After the four days of music, tents, food, beer and questionable porta-potties that defined Bonnaroo, we’ve mostly recovered from our stay in the beautiful Manchester, Tenn. While we saw acts that ranged from newcomers like Lucius and titans like Paul McCartney, there were amazing moments all weekend from bands of all sizes and genre. They ranged from the predictable (duh, McCartney was as charming as ever) to the minute-by-minute shocker of a set that was the Jim James-fronted Superjam.
It’s hard to pick our 10 favorite moments, but we managed to whittle them down below. Let us know your own favorite Bonnaroo sets in the comments section.
The Polyphonic Spree performing the songs of Rocky Horror Picture Show
The line to see The Polyphonic Spree’s special Rocky Horror show at the Cinema Tent stretched nearly the length of the field by the time 11 p.m. rolled around, and those who stuck it out (many of whom were decked out in the typical wild Rocky Horror outfits you’d see at a midnight screening) weren’t disappointed. The band played the entire soundtrack of the movie, and Tim DeLaughter made an especially excellent Dr. Frank-N-Furter, adapting his normal tenor into a deep, throaty tone worthy of a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania. After it was all over, DeLaughter (who emphasized that this was only the second time the band had performed Rocky Horror) seemed genuinely humbled by the response, hopping back up to the mic to thank the crowd and say “For those of you who may not know us, this isn’t our regular gig.” —Bonnie Stiernberg
“Excuse me, girls, have ever you heard this song before?” When my friend and I responded that, yes, we have in fact heard Django Django’s “Hail Bop,” the guy who approached us grinned and said “It makes me feel like I’m in some mystic land.” He probably was (from the look in his eyes, he was definitely on some sort of trip), but he was also right. The band played to a packed crowd after dark, and neon hula loops and glowsticks that filled the area gave it an unearthly feel. —Bonnie Stiernberg
I’d caught a bit of the first set from Brooklyn band Lucius on Saturday, but their set on the Sonic Stage on Sunday was truly something special. Wandering festies passing the stage were lured in with the powerful harmonies on tracks like “Go Home,” and the looming storm seemed to accentuate the attitude in the lyrics. The clouds opened up as the band played the opening measures for “Don’t Just Sit There,” and the mellow song seemed to match the pace of the slow, thick raindrops. They even tossed in a cover of My Morning Jacket’s “Wonderful,” dedicating the song to festival MVP Jim James and reworking the track in a way that will change the way I hear the original. Wrapping up the set with their single “Turn It Around,” Lucius likely won over a few new fans this weekend. —Dacey Orr
Although Baroness was maybe five minutes late to take the stage in the muggy This Tent, you’d have thought they’d left the audience waiting for much longer. The crowd, all amped up to see the band return to the big stage after last August’s life-changing bus accident, gave back every ounce of energy the sludge rockers offered. The band tore through mostly Yellow & Green cuts, showing off the album to the U.S. for the first tour since the accident. And although the band’s core material banks on wailing guitars and bellowing screams, the guys were smiling from ear-to-ear for the duration of the set.—Tyler Kane
David Byrne and St. Vincent
The Annie Clark-described “white wizard of the night” took to the stage with all the quirkiness and charm you’d expect from the guy who penned “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down the House,” and Clark had no trouble proving to Byrne fans that she’s a formidable stage partner for the former Talking Heads frontman. The set was a comfortable blend of Byrne and Clark’s 2012 album, Love This Giant, along with their respective solo careers and Talking Heads material. But instead of a traditional band setup, the stage is flooded with horns, a few keyboard and electronic players, and Byrne and Clark posted in front of it all. There’s no drum kit here, nor bass. It means shifting brass melodies during “This Might Be the Place” or a little more pep and bop in Clark’s St. Vincent tracks like “Cruel” and “Cheerleader.” But here’s also what an abundance of stage space means with a small gang of horns: Dancing. Byrne and Vincent led the brass with cool grooves and mechanical arm hinging, and it didn’t even come close to getting old for the full headlining set. And, like anything these two artists have ever done, it actually works (and ties the catalogs together) rather nicely. I loved the whole thing, but highlights had to be closer “Road to Nowhere” and an absolutely beautiful, lulling rendition of Clark’s “The Party” from Actor.—Tyler Kane
Even if you’re not a fan of Swans’ sprawling, deafening art-rock, their set at Bonnaroo proved that they’re a band you should catch at least once if you’re given the chance. The Michael Gira-fronted act blew the roof off at the not-so-well-attended This Tent with The Seer’s winding, long-form tracks that droned and built tension before attacking the listener’s ears without mercy. I felt my teeth rattle. The couple next to me cupped at their ears as Gira and co. slammed into a maxed-out climax. There was a guy standing behind me whose mouth was open for—and I’m not kidding here, I checked many times because it was so entertaining—the course of an entire 10-minute epic. It might have not been the most comfortable experience for these ear drums, but then again, that isn’t always true for great art.—Tyler Kane
On Björk’s Biophilia tour, she sold out two nights at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, an intimate enough venue that caps out at around 3,500 seats and was filled to the brim with hardcore fans. From where I stood on Saturday—toward the middle of the crowd, where casual Björk fans mingled with those trying to reserve a good spot for Jack Johnson—that 3,500 was spread out among probably 30,000. And that’s not to her discredit, but let’s face it, Bonnaroo at times can be a weird fit for the Icelandic vocalist. Her band alone—made up of the calculated pulsing and churning of her electronics guys and a massive choir that perches behind her—was unlike anything the festival had offered so far (if you don’t count the Polyphonic Spree), and left a few sandal-clad, tank-topped dudes scratching their head through opener “Cosmogony.” But it made it all the more special for those who camped out for one of the most inventive vocalists of our time. The trippy, spiraling visuals that projected on the main screen, the majestic choir, the out-of-this-world instruments, Björk’s absolutely charming “Thank. Youuuu!”s to the crowd, these are all things I’m so glad I didn’t miss. And she rewarded listeners who stuck around, building to a crashing, bass-drowned climax with “Hyperballad.”—Tyler Kane
Father John Misty
Josh Tillman brought his unmatched stage presence to his set at the That Tent, opening with “Funtimes in Babylon” and teasing the crowd with lines like “Bonnaroo! Are you enjoying being asked how you’re doing every hour for the next five days?” before moving on to “Only Son of the Ladiesman” and plenty of other favorites from his excellent Fear Fun. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Superjam featuring Jim James, John Oates, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Other Guests
Bonnaroo is known for impromptu collaborations and epic improvisation, but the Superjam that commenced on Saturday night set the bar at a new level, with surprise appearances from Billy Idol and R. Kelly (both of whom had just finished packed sets of their own) and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, who wasn’t even slated to play the festival at all. Things kicked off in a big way with comedian Michael Winslow, dressed as Jimi Hendrix, leading off with “The Star Spangled Banner,” complete with a crowd-led “U-S-A” chant. Once Jim James and John Oates began to sing, what followed was a non-stop marathon of soulful hits, from “Love Train” to an unforgettable rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me.” From there, they played through John Lennon’s “Instant Karma (We All Shine On),” and topped it all (um, somehow) by introducing Howard for a passionate, chill-inducing rendition of Stax Records’ “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.” Howard’s vocals were on point, and the chemistry between these artists (old and new) felt like the embodiment of what a music festival is supposed to be. Kelly sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Bring It On Home To Me,” and Prince’s “1999” and The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” were thrown into the mix along with an impressive amount of Sly & The Family Stone tracks (“Everyday People,” “Higher,” “Thank You”). We were promised a “rock-and-soul dance party,” and that’s exactly what we got.—Dacey Orr and Bonnie Stiernberg
What is there more to say about Paul McCartney’s set, other than it was basically perfect on this chilly Friday night? The show opened with the massive side-stage displays playing a psychedelic, half-hour long montage reel of McCartney’s storied past, with an abundance of nods to his time in The Beatles and Wings. It was an emotional beginning for the concert, which was fronted by a man who the audience already felt an otherworldly connection to over the course of decades. The family in front of me, which sported three generations, was singing every word with Sir Paul from opening note to the blinding fireworks for “Live and Let Die” to the closing cymbal crashes of the Abbey Road medley, and I’m left to wonder if I’ll ever see another artist that can do this in my lifetime. Needless to say, it was truly one of the more special concert experiences I’ve had.
And although McCartney could have just showed up, played the three hours of hits (it’s hard to think of many artists that can truly fill that period of time without lulling the crowd), he gave back as much to the audience as they did to him. The set was filled with hit after hit, with McCartney making smart and considerate choices with the deeper catalog and leaning heavily on Wings and Beatles material. We even got one song McCartney hadn’t performed live until this tour, Sgt. Pepper’s “Lonely Rita.”
He was a joker, teasing “Woah, someone has some pretty good weed up front. What are you trying to do to me?” a curious attendee of the phenomenon that is Bonnaroo and an emotional storyteller, dedicating several songs to Lennon, Linda McCartney and his current wife Nancy, not to mention the absolutely beautiful ukelele version of “Something” he dedicated to Harrison. He bellowed “Free Pussy Riot” more than once, and shared lively stories of his time in Russia, explaining several high-up Russian officials learned English from Beatles records. He put a stuffed walrus on his piano and sang to it for the closing Abbey Road medley. Long story short, we were all McCartney fans, but the crowd—which I could not see an end to in any direction, even on my tippy-toes—walked away almost feeling like his friend. It’s exceptional to make hundreds of thousands of buds with just a Hofner bass, a piano and that beautiful voice of Paul’s.—Tyler Kane