On Friday, things at Bonnaroo started to heat up with the shows and the weather. Thursday’s cold snap had brought a sell out of sweatshirts at the merchandise tent, but Friday saw no such thing. The two main stages opened up and one of the more stellar lineups of the weekend kicked off. The following artists gave performances that will be remembered for years to come.
Before Walker Lukens took to the Who Stage on Friday, a buzz had started. People who had seen him at clubs were excited to see his show hit the Bonnaroo lineup, and dragged their friends over to be converted. Dressed to the nines and filled with showmanship, Walker Lukens and his band, The Side Arms, really knew how to get down. The layered arrangements and quirky sound got the attention of everyone, from the nearby frisbee players to the souls wandering by.
Best fan comment of the show: “I think I’d be a really great tambourine player.”
Playing before the projection of a moon, Scandinavian/Dutch newcomers Klangstof made their Bonnaroo debut on the Which Stage with an atmospheric vibe, even midday. The foursome’s moody were perfect for those seeking an afternoon respite under the trees. As they drifted back and forth between melodic, synth-filled bangers and into slower territory, they called out “We’re going to play a sad one now, sorry.” On their last song they burned it down, turning out their most energetic number yet, as the moon behind them wafted into a scene of flames.
Best fan comment of the show: “For a sad song, it was pretty enjoyable.”
Canadian indie folk band The Strumbellas came out on the Which Stage to get everyone on their feet. Their set spun out one fun jam after another, surprising the audience by how many of their songs were familiar. The eclectic group closed out their set with radio hit “Spirits,” otherwise known as “The Strumbellas Song” — a fitting anthem for a band that is as perfect a festival act as one can imagine.
Best fan comment of the show: “I didn’t know they did that song!”
Taking over the main stage, Francis and the Lights brought his beat boxing style to those who came down early. Really knowing how to break it down, Francis Farewell Starlite mixed his strobes and synths with his own form of twerking. “What a wonderful early evening it is!” he called out to the crowd, and it was made all the more wonderful by this performance.
Best fan comment of the show: “Girl, you can’t dance like that!”
Car Seat Headrest were a fan favorite set with a cult following. Folks were packed in this tent like sardines all to catch the band, who got their start on Bandcamp, in their breakout performance. The fans were truly a part of this show and one fan was invited on stage to play cowbell for one song. Audience participation is a dying breed, but Car Seat Headrest kept it alive.
Best fan comment of the show: “More cowbell, please.”
One of those bands just bordering the edge of nostalgia, where people remember listening to the songs at a younger time in their life, Cold War Kids brought a vibrant show to the Which Stage on Friday afternoon. They were not mellowed out by the heat, and kept everyone jamming under the afternoon sun. Their set was one of those that left people reminiscing of the good old days.
Best fan comment of the show: “That song changed my life.”
British three-piece outfit The xx opened for U2 on the main stage, playing an hour and a half set of sleek tunes perfect to set the mood for the Irish rockers up next. While oftentimes trending more towards the gloomy, the positive energy radiating from the members of The xx onstage overcame the sad nature of their lyrics. “You’re making us nervous,” quipped singer/guitarist Romy Madley Croft, though they didn’t look it. Croft then delved into a solo song, which she remarked was “really scary” but nailed without a hitch.
Best fan comment of the show: “I’ve finally learned how to get down to their darkness.”
Hot in the middle of their The Joshua Tree tour, U2 squeezed a stop at Bonnaroo into their agenda. After all, with the name, it had to be a perfect fit, according to Bono who joked “What an extraordinary thing Bonnaroo is, thank you for naming it after me.” The band played the entirety of their The Joshua Tree album for its thirtieth anniversary, including tracks which had never been played live before this tour, in front of a cinematically directed backdrop of stunning videos showing the American west where the album’s artwork was captured.
Aside from The Joshua Tree, U2 took the audience on a journey through their careers, spanning from opening threesome “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day” and “Pride (In The Name of Love)” to the encore of “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation,” and “Vertigo.” The last two songs of the evening were a heartwarming rendition of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” dedicated to all of the women of the world, and the emotionally stirring “One.” Without these cornerstones, the majority of The Joshua Tree struggled to rein in an audience widely born before its inception, but U2’s performance didn’t waver.
In perfect form, U2 portrayed both their skill as industry veterans and Bono’s masterful showmanship, as his commanding presence strayed back and forth between his extended catwalk stage and the drum kit, encouraging fans throughout the audience to become a part of the performance. U2 also cleverly worked in other notable artists, from dedicating “One Tree Hill” to Lily Cornell, daughter of the recently deceased Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, whom Bono noted “had an epic heart.” U2 also worked Saturday’s headliners, Red Hot Chili Peppers, into the mix, crossing “Beautiful Day” into RHCP’s “Under the Bridge” in classic Bono mix-and-match style. He also found time to throw in shout outs to both The xx and Chance the Rapper, proving that even U2 aren’t too big to respect other bands.
In a setlist filled with memorable moments, put on by an epic band, the most inspired of the night was perhaps Bono’s notion that “the government should fear the people, the people should not fear the government,” spoken truly from an Irishman who has seen his fair share of political upheaval through his lifetime. Overall, the message U2 gave the audience throughout the night was that of hope: hope that dreams won’t die, hope that the misfortunate in the world will survive, and hope that U2 will keep on keeping on forever.
Best fan comment of the show: “Bono can keep looking, but I’ve found what I wanted.”
While most of the late night shows are of the EDM variety, cult hit band Portugal. The Man came on right after U2 to close out an evening of alternative rock. Taking the stage to a strobe-light filled mayhem that did not disappoint those there to rave, they pieced through both their own material and covers of Metallica, Oasis, and Pink Floyd. The band stayed on well into the morning hours, turning This Tent into one of those epic late night jams that keeps going well beyond its cutoff time.
Best fan comment of the show: “But the strobes, man!”