Best & Worst Moments of Bonnaroo: Day 2

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Kid Cudi / Photo by Ian Witlen
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

BEST INTROSPECTIVE FRAT PARTY: KID CUDI
Regardless of the fact that Kid Cudi spent much of his overnight set occasionally rapping along with a laptop guide track, or singing off-key over it, the massive, college-age sprawl at the That Tent didn't mind a bit (perhaps they were just happy he made it to the stage after an arrest earlier in the day in New York for "criminal mischief and criminal possession of a controlled substance"). The crowd chanted his name and sang along to conversational, navel-gazing tracks -- "The Prayer," "Memories" -- from 2009's Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, as Cudi hopped and scooted across the stage in his trademark tight t-shirt and jeans. With a seemingly innate knack for vocal hooks, he effortlessly transfixes on even the slightest tracks, and this night he proved he could handle an oversize setting (at least for a relatively short period of time, and with much more pressing matters at hand). -- CHARLES AARON

BEST TRIBUTE TO A FALLEN LEGEND: TENACIOUS D
Conan O'Brien called them "the greatest rock band ever" during his introduction (moments before Jack Black clutched the emcee's head to his crotch), but Tenacious D used their time on the main stage to pay tribute to another great: Ronnie James Dio. Black and Kyle Gass were backed by a power trio as they strummed their matching black guitars and strained their falsettos on Dio-featuring Pick of Destiny track "Kickapoo." And later on, Black asked his partner if they could "do one for my favorite fucking metal singer of all time, up in heaven," before launching into 2001's "Dio." But the D did its fallen idol best simply by being the consummate arena metal band. Elaborate skits found the pair battling not only the 7-foot-tall, heavily armored, high-kicking and horned personification of metal, but Satan himself, all under a backdrop depicting a hellish terrain of lava pools and spiky hoodoos. And, of course, a hidden phallus painted into the left-hand corner. -- CHRIS MARTINS

BEST HIP-HOP HAND GESTURES: DAMIAN MARLEY & NAS
After a mercifully short round of hyping from the DJ (we love hip-hop, stop asking already), these titular Distant Relatives took to the main stage backed by a 10-piece band. The vibe was actually militant, with a camo-shorted Nasty Nas barking out his verses when it wasn't Damian Marley's turn to toast in agit-prop abandon. Meanwhile, Marley stalked the stage swinging the Rastafarian flag overhead, in the shadow of a massive side-by-side portrait of the stern-faced artists. Time and time again, the pair asked to see the crowd's hands, and time and time again, tens of thousands of arms hit the muggy air and bounced like it was '96 all over again. It sort of was, actually, as Nas ran through a terrific full-band version of "If I Ruled the World." Later, Marley issued a directive: "All hands in the sky. Now make a fist. Now... punch the sky!" As the pair transitioned from Nas' "Made You Look" into Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock," the feverish audience blasted handguns (the kind made up of fingers) at the heavens they clearly hated so well. -- CM

BEST UNSURPRISINGLY KILLER STAGE BANTER: STEVE MARTIN AND THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS
"I thought, 'This might be some bad poetry, but it's a pretty good country song,'" said Steve Martin, dapper in an all-white suit, introducing "Daddy Played the Banjo." Equally droll one-liners came as fast and furious as his banjo finger-picking at Martin's evening bluegrass set with Brevard, North Carolina's Steep Canyon Rangers; the set would've skated along just fine without any jokes, as both Martin and the Steep Canyon quintet are talented bluegrass musicians, but it was heartening to see Martin acknowledge his comedy as the main reason so many fans crammed into the That Tent. (Some musically inclined comedians, such as jazz clarinetist fiend Woody Allen, take a more stoic route in concert.) Martin quipped about his onstage iPad, calling it "a $500 set list," and introduced one particularly peppy, string bass-heavy barnburner with, "This is a song... well, that pretty much says it, doesn't it?" His Aspen ode "Pitkin County Turnaround" was charmingly pensive, and his children's song "Late for School" (recently performed on Saturday Night Live) was full of frantic picking from Steep Canyon banjoist Graham Sharp. But the real showstopper was not the Jack Black cameo (Martin's newest movie costar ran onstage and waved, fresh off the Tenacious D main stage gig); it was "Atheists Don't Have No Songs," a beautiful a capella ballad. Who's going to denounce a gaggle of men singing, in immaculate harmony, "Catholics dress up for Mass / And listen to Gregorian chants / Atheists just take a pass / Watch football in their underpants"? No one, so the multitudes stuck around for fiddler Nicky Sanders' manic handiwork on the bluegrass staple "Orange Blossom Special" and Martin and Co.'s gloriously mad encore, a fully folked-out "King Tut." – SA

BEST HAPPY-HOUR CONFESSIONAL: THE NATIONAL
Quite a few people -- mostly single music geeks clearly terrified of aging -- have given the National grief of late, labeling them gloomy chroniclers of marital/parental whining and wine-swilling domesticity, particularly after a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile and the May release of their album High Violet revealed a group of adults with responsibilities who indeed possessed a rather bleak worldview. Selections from High Violet were sprinkled throughout the band's late afternoon set at the Which Stage, and while it's true newer songs "Conversation 16" and "Afraid of Everyone" may not have the immediate melodic and dramatic oomph of older favorites "Mistaken for Strangers" or "Mr. November," they are plenty haunting.In the latter, the singer holds a kid on his shoulders, but after reflecting on the burden of protecting his family, repeatedly intones that he doesn't "have the drugs to sort it out." Berninger spent the last third of the show hurtling himself through the crowd, perhaps trying to prove that he hadn't lost a step, or maybe just looking for a little reassurance. "I'd like to thank all the men with strong arms, and all the women with strong grips," he cracked. -- CA

BEST "HE SAID WHAT?" STAGE BANTER: JAY ELECTRONICA
Jay Electronica is perhaps hip-hop's most searching lyricist, passionately suffusing his rhymes with myths and histories and deeply personal sketches. During his early afternoon set at the This Tent, he frequently instructed his DJ to cut the music so he could deliver his message a cappella for maximum clarity. On tracks like "Dimthyltriptamine," he'd make a witheringly serious assertion like "Hiroshima never recovered," yet still hold the unruly crowd rapt. But it was his intermittent interaction with the fans that gave the show its own quirky volatility. After a heartfelt shout-out to the people of Tennessee for taking in refugees from his hometown of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he shifted to claiming that the government won't tell us the truth about 9/11, then abruptly asked "Can I kick it?" and the crowd boomed, "Yes, you can!" so loudly that he invited anyone to climb onstage in open defiance of security. Later, after the bodies were cleared, he asked, apropos of nothing, "How many women out there like to get choked during sex? Raise your hands!" Later still, his DJ dropped Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and Jay genuinely testified, "Man, I wish I'd written that song," leading the crowd in a growling, monster-like chant, before pausing to hold up a camera and query no one in particular, "Can you take a picture with me for my mother?" It was a moment like so much of Jay's music -- bewilderingly sincere. -- CARead More From Bonnaroo Day Two On Page 2 >>

BEST EVERYMAN BAND: THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM
"Strike up the band with a song everybody knows," sang Brian Fallon to the early afternoon crowd as his band played "We Came to Dance." It was a sentiment that rang true throughout the Gaslight Anthem's set, where lyrics about tattoos, getting married, Tom Petty and "working fulltime" were as common as musical tributes to working class champions like Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. In fact, Fallon even belted out a Boss line -- "Got a '59 Chevy with a 396!" -- following the Jersey four-piece's earnest opening number "American Slang," the title track of their new album. Particularly poignant was "Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts," which is -- no joke -- exactly what bassist Alex Levine was wearing as he lent low-end muscle to Fallon's husky crooning. -- CM

BEST SEMI-CONSCIOUS RANTING: THE GOSSIP
"I was worried the 'God Hates Fags' People would be here," crowed Beth Ditto, peering imperiously into the crowd at the This Tent. While the Westboro Baptist Church congregation thankfully was not in attendance, there were still some controversial signs dotting the Gossip's throng; one front-row placard requested a tawdry sex act from comedy tent headliner Conan O'Brien, which Ditto happily mocked for the entire set in various stages of coherence. ("I'm not drunk, I have heat stroke," she clarified after one particularly confusing taunt, tugging at her sweaty all-black ensemble.) It didn't affect the band's two-stepping, dance-punk frenzy; though the woozy crowd was clearly at odds with the slower jams ("Four Letter Word" was a lull), Ditto's soulful bombast and guitarist Brace Paine's kicks brought the faster anthems home. "Standing in the Way of Control" was a predictable hell-raiser, and a quick cover of Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" earned shrieks; "It's like you're Tina Weymouth," Ditto cooed to Paine, shaking her rear end at him lasciviously -- and he looked perfectly content with that arrangement. -- SA

BEST SEXY SOUL: DARYL HALL & CHROMEO
The breezy, hook-laden soul of Hall & Oates has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years thanks to the adoration of younger artists who were weaned on their music -- something Daryl Hall channels on his popular webisode series Live from Daryl's House, where fresh faces join the lion-maned 63-year-old in his recording studio. Hall brought that chemistry to life Bonnaroo by joining forces with Quebecois production duo/Daryl's House alums Chromeo, playing a set that alternated between Hall's polished pop (the peppy "Dreams" and slinky "Private Eyes" turned into eruptive dance sessions) and Chromeo's dirty, synthy funk ("Tenderoni," off 2007's Fancy Footwork, was a sweaty workout). And while nearly every tune scored big, the pleasure-sharing was a bit unbalanced: Hall's unmistakable vocals added depth to Chromeo jams (like "100%") that P-Thugg's vocoder overdoses couldn't match. -- PETER GASTON

BEST ACT OF MUSICAL CONVICTION: NNEKA
Who's rocking out side-stage at Nigerian indie star Nneka's set at the Troo Lounge? Shirtless Circa Survive guitarist-singer Anthony Green, tatted arms flailing. The show was a punk, soul, hip-hop, and roots rock collision as smooth as it was aggressive. The 28-year-old songstress spat quick-tongued rhymes about love, poverty, and war. Her quartet, highlighted by a virtuosic guitarist, gave oomph to her impassioned messages, which were delivered with such conviction it was clear we were witnessing something important. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST "FUN" TIME: OK GO
Ryan Ross, formerly of Panic! at the Disco and now leading the Young Veins, told SPIN.com that seeing OK Go was a special treat. He was probably referring to singer Damian Kulash's onstage banter: "Bonnaroo, I know you don't need me to tell you this, but you're dirty and lost to depravity and drugs." And, "This is a hippy festival so I'm going to play some sissy music." And, "This song is played with an instrument Jesus invented: church bells, motherfucker!" Best of all, the set finished with a canon shooting red confetti. OK, indeed. -- WG

BEST MULTI-TASKING: CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS
A true jamboree ensued at the Carolina Chocolate Drops' That Tent set. Surprisingly, the crowd was densely packed, especially considering the Durham, North Carolina, trio's music is some of the most esoteric of the entire festival. Their down-home string band style culls from the traditional 1920s-'30s folk of the rural Piedmont region of North and South Carolina; it's authentic enough to frequently make Tennessee's WDVX 89.9 radio. Exactly what the brosephs wielding their "I Will Rock Your Face" beer cozies came to see, right? But the Drops had context on their side; as they glibly swapped duties on vocals, autoharp, fiddle, jug, and banjo, they offered some true Southern history to this Manchester melee, and it was enthralling.Tracks from 2008's Heritage went down easy, as did a cover of Blu Cantrell's "Hit Em Up Style" -- the latter led to an impromptu, full-tilt jig by singer-strummer Rhiannon Giddens. By the time they'd moved into a banjo-heavy cover of "Jackson," a country tune made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter, the widely varied crowd was tossing up their baseball/trucker/ten-gallon hats and losing their heads. -- SA

WORST ATTENDANCE: HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR DJ SET
The tiny Lunar Stage, which housed the atonal wails of the Beatles Rock Band competition all day, converted to a rave at midnight, just in time for every tripped-out Bonnaroo denizen to stumble over to the Flaming Lips, Daryl Hall and Chromeo, the Black Keys, or the lemonade stands. To put it kindly, the poor New York nu-disco group's DJ set was a buzzkill; 30 or so bodies sprinkled the wide field, avoiding the patches of deep mud still pooling (except for one lone girl in a striped bikini, who danced deliberately in them). As quirky electropop and techno blared (none from the band's 2008 album), one wayward man sat rigidly on an isolated square of cardboard, staring up into the DJ booth with wide eyes as the frenetic strobe lights illuminated his inner turmoil.-- SA

WORST STAGE DIVE BY A FAN: LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
It was 3 A.M. and LCD Soundsystem had just powered through a searing one-two punch of "Us Vs. Them" and "Drunk Girls." The crowd was reeling, exhausted beyond inhibition, and recklessly engaged in wanton, sloppy dancing. "It's fucking hot and gross in here," James Murphy announced with a hint of pride. He had no idea. Halfway through "Tribulations," an inspired nudist took an addled stab at rushing the band from the wings. Either mistaking the back of the stage for the front or realizing he was being pursued, he dove headlong into a chunk of LCD's setup before winding up under a pile of security guards. The show went on, though not without other technical difficulties. -- CM

IN BRIEF

From the What Stage bleachers, fans got a clear view of two audience members up-chucking in the exact same spot, 20 minutes apart, during the Nas and Damian set. Perhaps they were disoriented by the bizarre query posed mid-song by Marley: "Can you make peace? Can you fight wars? / Can you milk cows, even though you drive cars?" -- CM

McLovin's in the mix. The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon confirmed it to the crowd yesterday: "You know that kid McLovin from Superbad? I saw him hanging around." We mistook at least three skinny, bespectacled youth for Christopher Mintz-Plasse before making a positive I.D. side-stage at LCD Soundsystem. – CM

"I wouldn't pay money to be here!" shouted a glowering security guard at the VIP/Artist entrance. He was all of 25, and it was 1 P.M.. Life may continue to be hard for you, buddy. -- SA

The artists and VIP buffet backstage boasted two spits slowly rotating enormous suckling pigs. Their charred consumption did nothing to faze pacifist hippie-prince Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, who walked by the BBQ area looking dazed, a red scarf plastered to his sweaty bare chest. -- SA

Overheard at LCD Soundsystem, a fateful reunion: "I know you! You painted my boobs yesterday!" -- SA

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