Live from Bonnaroo, Days 1 and 2: Conan O'Brien, Kings of Leon, She and Him, The xx and more
When you consider the makeshift camp homes, the muddy feet and the abundant facial hair on the 700-acre Manchester, Tenn. farm site, the refugee description doesn't actually seem like a stretch, does it? And after all, most people here at Bonnaroo are here for an escape (in this case it just so happens to be a pretty rockin' escape).
O'Brien, who was appropriately bearded for the occasion (he described himself as "Paul Bunyan with an eating disorder"), went on to talk more about the four-day festival attendees and culture.
"I've only been here a few hours, but I can tell for sure that we are losing the war on drugs," he said. "Actually I ate some mushrooms and saw some pretty crazy stuff -- like $12 chicken fingers." The gangly guitarist then rocked a quirky, but highly-respectable blues-rock set with his band.
Tokyo Police Club (actually a group of young, law-abiding Canadians) resembled the nice-guy rock band next door. They played a reverb and handclap-heavy Be Good, urging people to "be good when your parents stay over in June," and to send greeting cards when appropriate.
The ten-plus piece Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' hippie-happy rock set was easily my favorite of the early shows (and when I say early, I just mean before 3 p.m. -- we're on Bonnaroo time here). Fiddle and trumpet accented the bright, soulful Home, a track about love and the joys of going home. Great stuff from the sweaty, shirtless frontman and crew. (Ed. note: The band even has a St. Petersburg connection!)
(After the jump: She and Him, Tenacious D, The National, Kings of Leon, Flaming Lips, The xx, Black Keys, Wale and more...)
Zooey Deschanel (above) and M. Ward performed as the retro-soul/folk act She and Him to an adoring crowd. They played songs off of both Volume 1 and Volume 2, and Deschanel closed with a solo cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You. That it did.
Across the farm, The National's bearded baritone Matt Berninger drank wine, wore a vest (which he quickly confessed was a poor wardrobe choice) and delivered a spot-on Start a War and Mistaken for Strangers, which got some unexpected, but perfectly-suited brass accompaniment.
On the main stage, Tenacious D soloed on a Playskool saxophone, detailed the roadie lifestyle, laid down classic Kickapoo, and paid tribute to Jack Black's favorite singer of all-time, Ronnie James Dio. Oh, and Black contemplated firing bandmate Kyle Gass in favor of "the guy from Paul Blart Mall Cop."
The boyfriends and husbands who were dragged to Tori Amos wound up secretly impressed. Amos' grand piano skills, flawless voice and humidity-resistant orange mane were altogether beautiful. And that's all she was working with -- no band, no nothing.
But if there was ever a poignant moment at Bonnaroo Friday, it came near the close of Kings of Leon's main-stage headlining set (which included a few brand new songs). "There are only a few times in your life when you feel really proud of what you've accomplished," said a choked-up Caleb Followill, who grew up not far from the farm site.
Followill, above, thanked all the fans who had seen them on the smaller stages over the years before closing with arena-sized singalong Use Somebody.
An all-girl Warpaint were pushing the limits of a small stage nearby. They sound poised to be the best band you never heard of at Bonnaroo. The set was raw, spooky and just plain good. Look for them on our “best of” list, coming soon.
The Black Keys drew big. And it was easy to see why. They've got to be one of the most passionate blues-rock acts on the planet. Their Hendrix fever shined bright on Strange Times and latest Tighten Up was pure delight.
Naturally, the Flaming Lips got the award for most out-there stage and lighting production during their two-part set. They delivered confetti and giant balloon-accompanied originals like the The W.A.N.D. and She Don’t Use Jelly in the first half and a stylized rendition of Dark Side of the Moon in the second.
Across town, Galactic was joined by Cyril Neville (in what looked like a pimp costume) for some straight up N'awlins funk. With the enormously talented Stanton Moore behind the drums and Corey Henry of the Rebirth Brass Band on trombone, this was a musician’s funk band.
Going backwards for a moment to Thursday evening, heavy rains earlier in the week had made the grounds especially soggy. But acts like The xx, Wale, The Temper Trap and Joshua James tromped on unfazed.
A young three-piece, The xx (above) played its self-titled album in its entirety (and almost in order). Here's what I gathered from those in attendance: Guys said it was amateur and snoozy, the ladies (myself included) said minimal and sexy. Maybe tracks like Islands and Heart Skipped a Beat are a bit austere for Bonnaroo, but I thought they held up to the blog hype very well.
D.C.’s Wale nearly pulled a Kanye, showing up significantly late to his set. He’d have to win back some of the booing attendees with a big set. I felt like he did. A chantworthy Chillin’ had people rushing he stage and Nike Boots got the appropriate hip-hop hand waves and headbobs.
-- Carole Liparoto, tbt*. Photos: Getty Images (Kings of Leon) and AP (Conan O'Brien, She and Him, The xx).