clearing in Dover, Delaware — was surprisingly eventful. But at the end of the weekend, there was one thing that stood out above everything else: the music.
From Steve Aoki‘s make-up set to Run the Jewels‘ eviscerating performance to Paul McCartney‘s peerless showmanship, here are the 10 best performances from Firefly 2015.
10. Wolf Alice
London alt-rock newcomers Wolf Alice gave Firefly the kind of early kick-in-the-pants one hopes to stumble upon when strolling around the festival grounds in a summer haze. Playing songs from their debut album My Love Is Cool with earth-shaking tenacity, Ellie Rowsell and her merry band of men were more vital and downright spectacular than most of the rock groups in the hours and days to follow at Firefly.
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9. Zola Jesus
Despite drawing a tragically modest crowd, the dark pop songstress turned out a riveting set. After witnessing her supernaturally full-bodied voice coming out of her small frame in the wooded setting, she seemed less Jesus and more pagan sorceress.
8. Cody Simpson
The former tween idol is all grown up. Armed with just an electric guitar on the Coffee House Stage, the Aussie singer-songwriter shredded his guitar and sang with a causal yet bold finesse, proving he’s more than just a pretty face.
Spoon’s set boasted their recently recorded cover of the Cramps’ “TV Set,” and besides that, a lot of solid songs from indie rock’s most reliable auteurs. Britt Daniel slowly ground out songs like “Inside Out,” “Small Stakes” and “I Summon You” with cool dexterity, and allowed himself a few guitar freak-outs for good measure. Spoon is mathematical with its performance technique — but that doesn’t mean “My Mathematical Mind” didn’t absolutely rule.
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He may not have enchanted the younger fans like McCartney (that slaughterhouse montage playing during “Meat Is Murder” certainly didn’t help), but Morrissey undoubtedly gave Firefly one of its finest performances. He conveyed love, exasperation and heartbreak, often within the confines of a single facial expression. Other rock acts might’ve had bigger crowds, but few could touch his natural magnetism.
5. Steve Aoki
One of the most expectedly unexpected sets came from DJ/producer Steve Aoki, who played the biggest afternoon show of the entire festival. Even though his Saturday night slot got pushed to Sunday afternoon, he brought astronomical energy to the stage, spraying champagne and blaring left field tracks from Queen and The Lion King.
4. The Killers
Kings of Leon’s Saturday headlining set was scrapped due to weather, and the Killers were given the task of lifting up Firefly attendees who felt short-changed by Mother Nature. Brandon Flowers and co. responded with a performance that not only included two Kings of Leon covers, but also covered their own impressive catalog in breathtaking fashion. “Somebody Told Me,” “Human,” “Smile Like You Mean It” and “When You Were Young” were more muscular than usual — the veteran Vegas group came through when it counted.
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3. Run the Jewels
The festival hit peak mud during Run the Jewels’ evening set, just before Paul McCartney took the adjacent stage. The wet ground didn’t stop the packed crowd from going H.A.M., bopping to riveting cuts from El-P and Killer Mike’s joint debut and sophomore LP.
2. Betty Who
Firefly wasn’t short on pop singers — Phoebe Ryan and Elliphant were especially notable — but Betty Who had the biggest presence of them all. Confident and commanding, she played a pair of shows back to back, one on the Backyard Stage and another at the acoustic Coffee House Stage. Different settings; killed it twice.
1. Paul McCartney
The former Beatle nabs the top slot on our list, and not simply because he’s the world’s premier rock legend. Macca straight up delivered the strongest, most satisfying set at Firefly 2015 — it was 2.5 hours of professionally administrated musical bliss.