Brooklyn's Unlocking the Truth got Bonnaroo off to a roaring start with their brand of no-nonsense metal. A lot has been written about the power trio's record label struggles in the last year, but the band has clearly kept their heads in the game. Vocalist/guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse stalked the stage with a commanding presence, laying down one labyrinthine riff after the other.
We hadn't heard DMA's before seeing them at yesterday's Bonnaroo kickoff day, but we were instantly hooked on the Australian band's throwback brand of Britpop-styled rock 'n' roll. Frontman Tommy O'Dell delivered each scrumptious vocal melody with bell-like clarity. Digging into DMA's press coverage, they've been stylistically compared to Oasis quite a bit, but while it's not a far-fetched observation, the Aussies' Bonnaroo set proved they write the kinds of songs that will help them transcend their influences.
Although they started out playing aggressive hardcore punk, Iceage have evolved into something more in the stylistic wheelhouse of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Joy Division. Their Bonnaroo setlist focused on the Danish group's more recent material, and the crowd lapped up every second of it. Iceage looked every bit as cool as their music. Singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt strutted around the stage like a man possessed, while guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth laid down a blend of twangy chords and biting feedback from his vintage Gretsch. Simply put, we can't recommend Iceage's live show enough.
Things got psychedelic in Manchester, TN during Day 1 when England's Temples took to the stage. Showcasing the best cuts from their superb 2014 debut album, Sun Structures, the band played their irresistible psych-pop jams to a capacity crowd at The Other Tent. They might not have a huge radio hit in the States yet, but by the sound of the audience on songs like "Shelter Song" and "Mesmerise," Temples might be an album away from crossing over in a big way.
Having witnessed their live show at this year's Coachella festivities, we knew Glass Animals would be delivering the goods. Everyone else at Bonnaroo on Day 1 must have also been on our wavelength because the British band had people packed like sardines in a can during their appearance. Melding elements of R&B, pop and electronica into their songwriting, Glass Animals emerged as one of Day 1's most memorable performers.
The brainchild of guitar/vocalist Ruban Nielson, Unknown Mortal Orchestra write and perform a unique blend of rock that includes elements of R&B, prog-rock and psych-pop. The group's Bonnaroo appearance featured everything from funky keyboard work to shredding guitar solos to a drum solo, but it was Nielson's buttery vocals that stole our attention. If you ever wondered what Yes would sound like with Stevie Wonder handling vocal duties (and who doesn't?), UMO had your number yesterday.
Dawes treated the thousands of people congregated at the What Stage during their live set to some of the sweetest folk-rock we've heard in years. Now joined by guitarist Duane Betts (son of former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickie Betts), the L.A. band has never sounded better. Dawes' discography is chockfull of memorable lyrical hooks, and vocalist/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith's honeyed singing delivery guaranteed that no one in Manchester missed a single line.
Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Roland Orzabal and bassist/vocalist Curt Smith, Tears for Fears' Bonnaroo setlist leaned heavily on their first two albums: The Hurting (1983) and Songs from the Big Chair (1985). It wasn't a surprising move since both records collective shifted well over 10 million albums worldwide. Surefire hits like "Mad World," "Shout" and "Change" didn't let us down, but we were especially happy the British pop-rockers included the underrated "Break It Down Again" from their 1993 album, Elemental.
Seeing Flying Lotus live is a complete sensory overload type of experience. His set on Day 2 lived up to that notion in an audio and visual extravaganza that left his audience gobsmacked throughout. The Los Angeles producer presented his propulsive electronic hip-hop tracks with what seemed like an endless collection of arresting images that were beamed up on a screen in front of him. We wouldn't be out of line to say Flying Lotus is ready for arena domination after witnessing his Bonnaroo performance.
Kendrick Lamar was easily one of the most anticipated performers at Bonnaroo this year, and just after a few minutes into his Friday night set you knew the 27-year-old Compton native was going to live up to the hype. Backed by a tight-as-hell band, Lamar worked the enormous What Stage with the kind of confidence usually reserved for a veteran musician. Throughout several moments in his set, the rapper would stop rhyming and let the crowd fill in the blanks. Lamar's widescreen smile during those moments was an added treat.
Saturday got off to a funky start with New Jersey singer SZA. Signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q), the soulstress was backed by a white hot band that looked like they were having as good as a time as she was. We're thrilled SZA and her band busted out one of our favorite songs by the singer: "Teen Spirit." The icing on the cake came when Chance the Rapper made a surprise appearance, joining SZA on their 2014 collabo track, "Child's Play."
On Friday evening, Jim James and company reminded everyone why they got booked to play the biggest stage at Bonnaroo this year. The Kentucky road warriors culled material from their discography that showed off the many different facets of their songwriting. Songs like "Wordless Chorus" and "I'm Amazed" piping from Bonnaroo's sound system through the warm summer breeze is the stuff live music festivals are made for. Oh, and the band closed with the most addictive My Morning Jacket song of them all: "One Big Holiday."
Kicking off with the relentless attack of "World Painted Blood," Slayer's This Tent performance found the Los Angeles thrash metal overlords in fighting shape. "Chemical Warfare," "Seasons in the Abyss" and "Mandatory Suicide" are among the classic songs the group included in their Bonnaroo setlist, and they were all served up with the same kind of ferocity displayed on their original recordings. With an album called Repentless dropping in the fall, Slayer have a hectic touring schedule ahead, but if their Bonnaroo appearance is any indication, age hasn't and won't slow down the metal titans.
One of the artists featured on our "Nine Bottom Row Bands You Definitely Can't Miss at Bonnaroo" list earlier this month, All Them Witches did not let us down. The Nashville combo summoned the soul of '70s rock and added a swampy backbeat to it all. They might have played the tiny Who Stage but these dudes brought their A-game on Saturday night.
Australian producer Flume didn't take the That Tent stage till after 2AM. That didn't seem to matter to any of the thousands of fans dancing and waving their glowsticks in the air during his set. As much as the genre is maligned in the press, EDM's popularity shows no signs of letting up, and Flume is one of the artists at the forefront of the movement right now. From the way the young crowd went off during the young Aussie's performance Saturday night, we're expecting his stock to rise even higher in the coming year.
MØ and her band took turned The Other Tent into a huge dance party Sunday afternoon. Dressed like she was about hit the gym, the Danish singer and songwriter spent what seemed like half her set off the stage, jumping into crowd like she was fronting a hardcore band. MØ played jams from her 2014 debut album, No Mythologies to Follow, and even included a fun cover of the Spice Girls 1996 smash hit, "Say You'll Be There."
We weren't that well versed with Brandi Carlile's before we caught her Which Stage performance yesterday, but that didn't seem to matter once she and her band got things started. Opening with Firewatcher's Daughter, the title cut of her recently released fifth studio album, Carlile then broke into her most recognizable tunes, 2007's "The Story," the crowd's singing almost drowned out the Washington native out during the latter song. By the time she finished her set off with a powerhouse cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," we made a mental note to make sure we hit Spotify in the morning to dig deeper into Carlile's music catalog.
The last time we caught Caribou earlier this year, the Dan Snaith–led IDM collective was playing a scorching set in front of an enormous crowd at Coachella. The setting was the same for the band's Bonnaroo appearance, with fans crowding The Other Tent eager to see the Canadian collective. We love the way the group crowds closely together in a circle, keeping eye contact with each other throughout their performances. Snaith busted his butt during the Bonnaroo set, playing percussion, singing and working the synth banks, all the while looking like he was having the time of his life.
Billy Joel capped off another glorious Bonnaroo at the What Stage Sunday night. In addition to playing classic radio hits such as "My Life," "Allentown" and "Uptown Girl," the Piano Man from Long Island also delighted the diehards in the crowd with renditions of deeper cuts "Zanzibar" and "All for Leyna." About halfway into his set, Joel brought out a longtime road crew member nicknamed "Chainsaw" so he could sing a convincing version of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." The crowd went bananas for the roadie's Bon Scott-like singing delivery. Speaking of vocals, Joel had some trouble with the higher notes during certain spots in the show, but that's the only true drawback to an otherwise excellent concert.