Beach Boys, Phish, Fun. Bring Good Vibes to Bonnaroo
Bonnaroo 2012's defining singalong moment came late in the festival, which wrapped up last night in Manchester, Tenneesee. It was at That Tent shortly before 8 p.m., when New York power-pop sensation fun. hit the first chorus of their ubiquitous hit, "We Are Young." Across the vicinity, it seemed like every single attendee — from festivalgoers to vendors and event staffers — was singing along to the rousing, undeniable anthem with the same life-affirming gusto as fun.'s lead singer, Nate Ruess.
Love or hate fun., but don't accuse the band of false advertising. They make light, radio-aspiring pop with no other objective than to elicit joy in their audience. In Ruess, the band has the commanding frontman to lead them to stadium-sized success if they can keep cranking out hooks that hit as hard as "We Are Young" does.
The endgame for cultivating that kind of classic pop canon can be found in the reunited Beach Boys. The band has a treasure trove of outright classics, and they performed what felt like all of them during their Sunday afternoon set. "Surfer Girl," "Barbara Ann," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Sloop John B," "Surfin' Safari," even "Kokomo" – you name it, they probably played it. While that wasn't inherently surprising, what came as a bit of a shock was how fresh the band sounded – even if its elder members didn't look the part – both on their classics and on tunes from their recently released reunion LP, That's Why God Made the Radio. Brian Wilson's presence is what makes this reunion so successful, but onstage he looked like the Queen of England, sitting idly behind a grand piano and taking the occasional vocal lead; Mike Love, meanwhile, seemed to be the main Beach Boy behind the wheel. Taken together with the afternoon's balmy weather and the day-in-the-park vibe of festivalgoers knocking around beach balls and splaying out on towels, the group's sublime set was just the thing for a lazy, hungover Sunday.
Bonnaroo drew its initial inspiration directly from the festivals that Phish threw in the 1990s, so it was only fitting that Phish closed out the main stage with a two-set show that embodied the spirit of the fest. They did jammed-out covers of TV on the Radio's "Golden Age" and the Velvet Underground's "Rock & Roll," dropped a deep cut ("Shafty") for the first time since 2003 and nodded to the Tennessee environs with a rendition of the bluegrass standard "Rocky Top."
"Every time we play here we get to play with people we admire," said guitarist Trey Anastasio, referencing the band's only other proper appearance at Bonnaroo in 2009, when they brought out Bruce Springsteen. This time around, they invited Kenny Rogers onstage to sing "The Gambler." It seemed like an odd pairing at first, but moments later Anastasio teased "The Gambler's" melody again on guitar, this time incorporating it into a jam out of "Possum" with a knowing wink to the crowd. As the band wrapped up their four-hour enterprise with a "Tweezer Reprise" encore, a fireworks show erupted behind the stage, putting a wrap on Bonnaroo 2012 at large.
Between the nights spent camping, the constant consumption of live music and the inevitable exhaustion, it really is tougher for musicians to make an impact at Bonnaroo on its final day. But those elements were no match for Gary Clark Jr, who held an early-arriving What Stage crowd in the palm of his hand during his set of savage barn-burners, falsetto-crooned waltzing ballads and slow-grooving dirges. Clark's blood-and-guts guitar tone and solos crescendoed like cinematic dramas, and his rhythm section knew just when to get out of the way and lay into a deep-pocketed groove. With Clark's cool, effortlessly seductive charisma, blues-rock has a new star on its hands.
Bon Iver's music is well-matched for a mellow Sunday afternoon, and the band delivered a main stage set that was just relaxed enough while still managing to capture the audience. Fans sang along to favorites like "Skinny Love" and "Holocene," and frontman Justin Vernon decided to capitalize on it by asking them to belt the line, "What might have been lost," in unison during a jammy rendition of "The Wolves (Act I and II)" – the chorus grew louder and louder until it turned into outright screaming. "Let's see if we can crack open the sky or something," said Vernon, who got his wish when it actually did start drizzling.