A few scant days ago, organizers told me what they didn’t want Bonnaroo to turn into was just Phish Fest on a bigger scale. Of course, they’ve been developing what is an honest-to-God music AND arts festival, but its roots are in rock and rock is what we got on Day Two (Friday, June 11) of the four-day fest.
 
Kings of Leon basically got prime time to itself, playing a homestate set that flirted with the two hour mark. Heavy flood lights blurted on and off like headlights on the interstate behind the foursome, lightly ragged, running through the setlist like a machine.
 
Frontman Anthony Followill didn’t offer too much to a crowd of around 70,000 banter-wise, but when he did, it was to reveal new songs and to politely beg our pardon: “I hope y’all don’t mind,” he said, taking a shot with a Bud chaser, “I’m gonna get drunk.”
 
[More thoughts after the jump...]
 
While in his interview with HitFix last month drummer Ivan Followill said new KOL material was bound to be dark – influenced by recording in New York – at least one new track from last night is far from it. Anthemic, rising, pop-leaning almost, this one in particular had the lyrics “Drink the water /where you came from / where you came from.” It sounded incredible.
 
There was also the Pixies cover, “Where Is My Mind,” instrumentally a carbon-copy (in a good way) of the original, though with Anthony’s sexy wreck of a voice. The crowd applauded over the final, a capella “ooo,” but we’re not the ones getting paid. They followed it by “Sex on Fire,” a good answer to just where their minds are.
 
Aside from a couple deflated “WOWS” on my personal favorite “Charmer,” Kings of Leon played the record, or rather records, sticking mostly to “Because of the Times” and “Only by the Night.” As was predicted, there wasn’t much for strutting or guitar duels or calls and responses.
 
The Flaming Lips had the benefit of gab from fest-goers all day, as folks discussed loudly which song during the “Dark Side of the Moon” set they’d get most high. And wild-haired lead singer Wayne Coyne knew green was on the brain, as he urged the audience to make a stand, work hard, so that next year at this same time, marijuana would be legal nationwide. The costume-heavy crowd heartily agreed in theory to the challenge.
 
The Lips had the added benefit of Death Star and White Dwarfs as they all worked in tandem to recreate the classic Pink Floyd album, and for the most part, they did it in stripes (and smoke). Everyone was positively swimming in “The Great Gig in the Sky,” and “Money” was played slow and grimey. Side two, after that, started getting blurry, “Brain Damaged,” if you will, and the final bows were followed by the house music: “What a Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong.
 
It marked only the second time The Flaming Lips had played “Dark Side” live.
 
The Lips’ set was split in two, as the Pink Floyd set was preceded by just the band’s own songs, a couple psychy “Embryonic” tracks like “I Can Be a Frog” thrown in the standard, awesome collection of beloved tunes. On “Do You Realize,” Wayne Coyne rattled into a heartfelt diatribe about love (just after requesting folks to throw peace signs into the air and shoot good vibes to the Middle East).
 
Confetti flew from canons, poppers popped streamers, Coyne rolled over the crowd in his clear plastic space ball, he rode on the shoulders of a man in a bear costume and spent a little time on his own little stage catwalk jutting out into the front rows.
 
I had the privilege of dancing in a polyester orange spacesuit on the edges of the stage during that set, true story. I’ll recount that tale on the site soon.
 
Those who survived and were willing headed to That Stage at 2:30 a.m. for LCD Soundsystem, and the dancing die-hards were nothing if not willing. Disgustingly enduring drummer Pat Mahoney, keyboardist/synth-master Nancy Whang, bassist Tyler Pope and others swarmed around James Murphy, grizzled but giving, on nothing but the mic all night.
 
 A little belly poked underneath his gnarly t-shirt, an awkward haircut proud in its grays, his eyes clinching from sweat and the stream of white light shooting up from the floor, casting weird and devastating shadows of a man admitting to “Losing My Edge” and being brought down by New York: This is why I love James Murphy. He has no pretense or swagger, an aw-shucks-ness that perturbed some at Coachella earlier this year, but was an exorcism, grieving and celebration to what Conan O’Brien referred to as the refugee camp at Bonnaroo.
 
He did what even he’s called his dumb songs, like “Pow Pow” and “Drunk Girls,” with “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” feeling like an invite to a big dumb party. The crowd reacted accordingly.
 
“All irony aside,” Murphy warned, “please stop throwing things.” Glow sticks continued to whiz past his ears. There was also an incident with Naked Guy, who Murphy acknowledged with a “Things just got weird.”
 
He got serious with “All My Friends,” which revamped with much satisfaction past the seven-minute mark, and he ended with “New York I Love You” with a side of a mournful clip of “Empire State of Mind,” a good reminder Jay-Z’s taking the stage on Day Three.
 
I was sick with pleasure over this set; for the years I’ve been an LCD fan, this was my first viewing, and I was shocked at what a talented live vocalist Murphy is and how a live band accelerates even the with the simplest sketches of songs, like “Yeah.”
 
More thoughts on the day:
 
Conan O’Brien introduced a couple stage acts, includeing Tenacious D. He hugged Jack Black while on his knees, while Kyle Gass, naturally, came up and air-humped him from behind. What he called "the greatest band in the history of entertainment" was, at least, entertaining, and surprisingly, continuously funny, making fun of themselves and their botched film “Pick of Destiny,” battling the devil in a rock-off, indulging in an abundance of d*ck jokes, honoring the late Ronnie James Dio with “Dio” and lacing “Pinball Wizard” with numerous variations on the word f*ck. Black looked like a chubby wet mop and all rocked quite hard. Steve Martin -- who was in to do a bluegrass set -- made a cameo.
 
Gaslight Anthem may have one of the best, rising rock records today – “American Slang,” out June 15 – but they had a difficult time getting the crowd into the slower jams and the lesser-knowns, not an unlikely fate, but tough regardless when everybody’s hot and just waiting for “Great Expectations.” Jersey felt a million miles away, but they work really hard, look really great and should remember to bring Springsteen with them next time.
 
The National just keep getting better. They also still won’t play anything from “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.” Bummer. Still, their performance popped even when it wasn’t “Mr. November.”
 
Highlights at Nas and Damian Marley were their blistering "Nah Mean" (from collabo record "Distant Relatives), Nas' own "Hip-Hop Is Dead" and Marley taking after dad Bob on "Could You Be Loved."
 
Samantha Crain – who I’ve touted here – is a gem. Her ponytail swang in time with her Americana acoustic rock tunes, in those that sizzle and those that mutter.
 
I can have no regrets, as it was unpreventable, but Chromeo played a dance set with Daryl Hall. Of Hall & Oates. Ridiculous. I hear they did "Kiss on My Lips." I'll bet there was a lot of kissing.