Best & Worst Moments of Bonnaroo: Day 1

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Neon Indian / Photo by Matt Kiser
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

BEST WIDE-EYED DESCENT INTO DEBAUCHERY: NEON INDIAN
Perhaps the most stunning performance of Bonnaroo's first day was Neon Indian auteur Alan Palomo's full-band rendition of his good-naturedly dazed lo-fi bedroom concoctions at the That Tent. Coming on like a coy Marc Bolan with his frizz of dark hair and black vest, Palomo emoted in theatrical bursts, surrounded at center stage by vintage synths and tangles of wires, and backed by a firm-handed, longhair rock drummer, a giddy female keyboardist in a miniskirt, ripped tights, and fingerless gloves, and a dude in a baggy tracksuit playing a guitar with a screen embedded in the body that displayed images of faces, stars, and random grids. In other words, not exactly the soothing diaper-change of barely-there '80s nostalgia that "chillwave" usually represents. And it got even stranger during a riveting, bulked-up version of "Deadbeat Summer," when a crew of scantily-clad ladies wearing homemade feather headdresses (two of whom were fully topless with colorfully painted boobs) bounded onto the stage, cavorting around aimlessly, jiggling to the wistful musings about sunlit streets and a starlit abyss. Depending on your vantage point, it was either hilarious or pathetic, but Palomo just laughed and shrugged. His point was made: chillwave is now officially thawed.-- CHARLES AARON

BEST COOL-DOWN: THE XX
The xx have been accused of being a boring live band, and not without justification. The members of this London trio seemed to have ice in their veins on Thursday, specializing in hushed tones, minimal melodies, and barely-there beats. Their only consistent bit of flair came from intermittent blasts of sub-bass, borrowed from dub step. These Brits knowingly used this to their advantage, slowly building up tension, then delivering sweet release in the form of danceable pulse (as in "VCR") and a loving Chris Isaak tribute ("Infinity," which sounds just as good accompanied by the lyrics of Isaak's "Wicked Game"). Then, of course, the xx dismantled everything again with gothic aplomb, leaving the crowd pleasantly chilled. -- CHRIS MARTINS

BEST REMINDER THAT PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: BLITZEN TRAPPER
In theory, this Portland, OR, outfit could be Bonnaroo's mascot. Their sound is simultaneously jammy, rockin', countrified, proggy, and dancey in that flailing-your-arms sort of way. There's heady between-song banter -- "Did anyone teleport in? That's the best way to travel" -- and singer-guitarist Eric Earley strings dark fairytales and spaghetti westerns. But the initial rally of fans at the Other Tent thinned halfway through their 60-minute set. Tsk. Tsk. Those who remained were rewarded with tracks from their SPIN-approved new album, Destroyer of the Void, plus the two best songs from their 2008 release, Furr: "Lady on the Water," an acoustic strummer with organ bits, and its title track, a freaky country jam about transforming into a werewolf that was met with hoots and clap-alongs. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST PROPHETS OF BONNAROO: FANFARLO
Fanfarlo, one of the opening acts on Thursday afternoon, proved a perfect storm of exactly what should be expected over this long Bonnaroo weekend. Under ominously gathering clouds, the London band offered all the touchstones of quirky festival theatrics: twee pop instrumentation (xylophone, trumpet, electric violin), stage garb of varying pastels and plaids, and hazy couplets languidly delivered to a full tent of mud-covered fans. In their opener, single "The Walls Are Coming Down" (off 2009's Reservoir), frontman Simon Balthazar sang a folky sea shanty with characters that will "some day be forgotten and die one by one." And maybe they will, but first, they should consider visiting Bonnaroo. The mammoth corn dogs, alone, merit the trip. -- STACEY ANDERSON

BEST STUDIO NERD TRANSFORMATION: MIIKE SNOW
Synth-pop crew Miike Snow -- led by Swedish hitmaking duo Bloodshy & Avant, a.k.a. Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (Britney Spears' "Toxic"), plus Brooklyn singer Andrew Wyatt -- ditched the robes and masks they donned for their early, rather stiff performances, and decided to throw a dinnertime rave for their Bonnaroo debut at the This Tent, complete with dry ice, searchlights, and a thunderous, perfectly modulated sound mix that was one belting frontwoman away from diva house and one overblown keyboard flourish away from proggy spectacle. Artfully integrating xylophone and guitar and live drums with their swoony electronic beats, Karlsson and Winnberg positioned their gear upfront stage left, bobbing their heads and stoking the heaving sweat pit like they'd been watching old Chemical Brothers DVDs. No longer a muso side project, Miike Snow should now command all of the Swedes' most immaculate hooks. -- CA

BEST SEXY CHRIS MARTIN STAND-IN: TEMPER TRAP
After Kings of Leon, there's probably no other band at this year's Bonnaroo providing full-throated, chest-swelling, classic alternative-rock melodrama more effectively than Melbourne, Australia's Temper Trap, led by Indonesian-born singer (and burgeoning heartthrob) Dougy Mandagi. The band played to an enormous, female-centric crowd at the That Tent, and Mandagi, arms bulging in a sweaty white button-down, transfixed the room as he grabbed the mic with arena-rock hauteur, bellowing and soaring through the set's penultimate song, "Sweet Disposition" -- a shimmering Coldplay-esque epic that's been featured everywhere from the film (500) Days of Summer to an ad for Diet Coke to CBS' The Good Wife. It's masterfully composed pop-rock that will live forever on 2010 collegiate-Romeo mixtapes. And Mandagi delivers the soliloquy like a buff Olivier. -- CA

BEST INFECTIOUSNESS: LOCAL NATIVES
It's a quality that isn't always desirable at festivals, but Local Natives' catchy tunes proved harder to shake than a case of Burner's lip. The L.A. outfit made good on all of the Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear comparisons by delivering song after song of summery guitar-play, autumnal four-part harmonies, African-inspired percussion, and swelling, emotive hooks. The band wasn't afraid to sound pretty, and the crowd -- one of the day's loudest -- wasn't the least bit scared to reciprocate, especially during the sweltering ragga breakdowns of "Camera Talk" and the poolside ambiance of "Wide Eyes." A smoothed-out cover of Talking Heads' "Warning Signs" was equally well-received as the Natives' earnest closer "Airplanes," another "ooh" and "ahh"-laden original that echoed in the head for hours. -- CM

BEST CHEERLEADER: MAYER HAWTHORNE
This Ann Arbor, Michigan, Motown revivalist and his band looked ready to work a soda shop counter in light-colored suits and bow ties, but instead they paid attention to more current influences -- in both the frequently heavy bass guitar and Hawthorne's stage banter. "Did Boston win the game?" he asked the dreamy couples swing-dancing in the crowd, before segueing into the first bars of his single "Maybe So, Maybe No." And aside from his chipper enthusiasm for soul-pop, Hawthorne displayed a clear appreciation for other disparate artists at Bonnaroo and beyond, raving about fellow performers Neon Indian, Dave Matthews, and his "boys" Miike Snow, as well as rapping "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie to the pleasantly confounded audience. -- SARead More From Bonnaroo Day One On Page 2 >>

BEST 21ST-CENTURY, DEADPAN DOLLY PARTON: ELIZABETH COOK
This Florida native is a tell-it-as-it-is starlet who honors country's old guard while giving it a taste of reality. Like the hybrid of an American Apparel model and Dolly Parton, she wore white-framed hipster sunglasses, big gold hoop earrings, ankle boots, and a dangly beaded necklace under a sequined, Grand Ole Opry-approved red jacket with a floral print. And onstage at the Troo Lounge she led a four-piece band, including a violinist and searing electric guitarist, through simple country ballads while baring her sassy soul: "This song is called 'Heroin Addict Sister,'" she said in her high-pitched, cutesy drawl. She said another track, "Yes to Booty," was "about drunk sex," while "El Camino" was "about being seduced by someone inappropriate." Her non-music humor was just as charmingly observant: "There are helicopters here at Bonnaroo -- it's like Vietnam or something." -- WG

BEST WELCOMING CEREMONY: ENTRANCE BAND:
Trim Mars Volta's excess -- horns, hand drums, keyboards, flutes, etc., etc., etc. -- down to a power trio and you'd get something like this stoner-rock outfit, who kicked Bonnaroo off with a guitar fireworks show. Their sound is a lesson in explosive, frenetic axe heroics that's so fast and shape-shifting there isn't a millimeter of room for slacking off. Their bassist, ex-Perfect Circle and Zwan member Paz Lenchantin, is sexy cool, barefoot and bouncing and wriggling her long brown hair onstage, and frontman Guy Blakeslee is her amped-up masculine counterpart. In glossy white pleather pants, a suit vest, and a big 'fro, he climbed an amp and busted a move on their best song, "Grim Reaper Blues," blasting on an upside-down Fender Strat that was strung for a lefty. -- WG

WORST WAKEUP CALL: WALE
"I fell asleep in my trailer and nobody came and got me." So confessed Wale, as he sleepily ambled into the genial trainwreck that was his closing set at This Tent on Bonnaroo's opening day. The Washington, D.C.-area rapper was 30 minutes late taking the stage, leaving his DJ and hypeman to try and sate the overflow crowd -- Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement" had everybody happily throwing up Roc-a-Fella diamonds, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" drew groans. When Wale finally appeared, after an unexpected intro from legendary festival obsessive Beatle Bob, the show never really caught a stride, though "World Tour" (his version of A Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour") and crossover pop grab "Chillin'" set off bouts of crowd-surfing. "Fuck radio, fuck the clubs...fuck all this double-platinum," he spat, obviously still stung by the reception of his major-label debut Attention Deficit. Wale's got star-power, but he can't complain about being slept-on when he's snoozing too. -- CA

BEST USE OF GUITARS: BARONESS
This Savannah, GA, prog metal band's vocalist-guitarist John Baizley's strong suit isn't singing -- he barks undecipherable lyrics in a bellow that's so low it's like the rumbling din of an avalanche. Thankfully, their MO is mostly long instrumentals full of guitar heroics: Both Baizley and axeman Peter Adams slid on their knees across the stage, pointed their guitar necks at the sky, and stood face-to-face while dicing up tandem solos. On "Rays on Pinion," a glistening, melodic guitar fest from their 2007 Red Album, Baizley even busted out a white, double-necked axe and let his talent shine, away from the mic. -- WG

WORST HEAT-RESISTANT ROCKERS: MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA
Though Manchester Orchestra share their first name with the BBQ-saturated Tennessee town that hosts Bonnaroo, it's merely a coincidence; they named themselves after the English port city that birthed the Smiths, Joy Division, and Oasis. And while their Other Tent performance proved more Southern gothic than Brit-pop, the Atlanta, Georgia, troupe suffered in the heat. Sweating profusely, guitarist Robert McDowell flung perspiration into the front row as he fingered math-rock riffs, while burly, bearded singer Andy Hull blared his lovedumb agitation in a pinched high register, leading the band through tracks from their latest, loudest release, the EP Mean Everything to Nothing. -- SA

WORST VIBES: THE DODOS
San Francisco's the Dodos have gone through a handful of significant changes over the years -- the decision to ditch original name "Dodo Bird," for instance -- but the most recent shifts seem like an exercise in self-flagellation. Perhaps something went wrong at sound-check, but the addition of vibraphonist Keaton Snyder to what's long been a power-duo amounted to little more than a messy experiment. Just as guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber would sink into one of their trademark noisy, superfast grooves, Snyder's mallet would come down and unleash a high, tinny whine that almost always sounded out of key and louder than anything else. Unfortunately, those qualities came to be shared by Long's voice as the show went on, a situation made worse with the help of a looping pedal. -- CM

IN BRIEF:

Favorite bewildered exchange, just after the xx show: "Who the hell's the double x?" asked one intoxicated, southern-accented patron. "It's the x-x, man, the x-x," replies his friend, in an exasperated drawl. "Come on, man!" -- CA

Behold the goofball majesty of the Green Day Rock Band Stage (no, I'm not kidding), where the video game, with its robotic, musclebound avatars, was projected on a cinema-size screen, while groups of kids got up to "perform" hits like "Brain Stew" and "Welcome to Paradise." You couldn't have scripted more mocking funeral procession music for Bay Area punk institution 924 Gilman Street, currently in danger of closing due to a rent hike. -- CA

With its increased emphasis on pop, alternative, and hip-hop acts, Bonnaroo has evolved into a sort of Coachella South, with less celebrity-rehab outpatients, better recycling, and way more mud. Wellington boots were being hauled out of Wal-Mart in bulk, causing many patrons to look like half-cocked hipster fishermen ready to rage. -- CA

Cheers to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, who handed out free scoops of their the toffee bar-flecked and appropriately named new flavor, Bonnaroo Buzz, to massive lines all day. And it's worth the wait: I queued eight times. -- WG

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