The Best Of Bonnaroo: Saturday

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Videos by American Songwriter

The best show at Bonnaroo come from the bands that take the idea of the festival seriously. Whether it be a hungry young band trying to prove something on a big scale, or just an aging rockstar solidifying his worth, Bonnaroo has a tendency to invigorate its performers as much as its audience. Read on for some of the most exciting performances of day 3 at Bonnaroo.

King Khan Bonnaroo 2014

King Khan & The Shrines

If you’ve never seen this bizarre shit show, King Khan & the Shrines are a spectacle indeed. Donning a shiny purple robe and a headdress, King Khan sings (graphically) about love, and other er… intimacies. Khan plays the role of showman and hypeman, promising the audience that each song will be more incredible than the last, and then attempting to honor that promise no matter how ludicrous.

Far from kitschy, King Khan is most convincing musically. With the Shrines, Khan lays slick horns over muddy 60s psychedelic drone, all without abandoning the Kingsmen style garage punk he’s known for. It works best when you close your eyes and don’t think too hard about the absolutely ridiculous lyrics, but even they have their own unique, Bart-Simpson-on-acid-esque charms.

Drive-By Truckers Bonnaroo 2014

Drive-By Truckers

It’s happy hour at Bonnaroo and the Drive-By Truckers are serving up your stone cold favorites. In a band with as many expertly crafted songs as these guys have, they can play just about anything and that would be true.

This Tent temporarily transformed into a small rock club, as Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and co. returned to the farm in fine form, guitars blasting. Fans were treated to the full DBTs experience, as the band rocked new and old material, and even threw in some of their signature storytelling. If the Truckers do one thing best it’s make their songs feel personal, and Hood’s songs are so specific, sometimes they takes some prefacing.

Like a drunk uncle on a holiday, Hood recounts his life-shaping experiences in a thick, southern accent, while his band fills in the space and keeps him in time. It’s a formula that has worked for most of the band’s career, but it still feels fresh and exciting.

The only problem with their set was its time-slot. There’s just too many things going on and not enough hours in the day at Bonnaroo.

DAMON ALBARN Bonnaroo 2014

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn is growing up gracefully. What do you do as an artist after you’ve conquered (and helped shape) rock & roll and hip hop? Albarn attempts to answer this question on his debut solo album, Everyday Robots. At some point in the career of  any musical icon, despite initial success, the artist has something completely different to prove.

As if his legacy was on the line, Damon Albarn took to the What Stage and played by far the most captivating set of the day. By including work from multiple eras of his career, Albarn proved that like Elton John, he has staying power. In fact, as time goes  the two might be more oft-mentioned in the same breath. Both singers are English national treasures that have captivated American audiences, and both men are absolute showman.

Albarn’s songs might not be as iconic as John’s, but nobody told his band that. The utmost respect the musicians have for the songs is chilling. It’s as if they’re as captivated by Albarn’s unique vision as the audience, and rightfully so.

And if Elton doesn’t bring his A-Game, you can bet people will remember at least one Englishman who did.

nick cave and the bad seeds

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“There aren’t many people here,” Nick Cave observed one song into his set. In a time-slot that has the band competing with The Flaming Lips, Frank Ocean, and Skrillex/Robbie Krieger Superjam, this came as a shock to no one

“This is the cream of the crop,” Cave snorted. “Fuck those other mother fuckers.”


Anyone who saw Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ set knows it was one of the best of the weekend. The problem is not that many people did.

But you couldn’t tell that from the front of the crowd. Packed in as tightly as canned sausage, Cave fans were like hungry disciples, thirsting for his dark energy.

“It’s like he’s trying to individually connect with each person in the audience,” observed a guy behind me, a self-proclaimed newbie to Cave’s music. From an outsider’s perspective it did seem that way, but it was more than that. Cave’s fans are so intensely devoted, it feels like he’s casting a spell, or hypnotizing them.

He picks someone out of the crowd at random. It takes him a few moments. You can see he’s searching for something, his fans faces a mix of terror and joy, wondering what he will find in their eyes. He selects someone, and then it’s only the two of them alone, Nick Cave and this chosen fan. Everyone else temporarily ceases to be. Cave is singing directly to this person now, preaching his gospel, energy emitting directly from his black eyes.

And then after several intense moments, the gaze is broken and Cave is back at it looking for another victim/follower. And when he’s not he’s screaming, dancing, haunting the piano, harnessing the crowd’s energy and unleashing it back upon them.

This intensity continues for the entire show.

And the band? The Bad Seeds have been at it since 1983. If I have to tell you how good they are at this point, you’re probably one of those “other mother fuckers.” Say a prayer, have a listen to Tender Prey, and help make sure the next time Nick Cave plays Bonnaroo, it’s to the crowd he deserves.

Check out our ongoing Bonnaroo coverage here.

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