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The Year's Best Music Performances
From the Grammys to Coachella, SNL to Taylor Swift's worldwide lovefest, check out the best performances of 2015.
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Madonna on her Rebel Heart Tour
Three decades into her career, Madge could have set up shop in Vegas. But the Queen of Pop is a tireless road warrior who’s always in search of new sounds and ideas. So with a set list of more than two dozen songs, she served up revamped versions of her most enduring hits — and still turned every arena into a life-affirming disco. – Kevin O'Donnell
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Run the Jewels in New York City
El-P and Killer Mike can turn any place into a low-level basement riot, and the two MCs had no trouble blowing up their heavy boom-bap at Madison Square Garden. If that didn’t convert fans who came to see headliner Jack White, Zack de la Rocha’s drop-in definitely did. –Kyle Anderson
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Taylor Swift on her 1989 World Tour
Tay’s tour made headlines for her surprise duets (hello, Joan Baez!). But it was more than an A-list circus. With inspiring speeches about friendship and feminism, Swift turned her shows into inspiring summits for her young female fans. –Jessica Goodman
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D'Angelo and the Vanguard at Bonnaroo
Did it matter that the R&B icon was 40 minutes late to the stage? No way. His late-night set had the crowd grooving way past the 3 a.m. encore. –Madison Vain
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U2 on their Innocence + Experience Tour
After their epic 2009–11 360° tour, the world’s biggest rock band pared things down for this trek. The smaller scale suited them. U2 kicked off each gig by performing underneath a giant Edison bulb, only to have the show swell into a dazzling spectacle. –K.O.
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The Grateful Dead on their Fare Thee Well Tour
Fare thee well indeed: The jam kings capped off their long, strange trip (50 years!) with guitarist Trey Anastasio conjuring the late Jerry Garcia. –Eric Renner Brown
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Nicki Minaj on her The Pinkprint Tour
With a who’s who of up-and-comers like DeJ Loaf and Tinashe, the rapper had the hip-hop tour of the year. –J.G.
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Blur in New York City
Blur had perpetually been the also-ran to Oasis during the mid-’90s Britpop arms race, but on this night at MSG they showed why they’ve managed to outlast the brothers Gallagher. –K.A.
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Foo Fighters in Washington D.C.
Buddy Guy, Joan Jett, and more pals helped Dave Grohl & Co. celebrate their 20th anniversary with the year’s best Fourth of July bash. –E.R.B.
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The War on Drugs at Coachella
Adam Granduciel’s crew of rock journey-men scored a home run with this blissed-out set, which had just about every festgoer asking afterward, “Did you see the War on Drugs?” Hopefully you said yes. –M.V.
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Mumford & Sons at Bonnaroo
Mumford & Sons was supposed to headline Bonnaroo two years ago, but bassist Ted Dwane needed emergency brain surgery and the set never happened. This year, the quartet returned to the farm to give fans what they had hoped for: two electric and jubilant hours. —M.V.
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Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats on The Tonight Show
“Turn your TV’s up! Turn your computers up! Whatever you’re watching this on, turn it up! Please welcome Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats!” exclaimed host Jimmy Fallon, welcoming the Missouri native and his Motown-style band to their television debut. The performance that followed was a thrilling trip through their funky, soul-rock single “S.O.B.,” as Rateliff slithered, slid and grooved with abandon. — M.V.
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Annie Lennox at the Grammys
In an otherwise snooze-y Grammys, Annie Lennox joined Hozier to perform his hit “Take Me To Church” and moved sweetly into her cover of Jay Hawkins' “I Put A Spell On You,” from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. With shiny sparkles and deep soul, Lennox stole the entire awards show and reminded fans she’s still a vocal force with a stage presence that lands her among the all-time greats. — J.G.
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Father John Misty on the Late Show
Josh Tillman — better known as Father John Misty — played us all during his Late Show appearance. After revealing his piano playing to be little more than automated trickery, Tillman left the bench to deliver lines from his millennial cynic's anthem "Bored in the USA" with straight-faced conviction that defies the laugh track in the background, making his spot as sarcastic as late night performances come. — E.R.B.
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Kanye West on SNL
West performed at the iconic show’s 40th anniversary bash, and while most of the special dwelled on the show’s legacy, West provided a glimpse into the future, performing one classic, one fresh cut, and one song that no one had ever heard before. "Gold Digger" or "Stronger" would've been a crowd pleaser, but this medley of “Jesus Walks,” “Only One,” and “Wolves" was high art. — E.R.B.
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John Legend and Common perform “Glory” at the Oscars
John Legend and Common performed their stunning track from Selma in front of Hollywood’s elite and backed by a full choir and set against a recreation of Selma’s famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, it was a powerful reminder that the fight for civil rights isn’t over yet. —J.G.
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Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake at the CMAs
In an unapologetic display of talent, Nashville met Motown during country music’s biggest night for a hands-in-the-air, take-us-to-church mash-up that was everything you hope for from an all-star duet. —M.V.
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Adele at Radio City Music Hall
Adele continued to break records with her first concert in over four years at Radio City Music Hall. Broadcast on NBC a month after she performed, Adele Live in New York City showcased the 25 singer’s sheer power and humor, and previewed what fans can expect from her global tour beginning next year. — J.G.
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Miley Cyrus on SNL
After dropping her surprise album with the Flaming Lips at the VMAs, Miley Cyrus hosted and served as musical guest on SNL’s season opener, where she fought back tears and belted “The Twinkle Song” from behind the piano. — E.R.B.