Amadou & Mariam by Dave Vann
I'd long heard Amadou & Mariam were a complete delight, but nothing could have prepared me for the visceral, irresistible force that engulfed me on Saturday. Anyone who thought they were too weak from the heat to move was proven a liar by this pair of West African singers and their smokin' hot band. A strong wind led me to them, and like Toubab Krewe, I simply surrendered to the encouragement of the elements. I walked in to find Mariam petting Amadou's smooth head while singing, "Baby, I love you." The keyboards and guitars unfurled like red and orange ribbons over the tan dirt and green-brown grass. There's the skip of soukous but beefed-up with hard rock and blues. In them you hear America talk back to Africa, a reminder of music's two-way street where the root and the fruit are inextricably linked.

Good Ol' Rock 'n Roll
A great deal of the most baldly enjoyable moments this year came from bands that rocked unironically, sparking off embarrassing displays of air guitar and John Bonham style air drumming. Dios (malos) kicked it off Thursday with sleazy, surfy grind. Burbling synths, muscular guitars, and the occasional bittersweet slow-burner like "All Said & Done" kept things nicely off-kilter. Forced to change their name from dios to dios (malos) by Ronnie James Dio (now that's Dio McCarthyism!), Joe Morales told us, "We're gonna change our name back to dios four minutes from now." They offer a mature version of what Band of Horses are getting ink for lately, presented in very live (read: present) manner that proved they're just as tasty in concert as they are on record.

dios (malos) by Pamela Martinez
Tokyo, Japan's Electric Eel Shock continued to rock it balls-out on Thursday. I have a weakness for ESL (English as a Second Language) bands anyway, so a hell-bent-for-leather trio that yells things like "I can hear the sex noise" is a lock for my affections. The drummer Tomoharu 'Gian' Ito got shirtless before the preamble finished, while Aki Morimoto (guitar, voc) picked minimalist Black Sabbath chords before shouting, "I am Ironman!" They immediately abandoned Sabbath and pounded out one of their own. EES are the idea of punk-fueled metal, stripping it down to the frame and a set of fucked-up rims. Major crowd-surfing ensued during the title-tune from their latest release, Beat Me, which inspired bassist Kazuto Maekawa to climb his amp stack. With wild eyes, Morimoto roared, "This is my guitar! Can you see my guitar?" Yes, we can. Oh yes.

From a primordial slop rose Philadelphia's Marah, rounding out Thursday's rock-centric bent. Ridiculously together, Marah offered some of the best, most clearly defined music of the festival. There's an undeniable Springsteen feel to parts but the Born To Run, grease-under- his-nails Bruce with the cocksure attitude that hid a scared heart. Marah's got all that and gobs more. "We waited a long time to play Bonnaroo," said Serge Bielanko, who leads the band with brother David. "It's like a David Alan Coe song and hippies coexisting. You can pee on the grass under the Tennessee stars." They play like guys with something to prove. Besides being monster songwriters who released one of 2005's best (If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry), Marah plays with the skill and near reckless abandon of just-gone-electric Dylan. They need to do a triple-bill tour with Centro-matic and the Drive-By Truckers so more folks can discover them. The heedless energy of "The Closer" and "Sooner or Later" sent the crowd into a frenzy that tipped over the edge when they slipped into The Who's "Baba O'Riley." A raunchy, gutbucket encore of the O'Jays' "Love Train" produced crashing joy and jumping glee. Wow.

Son Volt picked it up on Sunday. Like a megawatt machine roaring to life, Jay Farrar's boys keep getting tougher and more together all the time. In a voice that's equal parts Fred Neil and Waylon Jennings, Farrar told us they "were heading for the atmosphere," which is a perfect shorthand for the feeling they produce - that rare sense that music might break through our strata into some larger truth. Lead guitarist Brad Rice showed flashes of Izzy Stradlin while continuing to move Son Volt further and further away from their Americana tag. On an afternoon as muggy as Roger Ebert's armpit, Son Volt kicked up a glorious racket.

Chuck Garvey :: moe :: by Pamela Martinez
It's been some time since I last caught moe. , and their Sunday main stage set was great. There's no one who straddles the jam and pop worlds more proficiently than moe. Improvisation is key to their thing, but they know the power of dropping an "In-A-Gadda- Da-Vida" tease into the middle of their explorations. The pairing of guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey compares favorably with Judas Priest's K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton – hard and fast but also capable of tender eloquence. Bassist Rob Derhak sang with a Bono-esque power that caught me off guard. There's ridiculous energy and high-level musicianship in every aspect, and if Triple-A radio would just open their arms, they've got loads of hits waiting to happen. Newer ones like "BJ Pizza" and especially "Wicked Awesome" with its laundry lists of thank-yous to FM radio are primed for stadium sing-a-longs. They put on a good show and seem to be shaking up their standard setlists with fresh arrangements and leaner material. Altogether, it was very winning.

He's A Loser, Baby

Beck by Dave Vann
While it's easy to gush about most of what I heard in Manchester, there were a few clunkers, and nothing made a louder thud than Beck on Saturday. In general, I loves me some Beck. There are few more inspired lyricists today and he can work it gentle or hard with equal facility, but a turd is a turd. From the start he seemed bored and distant, winking at everything in a way that was irritating as hell. After the uniform professionalism that preceded him, it was frustrating to watch Beck and his just-alright band fart around. He played a few songs solo while the others ate at a dinner table set up on stage. He's been doing this bit on the current tour, and I've yet to see it work. If this were a 1967 Andy Warhol gallery event then maybe, but in front of tens of thousands, it served only to create further distance. During the solo section, he did half-assed versions of the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" and quite rudely, Radiohead's "Creep," even though they were scheduled immediately after him. The best part of his set shouldn't have been the short movie where puppet versions of the band wandered around the festival encountering people who say things like, "The enzymes you can get from fresh fruit are, like, epic." The short did provide one of the catchphrases of the weekend ("I smell hippy"), which my compatriots and I wore out the next day. There was wrestling in bear costumes during "1000 BPM" and a decent "E-Pro" closer, but the overall taste of the experience was sour.

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