Top Ten Thursday: Bonnaroo’s Best Acts

Best Acts of Bonnaroo 2012

Our Bonnaroo coverage continues, and Todd and I are still feeling the Bonnaroo hangover so to speak – longing to be dehydrated, sun-poisoned, and soaking in hours upon hours of excellent music. Since we can’t seem to get our minds off of Roo, without further ado, here are our ten favorite acts from Bonnaroo 2012.

10. Battles

Todd and I both saw Battles in their previous form, when lead singer Tyondai Braxton was in the band doing his Oompa Loompa distorted vocals in front of all the crazy math rock. Now that Tyondai has left the band, the New York trio now stick more to the core sound that makes them special: playful, futuristic math rock based highly in repetition with a live show that is highly based on non-stop energy. Addition by subtraction.

9. Black Lips

Black Lips, Atlanta punk garage band
Bonnaroo’s biggest rabblerousers

Black Lips played an early afternoon set on the last day of the festival with a pretty worn out crowd, but boy did the Atlanta punks liven things up. They pulled many of their usual stage tricks (tossing toilet paper in the crowd, rolling around the floor on guitar solos, drummer Joe Bradley going nuts like Animal from the Muppets) as well as some wilder behavior with guitarist/singer Cole Alexander slugging a beer into the crowd with his guitar like a baseball bat, and guitarist Ian Saint Pé Brown spitting at the camera and handing out whiskey shots to the crowd. The band was pure punk energy to bring things to life on the last day of the fest.

8. The Antlers

Todd and I saw the Antlers in Chicago four years ago and boy have they grown since then. Pete Silberman seems more confident than ever in his voice, the build ups were more dramatic than ever, and opening with the absolutely epic psychedelic jam like “Rolled Together” is never a bad idea either. I would be pretty surprised if these guys don’t break out big on their next record.

7. GZA with Grupo Fantasma performing Liquid Swords

GZA Liquid Swords live at Bonnaroo

The best rap performance of the festival by someone not named the Roots, the former Wu Tang member GZA performed his classic hip hop album Liquid Swords front to back plus some Wu Tang favorites with the help of a superb funk band in Grupo Fantasma. GZA was rather reserved yet clearly confident in his skills, and his set just slayed the crowd.

6. Bon Iver

This was my first time seeing Bon Iver  and I was more than impressed as Justin Vernon has assembled an unbelievable group of musicians to make his two albums and an EP of material just sound grand and beautiful. Sometimes I feel like having 9 musicians on stage can just be sort of wasteful and unnecessary, but every musician had a role on every song, with experimental baritone sax player Colin Stetson clearly being the X-Factor as to why they sound to wonderful. And did I mention “The Wolves (Act I and II)” was one of the best sing-alongs I have ever seen.

5. Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard singer for Alabama Shakes
Big mouth. Bigger voice.

I was excited when I first heard the Alabama Shakes last December, and at Bonnaroo I was giddy once more with how much better they even sound live than their smash debut Boys and Girls. Lead woman Brittany Howard is an absolute force to be reckoned with, with a voice as big as Aretha’s and a guitar style not far from Chuck Berry. It doesn’t hurt that show was one of the most gracious performers I have ever seen – the total package at 23.

4. Feist

Todd and I have both seen Feist multiple times in the past, and while we were excited to see her new material, her set still didn’t rank as one of our few most anticipated. But with rearrangements of mostly all of her material to fit her more native, vocal-based new band and record Metals, Feist simply sparkled. Her voice is simply transcendent live and she refuses to be typecast as an Apple act but instead continues to evolve her music, getting better every step of the way.

3. The Roots

The Roots best live hip hop band

The legendary hardest-working band in hip hop displayed it for the millionth time at Bonnaroo this year, opening with a blazing tribute to Adam MCA Yauch from the Beastie Boys playing “Paul Revere” and then killing the rest of the set with plenty of instrument solos, covers, freestyle, Roots classics, and just that definitive, gimmick-free Roots sound. It amazes me how much guitarist Kirk Douglas, tuba player Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson, and bassist Mark Kelley run around stage but yet still hit every note. These guys are the definition of showmen.

2. Radiohead

Radiohead performed their second headlining spot at Bonnaroo, last time doing so in 2006. In ’06, the band debuted tons of In Rainbows material and here at Bonnaroo 2012, they also played three new songs, which all gave off a much warmer sound than Radiohead fans are accustomed to hearing. Beside the new material, set highlights included “I Might Be Wrong”, “Feral”, “Reckoner” and as always – “Idioteque” and “Everything In Its Right Place”.

1. St. Vincent

Conventional wisdom would say Radiohead should and are always deserving of the top prize, but this year another rose to the top. That would be St. Vincent aka Annie Clark who put on one of the most punk shows I have ever seen, all from a sweet mousy Texan with a graceful voice. The material off of her latest, Strange Mercy, sounded huge and incredible as expected but it was her back catalogue (“Lips are Red”, “The Party) “as well as a cover (The Pop Group’s “She is Beyond Good and Evil”) and a b-side (“Krokodil”) that blew the top off the place.

Just Missed:

Wes- The Avett Brothers

I appreciate the Avett Brothers because they have taken the traditional slow rise to success, building up years and years of great material and shows and now it’s coming to fruition. You don’t get a lot of bands like that these days, as so many of who tops the charts are what Todd and I have dubbed as “Apple” bands – bands that make it big off one song on a TV commercial. The Avett Brothers knocked it out of the park on the What Stage for a late afternoon set, performing a Doc Watson cover, and material spanning over their entire career.

Todd- Santigold

photo of crowded stage during Santigold's "Creator" at Bonnaroo 2012

The Santigold show was one of the bigger “parties” of the weekend, as she let what seemed to be about 300 people on stage for “Creator” and put on an awesome show with her backup dancers and band. I wasn’t crazy about her latest album, but in her live set, those songs take on a whole new life.

Austin- The Entire Festival

Absent member at Bonnaroo 2012
Just Can’t Cut It Anymore

Because some people are just party poopers. Austin has a very different miss, because he was the only LxLer to totally skip on Bonnaroo altogether. For this, Austin gets a special shout out for his absence.

So there is the list. Let us know what we unforgivably missed, or got right, but still feel free to just rip on us in general …


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Author: Wes

Hoosier. Writer. Music Buff. Media Man. Tourist. Polar Bear.

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