Low Cut Connie, T-Pain, Sturgill Simpson and Muse go big at Bonnaroo

Low Cut Connie

By Bill Foster and Kent Oglesby

All photos by Bill Foster

Thursday (Day One) • Friday (Day Two)Saturday (Day Three)Sunday (Day Four)

The 17th installment of Bonnaroo is in full swing. We’ve got music to see, so we’ll get right to it. Here are a few of our favorites from day two.

Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast, the solo project of the Philly-based musician Michelle Zauner, took the stage at This Tent at 2:15 on Friday afternoon. Folks were packed in pretty tight under the tent, pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder in every inch of glorious shade that the cover provided. The chill vibes and pretty sounds of the performers made for a perfect start to the day.

“We’ve lost a few of our heroes over the last few years,” Zauner said, hinting at an imminent tribute song. Fittingly for Japanese Breakfast’s sound, the hero to whom she was referring was Dolores O’Riordan, iconic frontwoman for The Cranberries. The band then played an absolutely beautiful cover of “Dreams,” and its rich, full sound filled up the tent. If there was anyone in attendance who was still trying to knock out the cobwebs and regroup from the night before, this performance was a crucial wake-up call. – Kent Oglesby

T-Pain

T-Pain

T-Pain’s early-evening set at That Tent was bananas. It’s rare that either of the tents get as crowded as it was for this show, with people spilling out left, right and center, as the masses tried to inch closer to catch a glimpse of the ‘rappa ternt sanga.’ This was one of the most fun sets of the weekend so far. T-Pain really got the crowd moving, splitting his stage duties between singing and making sure the crowd stayed pumped up.

One thing that everyone in attendance was reminded of during this show is that T-Pain has an awful lot of hit songs, and he played dang near every single one of them. Nearly all of those hits were shared with another artist; e.g. T-Pain featuring Akon or Lil Wayne featuring T-Pain. Only playing through his parts on all these tracks meant that he changed up songs every 60-90 seconds or so, keeping the audience guessing the entire time. – KO

Low Cut Connie

Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie

With a high-profile story in Rolling Stone and endorsements from Barack Obama and Sir Elton John, the buzz surrounding Low Cut Connie has been building and building, culminating with the glowing reviews for their just-released fifth album, “Dirty Pictures (Part 2).” The crowd of 600 or so at the Who Stage on Friday were rustling with anticipation as Low Cut Connie prepared for their Bonnaroo debut. Backstage, drummer Larry Scotton prepared the band for the blazing heat with a call-and-response football pep talk: “I wanna hear four words! Repeat them with me! Slow! Sexy! Funky! And damn nasty!”

From the first second on stage, Low Cut Connie delivered on those words, as every single moment was filled with dramatic moments that matched the funk-rockabilly sound. Frontman Adam Weiner played the piano in every position possible: leaning backwards, on his knees, standing backwards, all the while continually exhorting the crowd to party, yell and live in the moment. Guitarist Will Donnelly leaped off the top of the piano, band members dropped to their knees, leaned into each other and generally spent every second looking like each particular moment was the greatest of their lives. Set highlights included a revamped “Rio,” “Shake it Little Tina” and a beautiful “Ain’t No Grave” that featured new background singer Saundra Williams and that was dedicated to Anthony Bourdain. The set concluded with an epic romp through Prince’s “Controversy,” as Weiner ran through the audience in an attempt to hug every individual present. There are two days yet to go, but I don’t think I am going to see a better show. To paraphrase the master, Low Cut Connie is the best live act in America right now, and I’ll stand on any coffee table you like and repeat that. – Bill Foster

Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra rocked the Which Stage on Friday afternoon. Their show was powerful and packed quite a punch, and their sound was really heavy. A lot of it was heavier than you’d expect if you’ve only ever heard their albums, and it fit the big festival stage setting very well.

This was a straightforward, crank-up-the-volume rock show, and it was glorious. They played a lot of tracks from their latest record, “A Black Mile to the Surface.” Everyone singing along to “Gold,” their big single from that album, was the highlight of the weekend thus far for me. Everyone near the stage most likely left with some ringing ears, but it was totally worth it. – KO

Bassnectar

Bassnectar

It was pretty unbelievable how much the bass could be felt – even from the very back of the crowd – at Bassnectar’s Friday night set on the Which Stage. I could feel the bass in my throat. My throat. It was awesome. I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my day, and I’ve never had that happen. If ‘bass’ is in your name, though, that kinda makes sense. Seeing it from the back provided an interesting perspective. All of the crazy signs, poles wrapped in lights and glow sticks in the crowd (as well as the full view of the lighting production and laser show) all could be seen at once. This happens with a lot of these festival EDM shows, but calling it a show seems like a misnomer; more accurately, it was one big crazy party. – KO

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson’s entire persona these days is a reaction to his antipathy toward the Nashville star-making machinery that he has spent his career opposing. It showed on Friday night on his t-shirt, a heavily ironic statement that is itself a reaction to the t-shirt that helped make him famous. It showed in his stage show, surely the most stripped-down production to ever play the main stage at Bonnaroo: a four-piece band set one hundred feet back from the front of the stage, illuminated by plain white light and set against a black background. No other lights, no video projections, no fog; just four dudes playing like it’s their last show ever. It showed in the lineup, guitar, bass, drums, keys and Simpson handling all the guitar duties, a long way from the double-organ, horn-laden lineups of past shows. However, the lack of production serves to place the emphasis right where it belongs: on Simpson’s electrifying voice and guitar pyrotechnics in a tight set that included a cover of Freddie King’s “Going Down” and a completely out-of-left-field cover of English dance band When in Rome’s “The Promise,” as well as his own songs including “Breaker’s Roar,” “Keep it Between the Lines” and “Turtles All the Way Down.” – BF

Muse

Muse

Muse is in a curious place, a band with little radio play and only one U.S. hit yet who somehow have become one of the biggest festival draws in the world, with a fanatical fan base who sing every word back at the band. In a tight, 83-minutes, 15-song set Friday night at Bonnaroo, they demonstrated how they earned their place. Sounding like a cross between Queen and Rage Against the Machine, the three-piece (with an occasional multi-instrumentalist in the background, absolutely stormed the What Stage. In front of an 11-screen video display that projected everything from scenes from old sci-fi TV to graphics that would have fit in at a EDM show, Muse rarely slowed down. They opened with “Thought Contagion,” “Psycho,” and “History” before closing with “Uprising,” “Man With a Harmonica” and “Knights of Cydonia,” taking brief detours into the riffs from “Back in Black” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Throughout, from glasses that showed lyrics as frontman Matt Bellamy sang, to giant balls that exploded into confetti, to steam canons and confetti, Muse showed that they truly belong on one of the biggest stages in the world. – BF

Muse

Superjam: Tom Petty Tribute

Tom Petty Tribute Superjam

With a ringer of a band featuring My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, Wilco’s Pat Sansone, VHS or Beta singer Craig Pfunder, Daniel Creamer of The Texas Gentlemen, the Watson Twins and several others, the Tom Petty Superjam would have been a stellar show even without guests. This is a Superjam at Bonnaroo, however, so there were guests aplenty, each one topping the last. Kicking off in a capacity This Tent at 2 a.m., Hallahan led the band in a 20-song set that was full of highlights. Moon Taxi’s Trevor Terndrup fired off an incendiary solo during a guitar duet with Sansone on “Running Down a Dream.” Cage the Elephant’s Matt Schulz did Matt Shultz things during “Breakdown.” Bon Iver dueted with Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Sheryl Crow was bouncing with enthusiasm during “American Girl.” Vanessa Carlton made (surprisingly) her Bonnaroo debut on “Learning to Fly.” Other guests included the Wild Feathers, the Revivalists’ David Shaw, Rayland Baxter (playing a duet with his father, Bucky), star photographer Danny Clinch, Japanese Breakfast and more. The stellar set concluded at 3:15, as the entire ensemble banged through a ragged yet wondrous encore featuring the Traveling Wilburys hits “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line.” – BF

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