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Festival Review: CoS at Bonnaroo 2012

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bonnaroo 2012 logo Festival Review: CoS at Bonnaroo 2012

Another year, another Bonnaroo: one long, grueling weekend, filled with lines to write home about, clouds of dust, and the hottest weather you can imagine. That’s how it goes every year, right? Actually, this year broke the cycle — and in many ways. Gone were the impossibly long entrance lines of old. This time around, you could get to Manchester on Thursday morning and be inside the gates to set up camp within a half an hour. (The longest wait I personally heard of this year was only three hours, a time that used to be on the low end of the spectrum.) There was also a noticeable lack of dust; while the stuff is impossible to fully eliminate, Bonnaroo staff seemingly took extra measures this year to suppress it. And, in a bit of luck, the intolerable heat took an extended vacay, as the temperature never reached 90 degrees, and the highs even dipped into the 70s on Thursday and Sunday.

For their eleventh year, the good folks at Bonnaroo went above and beyond to improve the experience all around. In the attendee handbook, they outlined a few steps they took, which included groundskeeping improvements like installing Bermuda grass in formerly barren areas around the Which and What stages and planting over a hundred indigenous trees throughout the festival grounds. They added four new water stations in Centeroo to accomodate the traffic, and they even added more port-a-johns as well, nearly all of which in Centeroo were shaded to keep temperatures down. What’s more, they also expanded the grounds of Centeroo, pushing the Comedy Tent in a corner that used to be fenced off, offering festivalgoers even more room to breathe.

Even with all the improvements and ideal circumstances for the weekend, it’s still a marathon and not a sprint. It takes a certain brand of person to make it through a whole Bonnaroo weekend, and yet each year a new flock of 80,000 descend upon Manchester for another weekend stuffed to the brim with music, comedy, movies, food, sports, camping and community. This year’s edition was highlighted by the return of Radiohead to The Farm and the return of D’Angelo to the U.S. stage, but there was so much more in between. From Danzig to Skrillex, Kenny Rogers to Danny Brown, and Phish to Feist, this lineup had something for everyone. But all music aside, this year’s iteration of the festival may have just been the best one yet. It wasn’t just another Bonnaroo — it was a new and improved Bonnaroo, and it’s never going back.

-Carson O’Shoney
Senior Staff Writer

Thursday

EMA – The Other Tent – 4:15 p.m.

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

South Dakota noise-folkie Erika M. Anderson (aka EMA) had the dubious honor/misfortune to be one of the first artists to perform all weekend. As such, the crowd during her performance was chock full of looky loos who ended up leaving after one song (come on guys, at least make it to “California”). That mild rudeness thankfully didn’t have any effect on EMA’s performance, which not surprisingly consisted almost entirely of tracks off last year’s stellar Past Life Martyred Saints. Midway through her set, Anderson asked the audience, “Do you mind if we play noisy and rock the fuck out?” before launching into an especially shoegazy rendition of the slow-burning “Butterfly Knife”. As the temperatures pushed up into the low nineties, it was easy to relate to Anderson as she sang “In the desert underneath the light/ it’s 20 kisses with a butterfly knife.” -Bryant Kitching

Kendrick Lamar – This Tent – 10:00 p.m

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Photo by Lilian Cai

Thursday night at Bonnaroo typically features up-and-coming acts who will likely make the leap into the mainstream in the coming months and, conversely, rise to high profile stages the following summer. Last year J. Cole was granted the opportunity; he released Cole World three months later and hasn’t looked back. This year, the festival tagged Kendrick Lamar. The choice was logical, given the burning anticipation surrounding his debut studio album, Good Kid in a Mad City, and how his first single, “The Recipe”, is ubiquitous in the rap community (And, yeah, it doesn’t hurt Dr. Dre is championing him as his next great protege). While he may not have had the same crowd size as Ludacris did the following afternoon, Lamar turned profound intrigue into reality. Like most rappers, Lamar spent much of his set touting that he is “the best rapper in the game” yet unlike most rappers, however, Lamar has the chops to make his case. Particularly endearing was his performance of the crowd-pleasing “A.D.H.D”, as fans jubilantly recited the lyrics – mostly about excessive drug use – into the cool summer night. -Ryan Hadfield

Phantogram – The Other Tent – 10:15 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Leading up to the festival, most of the buzz surrounding Thursday night was directed towards the Alabama Shakes. However, it ended up being Phantogram that people were buzzing about late Thursday night and into Friday morning. Proving that they were too big for The Other Tent to handle, Phantogram’s crowd was huge – not quite to the ridiculous Sleigh Bells levels of last year, but close. With a setlist comprised mostly of their debut album, Eyelid Movies, and their 2011 EP, Nightlife, the two piece played a bass and beat heavy set that pumped up their diverse crowd. Every song was tinged in the perfect complimentary lighting, creating a wonderfully moody atmosphere. Three years removed from their first and only album, these guys snuck in and stole the opening night show. -Carson O’Shoney

Alabama Shakes – This Tent – 11:30 p.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

This Tent overflowed on the opening showcase night of the fest as thousands awaited the long-anticipated set by the fame-blazing Alabama Shakes. With the sweet sounds of Otis Redding beckoning the band onstage, Brittany Howard and her band mates’ laid-back R&B stylings filled the tent to its peaks, and their power was evident at every turn. Hot single “Hold On” popped up early on, leaving room for most of their debut, Boys & Girls, and from there they acted like true festival veterans. “Lemme take y’all somewhere,” Howard boasted, taking charge of their audience and proving that their collective fire pit of Southern soul translated to nearly any Bonnaroo attendee, from drunken frat boy to middle-aged onlooker. At times, Howard traded her sultry pipes for some fret-flaming rockabilly guitar work punctuated by gospel organ and heavy soul bass. To close out their set, the Shakes welcomed New Orleans’ own the Soul Rebels on stage for a final jazz horn send off parade to Centeroo. Electrified and roaring, the crowd filtered away from the tent wide-eyed. -Liz Lane 

Friday

Michael Kiwanuka – That Tent – 12:15 p.m.

Perhaps his noon start time was a bit early for the Bonnaroo masses who were likely still recovering from the night before, but the comfortable amount of people attending Michael Kiwanuka’s set made for a perfect way to kick off the first full day of shows. This year’s winner of the coveted BBC Sound of 2012 Award delivered one of the festival’s more intimate performances with his silky smooth jazz rock that swam through the audience like a warm cup of tea the morning after a night of partying. The fact that all of my friends had left me in favor of The Kooks quickly became a non-issue thanks to choice cuts off Kiwanuka’s debut LP, Home Again, like his Van Morrison-esque “Tell Me A Tale”, as well as a delicate cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Waterfall”. -Bryant Kitching

tUnE-yArDs – This Tent – 1:45 p.m.

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

Anybody who ever thought the face paint, tribal yells and saxophone shenanigans of a tUnE-yArDs set would get old seriously underestimates Merrill Garbus. Though heavily routinized, starting as per usual with a rousing series of “Do you want to live? Yeah!” chants and steadily-built snare loops, Garbus’ enthusiasm was so genuine that you can’t help but dance and attempt to sing along. Breezing through most of w h o k i l l and tossing in “Real Live Flesh” from BiRd-BrAiNs, her vivacity was matched only by her humility, mentioning repeatedly how grateful the band was to be there playing for a shockingly large audience. The onslaught of “Gangsta”, “Bizness” and “My Country” in a row to end the show left the crowd wiping the remains of their face paint from their foreheads and wanting more. -Caitlin Meyer

Two Door Cinema Club – This Tent – 3:15 p.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

The viral spread of “What You Know” and the lack of scheduling conflicts lead to a huge crowd that piled in to see Irish poppy dance-punk outfit Two Door Cinema Club, leaving insufficient room to dance as the band blazed through nearly all of 2010’s Tourist History. “Undercover Martyn” and “I Can Talk” won the crowd’s collective heart with shrill yells and loud singalongs. The band also previewed a fair amount of promising new material to fill the lengthy set time, which dabbled in math rock and strayed from the pounding, up-tempo uhn-tiss-uhn-tiss that characterizes their music to date. Whether or not the ravenous “What You Know” fans appreciated the fresh material, the show as a whole was a sweaty, exhausting one – just what the bass player demanded halfway through. -Caitlin Meyer

Laura Marling – That Tent – 3:30 p.m.

Maybe it was the unrelenting sunshine, the 90-degree temperatures, or Laura Marling’s trademark sad sack acoustic ballads, but something about the UK singer’s set on Friday afternoon didn’t sit well with the crowd at That Tent. After wallowing in sweat and dust all day, it seemed like something with a little more energy would have been better suited to fill the timeslot. Before launching into “Blackberry Stone” Marling even apologized to the unexpectedly small audience for the songs’ “depressing” subject matter. Amidst feedback issues and frat boy catcalls (I seriously doubt Marling encounters many fans screaming “You’re hot!” when she tours in her home country), other songs like “Salinas” and “Night After Night” slowly unfurled, never exceeding a mild walking pace. -Bryant Kitching

Caitlin Rose – Great Taste Lounge – 4:00 p.m.

Friday afternoon marked Nashville native Caitlin Rose’s second appearance at Bonnaroo, but it will likely be her last in the cafes. She’s only gotten bigger since winning a bid to play Bonnaroo in 2010, and things keep looking up for the young songstress. Introducing her band as “Caitlin Rose and the Hawaiians” – as the four man band all donned Hawaiian shirts to fit the summertime mood – Rose played a good mix of new and old songs. She engaged the audience with a cool presence and charming banter. She even looked to the audience for a tambourine after she realized she didn’t have one, and only at Bonnaroo would a random audience member actually have one to give. The twangy set – accentuated by the slide guitar – was a perfect mid-afternoon treat. -Carson O’Shoney

The Avett Brothers – What Stage – 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Frequent Bonnaroo mainstays, the Avetts finally enjoyed playing from the main stage to a gigantic crowd Friday afternoon. The quartet jangled through their repertoire in their signature rowdy fashion (made rowdier in the festival setting) and did justice to two Doc Watson covers (“Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” and “Down to the River to Pray”) The set standout came during “Kick Drum Heart” when Seth shouldered an electric guitar and emitted one heavy, Zeppelin-esque guitar breakdown. The brothers incited a cloud of dust from the foot-stomping crowd with the raucous conclusion of “Laundry Room” that spilled over into “I Killed Sally’s Lover”. “There’s a lot of love in the field,” Scott assured as he surveyed the adoring crowd from the What Stage, closing out the set with “Die, Die, Die” and “Talk on Indolence”. -Liz Lane 

Feist – Which Stage – 6:15 p.m.

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

As Leslie Feist took to the Which Stage on Friday evening as the sun began to fall behind the trees, murmurs about the steadily growing crowd for Radiohead’s headlining set had already begun. A few diehards even chose to duck out early to make their way to the main stage. Despite this, Feist brought the goods with a solid set that was heavy on older classics like “I Feel It All”, “I’m Sorry”, and a sinister reworking of “Mushaboom” that substituted slow-burning feedback for the cutesy bubblegum of the studio version. She also showcased her down to earth charm with some of the more hilarious stage banter of the festival, jokingly commenting that she was wearing a Radiohead-themed bra. Newer songs were laced with the old-timey Southern harmonies of all girl trio Mountain Man, who served as her backing vocalists. Dressed casually and looking more like she was on her way to a picnic than a rock concert, Feist easily won the weekend’s award for most ass kicked while wearing a sundress. -Bryant Kitching

Ludacris – That Tent – 6:45 p.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

Upon first glance, Ludacris might be the most head-scratching inclusion on this year’s Bonnaroo lineup. Even more perplexing was the decision to put the multi-platinum rapper in a tent instead of a stage. Bonnaroo might not be his target audience, but plenty of people showed up and he ended up entertaining one of the largest crowds for a tent set of the entire weekend. With a full band in tow, the Atlanta-bred rapper tore through his discography going all the way back to his 1999 debut (“For the real Ludacris fans”) and mostly to all of his features in various songs over the years. His early singles shined, but the set’s lows were pretty low, from a side vs. side noise battle with the crowd to a DJ break that went on for about 15 minutes. On the plus side (maybe?), however, Ludacris created what might have been Bonnaroo’s first strip club, taking the audience “back to Atlanta”, with a stripper pole on stage, utilized by two to three dancers at a time, who danced in all sorts of crazy positions. By the time he reached the Chicken-n-Beer portion of the set, where he released balloons of – you guessed it – chicken and beer, the set had reached a point where it just became so ridiculous and fun that the rest didn’t matter. -Carson O’Shoney

Foster The People – Which Stage – 8:45 p.m.

Donning an all-white suit, frontman Mark Foster led his People to close the Which Stage on Friday night. The aesthetics of the transcendent light show and Foster’s vibrant on-stage antics had the crowd swaying to the tunes and, more importantly, the set disproved any doubts about whether the Los Angeles-based trio were worthy of headlining the Which Stage. Of course, it helps that Foster the People’s catalog features grandiose tracks working off overt effects aided by Foster’s calming vocals, though the ringleader gets credit here too. He was engaged throughout, interacting with the crowd while displaying his versatility as a musician, hopping between guitar, piano, and even some percussion. He enlivened fans halfway through the set during “Call It What You Want” and appeased the masses finishing the set with an extended rendition of “Pumped Up Kicks”. -Ryan Hadfield

PUJOL – Great Taste Lounge – 9:20 p.m.

Being slotted right before Radiohead at a tiny venue nowhere near What Stage could have easily been a big blow to PUJOL’s morale. Instead, the sparse crowd was destroyed with 30 minutes of the Nashville punk’s blistering guitar riffs and enthusiastic choruses — and one of the best sets of the day. Highlights of the show included standouts from the recent United States of Being such as “DIY2K” and an abbreviated version of “Psychic Pain”, including audience favorites “Mayday” and “Black Rabbit” and the hilarious juxtaposition of the intense super-fans trying to crowd surf and mosh in a pit of 20 with the confused passersby stumbling through on their way to Thom Yorke. -Caitlin Meyer

Radiohead – What Stage – 10:00 p.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

It’s hard to overstate Radiohead’s importance to Bonnaroo. By now, their 2006 headlining set has become the stuff of legend, and it’s widely regarded as the single moment that really put Bonnaroo on the map. Radiohead played their (still) longest show ever, with a deep and varied setlist, and Thom Yorke was later quoted as saying it was the band’s best show in “years and years.” That show helped Bonnaroo evolve from “niche hippie festival” to the quintessential U.S. destination festival. With that legendary show came sky high expectations for their triumphant return to Manchester, this year headlining on Friday night. The band was in high spirits throughout the show, with Yorke all but cracking jokes on stage (e.g. “How are you all sleeping? Face down in the mud? That’s how we do it in England.”). Opening with standard tour opener “Bloom”, the band presented a setlist that touched on every album from OK Computer to The King of Limbs. The light show – a mix between the multi-screens of their ’06 tour and the lined LEDs of the ’08 tour – provided a treat no matter how far back in the enormous crowd you were.

The sound on the What Stage, which can sometimes be problematic, rang perfect throughout Radiohead’s set. Everything came through crystal clear, which especially helped during the quieter songs. When the band sorted through “The Daily Mail”, the Farm became as quiet as I’ve ever heard it. Even far in the back, the audience remained both respectful and enthralled throughout the performance. The main set – highlighted by standouts like “Kid A”, “Karma Police”, and “I Might Be Wrong” – ended with a raucous rendition of “Idioteque” that left tens of thousands cheering until the band came back on stage. “Do you want some more?” Yorke asked wryly, responding with his best Clay Davis impression of “Sheeeeit” when the crowd reacted by cheering even louder. It was during the first encore that the most intriguing bit of news from the whole weekend came to light. Yorke dedicated “Supercollider” to Jack White – prompting cheers from the Tennessee-cultured crowd – saying, “We saw him yesterday. A big thank you to him, but we can’t tell you why. You’ll find out.”

Closing the first encore and second encore with the biggest crowd pleasers of the night in “Everything In Its Right Place” and “Paranoid Android”, respectively, Radiohead satisfied the average festival attendee by leaving them with their biggest “hits”. All in all, the UK outfit’s return to Bonnaroo was a successful one. They turned out a solid set, with a good setlist, but it could never live up to the plateau that is the 2006 show. Luckily, it didn’t need to, as the Farm was buzzing the rest of the weekend about Radiohead’s gripping set on Friday. Hey, as long as the crowd comes out happy, the rest doesn’t matter. -Carson O’Shoney

Black Star – That Tent – 12:30 a.m.

“We are the mighty Black Star from Brooklyn, New York.” That’s all Mos Def – now Yasiim Bey – had to say to get the late night crowd into a frenzy. While he and partner Talib Kweli were 20 minutes late to their Friday night set, few hardly groaned once they hit the stage, and the two owned That Tent for just about an hour. Bringing along only a DJ, Bey and Kweli worked mostly from their 1998 self-titled debut (and still only album), only straying from it to pay homage to their peers (like an a cappella “Juicy” in tribute to Biggie) and play one of the duo’s most well known solo songs – Kweli’s “Get By”. Mos Def’s recent name change was reflected in their on stage banter, but left alone for the better when playing an extended version of their biggest song to date, “Definition”. While not the strongest set of the weekend, it was a great opportunity for true hip-hop heads to see this seminal group in the flesh, making it a highlight for many. -Carson O’Shoney

Flying Lotus – That Tent – 2:00 a.m.

Forgoing the moody atmospherics of his last album Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus’ late night Friday set was a big party in That Tent. Spinning a wide variety of songs – from the Jackson 5 to Portishead – Flying Lotus attracted more people as his set wore on. Passersby were drawn in by the big beats and heavy bass of an artist they may have overlooked previously. Keeping a steady beat and never taking a break, his own songs were adrenalized to fit the style of the rest of the set. He threw his hat into the long list of MCA tributes throughout the weekend, dropping Beastie Boys classic “Intergalactic” towards the end to fire up the crowd. Fans both new and old also loved his sped up versions of club bangers “Purple Swag” and “Niggas in Paris” — also, listening to thousands of people trying to speed rap to “A Milli” provided the best comedy of the night. Although the newer fans might be disappointed by the slower tempo found in Lotus’ recorded material, they’ll likely remember this thriving party. -Carson O’Shoney

Saturday

LP – Great Taste Lounge – 4:00 p.m

While the stage at The Great Taste Lounge was probably the smallest on The Farm, the fact that it was sandwiched between a crowded water fountain and a row of food vendors proved to hurt the intimacy during LP’s Bonnaroo debut. Regardless, the rising star made more with less in a showcase of her talents as a performer and songwriter. Primarily known for “Into the Wild”, which was recently used in a Citi commercial, LP’s insane vocal range and affinity for soaring guitar hooks made her seem all but destined for a larger stage. Her cover of Beyonce’s “Halo” alone was enough to clog up the aforementioned row of vendors with people stopping to catch a glimpse. Heads up Bonnaroo 2014, better make sure Which Stage is ready for LP. -Bryant Kitching

The Punch Brothers – Which Stage – 4:00 p.m.

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Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The New York City bluegrass collective led by Chris Thile came to their late-afternoon set dressed in dapper three-piece suits and vests in the hot Tennessee sun. The quintet harnessed their respective stringed instruments, playing a variety of instrumental jams and singles from their newest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?. Apart from their originals, the band produced crowd-favorite standout bluegrass covers of the Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage”, Radiohead’s “Kid A”, and Beck’s “Sex Laws.” “Two worlds of music that should have never been separated,” Thile said. “Beck and bluegrass.” To close out their set, the Punch Brothers toasted the crowd with their drinks and launched into their hit “Rye Whiskey”. -Liz Lane 

Santigold – What Stage – 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Walking onto the monstrous What Stage grounds for the first time since seeing Radiohead’s set the night before, it’s safe to say that my bar had been set pretty damn high. With that in mind, more credit should be given to Santigold for delivering a more than worthy performance full of enough wacky stage antics to make Wayne Coyne smirk. Backed by a three-piece band donning some sort of Egyptian headgear and two bootylicous female dancers dressed like they just came from shooting a bad 80’s aerobics video, the spectacle of Santigold’s stage show alone was enough to warrant her slot on the festival’s main stage. Despite the fact that she’s currently touring the world on her new LP, Master of My Make Believe, Santi was all smiles as she ripped through classics off her 2008 debut, even inviting members of the audience on stage to dance during “Creator”. Oh yeah, and there was a horse. -Bryant Kitching

Puscifer – That Tent – 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by FilmMagic

With his bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, Maynard James Keenan spends much of his time on-stage hidden in the background, rarely addressing the crowd. But with his other other band Puscifer, he entertains the spotlight some. Donning a pilot outfit complete with a mustache and a Flintstones tie, Keenan was in a jovial mood Saturday evening, even throwing out “Vagina Airlines” peanuts to the “hippies” in the crowd. With a stage show that featured framed video screens, Puscifer mostly kept to the electronic, dirty, and playful mood of their albums. For those stuck way in the back, the show wasn’t too enthralling, as the music itself is, at best, decent. However, those up front were part of a crazy stage show chock full of bizarre hi jinx, so, yeah, that must have been fun. -Carson O’Shoney

SBTRKT – This Tent – 5:15 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

London-based producer SBTRKT took the stage nearly 20 minutes late due to technical problems, but the following 40 were well worth the delay. Joined onstage by frequent featured vocalist Sampha, Aaron Jerome took to the drum kit and the duo proceeded to mix live tracks with ease with the signature masks. While there was surprisingly no Little Dragon appearance, “Wildfire” still brought the lethargic crowd to life, and the extended groove built around “Living Like I Do” was the climax of the set. Sampha’s vocals blended impeccably with the cacophony of looped drum beats, taking the modest crowd (due to a time conflict with Santigold) to a different dimension and offering further proof of musicianship in the post-dubstep landscape. -Caitlin Meyer

Childish Gambino – Which Stage – 6:15 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Donald Glover’s rapping alter ego Childish Gambino exposed himself as one of the biggest surprise hits of the entire festival with his hipster-friendly flows and stage charisma pouring from every inch of his body. Plagued early on by technical difficulties, Glover responded by busting out a vicious freestyle that namedropped both tUnE-yArDs and his soon-to-be-cancelled NBC sitcom Community. While slower cuts like “L.E.S.” toyed with the attention span of the noticeably young audience, with tracks like “Bonfire” and “You See Me” in his back pocket, Glover was able to control the energy of the crowd with the precision of a skilled, well, standup comedian. He delivered lines like “Hot like a parked car/ I sound weird like nigger with a hard ‘R’” as if they were punch lines, which beefed up their bite force in a way that’s impossible to experience on record. -Bryant Kitching

The Roots – What Stage – 7:30 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

At this point, The Roots have become a well-oiled machine. You can always count on them to turn in an impossibly solid set, and Saturday’s prime spot before the Red Hot Chili Peppers was no different. When on stage, they’re a different band than they are on your T.V. every night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. No longer light and charming, they attack the senses from all sides: from Captain Kirk’s blazing guitar solos and Black Thought’s vicious rhymes to ?uestlove’s perfection at the skins and Tuba Gooding Jr., well, he’s still pretty goofy. With such a deep discography to work from, and so many people on stage to work with, no two Roots sets are ever alike. Even if the setlists end up being similar, the long freestyle jazz breaks differentiate them from one another. Introduced by Bonnaroo veteran J.B. Smoove, The Roots dedicated this set to the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, and the Beastie Boys’ MCA. Black Thought was on point, ?uestlove proved he’s still the best drummer around — all in all it was just another in a long line of shows that have earned The Roots the title of Best Live Hip-Hop Band on the Planet. -Carson O’Shoney

Red Hot Chili Peppers – What Stage – 10:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

When it comes to setlists, there’s something to be said for leaving the obscure and novel behind, and staying in your lane. That’s what the Red Hot Chili Peppers did during their headlining set at Bonnaroo on Saturday night. The California collective played a two-hour set stuffed with hit after hit (after hit), all devoid of a let down. “Give It Away”, “Scar Tissue”, “Under the Bridge”, “By The Way”, you name it, they played it (the sole omission being “Soul to Squeeze” which personally killed me, but whatever). It felt like the newly-inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were at the intersection of contemporary relevancy and appreciated longevity, which made them perfect candidates to headline Roo’.

More impressive was the widespread satisfaction evidenced by the gleeful expressions of the audience as they dispersed the What Stage. And this makes sense, the Chili Peppers’ sound is tailored for the average Bonnaroo attendee. In short, they’re musical savants with a unique style that (somehow) still appeals to a universal audience. So while Flea flashed his improvisation skills on bass in between songs, fans patiently waited because they knew the payoff was coming with one of the Chilis hits.

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The trajectory of a musician’s career is difficult to read. Unlike other forms of entertainment (like sports or acting), an artists’ precipice is tough to foresee just as their ascent is impossible to predict. You never know when the creative gene will dissipate, but what’s remarkable about the Chili Peppers is that I’m not sure if they’ve even reached their prime. -Ryan Hadfield

Superjam ft. ?uestlove and D’Angelo – This Tent – 12:15 a.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Rumors about the Superjam had been spreading ever since it was announced that ?uestlove would be at the helm of this year’s edition. Who would join him? Flea? Thom Yorke? In the end, the answer turned out to be someone who wasn’t on the lineup at all – in fact, he hadn’t been on stage on American soil in over 12 years. Though the secret had been spreading around the Farm all Saturday afternoon, the crowd let out a collective sigh of disbelief when ?uestlove finished his introduction and stated, “I’ve been waiting 12 years to say this. Ladies and gentlemen, D’Angelo.” Joined by fellow Roots members Captain Kirk, Frankie Knuckles, and James Poyser, ?uestlove also invited The Who’s current bassist Pino Palladino, Prince & The Revolution saxophonist Eric Leeds, The Time guitarist Jesse Johnson, and P-Funk backup vocalist Kendra Foster to form a supergroup of rare funk.

?uestlove explained that the purpose of this Superjam was to take the audience in a time machine, back to Electric Ladyland studios, where he primarily worked out of the majority of his career. The spirit of collaboration was alive and well in This Tent that night, as the group started off with Jimi Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” and worked their way through a history of funk jams like “Hit It and Quit It”, “Pride and Vanity”, “Funky Dollar Bill”, and “My Summertime Thang”, even throwing in some Led Zeppelin (“What Is and What Should Never Be”) and The Beatles (“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”). The pure joy on ?uestlove’s face told the audience all we needed to know: he was living a dream come true. D’Angelo was in classic form as he hit every note both high or low with perfection. Not bad coming from a guy who’s been a recluse for, say, something like a decade.

superjambonnaroo2012slevin Festival Review: CoS at Bonnaroo 2012

True to the name of the set, the band had jamming to spare, and even those who weren’t familiar with D’Angelo or his story were enraptured by the set. Every piece worked together so well to create something even bigger than the sum of its massive parts. From the smooth, jazzy breaks to the blazing crescendos, everything just gelled, which is even more remarkable considering the short amount of time the band had to put this all together. After the show ended, ?uestlove returned to address the encore pleas and explain that the band simply didn’t know any more songs. “We literally crammed all those songs into like six hours,” said ?uest. “The dinner break was when the Roots did the show on the mainstage.” After the band’s final extended jam, an elated ?uestlove simply said, “You were here. You saw it.” He understood how historic the moment was, and so did we. -Carson O’Shoney

Skrillex – Which Stage – 1:30 a.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

Skrillex. In a spaceship. 3:30 a.m. How the hell do you think it was? -Bryant Kitching

Unchained “The Mighty Van Halen Tribute” – That Tent – 2:00 a.m

As Alice Cooper’s guillotine and sex doll were being torn down and the crowd scooted toward the stage, anxiety and anticipation levels were high. Bonnaroo couldn’t have booked a Van Halen cover band for late night, late night is sacred. Jack White wasn’t on the ‘Roo schedule. Thom Yorke and Flea were both on the farm. These three simple sentences compounded into a rumor mill that had Jack White, Atoms for Peace, a Thom Yorke DJ set, and a secret Phish set all at once gracing the stage for those fortunate enough to waste enough time online to figure it out. Instead, there was the frontman in too-tight leather pants. The extended, exaggerated guitar solos. “Panama”, “Hot for Teacher”, and “Jump”. Unchained was real and the hopes and dreams of the crowd were obliterated. And doused in Jack Daniels and set on fire. For over two hours.

To Unchained’s credit, they are a damn good Van Halen tribute band and strangely generous, sharing a fifth of whiskey with the front row of the waning audience. Through the likes of “Drop Dead Legs” the profound words of David Lee Roth filled the near-empty tent and the eerily accurate Roth-impersonating frontman frolicked about, shredding his setlist and having the time of his life. The faithful stayed to the end, hoping for Jack White to hop in on “Runnin’ with the Devil”, or maybe Thom Yorke could collaborate on the randomly thrown-in Led Zeppelin encore. But as the rain fell and the clock struck 4:30 a.m., there was nobody but Unchained. We’ll never know why and some people may be angry, but, hey, it got me out of seeing Skrillex. -Caitlin Meyer

Sunday

Kathleen Edwards – The Other Tent – 1:30 p.m.

Sunday’s overcast weather provided an ideal backdrop for Kathleen Edwards’ Canadian folk rock. The crowd at the Other Tent seemed the welcome the mellow set, a mixture of ages running on their last bits of energy on Bonnaroo’s last day. Edwards’ set centered on material from her latest album, Voyageur, with standouts “Chameleon/Comedian” and “Change the Sheets”. Edwards’ asked the crowd, “Everyone go to church this morning? Well, this is church” as she picked up the fiddle for “12 Bellevue”. The relaxed atmosphere yielded beautiful organ, guitar, and string jams from the feisty songstress and her band—a comforting set for the final day on the farm. -Liz Lane 

Black Lips – Which Stage – 1:45 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

An early morning drizzle may have further slowed down the already jet lagged Black Lips, who admitted onstage to flying in from Portugal earlier that day. Considering the Atlanta flower punks’ reputation for crazy stage antics, their set was surprisingly low-key. It only consisted of a few beers being smashed over heads and a huge toilet paper fight during “Katrina”. Arguably the most head-turning moment was guitarist Cole Alexander’s subtle dig on Skrillex, who had performed on the Which Stage a mere ten hours earlier. He spouted, “You guys like shitty music, but that’s okay because I do too. Rock ‘n’ roll. The original electronic music.” -Bryant Kitching

Reggie Watts – Comedy Theatre – 2:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

I like to imagine that Reggie Watts panics when he only has a 30 minute timeslot. Even though he’d performed four times already, 30 more minutes in the Comedy Theatre was probably not enough for him to dump the stream of consciousness stand-up/musical comedy he had left in his brain over the weekend. Every Reggie Watts show is an improvised stream of mixing Dadaism and Virginia Woolf, with the occasional punchline and gyrating dancemoves.  As expected from a Reggie Watts show, the looping and beats were phenomenal, the subject matter ranged from a song about properly making cannabutter, quantum physics, and fiddling with a microphone for four minutes. In the end, 30 minutes might have been enough for Reggie Watts to wow and humor the audience, but not enough for the audience to even remotely peer through the afro and into his mind. -Michael Zonenashvili

The Beach Boys – What Stage – 3:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

When Bonnaroo released their schedule for this year, many were surprised to see the fully reunited Beach Boys, celebrating their 50th year, slated to play a 3:00 p.m. show. On the other hand, I could not think of a more perfect mid-afternoon band than the California royalty. While the weather was cool and cloudy, not bright and sunny like their music suggests, it still proved to be a perfect spot for the band. Surrounded by 14 studio musicians, The Beach Boys played songs from all across their 50-year history, from early singles like “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, “Surfin’ Safari”, and “409” to songs from their brand new album, That’s Why God Made the Radio, like its titular track and “Isn’t It Time”. The crowd was most familiar with, and appreciative of, Brian Wilson – who was relegated to backing vocals for much of the first half of the show but shone in the latter half. Each original member had their share of leading vocals, but Mike Love was the de facto frontman for much of the show. Even after 50 years, the group’s beautiful harmonies were in tact, and the backing band accentuated each song by staying on point.

Sure, the show was a little cheesy at times, but it’s hard to expect anything else from a band of 60 and 70 somethings. They made up for any shortcomings by giving Wilson a showcase and playing a four song string of perfection: “Sloop John B” into “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, followed by “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations”. In a nice coincidence, a light rain drizzled through the Farm during these songs and only these songs. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the band could have come on stage and played only those songs and everyone would have been perfectly satisfied. But they ended up playing their full hour and a half – which included over 30 songs – and cheesy or not, it was always fun, fun, fun. -Carson O’Shoney

Ben Folds Five – Which Stage – 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

Their first performance together in 12 years, Ben Folds Five’s Sunday set at Bonnaroo was predictable goofball piano rock. A set heavy on material from their self-titled debut and Whatever and Ever Amen found Ben Folds performing his typical, antics: “your mom” lyrics, conducting crowd sing-alongs to “Army”, and the traditional “shootin’ the bird” photo. It was a flashback set balanced with sing-along favorites “Jackson Cannery”, “Brick”, and “Kate”. Robert Sledge’s bass work was a welcome sight after years of absence and the trio sounded tight but only average given the predictability factor of Folds’ live performances.

After ripping through “Song for the Dumped”, Folds broke a piano string, jumped into his instrument to remove it, and tossed it into the crowd. Closing the set with “Undergound”, the trio returned for an encore of “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”, bidding the audience farewell with talk of a new self-released album due later this year. A nostalgic set for devoted BFF fans, the trio’s energy was mostly lost on the fatigued Sunday crowd. -Liz Lane 

Bon Iver – What Stage – 5:30 p.m.

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

By all accounts, Bon Iver should not be popular enough to hold down the subheadlining spot on the main stage of a major festival. Justin Vernon’s music is far too subtle, isn’t traditionally catchy, and stays mid to low tempo almost all the time. Yet somehow the legend of Bon Iver has grown from “cabin in the woods” guy to full fledged rock star – collaborating with Kanye West, fronting a ten-piece band, and headlining major festivals across the U.S. While some of his songs were still a little too quiet for the main stage, the majority of his set featured beefed up, fleshed out versions of his songs that proved he was worthy for such a stage. The talent of his band cannot be overstated, and they made even the most simple song sound big and bold. They even dove into a few jazzy breaks, adding a special feel for the set beyond what you would find on a Bon Iver album.

The weather cooperated in fine form for the set, staying cloudy and gloomy, which went hand in hand with the music. Past single “Skinny Love” brought a jovial sing-a-long, and with recent hit “Holocene” coming right before it, a portion of the crowd had seen all they needed to see and headed for other sets. The majority stayed, and were treated to standouts like “Beth/Rest” and set closer “For Emma”. Fans here were treated to a rare treat: a band that’s already become huge in a non-traditional way, but are very much still on the rise. If after two albums they’ve already played one of the biggest spots at Bonnaroo, don’t be surprised if they come back as a legit headliner next time around. -Carson O’Shoney

The Shins – Which Stage – 6:30 p.m. 

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

Quietly, The Shins eased into their set early Sunday evening with “Kissing the Lipless”, introducing themselves to the staggering Sunday masses with one of the most unassuming sets of Bonnaroo. They’re an adorable in-your-face retro rock band, right? No one really seemed to notice, especially since James Mercer & Co. played a great deal of their hits early, flaunting “Caring is Creepy”, “Simple Song”, and “Australia” well before the halfway point. When “New Slang” sprung up, a buddy near me asked, “Are they done already,” referring to the hushed sound that barely emit from the Which Stage speakers. They should have amped this one up a bit to liven up the dwindling crowds that debated if they should make their way home. Minimal stage banter only added to the humdrum, but the final jam on closer “One by One All Day” juiced some energy into the show, though a little too late. -Liz Lane

fun. – That Tent – 6:45 p.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

If someone told me on Sunday morning that fun.’s set would be rowdier than the Black Lips, I probably would have done a spit take. Looking back, I should never have underestimated the Brooklyn trio, whose ubiquitous hit “We Are Young” has brought them unrivaled levels of notoriety in the past few months. Regardless, fun. roused the Sunday evening crowd and provided what was easily one of the true climaxes (dare I say the climax?) of the festival. Singer/band leader Nate Ruess visibly tried to repress an ear-to-ear smile for the entirety of his band’s hour long set, to little avail. He seemed all but bowled over by the passionate reception his songs received. But like any good frontman, he fed off that electric energy and the final one-two punch of the aforementioned “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” elicited a frenzied sing-along that brought everyone within earshot to a euphoric pop landscape — whether they originally intended to be along for the ride or not. -Bryant Kitching

Phish – What Stage – 8:00 p.m.

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Photo by Lilian Cai

For most of Sunday, the skies managed to cooperate save for the occasional spit of rain and ominous looking cloud. But by the time Phish took the stage for Bonnaroo’s closing double set, Mother Nature decided to unleash a heavier downpour onto what remained of the festival’s original 80,000 attendees. As bassist Mike Gordon slapped the opening riff to “Down With Disease”, the puddles that were scattered around the What Stage had morphed into full-on mud pits soon to be filled with a good 50,000 of the festival’s most devoted attendees. For the majority, the rain might have been a cue to pack up the tent and hit the road early, but when have you ever heard of a Phish fan to be afraid of a little dirt?

I know that all the Phish purists out there will probably have a gripe with the lack of extended jamming and the favoring of their radio-friendly songs like “Sample in a Jar” and “Character Zero”, but you’ve got to respect Anastasio & co. for at least trying not to be exclusionary. Of course, Bonnaroo began as a jam-centric entity, but it’s a different monster now, one where Skrillex can fly in on a spaceship and blast his EDM across the same stage mere hours after a band like Dispatch. Sunday night, Phish was in a true festival mindset in that their aim was to please as many people as possible — to reach across the aisle, if you will. And in that sense they succeeded as only a group with their storied history and skill set could have.

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Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

While the 30-minute jam sessions were in short supply, there was still a fair share of special moments worthy of a closing set. Kenny Rogers joined the band on stage just as the rain reached its peak for a rendition of “The Gambler”, which found all four members of Phish donning Kool-Aid smiles as they watched the country music icon take the lead. Later on, they also rewarded the crowd with an ultra rare performance of “Shafty”, last played in December of 2003. And finally, to quote Jake Cohen, CoS’s resident expert on all things Phish: “A first set Tweezer is sort of a big deal.”

Speaking as a casual listener and as a member of Phish’s target audience on Sunday night, to my ears there was hardly a beat missed or note not hit crisply throughout the entire marathon set. Walking back out of Centeroo towards the campgrounds one last time, legs caked in a layer of mud, it was hard not to feel satisfied with the period that those four dudes from Vermont were able to put on this year’s Bonnaroo. -Bryant Kitching

Gallery

Photographer(s): Lilian Cai, Chris Jorgensen, Nate Slevin

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