Bjork. Naturally, the first question one typically asks upon seeing Icelandic experimental pop artist Bjork is “What on earth is she wearing?” Bjork donned a silver spiky helmet-mask, similar to what you would expect to find an interstellar Hellraiser cartoon character wearing, during her Saturday evening Bonnaroo set. However, the novelty of her assuredly kooky get-up did not overshadow the crisp, crystally electronic percussion and deep and driving bass lines that perfectly accented her acute yet effusive, utterly powerful voice. A longtime fan of Bjork, I was expecting the set to be avant garde and potentially bordering overproduced; I was pleasantly surprised by the electronic dance party vibe that permeated. The stage was full of what appeared to be Icelandic choir girls, in full robes, having what appeared to be the time of their lives, and her setlist included classic favorites (“Hidden Place,” “Pagan Poetry,” “Cocoon”) as well as new tracks such as “Crystalline” and “Cosmogony,” all set against a backdrop of beautifully orchestrated science and nature footage on the large screens to either side of the stage.
Paul McCartney. In short, what was likely the most anticipated performance in Bonnaroo’s history did not disappoint. Sir McCartney treated tens of thousands of fans to a two-and-a-half hour Friday night main stage performance filled with hits -- primarily Beatles songs but with a handful of Wings deep cuts (“Junior’s Farm;” “Listen to What the Man Said”) thrown in for good measure. He opened “Paperback Writer” with a “Foxy Lady” teaser, pausing to share anecdotes about Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, explained that the song “My Valentine” was written for his wife (Nancy Shevell) and then introduced “Maybe I’m Amazed” as having been “written for Linda” just a few songs later. His energy was up, his voice was perfectly on pitch, and he wound down his set with an epic performance of “Live and Let Die” (accompanied by an impressive fireworks show) before returning for not one but three encores. This was the set that bound together generations, genres, and tastes, perhaps more than any other set all weekend. - Saraya Brewer
Animal Collective. After the disappointment of having the elusive and experimental quartet Animal Collective reschedule their Covington appearance in March, their show at Bonnaroo was one I was personally anticipating greatly. Over the past decade or so, the group has oscillated between cacophonous noise and more accessible tribal, psychedelic dance beats, their most recent material (and their 2 a.m. Bonnaroo set) veering toward the latter. Leaning heavily on songs from last year’s album Centipede Hz (“Wide Eyed,” “Today’s Supernatural,” “Father Time”), the group also sprinkled in some fan favorites from the albums Merriweather Post Pavillion, Strawberry Jam and Feels (“Peacebone,” “My Girls,” “The Purple Bottle”) -- the set was lush, cohesive and chock full of danceable energy. -Saraya Brewer
Cat Power. With the setting sun beating down on the shadeIess Which Stage, a sweating and crimson red Cat Power delivered what was perhaps one of the most interesting performances of the entire festival. Taking the stage directly in between main stage headliners Nas and Bjork on Saturday evening, everyone seemed to use Cat Power’s set as the perfect time to relax on a blanket and catch a breather before another packed night of great shows. The dude sitting next to us had the right idea when he busted open a can of Beefaroni and started eating it straight from the can. As I ate my melted granola bar and some animal crackers generously shared by Beefaroni man, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great she sounded. Then I looked up. Cat Power’s fire-red face filled the giant Which Stage TV screen and she was wearing an expression of pain, frustration and agony. I immediately nudged my neighbor and said “Oh my gosh, I think she’s about to pass out! Look!” She was dripping sweat and kept fanning herself with her hand as she mouthed complaints to people on either sides of the stage. She turned her back to the audience for what seemed to be minutes at a time and awkwardly walked around stage with no correlation to the rhythm of the songs or what she was singing. There were long silent breaks in between each song and just when I thought she was a goner, sure enough she jumped right back into another song without hesitation. After a few songs like this with pitch perfect vocals, I realize what we were watching was the true Cat Power in all her beautifully uncomfortable and self-conscious glory. By the end of her set I no longer felt pangs of nervousness but rather admiration at the train wreck waiting to happen keep it together for a full set. It was the most raw performance I had ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still pieces of her scattered on what remains of the Which Stage in Manchester, TN. -Mary Allen
Action Bronson. There is something about watching a performer you know is having the time of their life on stage. Action Bronson is one of those. Opening up the last day of the festival at 1:30 p.m., Action Bronson came onto The Other Tent stage blazing...and I mean that in more ways than one. Sometime in between the showers of already lit joints and blunts being thrown on stage (requested by Mr. Bronson himself) and his long strolls through the entire crowd -- we’re talking all the way around the perimeter of the tent, security guards in tow -- he delivered one of the best live rap performances I have ever heard. Sure, he had to ask the DJ to start over a few times probably because he was too high to keep up with his own raps, but that’s besides the point. It was Day 4 of Bonnaroo and Action Bronson gave the crowd just what they wanted. When he was rapping, it was good. When he wasn’t rapping, he was addressing something in the crowd and it was hilarious. One time he stopped in the middle of a song to pick up an inflatable alligator someone threw onstage and say “I Love Alligators” and proceed with a brief freestyle before getting back to the song. He made it clear that the party was not over. We all forgot it was Sunday. -Mary Allen