Live from Bonnaroo: Xpress dispatch, pt. 3

By the third day of Bonnaroo, structural improvements have made all the difference. Shade is easy to find, bathroom lines are entirely reasonable and dust is minimal. Cool temperatures have done a lot to ease the experience, but organizers’ efforts will make even the most scorching festivals to come all the more comfortable.

Saturday began with an early ride off site to film with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. More on that, including an exclusive performance, to come.

Back on the grounds, I gathered some supplies and headed into Centeroo. I expected Saturday to be a light afternoon. The schedule included plenty of fodder, but few of them were shows I couldn’t afford to miss. Or so I thought.

After half an hour of island-flavored electro-math rock at Battles, we planted in the shade for some old-timey numbers by the Punch Brothers. The set included a cover of Beck’s “Sexx Laws,” and the quartet was tight and relaxing. But having come from a heavy rock show, the acoustic setup wasn’t especially engaging, so we gave Childish Gambino a quick walk-by and it was off to the main stage.

After a few inattentive minutes at Santigold we departed for one of the most intense shows of the afternoon. Mogwai was overwhelmingly loud, and the instrumental wall of sound was almost painfully melodic. Epic doesn’t begin to do their achingly-tragic ambience justice, and I had nearly been lost to the spacey soundscapes when I was dragged away for the last half of Danzig Legacy.

The juxtaposition of Mogwai and Danzig proved one of my favorite moments of the entire festival. Where the former was inviting, beautiful and dreamy, the latter was aggressive, screeching and in your face. The contrast could not have been sharper. Enormous horned skulls covered the stage, red lights illuminated the shouting crowd and the band’s jet black hair dangled over their shredded black shirts. Every song had a solo and an anthem, as every metal song should. We’ve all seen fists pumping in unison, but I’ve never seen so many fists pumping for so long. Danzig has definitely still got it.

Admittedly,  I have a special place for the small Nashville bands that are a staple of every Bonnaroo: I grew up in the area, and most of my old friends still live in the city. That said, James Wallace and the Naked Light was undoubtedly one of the best performances I saw all weekend. His enormous band appeared in matching costumes (khaki shirts with neon insignia, tucked into plain blue slacks) and proceeded to walk a tightrope of orchestral folk, anthemic pop and haunting, gospel-inspired traditionals. Think Cotton Jones meets Sufjan Stevens. It was obvious from the crowd that this guy is well-known to Nashville, and judging from the buzz I heard backstage, he’s likely to be well-known to the entire country before long. I left with the unshakable thought that Nashville bands sure have it together.

It was a tough call between Alice Cooper and Questlove’s Superjam, but rumors about a highly-anticipated special guest made the jam impossible to resist. Thankfully, we were not disappointed, and legendary R&B singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist D’Angelo appeared before the ecstatic crowd. It was the singer’s first U.S. appearance in more than a decade, but the set was effortless and breathtaking, with choices that included covers from The Beatles, Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. After more than an hour onstage, the band quietly retreated to roaring applause. “That’s all the songs we know,” said Questlove. “We’d love to play more for you, but that’s all we learned.”

Exhausted and content, we retired as a cool mist began to fall. “Not bad for a slow day,” I thought as my eyes slammed like storm doors.


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