Summing up an event like Bonnaroo takes time for reflection and consideration, but by the time Phish’s closing set was over on Sunday night, it was clear and simple - Bonnaroo 2012 is going to be remembered as one of the great ones. Looking back over the music and surprises of the weekend, Sunday’s shows don’t necessarily stand out among the shock rock and superjams and sunrise sets (okay, Lionel Richie showed up and sang “All Night Long” with Kenny Rogers
, but that wasn’t totally unexpected). But it was as solid as any of the festival’s four days thanks to solid if relatively unsurprising performances by veteran acts.
The most veteran of them all, The Beach Boy
s, impressed a mellow crowd with their unmistakable harmonies and bushels of classic songs. The old guys can still part the clouds with their combined vocal tones, which managed to add a dose of sunshine to an overcast, drizzly day. To be in the presence of four of the original band members is an occasion not to be taken for granted, and the crowd howled in reverence as the band, vividly dressed as always, moved at an easy pace through iconic works like “Help Me Rhonda,” “California Girls,” “Sloop John B,” and the increasingly ironic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” As far as giant sing-alongs go, it was Guinness-worthy, and the words being sung were some of the most influential to ever ring across the Manchester hills.
A much different scene unfolded at the Which Stage as Ben Folds Five
played Bonnaroo for the first time. A rabid crowd hung on every word that Folds uttered, even when they were the wrong ones – the eloquent story told by the lyrics of “Fair” proved too much for Folds at one point. Also, quiter moments like “Brick” and “Selfless Cold and Composed” were lost on anyone in the back of the crowd. Still, this band could slam out festival sets in their sleep back in the day; it won’t take them long to get back in the swing, as evidenced by the all-around vigor with which they attacked this set. Not that Folds is launching piano stools into his keys anymore, or engaging in an abundance of ridiculous cover songs, but this trio still rocks with the best. The boisterous “Jackson Cannery” is one of the best set-opening songs ever, “Theme From Dr. Pyser” sounded as if the band had never split to begin with, and “Army” exhibited plenty of the familiar piano-pop bounce associated with the band for so long. Playing it close to the vest still equals big fun for BFF.Bon Iver’s
What Stage set actually benefitted the back-of-the-field folks. His band, though large and intricately equipped, wasn’t a ton of fun to watch, but few would argue against listening to great songs like “Beth/Rest” and “Lisbon, OH” in such an atmosphere. Having dinner or lying on a blanket looked to be activities conducive to the dreamy, multifaceted sounds they made. Out in the crowd, one could feel the vibe of jittery Phish fans that had been waiting all weekend for their band. A thunderous ovation greeted the quartet as they stepped into their element, and the farm’s biggest stage was a blaze of color for the next three hours - as was the field of fans before it. The Beach Boys sang about “Fun, Fun, Fun” on the same stage earlier in the day, and that’s what this Phish show was all about. In the end, it will be remembered for three things: the brilliant Kenny Rogers sit in (and in small part the subsequent “Gambler” tease in the beginning of “Possum”), the first performance of “Shafty” since 2003 and the filthy, bloody-sounding “Carini” that birthed it. There are no dissertations waiting to be written about the admittedly sexy “Tweezer” or the paint-by-numbers “Down With Disease” opener. This show was mind food for the masses, full of everyday songs like “Axilla,” “Wilson,” and a regrettably short “Backwards Down the Number Line.” However, a standard, well-played, great-sounding and great-looking Phish show is one spectacular way to end any festival, even one that sets the bar as high as Bonnaroo. Every edition of this event shows that there’s always a bigger surprise waiting to happen, and always a higher musical level to be reached.