5 Bests Sets of Bonnaroo 2011: Day 2
Bonnaroo kicked off in earnest on Friday with My Morning Jacket's debut set as a headliner on the What Stage, and Lil Wayne's late-night party at the Which Stage. But there were plenty of other highlights. Here are our Top 5:
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE AT THE OTHER TENT
As the son of Steve Earle and namesake of Townes Van Zandt, Justin Townes Earle undoubtedly talks a lotta s*** in his everyday grind, but onstage Friday he was about as artfully and bluntly honest as any singer-songwriter type you'll ever encounter. And he did it by playing his part to the hilt -- sporting a plaid jacket and tie, Panama hat, khakis, cigarette dangling, looking like a squirrelly '40s con man in a James Purdy novel who'll spend all day confessing his colorful sins in a radio-DJ purr, just so you'll lend him enough scratch to buy two fingers of gin.
There's a world of mischief dancing behind Earle's style-conscious nerd glasses and a universe of sly regret in his expressive, if slightly thin voice. When he cracks, "I've always been known as a hard dog to keep under the porch... and nothing's changed," you feel the timeless exasperation that wandering musicians induce; and when he later half-jokes, "My mama's probably still sittin' in a chair in her living room wondering where the f*** I am," you're blindsided by a parent's helpless fear (at one point, Earle admits, "Most people know I take a lot of drugs; try not to, sure like to").
With the stunningly talented fiddler/singer Amanda Shires and upright bassist Bryn Davies at his side (with an assist from cellist Ben Sollee), Earle fiercely plucked his acoustic guitar and performed songs that moaned, teased, flirted, and snarled. On "Slippin' and Slidin'," a sleepy substance-abuse ditty, you could almost, for an instant, see his demons flashing across his narrow, elastic, suddenly contorted face. Then he regrouped and strummed a gently devastating take on the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait," perhaps the most affecting too-f***ed-up-to-lie lament of the past 30 years. Earle made it seem like a truth he had to share. -- CHARLES AARON
ARCADE FIRE AT THE WHAT STAGE
Even for longtime naysayers, it's hard not to be an Arcade Fire fan these days. Their new album, The Suburbs, is arguably their best yet, winning a Grammy for Album of the Year and wooing critics with its heavy instrumentation and ideas about frontman Win Butler's upbringing outside Houston. Live, they are indie rock grandness delivered with the zeal of a tribe of four-year-olds let loose in a McDonald's playpen. It was a thrilling 90 minutes: the eight members banged on pianos, tambourines, violins, and xylophones, and hollered in unison on highlights "Ready to Start," "Keep the Car Running," "No Cars Go," and "Intervention." Meanwhile, clips from their short film with Spike Jonze played on two massive onstage screens. "Alright you f***ing hippies let's do it," Butler said, smirking mischievously before launching the punk blaster "Month of May." On the swaying Caribbean beats of "Haiti" and the open-ended groove of "Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)," Regine Chassagne took over on vocals, and twirled with colorful streamers. Communal good vibes abounded, despite the moist heat (even at midnight). "Me and my brother [bandmate Will] grew up in eastern Texas, so it's nice to feel proper humidity for once," said Win, wiping his brow between songs. "Trust me, it's nice. It's really cold where I live." That being Montreal. Later he added, "You know, any festival where you can see My Morning Jacket and Lil Wayne is OK with me." -- WILLIAM GOODMAN