Saturday at Bonnaroo 2016 wound up being a solid day despite the presence of two of the most vapid artists of the decade. At this point, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis seem like one of the longest-running jokes in music. Their oddly-placed set on the main stage – between Band of Horses and Pearl Jam – only served to emphasize their lack of quality material. In the middle of their set, lightning forced the evacuation of the concert area for about 90 minutes. It seemed as if we were in for a serendipitous cancellation, but instead, Macklemore was allowed to finish once the music resumed. One has to wonder how long he can continue fooling people into giving him money, though the show certainly don’t lack production value and showmanship. Then there’s Sam Hunt, whose intolerable faux-country embodies everything that is wrong with popular music. Mercifully, there was plenty of other quality music to offset these aberrations.
Chris Stapleton and the indefinable soul/R&B/hip-hop group The Internet shared the same time slot, making it nearly impossible to catch a bit of both sets. Granted, there’s not much crossover between those fanbases, but if you like good music, there’s certainly room for both in your life. The lineup on this day was no less odd than that juxtaposition. The millennials flocked to the Which Stage for sets by Two Door Cinema Club, Haim, and Ellie Goulding; the black t-shirt crowd checked out Clutch and Lamb of God; and the mainstream folks soaked up Grace Potter, Stapleton, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Hunt.
Though diverse and entertaining music abounded, things didn’t go perfectly on this day. The bizarre, avant-garde outfit Grandma Sparrow, whose music is a tricky thing to figure out in the first place, was essentially drowned out by the nearby boom of Two Door Cinema Club for all but a few minutes of their set. Their shtick is part nursery rhyme, part maddening Zappa-like song cycle, and all really strange. But it was hard to tell what was happening due to the sound bleed. The always-anticipated Superjam, led by Kamasi Washington and members of Lettuce, was a train wreck of strange song choices and uninteresting guests. Thankfully, some old hands were around to rescue Saturday at Bonnaroo from lightning and poor planning.
Band of Horses impressed mightily, their aw-shucks approach balanced by a stellar performance featuring loads of great new material. The always dependable Les Claypool, who joked he had played “73 Bonnaroos”, returned to Manchester with yet another new project, The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Claypool and Sean Lennon, along with a drummer and keyboardist/synthetic sound provider, opened up a universe of possibilities with their confoundingly psychedelic original tunes and cosmic covers like Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” and The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium
Pearl Jam’s delayed set became a de facto late night show, kicking off around 11:45 and lasting two solid hours. Relatively speaking, Eddie Vedder didn’t take up too much space bashing Donald Trump and a republican senator from Tennessee, opting instead to cram as much music as possible into the allotted time. Though they’ve been pulling out their deepest cuts on this tour, the esoteric tunes were shelved in favor of raw, frenetic, and incredibly loud renditions of classics. “Go” opened the show with a surge of noisy vigor, “Lightning Bolt” alluded to the weather-related event of the day, “Even Flow” featured a genuinely maniacal guitar solo from Mike McCready, and the set-closing duo of “Why Go” and “Porch” crackled with an intensity that belied the age of those songs and the band. Vedder forgot a few lyrics along the way, shrugging off his mistakes with the nonchalance of a guy who’s said “fuck it” one too many times. But still, the show delivered, and the lengthy encore offered not only another Floyd cover for the day (“Comfortably Numb”) but also an interesting ebb and flow between emotional slow-burners (“Oceans”, “Black”, “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”) and caterwauling anthems (“Alive”, “Do The Evolution”, “Betterman”). They closed with a longtime favorite cover, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”, and those who stuck it out until nearly 2 AM won’t likely forget the hurting that the veteran band put on their eardrums.
Actual late-night offerings were sparse, but Big Grams (Big Boi and Phantogram) made sure there was plenty of bass-heavy beef for revelers to chew on until the wee hours. A near-perfect combination of rhymes and insidious hooks splayed out from That Tent via crowd-pleasing hits “Goldmine Junkie”, “Lights On”, and “Run For Your Life”, and they even offered up a classic from the Outkast catalog with “The Way You Move”. Big Boi once again proved why he’s one of the best live rappers that has ever held a mic. It was a cathartic, sexy end to a day that had otherwise been a bit of a hot mess.