Bonnaroo 2012: Friday Night Out with St. Vincent, Radiohead and More

See also: Thursday night at Bonnaroo 2012

Saturday or Sunday seemed unlikely to top Friday, with Lake Highlands girl St. Vincent and the sensory overload of Radiohead's headlining set. Even the day leading up to those shows offered plenty of good stuff, as long as long as one didn't give the plethora of noodling jam bands any precious time.

The Kooks' early set kicked it off for me, with funky, chiming guitars, dance-friendly beats and impressive vocal harmonies that channeled whatever merit Vampire Weekend might have without their snooze-worthy world-music vibe. Soul Rebels' funk and R&B, augmented with full horns, was intriguing at first, but they quickly grew into a second-tier jam act that's listened to a couple of soul records and added some MC hype-man cliches like, "Put your hands in the air!" and "Make some noise!"

Likewise, Sam Bush caught my ear with some incredible mandolin picking, until he switched to an electric mando for some jazzy noodling. Infamous Stringbenders upped the Appalachian vibe despite Boston roots, banjo, fiddle, Dobro, upright bass and acoustic guitar adding up to hard-charging bluegrass.

Starting at precisely 7:45 p.m., St. Vincent held the crowd in the palm of her hand for her entire set. Joyous cheers and shouts of recognition greeted each song, and at some point, every guy around me verbalized how much they wanted to be with her, and a few females did too. "You guys might relate to the video of the next song, because it involves being buried alive in dust," Clark said, introducing a ripsaw version of "Cruel."

Playing to a crowd that mostly seemed to be waiting for Radiohead, Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. created a welcome change of pace with flamenco guitar fireworks, closing the set with a medley that kicked off with an impressive instrumental cover of Metallica's "Battery."

Radiohead put on a simply amazing set. Thom Yorke was in an uncharacteristically good mood, joking around in various put-on accents between songs, adding more banter than the previous half-dozen times I've seen them combined. The set drew almost entirely from their post-Amnesiac output, but there were also several new songs wherein Jonny Greenwood and Yorke showed off some impressively tight vocal harmonies.

Two new songs, "Identikit" and another whose name I missed, were warmly received, but the crowd seemed most enthused for "Everything in Its Right Place" and "Idioteque" from Kid A. OK Computer was as far back as they reached, sating the audience with a sing-along "Karma Police" and closing with "Paranoid Android," searing guitars scrambling the air.

It was different, an evolution in their sound, yet still powerful and explosive. That's the thing about Radiohead: They never want to sound like Radiohead.

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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey