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Red Hot Chili Peppers Kick Out the Jams at Bonnaroo

D'Angelo makes first U.S. appearance in over a decade, Alice Cooper delivers thrills

Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
Gary Miller/WireImage
June 10, 2012 10:30 AM ET

The Red Hot Chili Peppers ruled Day Three of Bonnaroo last night in Manchester, Tennesee, topping a bill stacked with old-school rock acts ranging from Bad Brains to Alice Cooper, dubstep superstar Skrillex and a suprise performance by re-emerging soul singer D'Angelo. 

The aesthetic antidote to Radiohead, who stuck mostly to their moodier, more recent material on Friday night, the Chili Peppers aimed simply to please, treating the party-ready Bonnaroo faithful to an onslaught of hits, including "Give It Away," "Scar Tissue," "By the Way" and "Under the Bridge." 

As with previous Bonnaroo headliners like Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Police, the fest's objective in booking bands like the Chilis is to unite an eclectic audience around collective moments of stadium-sized sing-along nostalgia. That mission was accomplished numerous times during the recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers' performance, even though the tunes they dug up weren't all that old. They only played one selection from their first decade together — their 1989 cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." The set's most crowd-pleasing moments came during decade-or-so-old cuts like the staccato single "Can't Stop" and comeback anthem "Californication."

Bonnaroo is full of often-unfounded rumors, but a major one turned out to real this year: D'Angelo marked his first U.S. appearance in more than a decade at the Questlove-organized late-night Super Jam. "I've been waiting 12 years to say this," Questlove said at the beginning of his set, which kicked off well past midnight. "Ladies and gentlemen, D'Angelo." Wearing a black tank top and a chain and looking insanely buff, D'Angelo showed no rust. He seemed perfectly comfortable jamming on the keys, rocking back and forth and letting his smooth falsetto run wild on covers like Funkadelic's "Hit it and Quit It," Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be" and a wildly entertaining take on the Beatles "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," where he grooved, held a backup singer animatedly and at one point punched a beach ball into the air, laughing. After the song, D'Angelo stretched his arm like he'd just finished a challenging workout and grinned – it was clear his mojo is stronger than ever.

"This is what we used to do at the studio. We'd just go through the catalog of all my favorite songs. What you're literally seeing is the process, us jamming here tonight," Questlove said.  His assembled band also included the Roots' guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas, keyboardist James Poyser, session great (and the Who's touring bassist) Pino Palladino and the Time guitarist Jesse Johnson. They took the crowd into a world of deep funk, performing the songs as psychedelic wide-open jams. The crowd chanted fiercely for one more song at the end, but Questlove returned to the stage and said they had regretfully run out of material. "We don't know any more songs. We were literally cramming all these songs in six hours," he admitted. 

On hand to represent music's zeitgeist, not its legacy, Skrillex crammed glow-stick lobbers into the Which Stage area and well into the heart of Centeroo, as the asymmetrically-coiffed DJ-producer held complete control over the crowd from inside his onstage spaceship. From anywhere else near or within Centeroo, it must have sounded like God was losing a fiercely contested game of Call of Duty. Twelve hours earlier, DC hardcore legends Bad Brains played That Tent, which served as a sort of an aggro-rock stage on Saturday, hosting Flogging Molly, Alice Cooper and Danzig. Looking oddly like Leon Russell, singer H.R. emerged sporting long white hair, a white suit and top hat, as the band furiously blazed its way through hardcore classics like "Pay to Cum" and "Sailin' On" along with some sludgy, Nineties-style metal and, of course, some reggae.

Over the course of three costume changes, Santigold rolled through hits from her 2007 debut and her recently-released second LP during an early-evening set at the What Stage, backed by three Devo-looking dudes in white flat-top wigs. Pandemonium briefly broke out when the Philadelphia avant-pop singer urged members of the audience to bumrush the stage and dance during her song "Creator." What started out as a few frenzied fans running up the wings of the stage quickly became thousands jumping the barricades, pushing in hundreds-strong huddles against a very penetrable forcefield of concert security. "I told them it couldn't be contained!"  the singer said once the song finished and the crowd finally backed off. 

Glenn Danzig took a slightly different approach in trying to get to know his audience. At around 7 p.m., soon after kicking off his Danzig Legacy show at That Tent, the famously muscle-bound punk and metal singer, apparently leery of having his picture taken, jumped off the side of the stage to physically confront a press photographer. Security intervened, and Danzig retreated to his dressing room in a huff. Luckily, he returned onstage and totally killed a double shot of Danzig headbangers and Misfits shout-alongs, in what was easily the loudest show of the festival so far.

One of the most anticipated shows of the festival, Alice Cooper's didn't disappoint. His That Tent stage was cartoonishly doctored-up to look like a horror show (or an Eighties music video stage), as the shock-rocker played what seemed like all of his hits, from "Eighteen" and "Poison" to the night's ultimate crowd-pleaser, "Feed My Frankenstein." There was no shortage of visual appeal, either, as Cooper thrust his crutches in the air and had his bandmates battle inflatable Frankensteins. 

The night ended with the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA performing his hip-hop masterpiece Liquid Swords backed by Latin-funk ensemble Grupo Fantasma. The rapper sounded as genius as ever, his on-point flow all the more intensified by the band's absolute ability to recapture and add lively embellishment to his classics. Unfortunately, it started to rain just as GZA was paying tribute to his fallen bandmate Ol' Dirty Bastard with a cover of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Combined with the show's absurdly late 2:30 a.m. start time (for a 90-minute show!), the weather change meant that fewer people got see this epic pairing than should have.

The reunited Beach Boys, Bon Iver, the Shins, Phish and more will close out Bonnaroo on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Patrick Doyle and Marielle Anas

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