After an epic hour-and-a-half set on the Bonnaroo main stage last night, Arcade Fire returned for an encore. “We wrote this song for 20 people,” frontman Win Butler said. “It’s amazing to play it for a giant fuckin’ field of people.” They then launched into the stomping “Wake Up,” Butler leading a mass chorus sing-along where you could almost feel the field shake.
During their 17-song-set, Arcade Fire played like a band on a mission. There were no major surprises – they lit up Coachella with a surprise spectacle of giant balloons in April – but here, they simply plugged in and filled the space with sound to spare. “Ready to Start” was a blazing kickoff, while “Keep the Car Running” recalled the epic sound Bruce Springsteen brought to the same stage in 2009.
The band’s anthemic songs, with themes about lost youth and fading dreams, seemed extra poignant in front of the Bonnaroo crowd. During “We Used to Wait” – which featured grainy images of postcards on the massive screens – Butler ventured offstage onto a platform amongst the crowd, screaming, “We used to wait for it.” He seemed extra-focused on reminding the crowd – who are camping out for four days – to cherish their time there away from a lifestyle of fast-paced technology.
In the afternoon, Florence + the Machine performed a majestic set that included two costume changes and spirited takes on hits including “Heavy in Your Arms” and “Dog Days Are Over.” At the same time, the Decemberists performed their pristine folk on the main stage, playing several songs off their new LP The King is Dead, including the thudding, harmonica-driven “Don’t Carry it All,” and the haunting “This is Why We Fight,” with Chris Funk adding 12-string jangle with a Brian Jones-style teardrop guitar.
Frontman Colin Meloy reveled in the stadium-sized crowd, stepping offstage onto a mound of speakers to lead audience-wide fingersnapping, and at one point getting almost the entire crowd to sit down. The funniest moment came during the rollicking train shuffle of “The Chimbley Sweep,” when he challenged banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, who played earlier in the day, to a pick-off. “If you see Bela walking around with his banjo picking away, you tell him the Decemberists are after him,” he said, a gag that ended with the band showing off hilariously bad soloing skills.
Though their set felt joyous, the circumstances were anything but. It was the first show of several dates without multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. “She just went in a couple days ago for her first session,” Meloy told Rolling Stone before their performance. “She’s doing great. We always do kind of a pre-show prayer – sort of a secular pagan prayer – and I think she’s going to write it and e-mail it to us, so she’ll be there in spirit.”
At the same time, rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson performed a set of vintage country on the Other Stage. Dressed in red fringe jacket and joined by Nashville pros, Jackson took the crowd on a rock ‘n’ roll history tour, nailing the upbeat blues “Rock Your Baby,” yodeling like a pro on “Betcha My Heart I Love You” and rocking out on the time-shifting boogie “I Gotta Know.” The set was in the sandy the Other Tent, where the moving bodies created a constant wave of sand in the air. “Everytime I drink a sip of water, it’s like I’m getting mud,” the 73-year-old said. “But I got more guts than talent.”
Next were My Morning Jacket, Bonnaroo vets who finally got their turn on the main stage this year. A trumpet player sounded off their two-hour set while band members emerged one-by-one and kicked into the menacing new “Victory Dance.” In white furry boots, frontman Jim James head-banged, stomped and shredded his way through a two-hour set the band sounded like they were born to play. “Circuital” was full of slaying, Who-like riffs and the poppy “Outta My System,” sounded like if the Beach Boys were a jam band. They jammed heavily on old classics like Z‘s bright “Off the Record.” And Evil Urges‘ punchy “I’m Amazed.”
Much later was one of the most anticipated acts of the festival: Lil Wayne. “Make some noise for your motherfuckin self!” he told the crowd several during his 1:30 a.m. set. And they sure did. Wayne, wearing a yellow tank top, zebra-print long shorts and turquoise knee-socks, performed a blazing set of classics including “Go DJ,” Tha Carter III‘s “Phone Home,” “Mrs. Officer,” and “Lollipop.” Joined by his crew Mack Maine, Lil Twist, Jae Millz and Chanel, the set featured posse cuts like “Bedrock” and “Forever”. There were new songs, too; He performed a brand-new solo song “How to Love” and “6 Foot 7 Foot” on his back shirtless.
More Bonnaroo day two performances, from the Black Angels and Deer Tick playing Nirvana: