Hundred Waters’ soulful electronica has always teetered on the edge of full-blown pop, especially in their live show, but the debut of new music during the group’s Thursday night set hinted at a riveting future. While “Out Alee” and “Xtalk” were peaks, the new songs—sweaty, uptempo, danceable but also entrancing—made this the highlight of Thursday night.
Friday afternoon was hot—as in, so hot that you didn’t want to move at Bonnaroo, even if your favorite act was playing on the other side of the field. For those brave enough to fight the heat and see Ibeyi, however, the twin-sister duo offered a midday oasis. The performance offered rich textures, but more importantly, the emotional refrains stirred even the sleepiest audience members onto their feet.
No matter what your deal is, it wasn’t possible to hear Isbell’s mid-afternoon set on the big stage on Sunday and not get knocked on your ass by the depth and straightforward honesty of his country-tinged rock (or rock-tinged country, depending on your point of view). You might have even seen a few tears leaking out of the corner of some Bonnaroovians’ eyes when he played his rawest love song “Cover Me Up” with his musician wife Amanda Shires at his side. And a few more tears when he made a plea for “compassion and empathy” in the wake of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shootings that killed fifty. "It's a happy day on stage,” Isbell said. “But it's not a happy day everywhere in the world right now.”
Exposed biceps, girlish screams and songs called “Single for the Summer” and “I Met a Girl”: Sam Hunt’s Saturday showcase was the epitome of bro-country, and yet, it totally worked. Credit Hunt’s endless charisma for guiding him through sing-along after sing-along, a medley of country classics and multiple monologues in the We’ve come so far since we started playing music variety. Hunt is a force of nature, and at Bonnaroo, he was definitely a positive force.
The Saturday night Superjam is a high point of every Bonnaroo, but this year’s collection of eclectic musicians felt especially poignant. A tribute to the music of Tennessee featuring performances of songs by B.B. King, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Justin Timberlake, the Superjam benefited from the wildly talented and particularly enthusiastic Kamasi Washington serving as curator and lead saxophonist.
With two-plus hours of full-throated rock 'n' roll with all kinds of heart (and a few words in support of transgender equality), Pearl Jam brought its well-honed live show to the Bonnaroo main stage after a lightning storm delay. The Seattle powerhouse rocked well into the wee hours, mixing favorites (“Alive,” “Better Man”) with deep cuts and covers—taking time for both frontman Eddie Vedder and lead guitarist Mike McCready to step out into the pit to commune with the crowd of tens of thousands.
The Haim sisters make songwriting look so easy that sometimes you can get lulled into thinking that their songs aren’t uniformly excellent. The truth is, Haim has unlocked a corner of pop music that’s beyond special, and on Saturday night at Bonnaroo, Este, Alana and Danielle previewed a new album with two songs that pushed their sound into even more euphoric territory. Haim has become a can’t-miss act at festivals, and their sophomore LP will be a must-hear whenever it’s released.
LCD Soundsystem was never going to command the biggest audience at Bonnaroo. Headlining the Friday night main stage, however, LCD’s set was a frantic showcase of their three albums and a full-on percussion assault that thrilled the longtime fans and converted longtime skeptics. The beats literally never let up as the group glided from one song to the next (including “Tribulations” and “Movement” back-to-back), plowing ahead as their onlookers were trying to catch their breath. James Murphy and co. might have gone away for five years, but on Friday night, they refused to let up, even if a second.
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