At last year’s Bonnaroo, rapper M.I.A. made headlines when she claimed that she was performing her last show ever.
Here we go again: during his late-night set on Which Stage for Bonnaroo Day Three, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor announced that he was performing his last show ever in the United States. (Reznor and his band are headed to Europe and Asia for a 33-date tour that wraps on August 12th.) Reznor suggested that his decision was from too much touring, but he did allude that he would continue to record and release new music. “Don’t be sad,” he said. “I’ll keep going.” If Reznor was growing weary from the road, you would’ve never known it from NIN’s blistering set of raging, anthemic industrial rock, which featured highlights like the propulsive new track “Discipline” as well as an onstage collaboration with the Dillinger Escape Plan for “Wish.”
Just before Nine Inch Nails, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band stormed Bonnaroo with a monster three-hour set that was heavy on hits (“Born to Run,” “Thunder Road”) along with a few rarities. Springsteen also seemed to be having a total blast during his set, frequently sprinting down a catwalk to get closer to the packed crowd. During the portion where he grabs placards from fans emblazoned with song requests, Springsteen managed to snag a giant Santa Claus poster with the words “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” You’d never think Springsteen and his E Street Band would’ve launched into the holiday classic: it was the middle of summer, after all, and the weather was hovering around 80 degrees. But Springsteen was game and he signaled his band to kick off the song with percussive sleigh bells. Mid-way through, Springsteen shouted, “It’s 259 days to Christmas. Have you all been good? You haven’t been taking any brown acid?” It was a strange and hilarious moment, and one that will go down one of Bonnaroo’s most memorable. (Watch what happened when the hilarious Aziz Ansari — posing as Bruce’s road manager — hit up some Bonnaroo vendors for freebies.)
The collapse of the auto-industry and its effect on blue-collar American workers weighed heavily on Springsteen’s mind and his set was filled with working-class anthems like “Johnny 99” and “The River.” Springsteen also took a moment to deliver something of a sermon about the transformative power of his music in hard times. “We want to take despair and we want to build us a house of joy,” he said. “And we’re gonna take the sadness and build a house of joy!”
Mid-afternoon highlights included Wilco, whose set focused on songs from their upcoming Wilco (The Album). (Click above to watch footage from Jeff Tweedy and Co.’s set.) When the band took the What Stage they launched into fan tribute “Wilco (The Song),” and later stretched out with the new album’s centerpiece “Bull Black Nova,” which hit a soaring height thanks to secret weapon Nels Cline’s avant garde noisy guitar solo. Just before, over on the Which Stage, Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule played a covers-heavy set, featuring predicable ones like the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen,” along with more surprising choices like Radiohead’s “Creep.” Haynes gave the latter a cool new vibe by trading in Thom Yorke’s high-pitched falsetto for his own bluesy growl.
Expectations were high for the early morning set from neo-psychedelic warriors MGMT, who wrapped up day three with an hour-and-a-half performance at That Tent. MGMT have been slowly building a huge fanbase, thanks to their singles “Time to Pretend” and trippy videos like “Kids.” And judging by the crowd — which stretched for at least 50 yards outside of the tented area — these guys should have been playing larger areas like the Which Stage. As singer Andrew VanWyngarden said, “Thanks to Bruce Springsteen for opening up. We wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.” Overall, MGMT’s performance was spectacular and it is sure to go down as a career-defining breakthrough. Frontmen Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, along with their crack band, turned out woozy, surreal psychedelic rock that sounded equally tight and, at times, improvised. (What can it mean when Phish fans come to your show and start tossing around hundreds of glowsticks?) After dipping into covers like an awesome version of Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” (featuring Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek singing lead), the boys wrapped up their set with a new song “Congratulations,” a laid-back electro ballad with a chord progression that borrowed from the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” “All I need is a great big congratulations,” VanWyngarden crooned. MGMT earned one for sure.