Skip to content

Bonnaroo Day 3: The Best & the Worst



Best Audience Love: Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis didn’t need to tell her audience that they were “rad” to win them over in That Tent on Saturday. With most of the young women in the crowd singing along to every song, and most of the men otherwise smitten with the charismatic redhead, this wasn’t your typical half-curious, half-committed crowd — just about everyone was there to see Lewis. And why not? She’s as acerbic and self-possessed as any singer-songwriter who inhabits her arty pop-rock orbit. Not only that, she brought a surefire setlist with her, including deep-catalog Rilo Kiley, “Rise Up With Fists,” and much of her recent Acid Tongue LP. She even introduced the audience to the protagonist of that album’s “See Fernando” — a plastic blow-up duck. — Bill Friskics-Warren

Best Music for a Bad Mood: Nine Inch Nails
People at Bonnaroo are friendly, the bands tend toward the positive, there are lots of lightly humorous signs telling festival attendees to be nice to each other — even the security staff is polite. With few exceptions (e.g. Robyn Hitchcock) this is generally a shiny, happy festival. That fact helped make Nine Inch Nails’ throbbing, malevolent late night Saturday show a supremely entertaining dose of counter-programming, as Trent Reznor provided the dark ying to the rest of Bonnaroo’s cheery yang. Dressed, naturally, all in black, his biceps bulging under a t-shirt, his hair cropped close, and his voice dripping with venom, the Byronic brooder led his taut four-piece band through vicious readings of electro-rock stunners like the menacingly funky “March of the Pigs” (kudos to the lighting crew on that one — I’m still seeing in strobe) and “I’m Afraid of Americans,” the latter of which was given an especially savage guitar-heavy reading that probably made a few hippies’ head’s explode. — David Marchese

Best Friendly Public Service Announcement for Stoned Concertgoers: Wilco
Lost, confused, and chemically enhanced Bonnaroovians have a friend in Wilco. The Chicago band understands that the Which, What, When, Where, Who, How, and What Have You stage names and the large, eclectic lineup are getting people a little turned around — so they started their set by introducing themselves in song: “We’re Wilco / Wilco / Wilco,” frontman Jeff Tweedy (lookin’ awful grizzled with long salt and pepper hair) sang on “Wilco the Song,” a rollicking guitar rocker off the band’s similarly-titled new album, Wilco (The Album).”And we’ll really love ya baby!” What’s more reassuring amidst a drug psychosis than a kind introduction and a little love? — William Goodman

Best Danceable History Lesson: Raphael Saadiq
Oakland’s Raphael Saadiq has been a history-conscious performer since his early days with the neo-soul trio Tony! Toni! Toné! Lately, though, he’s emerged as a conduit for the vast storehouse of classic soul and funk. In That Tent, he and his troupe of musicians, singers, and dancers kicked things off with a mini-set done in the style of early Motown, complete with choreographed spins, handclaps, and period dress. Later they proved their mettle with everything from updated Philly soul to funkadelic rock. A scorched-earth take of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” meanwhile, served notice that there’s more to the Motor City than Martha Reeves and the Temptations. Class dismissed. — BFW

Best Rock’n’Roll Animal (with strings!): Alejandro Escovedo
A rock’n’roll survivor with a serious thing for the Velvet Underground, Alejandro Escovedo and a violin- and cello-augmented edition of his band played what easily had to be the festival’s most John Cale-inspired set in That Tent. Drawing heavily on last year’s Real Animal, Escovedo revisited his days with the San Francisco punk band the Nuns, whose only distinction, he laughed, was to open for the Sex Pistols at their final show. Another number looked back on Escovedo’s stint with the True Believers, a short-lived Austin band that toured with the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Husker Du. Still another served as an elegy for some of Alejandro’s fallen fellow-rockers, including New York Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. Through it all, he bared his heart and scars with equal aplomb, and with a feedback-drenched, dual-guitar attack that evoked the noisy glories of Lou Reed’s classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. — BFW


Best Gentle Wake Me Up: Elvis Perkins in Dearland
It’s hot at Bonnaroo. It’s dirty. The sounds of 80,000 partiers makes it hard to sleep. All of which means that waking up is a long, delicate process. One that’s best eased into. If I’d happened upon, say, metal monsters High on Fire after stumbling out of my camp site first thing Saturday morning (they’re playing Sunday btw), my synapses would’ve shorted. Instead, thankfully, Elvis Perkins in Dearland christened the day for me with a warmhearted performance of Dylan-inspired folk-rock. Hearing bittersweet, ramshackle songs about friends, family, and lovers was a perfect gentle push into full consciousness. And when the lanky, all-white clad Perkins, a red carnation tucked into his shirt pocket, unfurled the moving lullaby “While You Were Sleeping,” I was, for the first time on Saturday, truly glad to have woken up. — DM

Best Consolation for Missing Lucinda Williams’s Set: Heartless Bastards
I’m sure she’s heard it before — and if her feisty songs are proof of her personality, she probably doesn’t like hearing it — but Heartless Bastards frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom comes off like she’s listened to a helluva lot of Lucinda Williams (whose Friday night set I missed). The comparison is a compliment, though. The Ohio spitfire’s rough-grained voice and plainspoken, poetic lyrics about loving and losing grabbed the attention of a sunbaked mid-afternoon crowd on the large Which stage. So did her band, who barreled forth with Stones-y raggedness and barroom swagger. If Williams is a little bit country, Wennerstrom is a little bit rock’n’roll. Both are forces to be reckoned with. — DM

Best Ambassador for New Orleans R&B: Allen Toussaint
He wrote “Mother-in-Law” and “Working in a Coalmine,” produced dozens of classic New Orleans hits, and has collaborated with everyone from Paul McCartney to Elvis Costello. Seeing Allen Toussaint hold court at the piano, though, is something else altogether. He’s not the most versatile singer, but as the rollicking trills and glissandos he played in That Tent on Saturday attested, his hands more than do the talking for him. They might even be the voice of New Orleans itself. Whether reviving the ebullient R&B of protégé Lee Dorsey or reprising the bumping funk he produced with the Meters, the rhythms that Toussaint and his band commanded were so buoyant you could have sworn that they had a life of their own, which of course they do. — BFW

Best “I Wish I Could Transport Myself Across This Huge Field” Moment: Gov’t Mule Playing Radiohead’s Creep
As the 10,000-plus crowd waited for Wilco to take the main stage, a peculiar sound blared overhead — Allman Brother/Grateful Dead guitarist Warren Haynes singing Radiohead’s “Creep” in his best falsetto as his band Gov’t Mule ditched their jam shtick and ripped through the song’s dramatic alt-rock riffs. Cue the heads curiously turning to each other, eyebrows raised, wondering if this was indeed going down. It was… and it sounded great, even from a distance — as did their covers of U2’s “One” and Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” — WG



Best Set — Worst Billing Accuracy: Elvis Costello
His performance on Saturday evening was billed as “Elvis Costello Solo,” but while the erstwhile angry and bespectacled young man played plenty of his classics accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar, he was never lonely for long: New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, and country singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale all took turns lending EC a hand. Even in the stripped-down setting, gems like “Everyday I Write the Book,” “Watching the Detectives,” and “Radio, Radio,” as well as covers of the Beatles “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said,” and the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” showed that with nary an Attraction to be found, Costello can still command a room, er, tent. — DM

Worst Lyrics to Listen to While High: Robyn Hitchcock
Certain subjects are guaranteed to harsh your mellow: insects, death, loneliness, paranoia. Eccentric English psych-rocker Robyn Hitchcock’s songs touched on all these things during a tight, driving set under cloudy skies. Aided by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, the former Soft Boys frontman, dressed in a bright pink button down shirt and purple trousers, and his backing band the Venus 3, spun jangly, eerie guitar webs, exploded jagged rhythms, and sang soaring Beatles-esque melodies (the sugar that helped the spooky medicine go down) with far more assurance than you’d expected from someone who told the crowd that he hadn’t been to a festival since 1979. Sober, it was easy to appreciate how the aforementioned sounds were slyly welded onto lyrics about lovers “trying to lay eggs underneath my skin” and the sad death of New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane (on “New York Doll”). Stoned? I’m glad I didn’t find out. — DM

Worst Battle of the Bands: Kuroma
Athens, GA, rockers Kuroma drew the unenviable assignment of being sandwiched between Nine Inch Nails on one side and prog-rockers moe. on the other. Frontman Hank Sullivant and company made the best of things, though, with a tuneful set of glammy psychedelia that was audible if you got up real close to the stage and pretended that the music of the other bands wasn’t roaring in the background. It was tough to make out Sullivant’s one-liner about the situation, but whatever he said about Trent Reznor elicited laughs from his bandmates, who were just about the only ones who could hear him. — BFW

Worst Stage Tinkering: The Decemberists
Granted, they had an elaborate configuration of lighting, props, and instruments to get in place, but other than that, there was no apparent reason why the Decembrists took the stage nearly a half-hour late for their 90-minute slot on Saturday. Not that the faithful who cheered frontman Colin Meloy’s every instrument and chord change seemed to mind the delay. And to be fair, the band sounded terrific, rocking out one minute, getting whimsical the next, their penchant for all things mythic transforming the darkness gathering around This Tent into something along the order of Avalon wood. Heightening the effect was the hot-air balloonist who drifted over the tent right as the sun was going down — that and the arcane likes of harpsichord and glockenspiel that figured prominently in the group’s baroque arrangements. — BFW

Worst Escapist Fantasy: Jimmy Buffet
Appearing with Cape Verde singer ILO and his own Coral Reefer Band, Jimmy Buffet looked like a tanned, relaxed version of Larry David as he strummed his Telecaster while decked out in khaki shorts, wristbands the color of the Jamaican flag, and a plain white t-shirt. He had far less edge, though, as he sang his tepid and unimaginative country-rock tropical postcards about sailing, fishing, and eating “Cheeseburgers in Paradise.” I didn’t hang around to see if he played “Margaritaville.” I’m sure I’ll hear it next time I stay at Club Med. So, never. — DM