Posted: 12:36 pm Saturday, June 11th, 2016
Fridays are when Bonnaroo really gets going. What and Which Stage each host performers for the first time, and the names of those performers get bigger and bigger. None, perhaps, so big among the marquee Bonnaroo 2016 artists as the recently reunited LCD Soundsystem. I couldn’t pretend to be a fan before their performance. I would group them with other bands whose appeal I may not quite understand despite them earning legions of passionate followers. I’ve spent a little time investigating them over the years without hearing anything that drew me in. Well, I consider last night an education.
The jumbotron camera spent several pre-set minutes pointed from birds’ eye view at LCD’s impressive array of gear. Moog synthesizers, keyboards, multiple drum sets traditional and electronic, random percussion, guitars and bass, etc., for the eight well-rehearsed musicians that utilize them. LCD bring five decades of dance music full circle from opener “Us V Them” onwards, by filtering their modern dance-rock back through the post-punk that sprang from disco and finally the steady, unrelenting percussive pace pioneered by legendary German group Kraftwerk. Top-notch, clearly well-rehearsed musicianship backing bandleader James Murphy, who probably deserves more credit as a vocalist than he typically receives considering how well he utilizes anything from punk rock rasp to his clean, sometimes soulful vibrato. With the time it must take to mastermind creation of such manic music and then undergo the extensive rehearsals with his band to make sure live execution fires on all cylinders, it’s no wonder why he put LCD Soundsystem on indefinite hold a few years ago. Murphy also dropped some self-deprecating charm about he and his band partying a little too hard the night before. He said with a smile, “We’re a little stupid, but I think we’re not alone,” before launching into “Get Innocuous.” A teary-eyed man behind me told his friend, “I never thought I’d see this again.” I think LCD Soundsystem can be as stupid as they want where their fans are concerned.
If LCD Soundsystem’s What Stage headlining set was the molly-fueled rave of Bonnaroo’s Friday, Tame Impala were the stoner, psychedelic after-party. The slow-burn intro of “Nangs” and “Let It Happen” climaxed with a triumphant blast of smoke and confetti cannons. Their hypnotic, Pet Sounds-referencing dance rock transfixed the Which Stage audience. Kevin Parker’s group held Bonnaroo’s famed “Late Night” set billing. LCD may have played prime time on the largest stage to the larger crowd, but Tame Impala played the longest set of the day from 1-3 A.M.
My Friday afternoon started much differently. Talk to many Bonnaroovians and you’ll hear laments over the lack of guitar-rock this year. Many such people gathered at That Tent for SoCal’s FIDLAR during the most oppressive heat of the afternoon. Crowd-wide chants of “I like/ Cheap beer/ So what?/ F— you!” preceded frontman Zac Carper’s simple greeting of “SUH!” and the band’s stoner-punk re-working of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” FIDLAR earned points with me by referencing Bully’s fantastic Thursday night set before pleasing the crowd with “Cheap Beer” and inspiring some impressive mosh pit action. The punk world would have been interesting had FIDLAR hit the scene 15 years earlier. I can’t help but wonder who would have found more success: FIDLAR or Sum 41?
During my Friday broadcast and brief interview with CHVRCHES singer Lauren Mayberry, my nudging inquiry about the possibility of Hayley Williams of Paramore joining the band on-stage for the just-released re-working of the Every Open Eye track “Bury It” proved prophetic, as a Bonnaroo app push notification teased something special for the band’s 6:45 P.M. What Stage set. After making fans wait, Lauren joked “I’m a little tired, but we still have two songs left. I think I need some help for this one.” Then out comes Hayley Williams, bright green hair pulled tight into four knots, for her first Bonnaroo performance. Hard to believe Tennessee natives Paramore have never played the festival. The rest of CHVRCHES set sounded magnificent. Because their stage setup is so sparse I always felt they would do best as a club band, but on this night songs like the manic New Order-debted “Clearest Blue” tingled the hair on the back of my neck. They filled Bonnaroo’s biggest stage quite capably.
Just after, over on Which Stage, Halsey arrived with her deep green, cropped hair, a tied-off flannel, and matching booty shorts. She squatted and gyrated as she sang, displaying the confidence she’s gained as a performer since I saw her last summer opening for Imagine Dragons. She hosted
her own surprise Bonnaroo collab, inviting St. Lucia out for a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Blue-white pyro blasts accentuated one of her own singles, “Colors.”
M83 followed on the same stage, awash in hypnotic rainbow lights and featuring more organic instruments than you’d expect from an electronic project mostly masterminded by one person. They opened with one of my favorites, “Reunion,” and I grooved to their set for a good half hour before I had to meet up in the Radio Roo compound for the march over to see LCD Soundsystem. They played “Midnight City” as we migrated over to What Stage.