Bonnaroo started its first full day on Friday, but the audience was more than warmed up from the night before. The day would mark the weekend’s first headlining performance (Paul McCartney), the first you-had-to-be-there moment (Wu-Tang’s surprise appearance at the hip-hop Superjam), and the weekend’s first late night spectacle (Animal Collective). A steady mix of indie rock, folk, and hip-hop dominated the day, and although the Farm is notorious for its sweltering temperatures, the weather was more than tolerable. (Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy wore a jacket onstage during their entire sunset timeslot.) The day was ultimately dominated by the resurrected Wu-Tang Clan, but there were plenty of highlights in between.
Calexico – 1:45 – Some bands would wither onstage during a hot, midday set but Calexico was right at home on Friday afternoon. (After all, they are named after a border town in California.) Joey Burns and John Convertino’s brand of spicy, desert rock is tailor made for high temperatures, and judging from their visible enthusiasm, they knew it too. The duo (and their supporting musicians) were in top form, but it was the group’s horn section that stole the show. The better-than-expected sound mix favored horn players Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk, and every time that they started playing, the crowd roared. Even though the band would get a turn on the main stage later with Wilco, it was clear that they knew they were playing a top-notch set, and starting Friday off by setting the bar high.
Local Natives – 2:30 – Local Natives were the second band of the festival to play the Farm’s massive main stage – the size of which cannot be understated – so it was definitely a test for a band that’s just now moving into large clubs, but they used the What Stage’s cavernous size to their advantage, nailing all of their harmonies spot on and, when required, letting loose on their instruments on some of their more frenetic material. Most impressively, the band led the first real main stage singalong of the weekend. “Columbia”, a melancholy cut from their sophomore album Hummingbird, caught on with the crowd, as everyone from dads to college guys in American flag tank tops sang along to the lyric, “Am I loving enough?/Am I giving enough?”. That moment was not only a precursor to a certain Beatle’s singalong-heavy headlining set, but also shows that Local Natives have grown by leaps and bounds as a live band since their last time at Bonnaroo.
Of Monsters and Men – 3:30 – Across the past year, Of Monsters and Men have been playing bigger and bigger shows, befitting of the band’s anthemic sound, and owning each set with an exuberant confidence, so to them, Bonnaroo was just another stop on their victory lap behind My Head Is An Animal. Although they seemed genuinely humbled by the rapturous response from the first real field-filling crowd of the weekend, the Icelandic group were certainly aware that they’ve become a formidable live group, and they used that confidence to deliver a joyous set that was light on banter and heavy on energy.
Grizzly Bear – 5:15 – Grizzly Bear struggled on outdoor stages on the Veckatimest tour, but a bit more of road experience and an extra touring member have helped them settle into their role as one of indie rock’s triple-A bands, and their set on the Which stage on Friday evening confirmed that. Unlike their fellow Friday superstars Passion Pit and Of Monsters and Men, Grizzly Bear don’t have a crossover hit in their catalog, but what they do have is an insanely dedicated fanbase, many of whom had camped out during the previous set so they could get to sing “Speak in Rounds” and “Yet Again” straight at Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen. Those fans were surely rewarded for their persistence, because to compliment them on “Two Weeks”, the group provided an unexpected cameo from Solange, one of the Friday’s many surprise collaborations. As Ed Droste would say on his Twitter feed, “good vibes”.
Wilco – 6:30 Wilco went from being a “very good” live band to a “great” live band right around the time Nels Cline and Pat Sansone joined the band in 2005, so they could have probably torn up the What Stage for longer than 90 minutes, but preceding a Beatle keeps a band from playing too long. They made the most of their time onstage though, running through a large part of The Whole Love and peppering in classics from Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline took turns melting faces with their guitars. There was no new material, but the band made it special by bringing out members of Calexico at two points during the set, and playing an audience-friendly set that really couldn’t be topped – “Impossible Germany” playing as the sun set easily stands as one of the weekend’s finest moments. It’s a good thing the guy who followed them has a little experience with rocking massive, already warmed up crowds, because Wilco’s set delivered in every way imaginable.
Wu-Tang Clan – 7:30 – Paul McCartney was technically the night’s headliner, but judging by the massive amount of Wu-Tang Clan shirts on the Farm on Friday, the New York group was the only band that mattered for a large number of festival goers. Although various members have been inconsistent at attending their own shows for the past few years, the whole crew was on the Which Stage on Friday night – RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, U-God, Masta Killa, Inspector Deck, and Raekwon the Chef all showed up (R.I.P. Ol’ Dirty Bastard), and even more surprisingly, they all looked really excited to be there. “I am the RZA-rector of the Wu-Tang Clan,” shouted the RZA about halfway through the set as thousands of people threw up the Wu sign. A statement like that could easily be considered an unnecessary egotistical boast, until you realize that he actually reunited the Wu-Tang Clan, one of hip-hop’s most influential and tumultuous groups. The group wisely stuck primarily to their older material, and although they didn’t have a full orchestra like they did at Coachella, they had a bevy of classics and a borderline-riotous audience, which is all they really needed to pull it off. Easily a highlight of the weekend, Wu-Tang’s successful reunion essentially turned – along with the coda of “Hey Jude” – the chorus of “C.R.E.A.M.” into the Farm’s unofficial singalong of the weekend. (Even the security guards were digging it. See below.)
Hip-Hop Superjam – 12:45 – Friday night hosted the first of three Superjams at this year’s Bonnaroo, and it’s hard to see the other two topping RZA’s midnight explosive hip-hop celebration. Starting off with DJ Jazzy Jeff and funk band Lettuce jamming and Schoolboy Q paying tribute to Nas, the show really exploded when the RZA emerged to lead the band through “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. His appearance was brief, but his real contribution was yet to come. Solange emerged for about 15 minutes to do Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”, but the night’s highlight was the mini Wu-Tang show that ensued. Method Man and Redman emerged to do a few duo tracks before asking the crowd to “make as much noise for as long as possible”, and for good reason: the majority of the Clan showed up to run through more cuts from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). A quote from Method Man at the end of the set basically summed up the Wu-Tang Clan’s victorious night: “Man, fuck Coachella. BONNAROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Animal Collective – 2:00 – Animal Collective is a trippy, challenging band on any given day, but at 2 a.m. at Bonnaroo, they’re almost unfathomably heady. Introduced by a appropriately odd announcer who started a chant “Animal Collective Says” among the audience, Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist, and Deakin emerged and proceeded to get weird. Really, really weird. Although the band played a set relatively light on new material and heavy on the “hits” (“My Girls” is about as great/weird/weirdly great as a 3 a.m. singalong gets), they were the true spectacle of Friday’s late night set.