Posted Jun 12th, 2012 (4:10 pm) by Bradley Hartsell
Bonnaroo 2012

As I said yesterday, Day 1 of Bonnaroo offered a lot of promise to ease my dread of a daunting weekend, like the improved groundskeeping and more shade. Still, Friday, as always, is the real test - the measure of your integrity against every antagonistic force the festival can muster.

Friday was indeed tougher. The press area wi-fi was totally down so my anxiety about getting Day 1 posted only built (this is better than me doing something wrong, like infinitely locking myself out of Internet access somehow, but still, it would have been nice to have wi-fi, no?). The day was also a few notches hotter and noticeably more crowded, to the surprise of no human. Nobody of interest (to me or IYS) took the stage till 1:45, so after I exited the press area dejected, it was good to sit at camp and chill out before entering the throng.

I got a shitty spot for Tune-Yards; I had to stand on my tip-toes to see anything, but I could at least hear clearly. Unsurprisingly, they were great as Merrill Garbus marvelously looped her vocals and percussion, while the sax section nailed that melodically abrasive sound that comes out so viscerally on record. The penultimate song(s) was a seamless/ceaseless flow from "Gangsta" into "Bizness," (with an extended jam) which was about as fantastic as you'd expect it to be.

After Tune-Yards, we made a brief cameo by The Infamous Stringdusters, who were bluegrassing to a decent sized crowd, before heading back to camp for lunch/relaxation. When we came back, Feist was playing Main Stage Lite aka The Which Stage to a pretty impressive turnout, and although The Which Stage always draws those who put out a blanket and chill, the crowd was receptive to her crooning. Some artists, though, work better in more intimate settings, and in this case, I thought Feist's aesthetic was getting lost in the cavernous area she was billed to cover.

We left Feist a little early to ensure a good spot for St. Vincent, and indeed got in the middle of That Tent. St. Vincent was wonderful and the crowd was as frenetic for her as just about anyone else I saw during the weekend. People sang along and lost their minds every time Annie Clark pulled off one of her abrupt chorus shifts (which is basically every song), and those overt hooks (the horn section in "Cruel" or the crunchy guitar riff in "Chloe in the Afternoon," for example) felt as if their anthemic simplicity connected with every single person in attendance. The band nailed the best/most intricate song on Strange Mercy, "Neutered Fruit," and when they went off the grid (the two albums) to cover of Pop Group's "She is Beyond Good and Evil," it was electric. That the women dominated Bonnaroo this year was interesting, and so wonderfully pleasing.

St. Vincent ended at 9, and we made a B-line for Radiohead, but it was hopeless. The crowd was packt beyond reason at 9:05 and I suspect for a long time before that, too. Radiohead leaned heavily on King of Limbs-era material (of course), and In Rainbows (the band's favorite album). The Limbs stuff just isn't that strong, save for "Lotus Flower," which was great, and "Codex," which they didn't play. Their encore included "Give Up the Ghost," a boring song they aggravated live because, you know, they have fifty better songs. They didn't play anything from The Bends, something I personally enjoyed but I know many who would have wanted "Fake Plastic Trees" or "Street Spirit (Fade Out)."

They closed their two and half hour set with "Paranoid Android," which brought the house down because it was the only time they let loose and played a rock song. It wasn't something you noticed during the set amid all the glitchy Radio-tronics, but when "Paranoid Android" exploded full force, it felt like they missed a chance to replace the lulls with something familiar and lively to energize the crowd. It's not that I felt the crowd was dissatisfied, because everyone was tripping and their video (see gallery below) was really cool, but to a degree, I was disappointed, because when you have to play new material and that material is inferior, the show just won't be as good. That's before you even address the fact that with a band this diverse, not everyone can be pleased. There were songs I would have killed to have heard, but they just weren't going to play ("Life in a Glasshouse," for example). And I didn't think any song got better in a live setting, in the way that EMA improved live over an already good record, or St. Vincent at least matched her record live. It just seemed like Radiohead were doing songs 75% as good as their recorded versions, with awkward fifteen to thirty second pauses in between, save for when Thom amiably addressed the audience. It was okay but it certainly wasn't the "experience" I expected.

I love Radiohead, it was my first time seeing them, but Friday at Bonnaroo belonged to Garbus and Clark. The queens of the festival looked out over their dominion and saw that it was (dusty as shit but still...) good.

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