1:20 p.m.—2:20 p.m.: The Young Veins
Talk about a reinvention. Ryan Ross and Jon Walker, ex- of Panic! at the Disco, hinted at their love of '60s psych on that group's overlooked Pretty, Odd, but with their new outfit they indulge those impulses completely. Shelve everything you think you know about them: their debut draws heavily from the deep well of the Kinks and the Left Banke — and even adds a dollop of late '90s indiepoppers like Apples in Stereo — to create an album's worth of irresistible summer songs, the kind of music made for warm afternoons.
1:45 p.m.—2:45 p.m.: Gaslight Anthem
New Jersey's second hardest-working band made a worthy splash with 2008's gutsy The '59 Sound. Packed with heart-on-sleeve lyrics and meat-n-potatoes blue-collar punk instrumentation, the group radiated ragged charm and steely determination. Their upcoming American Slang is even better, incorporating dashes of gospel and R&B into the band's rugged formula. Live they're dynamos, barely breathing between songs and tossing lyrics from classics by the Clash and Social Distortion into their own roaring compositions.
3:15 p.m.—4:30 p.m.: The Gossip
Possessor of one of the greatest voices in popular music, Beth Ditto is simply magnetic onstage. She's a disco star shot 30 years into the future, a technicolor wonder belting out big, impossible notes over thumping backbeats. Gossip shows are clubland gone grand scale, and in early evening Tennessee, their brand of fiery electro-soul is sure to generate heat.
4:00 p.m.—5:00 p.m.: Nas & Damien "Jr Gong" Marley
Nas is the rare rapper able to skillfully bridge the divide between commercial success and social consciousness, lacing recent albums with searing indictments of Fox News and racism. Marley has done the same for reggae, netting a world-beating crossover hit in the process. The just-released Distant Relatives finds both artists firing on all cylinders, delivering searing, Afrocentric songs against a sonic backdrop culled from reggae, R&B and Ethiopian jazz. Their live shows have been part party, part protest rally, and all energy.
5:45 p.m.—7:15 p.m.: The National
Forget how reserved they sound on record — in person, the National want to be your next U2. Their tense, quivering songs expand stadium size to shocking effect, Bryce and Aaron Dessner's pealing guitars darting firefly-like around Matt Berninger's basement baritone. It doesn't hurt that they're backed by a small army of instruments — a brass section, additional percussion, violins — or that Berninger has a fondness for climbing stage scaffolding and leaping into the crowd during the incendiary "Mr. November."
6:45 p.m.—8:15 p.m.: Tori Amos
Few pop artists are as idiosyncratic as Tori Amos. Say what you will about her recent efforts, there's no denying that the vision behind them is specifically hers. Whether it's an odd concept record about beekeeping or a meditation on multiple personality disorder, Amos aggressively seeks out the less-trodden path. Her musical tastes are equally restless. Though she started out favoring ethereal piano ballads, her palette has broadened over the years to include folk, glam rock and dance music. Her set ought to be a thorough examination of all of her impulses, making for a varied and gripping performance.
8:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.: Samantha Crain
Samantha Crain writes folk music, but she belts out notes like she's singing R&B. Her rich alto seems to have no bottom, and the sound of it against her bare guitar is enough to raise gooseflesh. Like Frontier Ruckus, with whom she occasionally tours, Crain inverts folk music and leavens it with other elements, placing square emphasis on her singular pipes.
9:30 p.m.—11:30 p.m.: Kings of Leon
Raise a glass to Southern boys done good. The Kings' transformation from Skynyrd-inspired gutbucket rockers to bona fide arena act culminated in their leap to arenas and headlining dates last year. Live, Caleb Followill's voice is often all the animus they need. It cuts upward at sharp angles, and grafts soul into their roaring, open-hearted anthems.
11:30 p.m.—12:30 a.m.: Warpaint
A late night set is an unlikely time slot for an up-and-coming L.A. band, but Warpaint's brilliant, crystalline music more than justifies the high billing. The all-girl quartet recalls the best aspects of groups like Pylon and Throwing Muses: sharp, darting guitars puncturing aching vocals, nervous rhythms that add tension and edge, tuneful, gripping minor key melodies. Warpaint are one of the few bands on the Bonnaroo bill mining completely uncharted territory — a quartet of gauzy phantoms moaning in the graveyard late at night. You can say you saw them way back when.
12:00 a.m.—2:00 a.m: Flaming Lips + StarDeath & White Dwarfs
What do you do if you can't get the band that recorded Dark Side of the Moon to perform it from start to finish? You get the Flaming Lips to do it instead. For sheer gonzo wow factor, this is the show to see. The Lips have built a career on their carnivalesque live shows, and sister Oklahoma band Stardeath and the White Dwarfs are turning out to be a kind of Lips-in-training (lead singer Dennis Coyne is Lips singer Wayne's nephew). There are one of two ways this performance goes: so ridiculous that it actually works, or so ridiculous that it just ends up being ridiculous. Either way, there won't be much else on the Bonnaroo bill like it.
2:30 a.m.—4:00 a.m.: LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy owns one of the world's greatest record collections, and he takes pride in synthesizing and redelivering it in with LCD Soundsystem. The group's catalog is practically a trip through the last three decades of pop music: a bit of New Order here, a bit of Bowie in Berlin there, a dash of Carl Craig to round the whole thing out. He injects his songs with dry wit and overplayed neurosis about aging, commercialism and human connection, making for the kind of rare dance music where the lyrics actually matter. Live, LCD go full-bore with a sweaty rave-up that demands full-body participation.
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