For the past few years, Bonnaroo’s kick-off night has typically been devoted to small indie-rock bands but last night’s lineup was one of the best and most diverse openers in years, featuring synth-pop (Passion Pit) country (Zac Brown Band), rave-y acts (Tobacco) hip-hop (the Knux) and comedy from the one and only Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
Like Vampire Weekend last year, Passion Pit had the biggest buzz going into Bonnaroo and their 11 p.m. set was packed with fest-goers looking get down to the group’s highly danceable synth-pop anthems (check out footage from their set, above). All throughout their set, singer Michael Angelakos (who rocks a giant ‘fro and eerily resembles the Eagles’ Don Henley in the ’70s) led the crowd through sweaty sing-alongs and deafening clapping fits, particularly at the start of their best song “Sleepyhead.” Angelakos has one of the coolest new voices in pop — a shrill, high shriek that could bust glass — and he let it ring out in full over the festival grounds on tight, propulsive jams like “Make Light,” which sent the crowd into a pogo frenzy
Best-set-of-the-night award goes to Tobacco, who performed a 1 a.m. slot at the tiny Troo Music Lounge. Tom “Tobacco” Fec normally fronts the Pittsburgh psych-pop act Black Moth Super Rainbow but he was here at Bonnaroo to do a solo set of woozy, discofied synth-pop, heavy on tunes from his killer disc Fucked Up Friends. Tobacco’s set was an awesomely bizarre spectacle that was part ’90s rave, part art show: throughout, he had two members of his entourage — one dressed in an old-man mask and hospital scrubs with a dead fetus attached to the shoulder; the other rocking a grey, furry beast zip-up — shimmy across the stage and toss light-sticks into the crowd. Off to the side, there was an older man, dressed in a leisure suit, who resembled Phil Spector and busted out some herky-jerky dance moves. Tobacco looked amused by the whole thing, slyly grinning throughout as he fiddled with the knobs on his vocodor-and-sampler rig.
Earlier in the night, Zac Brown Band performed at That Tent (watch footage from their set, below). The Georgia-based country act’s latest album, The Foundation, has been hovering in the Top 40 since its release in November and has gone gold, so his set was predictably packed with fest-goers who lean more towards the jammier, Dave Matthews Band side of the spectrum. Brown and his crew delivered breezy, fiddle-and-organ adorned country pop but there were a few surprises, including a couple of new untitled tunes and raging covers of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The weirdest point in the set, however, was a particularly bizarre, countrified mash-up of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?” and John Mayer’s “Neon.” Still, Brown and crew made up for that snafu with a fun version of their tune “Toes” and when Brown crooned lyrics like “Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand/ Life is good today,” he pretty much nailed the sentiment of everyone at the fest for day one.