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Published: 2013/06/15

From The Bonnaroo Beacon (Saturday Edition) : Liverpool in Manchester

Photo by Dean Budnick

We may be in Manchester, Tennessee but everyone was in a Liverpool state of mind Friday night for headliner Paul McCartney.

The former Beatle was the most-anticipated artist at this year’s event with interest in his set spread across performers, festivarians, vendors and age groups. People started lining up at midday for the opportunity to be in the pit for his 9 p.m. performance.

It felt as if every person on the site headed towards the What Stage as the area was filled to capacity with few leaving until McCartney and his longtime backing band completed their two-hour-and-forty-five minute set.
“There’s no other place I’d rather be in the world than right here right now,” one festivalgoer exclaimed shortly before the music began.

McCartney delivered with an unforgettable mix of 37 songs from his years as a solo artist (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), member of Wings (“Band on the Run,” “Listen to What the Man Said”) and, of course, hits and numbers never performed live by the Beatles (“8 Days a Week,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Paperback Writer,” “Lovely Rita,” “And I Love Her,” “Hey Jude”).

When he asked the crowd to “sing most glorious” during “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,” it was unnecessary since everyone was already joining him on nearly every number.

And it wasn’t just that McCartney and his bandmates played each number impeccably. They showed respect to their historical significance yet the occasional tweaks added a degree of artistic integrity. For example, following a dedication to George Harrison, he started “Something” on ukulele, one of Harrison’s favorite instruments. Eventually, the whole band joined.

Earlier, he dedicated “Here Today” to John Lennon.

McCartney’s penchant for telling background stories of upcoming numbers (“Blackbird”) showed trust in his audience, while his steady between-song banter displayed that how engaged he was with his setting. Shortly after he took the stage, he paused to comment, “This is so cool. I’m going to take a moment and drink it in for myself.” Several times over the course of his set, he mentioned the signs that fans held up.

It was just as significant that an artist of his stature made it a point to support the Russian protest group with “Free Pussy Riot” popping up on the large video screen during “Back in the USSR” as well as stating it before going into “Let It Be.”

If the songs weren’t enough, a pyrotechnic display during “Live and Let Die” provided the spectacle.

For many the night could have gone on and on but everyone knew that the show would eventually conclude. It did in a suitable Bonnaroo manner—with a segue—as trio of linked numbers from Abbey Road (“Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End”) provided the appropriate finish.

While McCartney left the stage for the final time late Friday night, his influence could be heard throughout the day’s lineup, and just as likely during the rest of Bonnaroo 2013. With his melodic craftsmanship throughout his career (“Yesterday”) as well as an experimental side (the dissonant organ chords on “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) his vast catalog has consciously and in some cases unconsciously bred the music that fills the air from the various tents and stages.

Earlier in the day Passion Pit played such fan favorites as “I Get Carried Away,” “Little Secret,” “Take a Walk” and “Sleepyhead” to a large crowd on the What Stage. It was a major step up for the group, which previously played This Tent in 2009.

Over on the Which Stage, Wu-Tang Clan, Grizzy Bear and Of Monsters and Men all drew sizable, enthusiastic crowds.

Meanwhile in the tents, artists such as Glen Hansard totally delivered. With a backing band that included a horn and string section his charm and invested passion for his songs was matched by the enthusiasm and dedication in the audience. During “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” he added a jam segment that included the chorus of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

John McLaughlin and the Fourth Dimension attracted a fervent grouping at That Tent, who embraced every one of the guitarist’s fluid runs.

Earlier, at a press conference McLaughlin discussed his excitement to be a part of Bonnaroo because its eclectic lineup reminded him of festivals in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Jim James played a set of psychedelic spiritual soul at This Tent and Animal Collective brought out Police Academy star Michael Winslow to make mouth noises during their late night set.

Meanwhile, Conspirator welcomed Paper Diamond to the stage during their performance as Marc Brownstein handed his bass to Alex B. and moved over to a keyboard rig.

Following Bonnaroo visits in 2004 and 2010, Calexico shined during their return engagement at This Tent. Later, several of the band members joined Wilco on the What Stage for “California Stars.”

One of the day’s other collaborations found Solange adding vocals to Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks.” The Brooklyn band opened with tracks from “Shields” and “Veckatmest,” which was a great start to a mesmerizing 75-minute performance.

Solange returned later in the evening for the Superjam, which featured Lettuce as the house band and RZA as the master of ceremonies along with Wu-Tang Clan and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

At a press conference earlier, John Oates finished a discussion on attracting an audience through the concert experience and how it relates to the Bonnaroo approach for musicians and fans.

“It’s one thing they can’t take away,” he said. “Thank God the fact that we can play live because we sure as hell can’t sell records.”

Well, Paul McCartney always could, and he remains an inspiration on that score and a dynamic live performer to boot.

“I have a feeling you’re going to have a bit of a good weekend,” Sir Paul proclaimed early in his set.

So far so good.

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