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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Matt Jordan from Bonnaroo: Feast for musical senses, from Ludacris to Radiohead

In the past Bonnaroo has been so hot that I wasn’t able to sleep past 8 a.m. Today I slept until almost 9am and considered myself lucky. After a quick gatorade and handful of animal crackers, it was on to day two!

 

Being that this is the first full day of Bonnaroo, fans wasted no time getting from their tents into the festival. Early in the day is a great time for musical discovery at Bonnaroo. This year I took a new friend’s advice and checked out the new R&B artist Michael Kiwanuka. He sounded like all kinds of great 60s R&B singers (especially Bill Withers) mixed with some of my favorite psych-folk artists of that period as well (Rodriguez). A surprise like that was a great way to start off the day.

 

Next I made my way to get an early spot for tUnE-yArDs’ set at This Tent. I knew she’d be a sure-fire great show, but I really underestimated the energy that would bouncing back and forth between her and the crowd. Her opening song asks “do you wanna live?” and the audience’s screams left no question as to their answer. Lead singer Merrill Garbus kept grinning at all the love coming her way; “what they say about Bonnaroo is true” she told the crowd after their cheers died down.

 

I made my first trip to the main stage to catch R&B superstars Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. This is the closest thing we’re going to see in contemporary times to another James Brown or Ike & Tina Revue. The Dap Kings are so incredibly tight that it’s unbelievable. They warmed the crowd up for a few minutes before introducing the star of the show, Sharon Jones. If you’ve never seen her stage show, you’ll need to trust me when I say that she’s got an energy and a charisma that’s tough to capture in a photograph. She’s a charming entertainer who’s also an incredible vocalist. It’s a tough act to not enjoy.

 

I followed a friend’s advice — always a great idea to plug a hole in your Bonnaroo schedule — and went to see Little Dragon. They were a great addition to my Friday afternoon. Their show was a great combination of the Tom Tom Club, dance-rock group Enon and 90s R&B — just what I needed mid-day on Friday.

 

Saturday’s lineup also gave me the chance to check out Feist, a performer I haven’t seen since Bonnaroo 2007. Her live show has grown immensely in the past five years. For starters, she’s got an excellent backing band, including three background singers. But mostly she seems more confident than she did back then — no doubt the result of years spent touring the globe behind hit albums. But whatever the cause for the boost to her live show, here’s hoping that magic never fails.

 

As varied as my day already was — afro-beat pop, throwback R&B and dance rock — it wouldn’t be complete without a little hip hop. Ludacris’ set was everything you hope, but rarely let yourself expect from an established hip hop artist. He played tons of his hits (“Area Codes,” “Number One Spot”) and really seemed to put everything he had into the performance. Even the cliche crowd involvement things he did (“the left side is the loudest side here!… no, the right side is the loudest!”) were somehow enjoyable. Other people obviously thought the same, as he had one of the biggest crowds all day — including the main stages.

 

Even though her time slot overlapped with Ludacris’ massively popular show, St Vincent drew in a supremely dedicated crowd that grew as her set progressed. One young fan in the front wrote “Marry Me, Annie” on his bare chest before she took the stage. She earned every bit of that adoration over the course of her set. She threw herself wholeheartedly into every guitar riff and vocal contortions to produce one of the best shows I’ve seen so far at Bonnaroo.

 

Radiohead had the honor of the first headlining spot of Bonnaroo 2012. The group last played here in 2006 during which they played their longest show to date. This show clocked in just a bit shy of that record-setting 2.5 hours, but it felt every bit as fulfilling as last time. They played new material (“Identikit,” “The Daily Mail”) sandwiched between almost two decades of material. They came back for two encores and ended the night with fan-favorite “Paranoid Android” off their critically acclaimed album OK Computer. You really can’t ask for anything better than that to end your night.

 

Late night Bonnaroo shows on Saturday were a beautiful mess. Major Lazer put on their crazed version of a primarily DJ-driven set. Diplo DJed from atop a replica boom box while dancers writhed around and occasionally jumped into the crowd to surf around before being spit out. Meanwhile Black Star brought together Mos Def and Talib Kweli for an all-star hip hop performance. Flying Lotus closed out the night with a 2 a.m. set that drew a surprising amount of people given how late he started. Just goes to show you that some people’s dedication knows no bounds.

 

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