At 12 a.m. last night while the Flaming Lips were rocking an intergalactic set on one side of Bonnaroo, the Black Keys were kicking out highly charged blues rock on another. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney took the stage at That Tent in front of a green-and-black backdrop that featured a clenched handshake — a graphic representing their new album Brothers. The Akron, Ohio duo played an electrifying two hours that kicked off with the devilish “Thickfreakness,” a fuzz blues somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and Rage Against the Machine. Auerbach lost himself in blistering guitar solos and Carney avoided eye contact with the crowd, channeling all his energy into his intense drumming. The duo sweated through Delta licks on the electrifying “The Breaks,” which like many songs in the set erupted into a furious freakout, and closed strong with “I Got Mine.” It may have been 2 a.m., but the crowd begged for more, chanting “one more song!” for several minutes after the Keys disappeared into the darkness.
Earlier, She and Him drew a big crowd to This Tent for a set of girl-group pop and vintage covers. Zooey Deschanel perched behind her keyboard in a high-waisted summer dress, banging a tambourine and leading the charge through the Phil Spector bop of “I Was Made for You.” Two backup singers added vocal power on the harmony-laden “This Is Not a Test” and M. Ward took the mike on Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” which featured a surf guitar breakdown. Ward played subtle lead guitar while Deschanel belted Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You” to close the set, prompting several indie boys to loudly proclaim their love for the indie songstress.
In the first of two performances at Bonnaroo, the indie-folk act Dawes played a scorching set at the Troo Music Lounge, a small stage sandwiched between hippie gift shops. Fans knew every word to last year’s Americana rock masterpiece North Hills and dynamic frontman Taylor Goldsmith led the crowd through sing-alongs like “When My Time Comes,” howling over the gospel chant, “I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be all right.”
The vibe well exceeded all right during Steve Martin‘s early evening set at That Tent. “It’s always been a goal of mine to play bluegrass at Bonnaroo,” he proclaimed after strolling onstage in a white suit with the Steep Canyon Rangers. “Tonight I feel I am one step closer to that goal.” Martin told the crowd he met his band at a party in North Carolina, where the Rangers were already an established act, and they impressed him so much he asked to jam with them. Martin also gave a major shout-out to Rolling Stone while introducing the rapid finger-picked tune “Pitkin County Turnaround”: “This next song Rolling Stone called a worthy product for illegal download!”
Martin’s bluegrass may seem like a vanity project, but he’s serious about his musical passions. “I wrote all of the songs I will perform tonight,” he deadpanned. “I think that distinguishes me from all the other bluegrass bands at Bonnaroo, who play all their own songs.” He showed the crowd his set list on his iPad, joking “My $500 set list: I can text and I can tweet too.”
Martin’s songs were scholarly replications of Bill Monroe-era bluegrass, especially the hilarious “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” The band huddled into a circle, singing a vintage folk melody with a hilarious refrain: “In their songs they have a rule: The ‘He’ is always lowercased.” He might not have had God on his side, but Martin had plenty of star power on the side of the stage, including Wayne Coyne and Jack Black, who intensely watched Martin’s set just minutes after stepping offstage with Tenacious D. Martin announced that Black was watching and that the two were working on a comedy about bird watching. Black hustled onstage and sent the crowd into a quick frenzy when he swung his white towel around and quickly ran off.