MANCHESTER, TN — IPhone in hand, CMJ’s Ari Lipsitz reports from the mud-caked splendor of Bonnaroo.

Day 2


Arcade Fire, photo by C. Taylor Crothers courtesy of Bonnaroo.

Hot. Feet hurt. Need to drink more water. Sleeping may be giving in, but at 4.30 a.m. your will runs out. It’s cold. Two hours later, the sun and heat gently caress you from your hole in the ground where you’ve unceremoniously passed out. It’s hot again. You’re always missing bands. You meet people who know people who you haven’t talked to in years. There is no shade. It’s dusty from all the footsteps. It’s hazy. It’s Bonnaroo, and I’m loving every second of it.

Matt And Kim: The dynamic duo from Brooklyn has enthusiasm down to a science. Matt And Kim‘s shows really don’t change much from set to set; there’s the singalongs, playfully obscene banter, the laugh lines, the almost-excruciating enthusiasm (“let’s make these next three minutes the start of the BEST SUMMER OF YOUR LIFE”), as well as the delightfully punky stylings of keyboardist Matt and drummer Kim. Friday’s was a fun set with few surprises.

Givers: Givers did enthusiasm as well, but unlike Matt And Kim, it wasn’t part of the act. Givers, a new band from Lafayette, Louisiana, carried a blistering set with massive smiles and excitement. After an exploded van nearly prevented the band from playing, a Bonnaroo set (on a small but absolutely packed stage) must have been exhilarating. Givers delivered its blend of zydeco and indie pop in multi-sectional songs with personality; from guitarist-singer Taylor Guarisco’s possessed expressions, to synth player Nick Stephan grinning as he busted out a flute, to the extraordinary technical proficiency of the rhythm section, to the interplay between singers Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson (are they friends? Are they dating? It doesn’t matter, as they may win the award for “Cutest Indie Couple of 2011″), Givers’ show was an absolute highlight of Bonnaroo.

My Morning Jacket: Few bands are as versatile as My Morning Jacket. This fact was demonstrated in a two-hour set to tens of thousands, as special guests like Ben Sollee, a Nashville brass band, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band ran through extended hits and guitar solos. Jim James, the be-haired, be-caped, be-ugg’d frontman guitarist, was a madman, tearing through high notes like vocal cords were Thin Mints.

Arcade Fire: I almost feel bad about writing this. I am fully convinced Arcade Fire is the best band on the planet right now, which isn’t really that courageous a statement; I mean, you’re reading this—unless you’re just being contrarian for the sake of killing yr idols or indulge in misplaced adolescent cynicism, you probably at least like Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire is stadium rock at its finest: universal, loud, earnest. Bonnaroo did nothing to change my opinion; the band’s set was mostly the hits, the light show was unchanged, Win Butler is a greatly awkward yet endearing frontman, “Wake Up” is the best encore song of all time—it was all there. I teared up at the right places. I danced at the right places. I sang along to all of it. It was nearly perfect and entirely unsurprising, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Around 2 in the morning, I was assaulted by bass in every direction. Three electronic groups and Lil Wayne were playing at the same time, with the heavy bass that they all used (because everyone knows there can never be too much bass) bleeding into each other’s sets. I hear “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world” out of tune with another techno song across the field. I checked out Ratatat and found a somnabulistic visual display and irritatingly dissonant music, sounding something like Thin Lizzy sped up and fed into the synth in “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” over tropical beats. Pacifiers were abundant, so I suppose being in more of an altered state would have helped. The bass was inescapable at Shpongle and Pretty Lights, to the point of the sets becoming indistinguishable. But that’s alright, because rather than be a display of musical talent, they were the soundtrack to a lively evening for all involved. That’s Bonnaroo.

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