Pando

Joining us at Bonnaroo? Here are all 98 bands ranked by whether you should see them or not

By David Holmes , written on January 14, 2015

From The News Desk

There are lots of reasons to go to our annual tech and culture conference, Pandoland: We're slowly sharing details of the editorial lineup, but already Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas, Birchbox’s Katia Beauchamp, and Floodgate’s Mike Maples are on the docket. And like last year, there will be bands, whiskey, authentic Southern cuisine, and a startup competition unlike any you've ever seen.

But there's another big factor that should inform your decision to head to Nashville in June: The Bonnaroo music festival will take place the weekend before our conference and is just an hour's drive south. (Tickets go on sale this Saturday at noon)Like last year, team Pando will be there taking in the sun, mud, music, and weird new sincerity possessed by the youth of today -- and with 98 of the bands playing the event now announced, we took on the unenviable task of ranking every single act performing that weekend.

Must-sees

1. Run the Jewels

The rap duo is the most ferocious live act in the game right now and made the best album of 2014, calling to mind Public Enemy and bringing a political consciousness back to hip-hop at a time when it needed it most. (Read our piece on the Adult Swim exec who introduced the two men and helped reignite their careers.)

2. Slayer

One of the greatest metal bands in history. Start growing your hair out now.

3. Kendrick Lamar

At 27, the unstoppable Kendrick Lamar has joined that rarefied group of hip-hop acts, which includes Jay-Z and Kanye West, whose every new release and major performance is an unmissable event -- this included.

4. Billy Joel

If you're too cool for Billy Joel, get out of my life.

5. Belle & Sebastian

The Scottish indie darlings are the musical equivalent of a sad yearling doe with a thorn stuck in its paw, lost in a meadow soaked in morning dew. But while they're a bit too delicate for some tastes, from "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" to "The State I Am In," Belle & Sebastian have written some of the best pop songs of the past two decades.

6. My Morning Jacket

The Louisville band has offered diminishing returns since their 2003 breakout It Still Moves, but they're still one of the greatest live rock acts to emerge of the past fifteen years. Oh and just wait until they play "One Big Holiday." It kills every time.

7. Unlocking the Truth

If you haven't heard of Unlocking the Truth, they are a charismatic and catchy metal band... whose members are all between 12 and 13 years old. Gimmicky as that sounds, these kids write great riffs and put on fantastic shows -- what more do you want from a metal band of any age?

8. Tears For Fears

If there's one thing I learned at Bonnaroo 2014 it's that supposedly washed-up cheeseball artists from the 80s put the new kids to shame when it comes to orchestrating unbelievable live shows (see Lionel Richie).

9. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

All you need to ask here is, "Does he play Zeppelin songs?" The answer is yes. Yes he does.

10. Earth Wind and Fire

"Ba de ya!"

11. Against Me!

Insanely fun punk rock survivors that have been keeping the dream of the 90s alive since 2002.

Should-sees

12. Ben Folds

We can snark on Ben Folds all day, but he has more talent and is a far better performer than your favorite cool indie band, hater. And while his solo career has been so-so, he still plays plenty of Ben Folds Five songs on tour.

13. The Very Best

There will be lots of dancing at Bonnaroo sets. What makes the Very Best different, with their mix of Malawi music and Western electronic and hip-hop, is that you'll actually enjoy it.

14. Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath

This is so stupid and nerdy, but I love Black Sabbath and am totally excited to hear a latin brass band play their songs.

15. Atomic Bomb! Who Is William Onyeabor?

The perfect combination of Bonnaroo's jam band roots and its more recent "indie"-fication, this supergroup features members of Sinkane, Hot Chip, and LCD Soundsystem. If you dig any of all of those bands, check them out.

16. Caribou

Take the interesting visuals and druggily danceable sounds of all those EDM artists at Bonnaroo, but add melodies, musicality, and emotion.

17. Shabazz Palaces

"Experimental hip-hop." Yeah, I can already see you heading back to your campsite... but trust me. Watch Shabazz Palaces for no other reason except that they are among the most original acts on the planet -- at a time when true originality is in short supply.

18. Flying Lotus

Like Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus was another artist popularized by Adult Swim's Jason DeMarco, whom I profiled last year. The electronic producer is a sonic maximalist in all the right ways -- like if Skrillex had good taste and was into jazz.

19. Mac DeMarco

Everybody talks about how "rowdy" DeMarco's shows get -- which really just means he sometimes takes his clothes off and encourages hipsters to innocently mosh. But that's not why you should see him. DeMarco is a great young songwriter with an energetic stage presence, which is reason enough to make time for his set.

20. Spoon

Did the world need another Spoon record in 2014? Of course not. The band's consistency is both a blessing and a curse. They've become so predictable over the years that they're basically a Spoon cover band now. Nevertheless, the new album was as satisfying a work as we've come to expect from the band, and their catalog is simply too big and good for you to miss them play if you can help it.

21. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

As Gary Indiana's best living poet (RIP Michael), Freddie Gibbs is probably the greatest rapper you've never heard. Despite well-deserved critical acclaim for his authenticity and technical chops, he still hasn't captured the attention of mainstream audiences. Maybe Bonnaroo will be his breakout moment.

22. Tove Lo

Swedish pop stars are like pizzas: Even when they're bad, they're good.

23. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Okay, I know it's a gimmick, but watching an older woman (the Mama Bear!) play guitar while her son sings -- in an admittedly fantastic voice -- is just too adorable a gimmick to miss.

24. Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen

Because there's never a reason to miss out on New Orleans music. (Though I'm sad Big Freedia's not coming to Bonnaroo).

25. Pallbearer

"Doom metal" is not for everybody, I know. But there's something magically disturbing about watching a group of musicians perform Satan's Pandora playlist in person.

26. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard

I have a weakness for dumbass psychedelic garage rock and King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, from the band name on down to the schizoid guitar licks, scratches that itch.

27. Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas

Hernandez & the Deltas do nothing new. In fact, the way in which they appropriate old styles of soul and doo-wop isn't even new. But this is a live show, and sometimes a good performance is just a good performance.

Maybe-sees

28. Woods - Really nice campfire folk that sounds old-fashioned without trying so damned hard -- which sets it apart from so many throwback bands at Bonnaroo.

29. Iceage - Iceage are a Danish rock band that likes to moan over noisy guitars -- a genre I totally dig but think others like Titus Andronicus do better. In any case, if that's your bag, check it.

30. Childish Gambino - Childish Gambino is like Drake, but with less talent and more self-awareness. As a recording artist, he's embarked on a slow evolution from obnoxious to tolerable over the past few years; he's more the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with than listen to. But that makes him a fun performer so check him out.

31. Hiss Golden Messenger - There are a ton of folk singers every year at Bonnaroo, but M.C. Taylor -- aka Hiss Golden Messenger -- is one of the best, telegraphing more pain and heartbreak with the delivery of single syllables than most singers do in entire songs.

32. Ana Tijoux - Energetic "Pan flute rap" from Chile. No samples are used on the record so, like the greatest hip-hop live band of all time the Roots, it should translate well to a live setting.

33. Sturgill Simpson - There are lots of neo-bluegrass and neo-country bands at Bonnaroo, but among the latter group of artists, Simpson has some legitimate songwriting chops and a great Waylon Jennings-style voice. Sure, by announcing your fandom, you're basically shouting to the world that you love safe, NPR-approved Americana. But there are worse associations to have.

34. Glass Animals - Smooth and chill pop music that still keeps things a little weird and unsettling.

35. The Growlers - This 60s-style rock band basically takes all the Walkmen's up-tempo songs and tosses out the rest.

36. Houndmouth - More NPR alt-country. Worst band name on the lineup, but like many bands from the greater Louisville area, they don't disappoint.

37. Dej Loaf - With her 2014 hit "Try Me," Loaf is a unique young voice in hip-hop. And while her catalog doesn't run very deep yet, I'm interested to see if she's ready for the next level, or if she's poised to fade away as a one-hit wonder.

38. War on Drugs - They're not that good, but there's always the chance Mark Kozelek will bumrush the stage with his penis exposed.

If nothing else is going on...

39. Jungle - British electronic soul. Aggressively unterrible.

40. Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood - A jam band, but on the jazzier end of the jam band spectrum and so fairly enjoyable.

41. Strand of Oaks - Guitar person playing guitar songs for guitar people. I dig it.

42. Courtney Barnett - Cute, deadpan Australian rock and roll.

43. Brandi Carlile - Sometimes having three-part Fleetwood Mac-style vocal harmonies is enough.

44. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Like Tame Impala, but not as good. Still good, though.

45. Jamie xx - Electronica, but not EDM. Basically it's the most British-sounding thing you've ever heard. I think this must be what people did drugs to in the 90s.

46. DMA's - Britpop revivalists that rip off the catchiest -- and cheesiest -- British 90s bands.

47. Jerry Douglas Presents Earls of Leicester - Bluegrass played by people over 40. So, in other words, actual bluegrass.

Nice, but probably not...

48. Christopher Denny - His music is pretty standard, but I dig Denny's weirdo voice.

49. Gregory Alan Isakov - Nice enough singer-songwriter who, to be honest, should be more popular than he is. Like many other artists at the festival, Bonnaroo could be his big break.

50. PHOX - Cutesy hipsters playing indie pop and acting like they're perpetually on indoor recess.

51. Pokey LaFarge - As old-fashioned and silly as his name suggests. Good for anybody at Bonnaroo that remembers World War II.

52. Tanya Tagaq - I don't know if it's good, but it is throat-singing, which is something you don't see every day so maybe check it out?

53. Priory - Pretty generic (but pretty catchy) watered-down Vampire Weekend.

54. Rhiannon Giddens - Pseudo bluegrass (Pseugrass?) but it's fun, and Giddens has a hell of a voice.

55. Hurray for the Riff Raff - More old-fashioned folk. The singer sometimes yodels, which is something.

56. Moon Taxi - Not an amazing band, but these guys played at our Southland conference last year and were great sports too, playing around onstage with the Artiphon, a strange new musical instrument that won the Pando Staff pick in our inaugural startup competition.

Take a nap

57. SZA - The problem with SZA is that she doesn't go "full weird." The R&B singer is too odd to be terribly catchy, but not odd enough to approach some kind of truly original new sound.

58. Rudimental - Again, I think you need to be British to get this. Maybe you're British!

59. Superjam - Normally this collection of electronic musicians and rappers would go under the "Drugs" section below, but Chance the Rapper is apparently involved this year and you should never discount Chance, who put on one of the best shows at last year's festival.

60. Trampled by Turtles - If you must see some neo-bluegrass bands at Bonnaroo (there are like seven of them playing) I guess Trampled by Turtles, despite that name, is among the more acceptable ones.

61. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn - Bela Fleck is arguably the greatest banjo player of all time. Too bad I said "banjo" and not an instrument anybody cares about.

62. The Districts - At 19 and 20 years old, these kids are young enough to make you miss your wasted youth, but too young to actually write awesome music.

63. Shakey Graves - Great name, wasted.

64. AWOLNATION - These guys are pretty obnoxious, but in kind of a hilarious way, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or something. I respect their lack of shame, just not their music.

65. Benjamin Booker - A guy who woke up one day and decided there weren't enough bands that sounded like Pete Yorn. Which isn't terrible per se, but, you know, um, what?

66. Bahamas - Pretty much the male version of Feist. He's fine.

67. Sylvan Esso - Pretty much another female version of Feist. Also fine.

68. Alabama Shakes - My Morning Jacket lite. Kinda boring Southern bro rock, but with the right combo of Bud and bud in you, they could very easily chill your vibes in a perfectly pleasant way.

69. Dawes - Like if Coldplay played Americana-influenced roots rock. They play it well, but when you're starting with "Coldplay Americana," it can only be so good.

70. Punch Brothers - Better than your average neo-Bluegrass band. But only slightly.

71. Hozier - Kind of boring. Nice voice. In other words, half the people playing Bonnaroo.

72. Gary Clark, Jr - See Hozier.

73. G-Eazy - When it comes to more mainstream genres of hip-hop, this is a weak year at Bonnaroo: No Young Thug, no Lil B, no Future. Instead we get G-Eazy, and nobody's all that happy about it.

74. Ryn Weaver - This woman's probably going to be huge, so you could check her out to say you saw her before she blew up. Or you could not suffer through terrible music.

75. Between The Buried & Me - Progressive metal. Moving on...

76. Temples - Noel Gallagher called them "the best new band in Britain" -- meaning they are definitely not the best new band in Britian.

77. SOJA - Reggae is a thing again. My neighbors, who are like seventeen, listen to it at wall-shaking decibel levels all day long.

78. STS9 - Stands for Sound Tribe Sector 9, which is all you need to know.

79. The Bluegrass Situation - Bluegrass for people who have probably never heard bluegrass before.

80. Royal Blood - A cheap facsimile of Jack White -- and not even good Jack White from the White Stripes -- more like his weaker solo stuff.

81. Mø - The whole Grimes/Purity Ring style that was big a couple years back has now inspired a second wave of imitators -- and Mø is at the frontlines.

82. Dopapod - Token jam band to appease the Bonnaroo lifers.

#Drugs

83. Tycho - Scott Hansen, the man behind Tycho, is an incredibly nice guy with a fascinating success story that he was kind enough to share with us. But his performances are perhaps more for graphic design enthusiasts than people who like music.

84. SBTRKT - Aaron Jerome has better taste than your average remix artist, but it's still music made by computers for teenagers.

85. Rustie - His genre is known as "lazer hip-hop" which is a lot less interesting than it sounds.

86. Gramatik - Some of his songs have a West Coast hip-hop vibe which is kind of cool. But then the songs. Never. End.

87. Odesza - Maybe they at least have good visuals?

88. Deadmau5 - If you're ever skeptical that it takes an immense amount of talent and care to make music like Daft Punk, listen to Deadmau5 who is basically a third-rate version of the French electronic duo.

89. Bassnectar - The DJ's Wikipedia page says he's as famous for his music as he is for his social media engagement, so that tells you something.

90. Flume - In the past, elders would be offended by the music of the younger generations because it was too violent or sexual. Now we're offended because it's too boring.

Just Don't

91. Catfish and the Bottlemen - I thought Welsh bands were supposed to be interesting? These edgeless wonders sully the legacy of great Welsh acts like Mclusky, Super Furry Animals, and Los Campesinos. You can't even hear their bizarre accents!

92. twenty one pilots - These guys are from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio so I wish I could support them, but they're basically Christian keytar rock-rap.

93. Florence + The Machine - You know those boring, five-to-six minute-long, faux-epic penultimate tracks that every 90s CD was bound by law to have? That's every Florence + The Machine song.

94. Guster - Please don't encourage these guys.

95. Atmosphere - Like hip-hop, but for boring people.

96. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals - If mayonnaise was a band.

97. Mumford & Sons - They have that one song that sounds like all the other songs. Catch it on the way to the beer tent.

98. Bleachers - Sometimes hating a band is simply a matter of taste. But Bleachers, a side-project from the guitarist of the band who sang the good-for-one-listen-tops "We Are Young," is literally the most generic fucking thing I've ever heard, and I will stake whatever integrity I have as journalist that you'll agree.

[photo by Patricia H]