Picking victors and losers from the world's most storied rock extravaganza

beyonceU2 600px.jpg


Music festivals aren’t contests, but maybe they should be. Representatives from the world’s two rock n’ roll superpowers—the United States and the European Union—met on a muddy field in Southwest England this past weekend. We were there to judge the performances, Ryder Cup-style. Hey, if it’s good enough for golf, it’s good enough for Glastonbury.



Albums: Twelve, but little that’s worth listening to after 1987.

Strengths: A wealth of arms-aloft anthems; a spectacular live show; arena-sized self-belief

Weaknesses: Bono’s self-indulgence (was an a capella version of “Jerusalem” really necessary?)

Performance: Bono doesn’t miss a note, sermonising is kept to a minimum and “One” is the first anthem of the weekend. Mission accomplished, U2.

Crowd reaction: Mixed. Sorry, Bono, but Glasto could work with or without you.


Albums: Four, but she’s best experienced live

Strengths: The only headliner at the peak of their powers; the mass convergence of 100,000 single ladies.

Weaknesses: Blur…Stevie Wonder…Beyoncé? Does she lack the gravitas needed for the hallowed Sunday night slot?

Performance: Fireworks, earth-shaking vocals and bootylicious dancing. Who run this mother? Beyoncé.

Crowd reaction: Putty in her hands. They even sing along to her dreadful new single, “Best Thing I Never Had.”

VERDICT: U.S. wins


Fleet Foxes

Albums: Two (Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues), both brilliant

Strengths: Beards and woolly jumpers are part of the Glastonbury aesthetic, so the band fits right in

Weaknesses: At their previous Glasto performance, in 2009, they failed to translate their intimate folk songs to these bigger surroundings.

Performance: They’ve learnt their lesson. Songs grow teeth live and Robin Pecknold’s vocals are one of Glasto’s great sounds.

Crowd reaction: The weekend’s first love-in. The Brits just can’t get enough of Fleet Foxes.

Mumford & Sons

Albums: One (Sigh No More), a hit on both sides of the Atlantic

Strengths: A swashbuckling live act that (normally) gets the crowd going

Weaknesses: The beginnings of a banjo backlash; a lack of new material

Performance: What should be a festival highlight (it’s a secret gig round a campfire) turns out to be a damp squib. The band arrives too late, leaves too early, and fails to thrill in between.

Crowd reaction: Initial excitement turns to disappointment when the band leaves after just five numbers.

VERDICT: U.S. wins


TV on the Radio

Albums: Five, all of a high standard

Strengths: The weekend’s most interesting and intelligent band

Weaknesses: Bassist Gerard Smith lost his battle with cancer earlier this year—can the band cope without him?

Performance: From the soaring “Young Liars” to a cover of the Ghostbusters’ theme, TVOTR are here to have fun. An uplifting triumph.

Crowd reaction: The few that are there love it.

Anna Calvi

Albums: One splendid debut (Anna Calvi)

Strengths: The looks of a supermodel, the voice of a banshee and the guitar skills of Jeff Buckley.

Weaknesses: The tunes don’t quite match the talent.

Performance: Breathtaking. Calvi’s guitar chops are sensational, and “Love Won’t Be Leaving” is a festival highpoint.

Crowd reaction: Lots of appreciative nodding and the occasional whoop of excitement (mostly from men)

VERDICT: Europe wins


Tinie Tempah

Albums: One commercial and critical success (Disc-Overy)

Strengths: British rap’s man of the moment, Tinie’s been hoovering up awards like an anteater

Weaknesses: Is he just a poor man’s Dizzee Rascal?

Performance: Tinie’s nothing if not a crowd-pleaser and doesn’t disappoint. A few more hits and he’ll be headlining festivals

Crowd reaction: “Pass Out,” Tinie’s signature song, turns Glasto into one giant dancefloor.

Wu-Tang Clan

Albums: Five—but it’s all about the live show

Strengths: That they have made it through customs. Method Man complains that they were treated “like the moutherfucking Taliban.”

Weaknesses: He appears to be performing in his dressing gown.

Performance: Part aerobics instructors, part rappers, Wu-Tang Clan battle through the inclement weather to deliver a fabulous, high-energy performance.

Crowd reaction: Massive. More W’s in the air than at a George Bush rally.

VERDICT: U.S. wins


Queens of the Stone Age

Albums: Five

Strengths: Their hard-living heavy-rock is perfect festival fodder.

Weaknesses: They’re on at the same time as Beyoncé—and the whole of Glasto is at Beyoncé.

Performance: A raw, raucous display culminating in ‘No One Knows’ a.k.a. The Best Festival Song Ever

Crowd reaction: As rowdy as the band

Biffy Clyro

Albums: Five

Strengths: The Scots have become a festival favourite, thanks to their blistering, big-hearted rock songs

Weaknesses: During last year’s performance, singer Simon Neil badly injured his knee. Has Glasto got it in for him?

Performance: An injury-free outing that covers the full extent of Biffy’s back catalogue, it’s glorious.

Crowd reaction: Their notoriously nutty fans are out in force. Cue moshpits, fist pumps and mass sing-alongs.

VERDICT: Europe wins

Final score: America 3, Europe 2. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.