5 Best Sets of Bonnaroo 2011: Day 4
SUPERJAM FEATURING DAN AUERBACH AND DR. JOHN AT THAT TENT
For its tenth anniversary, Bonnaroo's programmers reasserted their allegiance to New Orleans' ever-fluid musical influence -- jazz, funk, blues, R&B, rock, hip-hop -- and booked a variety of the city's most legendary acts from Dr. John and Allen Toussaint to the Meters and Lil Wayne. As the man whose 1974 album collaboration with the Meters and Toussaint, Desitively Bonnaroo, gave the festival its name and perhaps its original self-conception as part utopian playground, part playfully funky swamp of whateva-whateva, Mac "Dr. John" Renneback was honored with two spotlight gigs.
On Saturday, the Desitively crew reunited to play the album live, and allow the Meters to stun, confound, and forever enlighten a few fresh onlookers with their advanced rhythmic calculus. The album's lead track, "Quitters Never Win," was a marvel of simmering shimmy. On Sunday night, Dr. John was joined by the Black Keys' singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, who led a band he'd assembled and rehearsed during the past week, including members of Black Keys' touring band, My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, two female back-up singers, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. With a mix of classic New Orleans-identified tunes ("Iko Iko," "St. James Infirmary") and old compositions by Dr. John (who played piano, organ, and guitar), the band eased into an extended nudge and prod session, occasionally setting into a groove or flashing a bold interlude, but mostly just trying to locate mood that suited both a loose-booty raconteur like Dr. John and a canny blues-rock tactician like Auerbach.
"Mama Roux," "Jump Sturdy," and "There's a Break in the Road" (a Toussaint-written, late-'60s soul track for Betty Harris) were noble efforts, but the set highlight was a properly slinky, atmospheric take on "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" (from Dr. John's 1968 debut album Gris-Gris), with the man of honor gulping poison from his chalice and buckling his yellow belt of choison to contribute a surprisingly pointed slide guitar solo and to give the song's distinctive Creole patter ("Kon kon the kiddy kon kon") a stolid majesty. It was just the sort of moment of wonderfully groggy transcendence that Bonnaroo exists to conjure. -- CHARLES AARON
BEIRUT AT THE OTHER STAGE / THE STROKES AT THE WHICH STAGE
About 90 seconds before the Strokes were scheduled to walk onto the Which Stage to help close out Bonnaroo, singer Julian Casablancas was across the festival grounds, leaning against a rafter backstage watching Beirut perform. Noticing the time, the rocker hopped in a van, raced across the fest, and walked onstage. A few songs into the Strokes' set, Casablancas said, "So, Beirut. Pretty good, huh? Tough choice tonight... Uh, thanks for being here." Enthusiasm! The decision was a tough one: Beruit's Zach Condon offered an 80-minute festival capstone for a sleep-deprived Sunday crowd. The six-piece's uplifting sound came via horns, xylophones, keys, and a six-string acoustic guitar the size of a ukulele. They debuted a new song, tentatively named for Condon's home town of Sante Fe, which was elegant and emotive, soaring on accordion pulses and a group blast of brass.