Rivers Cuomo was halfway through “Undone – The Sweater Song” on the Which Stage yesterday, when he paused to drop some serious Bonnaroo statistics. “According to the 2000 census, 2,347 people live in Manchester, Tennessee,” he said. “Today we have 100,000 people here. They all came to see Weezer.”
Then he paused to correct himself. “And a bunch of other really cool bands.”
After a damp and drizzly afternoon, Weezer’s punchy set was a welcome blast of Nineties nostalgia in the suddenly sunny evening. Cuomo has spent the last several years reinventing himself as a performer, and from the moment the band launched the set with “Hash Pipe,” he was devoted to delivering big hooks and bigger theatrics. He climbed the stage’s steel rafters during “Surf Wax America,” hurled a monitor during “My Name is Jonas” and tossed rolls of toilet paper into the crowd during “Beverly Hills.”
The band’s set spanned the band’s full catalog, from 1994’s Blue Album to early 2000s’ hits “Island in the Sun” and “Dope Nose” to more recent singles like “Pork and Beans.” Poppier tracks from Weezer’s more recent discs came off anthemic at Bonnaroo. For “Can’t Stop Partying” off Raditude, Cuomo performed the verse sung by Lil Wayne on the recording with a little less swagger than the original: “Bitches, it’s Weezer and it’s Weezy.” They band dipped back into the Top 40 for their mashup of MGMT’s “Kids” and Lady Gaga’s ” Poker Face,” which required Cuomo to don a messy blonde wig.
When he wasn’t running around in a red soccer jersey, Cuomo was demonstrating incredible onstage generosity. He handed lead vocals to bassist Scott Shriner for “Dope Nose” and let guitarist Brian Bell take the spotlight on Pinkerton‘s “Why Bother?” Cuomo even invited a fan named Julia onstage during “Tripping Down the Freeway,” saying he met her on Twitter after her friends asked to let her play ukulele with the band at Bonnaroo. When she emerged, strumming in the wrong key, Rivers asked if she’d rather sing and the two harmonized a verse: “No, we ain’t gonna break up/We made a promise and our will won’t fade out/Not just in oh-ten and o-eleven/We’ll be together from now until we’re up in heaven.”
The earlier part of the day presented indie-folk fans with a dilemma: watch Mumford and Sons or the Avett Brothers. The Avetts played a loose set of folk songs that kicked off with a rousing singalong of “The Fall” off 2006’s Four Thieves Gone as singer Seth Avett joked, “Thanks for bringing the rain clouds with you.” The North Carolina act pulled out their falsettos on “Paranoid in Bb Major” and amped up the energy on “I Killed Sally’s Lover.” “This one’s about killing your girlfriend’s boyfriend,” Avett said before breaking into “Lover,” grabbing the crowd’s attention with a furious solo. By contrast the subtle banjo ballad “January Wedding” was pretty, but too plodding for the sleep-deprived audience.
Over in That Tent, Mumford and Sons charmed what singer Marcus Mumford called the biggest crowd he’d seen with Celtic-tuned folk songs. (Watch footage from the band’s set an our interview below.) The English band brought rich harmonies and creeping pedal steel to ballad “After the Storm” and received massive audience participation during the thundering single “Little Lion Man.” Toward the end of their set, the band invited Americana guitarist Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch and Old Crowe Medicine Show onstage. As drizzle fell from the sky, they busted out a rousing version of “Wagon Wheel” and invited the crowd to join in: “Rock me mama like the wind and rain/rock me mama like a south bound train/Hey, mama rock me.”