There are no cynics at music festivals when Paul McCartney unfurls Beatles classics like "Hey Jude," "Daytripper," and "Helter Skelter." There are only fans. Macca's headlining set Friday reconnected thousands with the most important rock band of all time, and there aren't many live music experiences better than that.
But does anyone hold attention like Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O.? Dressed in a Technicolor suit, and fellating a microphone, she and the band tore through spry tunes like "Date With the Night" on Saturday. "Maps" was a mega-bonus.
Watching an 80-year-old Willie Nelson play gentle, acoustic country songs was a sharp contrast from most of the festival's sets, but a welcome one. He still has that nasal twang and the wise-man attitude, and got everyone grinning and singing along. When Willie wailed thanks to the Lord in a cover of Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light," you knew he damn well meant it.
Philly rocker Kurt Vile sounded lovely while we were walking through the trees into the festival, but up close, his spacey, subtle Americana couldn't hold our attention. Some performances just don't work so well in daylight.
Blame Phoenix's cross-festival competition, we guess, or a low tolerance for raw anger in this complicit age. But most people left during Nine Inch Nails on Saturday, leaving the industrial ambassadors to perform for a wide-open field. Those who stayed witnessed the festival's most challenging, exhilarating set.
Oh, the National, you remind us of us — and that's exactly the problem. You're dapper dressers and decent songwriters and Very Nice Dudes. But we're more than casually familiar with the melancholy of the creative class, thank you very much. We don't need you moaning about it.