Day 2 at Bonnaroo: The rain held off but the heat didn’t, Animal Collective and Phoenix made fans believe the hype, Public Enemy had them arguing otherwise, the Beastie Boys brought out a fellow New York MC to debut a new track and an energized Phish ended their night with “A Day In the Life.”
Phish held down their responsibilities as ringleader of the main stage on Friday night. The two-day headliners (including Sunday’s festival-closing set) came through with a set full of crowd-pleasers, a little something for everyone but nothing outrageously mind-blowing all told. Five years on from “farewell festival” Coventry, Phish seemed back at home in front of the immense crowd, playing a good deal of the classic Phish canon including “Harry Hood,” “Wilson,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Divided Sky” and “Chalkdust Torture”
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Roller-coaster improvisational work highlighted “Kill Devil Falls,” while the band’s playful nature was best represented by a trio of covers: AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” “Also Sprach Zarathusra” (“2001”), and an encore performance of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
Phish put on what for most bands would be a powerhouse headlining performance, but it was clear restraint was a factor as well; some surprises surely were held back for Sunday night. Nonetheless, Friday ended on a celebratory note: Phish is back, they’re not the only exciting band on display, and Bonnaroo 2009 is off to an impressive start.
Friday at Bonnaroo broke about as gorgeously as could be expected following Thursday night’s one-day monsoon season, and stayed that way throughout; by day’s end the previous evening’s vast, flip-flop-abducting mud puddles were taking on that nice baked-mud smell, which, incidentally, is not a complaint.
This was good news, as there was much to get to, starting with Gomez, who eased things open with a solid, sprawling Which Stage performance featuring a lovely, breezy “See the World” singalong and a groovy trip through “Airstream Driver.”
The main What Stage opened for business on Friday, hosting the Rev. Al Green, who shimmered throughout his soul-drenched set of love standards like “Let’s Stay Together” and “Here I Am,” despite being forced to more or less catapult red roses to fans across the security barrier. The Beastie Boys provided an early highlight, bringing out fellow New York rapper Nas to debut a new track from the band’s upcoming “Hot Sauce Committee” record, possibly titled “Too Many Rappers.”
The more often you blog, the more likely you were to be found at the Which Stage, which hosted skewed-pop outfit Animal Collective, who played to a massive afternoon crowd, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (performing in a brutal afternoon sun), TV On The Radio and David Byrne.
Byrne closed out the Which stage with a two-hour performance ranging from recent material to a handful of Talking Heads classics, including a memorable trio from “Remain in Light”: “Born Under Punches,” “Crosseyed & Painless,” and “Once in a Lifetime,” the latter interpreted into movement by Byrne’s energetic dancers.
Vermont-based roots-rock outfit Grace Potter and the Nocturnals brought its new six-piece incarnation to Bonnaroo; Potter’s voice, especially on tracks like “Joey,’ keeps getting better with age (not hard, as she’s all of 25). Drive-By Trucker frontman Patterson Hood debuted his band the Screwtopians and performed a set from his sophomore solo disc, “Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs),” due later this month.
But others stuck to the past: While Phish was staging its Bonnaroo comeback, Public Enemy was revisiting its storied past in the This Tent, performing its 1988 classic “It Takes a Nation of Milllions To Hold Us Back” to a tent of thousands. The late late shows saw mashup wizard Girl Talk in That Tent and Paul Oakenfold in This Tent, sending regular bursts of bass across the festival grounds.
Early in the day, organizers reported a crowd of about 75,000 expected at the festival, which they said was “just shy” of a sellout. Saturday brings Jimmy Buffett, performing with Ilo Ferreira, Wilco, the Decemberists, Elvis Costello, Nine Inch Nails and a headlining slot by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Here is Phish’s Friday night setlist:
“Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan”
“The Divided Sky”
“Down With Disease”
“Kill Devil Falls>Free”
“Wading in the Velvet Sea”
“Highway To Hell>2001”
“You Enjoy Myself>Wilson”
E: “A Day In The Life”
Make sure to check out Billboard.com’s ongoing Bonnaroo coverage all weekend long.