After being introduced by Phish frontman/guitarist Trey Anastasio as his "boyhood hero and still hero," Springsteen first handled vocals and guitar on a rollicking "Mustang Sally." The group then turned its attention to Springsteen's catalog: Anastasio contributed speed-fingered guitar work to a jangly, sweet "Bobby Jean," and Springsteen, who assumed the role of bandleader by steering a rough-start "Glory Days" back into calmer waters and calling for "a little more keyboard" for Phish's Page McConnell, led the tens of thousands in the crowd in a massive summertime singalong. It was the song's second appearance in two nights; Springsteen and the E Street Band performed it in their Saturday night slot as well. And for his part, Springsteen was busy on Sunday, having been spotted earlier in the day taking in sets by Neko Case and Band of Horses.
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Bruce aside, Phish's festival-closing slot Sunday was a two-set performance that brought a sense ofclosure to an epic, jam-packed weekend. Unlike the band's last festival headlining experience five years ago in Coventry, Vt. (which marked the start of the group’s latest, just-ended hiatus), Sunday's Phish set was more celebratory in nature, a good-times exploration through the band’s bag of tricks that pulled out plenty of hits and brilliantly embellished covers.
"AC/DC Bag" and "NICU" got things off to a jaunty start, riffing on the uptempo rock grooves and then winding their way through longer compositions "Punch You in the Eye" and "Run Like an Antelope" before the big surprise just prior to the end of the first set.
Set two started with a rollicking cover of the Velvet Underground’s "Rock and Roll." An old fan favorite, the three-chord nugget got the royal Phish treatment with an extended jam alternately ebullient and meditative. Other second-set highlights were a boisterous take on new track "Backwards Down the Number Line" and the funky instrumental "First Tube." A relatively short encore of "Suzy Greenberg" and "Tweezer Reprise" brought the show and the festival to a close.
On the whole, Sunday proved to be a day for wandering, as differing styles abounded: While the Lovell Sisters displayed their progressive bluegrass stylings at This Tent, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists rocked the Other Tent with reckless abandon, presenting a hard-edged indie-rock accented with an Irish-by-way-of-Jersey brogue. Leo's set included a smattering of new songs, including the feisty "Where Was My Brain."
Elsewhere, Citizen Cope's head-nodding grooves soothed an afternoon crowd; quick-wit folkie Todd Snider regaled his audience with an autobiographical tale of his own prep-sports history that led into the wickedly sharp "Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males" and Austin, Tx.-based rockers Okkervil River turned "Unless It's Kicks" into a full-tent clapalong.
On the main stage, sporting a Public Enemy hoodie, the regal Erykah Badu spun a soulful web, dribbling bits of "Rapper's Delight" and NWA's "Gangsta Gangsta" into "Love of My Life," while the legendary Merle Haggard’s classic country rock provided a stark contrast from This Tent across the Bonnaroo compound. In between, Andrew Bird whistled merrily through a 90-minute set on the Which Stage.
Neko Case was joined onstage by the seemingly ubiquitous Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who sang backup on "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" after delivering a series of rapid-fire jokes involving Case's work with animals and Bonnaroo's archetypal odors ("I love the smell of weed mixed with Axe body spray," he said, but he kids). When not sharing stage space with an angry puppet, though, Case dedicated a song to Badu ("She's so bad-ass," reported Case, correctly) and glowed on rockers like "This Tornado Loves You" and a breathtaking cover of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me."
Elsewhere, just a word from Snoop Dogg caused a massive crowd at the What Stage to get its hands in the air, especially on well-aged tracks like "Gin and Juice," "Who Am I (What's My Name)" and a cover of "Jump Around," before being joined by Badu for a spare, simmering take on "Lodi Dodi" - one that found Snoop cleaning up his language in deference to his guest. Snoop also delivered in closing what might have been the line of the day: "Anybody ready for some motherf---in' Phish?"
Snoop Dogg performs at Bonnaroo 2009.
And although this year's festival lacked the traditional semi-secret "super jam," it did stuff a relentless series of music into four not-nearly-enough days, an overgenerous stretch of overlapping set times and sleepless nights (it helped if you could sleep through bass). But Phish was a more than fitting choice to bring it to a close and send the satisfied throngs out into the night back to the actual world, drained but entertained.