The 21st Century’s Best Glastonbury Headline Performances – Ranked

Whether they’re helping you cap a band-packed day in the sun or shake off the festival mud, Glasto headliners have a knack for harnessing the crowd’s tiredness, dampness and good old scepticism into headline sets of historic proportions. As this year’s festival looms, we revisit the Pyramid Stage’s best performances so far.

10 Arcade Fire (2014)

A glaring technical hitch as they walked onstage couldn’t deter Arcade Fire from delivering one of the most memorable Glasto sets of recent years. Without enough certifiable crowd-pleasers in their arsenal to get complacent, the Canadian band relied on manic charisma to keep the set running – along with the giant-headed papier-mache fake band, who stole onstage before the encore to boogie to a medley of Pulp, Jay-Z and Oasis songs.

9 Arctic Monkeys (2007)

In 2007, the Arctics became the youngest ever Pyramid Stage headliners. For Alex Turner, who later told GQ “I don’t think we got that quite right”, they weren’t ready, but the people remember otherwise. After steaming through stunners from their near-flawless early albums (not to mention a crooned cover of ‘Diamonds are Forever’), the set peaked as ‘505’ snapped into euphoria and led into ‘A Certain Romance’, a defining moment that remains the peak of their early years.

8 Jay-Z (2008)

Noel Gallagher said it couldn’t be done, but Jay-Z pulled off a set for the ages in 2008. ‘Hard Knock Life’ got the biggest singalong, but Jay’s finest moment came when, before bursting into a ‘Back in Black’-laced ’99 Problems’, Jay walked on with a guitar to play a strangely spine-tingling ‘Wonderwall’ cover.

7 Paul McCartney (2004)

Macca might be the safest of safe-bets for Glasto, but nobody was complaining when he trotted out irrepressible classics like ‘Blackbird’, ‘Let It Be’ and the ferocious ‘Helter Skelter’. In the heat of the moment, even ‘Yellow Submarine’ could scarcely fail to raise the proverbial roof.

6 Blur (2009)

The jewel in the crown of Blur’s first reformation, this unstoppable hits marathon pinballed – in true Blur fashion – between rowdy and teary, spanning the emotional peaks and valleys of their discography. Even Damon got the sniffles during the encore.

5 Radiohead (2003)

After a few years away, Thom Yorke and co came on looking alarmingly dapper for their second headline appearance. In a decidedly grown-up suit jacket and cheeky grin, the singer kicked into ‘There There’ before erupting into a set that leant heavily on ‘Hail to the Thief’, bristling with an anarchic experimental energy that proves the maligned record belongs with the best.

4 Rolling Stones (2013)

After 43 years without a Stones headline set, Glastonbury blew its lid for the rockers, who didn’t let their advancing years stop their advance into Glasto legend. Michael Eavis said Jagger “danced like his life depended on it”, and it’s true that this set gave the band a new lease of life, in the next generation’s memory.

3 Beyoncé (2011)

With incendiary set-opener in ‘Crazy in Love’, the three-months-pregnant singer instantly passed into Glasto legend. Her career-peaking show sizzled like a firecracker, with a classic Destiny’s Child suite and booty-shaking moves that sent shockwaves through the packed crowd. If anything, her captivating covers of ‘Sex on Fire’ and Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Now’ paled by comparison.

2 David Bowie (2000)

Bowie’s first Glasto appearance since 1971 might’ve started gently with Johnny Mathis cover ‘Wild is the Wind’, but by the time he’d stuttered into the chorus of ‘Changes’, it wasn’t just the singer who’d found his feet: huge swathes of the crowd started pogoing along and didn’t let up throughout the set. The encore’s soaring, firework-backed rendition of ‘Heroes’ wound up closing Julien Temple’s Glastonbury film.

1 Muse (2004)

Muse’s debut headliner at Worthy Farm wasn’t a smooth ride – tragically, Dom Howard’s father suffered a fatal heart attack backstage after the set – but Matt Bellamy later told NME it was one of the best sets they’d ever played. Emily Eavis went one further, declaring it a better headline set than Macca’s the same year. It’s easy to see why, with the set gliding through a majestic ‘New Born’, crowd-slaying ‘Plug in Baby’ and a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ encore so huge it was visible from space.