Bonnaroo: Veterans Lesh, Helm, King Hit The Right Notes
Music veterans like Phil Lesh, Levon Helm and B.B. King showed the younger generation a thing or two on the second day of Bonnaroo, offering a strong contrast to performances by rockers like Pearl JamIf Friday's day and night of music at Bonnaroo was marred by intense heat and, later, buckets of rain, the weather morphed into a cool summer evening for Pearl Jam's headlining set Saturday, during which some even threw on jackets or wrapped themselves in blankets.
Just a few steps away, Phil Lesh and his latest Friends band could be heard barreling through the first half of their own four-hour set, which featured Grateful Dead staples "One More Saturday Night" and "Uncle John's Band." The bassist was ably backed by drummr John Molo, Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz and guitarists Jackie Greene and Larry Campbell.
With Bonnaroo's late-night sets now the thing of legend, Kanye West refused to be outdone, switching his 8:15 p.m. start time on Saturday to 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning, marking the first time main stage has seen action that late in the night/early in the morning. But as Lesh and company thundered to a close after 3:30 a.m., West had still not gone on.
Just before 4:30, an hour-and-45 minutes late, he finally materialized. West wound up performing onstage by himself, on a ramp, with big screens behind him. The crowd, which had booed for almost an hour intermittingly waiting for him to come on, was not easily won over.
That wasn't an issue for blues legend B.B. King, who was presented the key to Manchester by mayor Betty Superstein prior to his set. His clean guitar tone a stark contrast to the distorted crunch of the day's modern rock outfits, King charmed the audiences with favorites like "Rock Me Baby," self-deprecating stories of his declining health and through his dedication to all the girls in the audience: "You Are My Sunshine." Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready stood side-stage, filming the entire time.
Earlier in the day, the Band's Levon Helm thrilled devotees in one of Bonnaroo's smaller tents in his first festival appearance. Flanked by celebrated guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, Max Weinberg 7 bassist Mike Merritt and his vocalist/daughter Amy (herself playing drums and mandolin), Helm blended bluegrass, gospel, rock and blues much like the Band did so expertly decades ago.
Teasing Band fans with "Ophelia" early on, Helm switched from drums to mandolin throughout the set. Midway through, he and the band delivered a rendition of his former band's "Rag Mama Rag." But it was the trifecta of "Chest Fever," "The Shape I'm In" and, finally, the closing "The Weight," not only found the mostly young mob of fans singing every word, it caused them to loudly, passionately chant "Levon! Levon! Levon!" Despite cries for an encore, Helm was already in an SUV, pulling away from the tent.
Making a return to Bonnaroo with a different band, featuring guitarist Judah Bauer of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) delivered a lovingly received set featuring such covers as Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," and a brief guest turn by celebrated local pianist Spooner Oldham.
Bonnaroo's roots are planted in the jam band community, but moshing and crowd-surfing have been on full display this weekend during sets by Metallica, metal superstars-in-waiting Mastodon and Against Me!. The latrer's early afternoon set displayed a Clash-like mix of power and passion, particularly on tracks from its latest album, "New Wave."
Saturday also featured performances by Chromeo, the Coup, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, Ghostland Observatory, Jurassic 5's Chali 2na and Sigur Ros. The festival wraps up today with performances by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Widespread Panic, Death Cab For Cutie, Aimee Mann, Solomon Burke, Orchestra Baobab, Israel Vibration, O.A.R. and Jakob Dylan.
For additional Bonnaroo coverage, visit the Billboard blog at JadedInsider.com.