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Published: 2012/06/09
by Mike Greenhaus

From The Bonnaroo Beacon : Everything In Its Right Place

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings photo by John Patrick Gatta

“Where are you guys sleeping tonight?” Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke asked the crowd partway through his band’s massive headlining set on the What Stage. “In a field, face down in the mud? That’s what we do in Britain. It’s a British tradition.” Wry humor aside, it was warm welcome and a sign that Bonnaroo now rivals the European camping festivals that have warped minds overseas for decades.

Bonnaroo had already cemented its reputation as the ultimate destination for fans of all types of music—who want to have a hippie, camping experience—by the time Radiohead appeared in 2006. But there is no single set that truly put Bonnaroo on the international radar quite like their headlining spot that year. Radiohead seemed to enjoy themselves, too: they extended their setlist, busted out some rarer songs and even toyed with a glowstick. In an interview after the festival, Yorke even called the show the best they’ve played in “years and years.”

Arriving in Manchester, TN over a year removed from their latest studio album King of Limbs, last night Radiohead showcased the breath of material they’ve explored since forming in 1985—and especially since they pulled a Sgt. Pepper ¬-like sonic, electronic metamorphosis with 2001’s Kid A. They touched on a number of different sounds, from the earlier, more straight-ahead Brit-pop ballad “Karma Police” and the manic jam “Paranoid Android” to the electronic-masterpieces “Idioteque” and “Everything In Its Right Place” and the hypnotic In Rainbows tune “Reckoner.” According to recent interviews, for a while the members of Radiohead were worried that they wouldn’t be able recreate _King of Limbs_’ layered, percussive soundscapes live. The answer—judging by last night’s show—is the addition of Portishead’s Clive Deamer, who drummed alongside his mirror image, ever- consummate Radiohead drummer Phil Selway (between his trademark dance moves Yorke also contributed to the sound tapestry).

Radiohead looked to the future as well, dedicating their 2011 Record Store Day single “Supercollider” to Nashville transplant Jack White, who the band visited on Thursday. (Yorke’s cryptic banter suggests that the group recorded with White at his Third Man Records while in town). Their sound was loose and festival-ready—a notch more energetic than Radiohead’s recent arena shows but just as expansive and thoughtful. While fine musicianship was the common thread running through Radiohead’s various personalities, they never shied away from spectacle. In fact, their open air tent of light and screens somehow managed to capture both the nuances of King of Limbs’ layered, rich headphone moments as well as the arena-size grandeur that sets Radiohead apart from so many other indie and alternative acts.

Radiohead’s set was the climax of an already stacked day of music. With most attendees onsite, Bonnaroo was in full swing by the time New Orleans brass favorites The Soul Rebels officially opened the festival’s main What Stage at 1 PM (only a few short hours after they paraded through Centeroo after an early morning cameo with Alabama Shakes). Given festival co-producer Superfly’s Crescent City roots, their set was another direct tie to another one of Bonnaroo’s inspirations, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

In another coming of age moment, reformed banjo punks The Avett Brothers—whose first Bonnaroo set took place in a tiny café tent after Radiohead’s 2006 set—made their What Stage debut at 5 PM. Despite the sprawling crowds, the Avetts managed to keep things intimate. They gathered around a single mic to pay tribute to the late Doc Watson and led several thousand fans in a sing-along version of their most Facebook-status ready song, “I and Love and You.” Bassist Bob Crawford, who has missed a number of The Avett Brothers’ recent show to spend time with his young daughter while she fights cancer, was also able to make it to the historic gig.

Likewise, prog-jam Umphrey’s McGee continued their streak of career-defining Bonnaroo performances with a marathon, all-night set that kicked off at 2 AM and stretched until dawn. One of the only bands to play Bonnaroo in both 2002 and 2012, Umphrey’s McGee—who have appeared at Bonnaroo a total of seven years—tacked on a surprise second set at the end of their show and stacked their setlist with covers like a dub working of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” and a late night take on AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Fellow rising stars Big Gigantic, perhaps the true lovechild of the jam and electronic scenes, tied those sets together with a surprise tweener of their own.

Bonnaroo is known for its eye-opening collaborations and Friday was no different. Keyboardist Bernie Worrell, whose work with P-Funk and Talking Heads laid the groundwork for both Bonnaroo’s broad stroked funk bands and the fest’s minimalist indie acts, paid tribute to Sly Stone with Steven Bernstein’s MTO. A hand-picked horn section featuring members of the afro-funk band Rubblebucket and others joined indie-pop stars Foster the People for “Houdini.” And after midnight, The North Mississippi Allstars, organist John Medeski and Bonnaroo staple Robert Randolph reunited their gospel-jam supergroup The Word. Their set was bittersweet: It was a homecoming of sorts for Randolph—one of the inaugural Bonnaroo’s breakout acts—but the band was also without bassist Chris Chew, who is currently being hospitalized due to recent health issues.

The Word wasn’t the only one of Friday’s performers to get on the soul train. Fitz & the Tantrums used their show in That Tent to preview material from their forthcoming album—and also nailed a funky reworking of Bonnaroo vets The Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes.” Meanwhile, New York soul powerhouse Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings turned in a tight set of their trademark material on What Stage, peaking during “100 Days, 100 Nights.” Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk also previewed some numbers off their forthcoming studio album, which features Saturday headliner Flea (who coincidently has a side band with Thom Yorke, who named Radiohead after a song by Worrell’s old band Talking Heads).

For much of the day, The Other Tent housed its own mini-roots and Americana festival, though each act put their own unique twist on a traditional genre. High-energy, acoustic-time travelers Infamous Stringdusters teased The Beatles “Norwegian Wood” shortly before covering John Hartford “Steam Powered Aereoplane” while Minnesota America-punks showed offered a well-placed cover of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies).” Mandolin legend Sam Bush Band, whose namesake helped expand the scope of traditional American music more than a few festivals ago with New Grass Revival, served as a direct tie to Bonnaroo’s roots in free-spirited improvisational music. On the other end of the spectrum, LA indie-roots rockers Dawes made a blog-size leap from an unassuming café tent spot in 2010 to an overflowing, early evening headlining spot in The Other Tent. They celebrated with an unconsciously self-referential version of their anthem “When My Time Comes” and a choice take on Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.”

Not that all Friday’s sounds were retro: Brooklyn indie art-rock heiress St. Vincent played a song written with her mom, Two Door Cinema Club filled This Tent with atmospheric future rock, Little Dragon reset their hipster, dance hall sound in equally sweaty rural Tennessee and mid-stream indie crossover act Oberhofer transplanted a bit of Todd P’s DIY ethos in Great Taste Lounge. Yet, of any second stage act, perhaps tUnE-yArDs—with her tribal, trance beats and folk motifs—reflected the frantic energy of her dayglow crowd.

Hip-hop and electronic sounds echoed throughout Centeroo as well, especially in This Tent. Ludacris drew record crowds during his early evening performance while Diplo presented his dance hall/reggae project Major Lazer. Rap icons Mos Def and Talib Kweli also united for the seminal Black Star project. Though Friday did not have an official world music tent, longtime Bonnaroo favorites Rodrigo y Gabriela showcased their new C.U.B.A. big band, and Afrocubism recast traditional Malian sounds. In other international news, kindred spirits—and fellow rising stars—Ben Howard and Laura Marling shopped a new, English-spin on folk music in That Tent; Aussie legend Colin Hay—who was booked at Bonnaroo as a comedy act—also revisited Men at Work hits like “Land Down Under” during a bonus Sonic Stage spot.

In another interesting turn of events, the Which Stage primarily functioned as something of a case study of the 21st century pop-rock star, with roots in indie/classic rock but true mainstream appeal (and as it turns out dance moves). Not so distant relatives from across the pond, Foster the People and The Kooks bookended the day. The Kooks opened things up and offered infectious songs like “She Moves in Her Own Way.” Foster the People closed the stage with a massive, illuminated production and showered the audience with confetti at the end of their radio anthem “Pumped Up Kicks.” Describing Bonnaroo as an exclamation mark at the end of their current festival sweep, Mark Foster also pulled a Mumford & Sons by drawing a What Stage-sized crowd to the Which Stage. In-between, Canadian indie songstress Feist performed and, in an unorthodox move, had her backing band—which includes the lovely folk trio Mountain Man—slow dance onstage.

But, as Thom Yorke, admitted near the end of Radiohead’s show, even all of this was just the springboard for countless campground adventures. “Thanks for letting us set up your Friday night,” he said. “What else do you do here?”

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