Thursday, June 25, 2009

At long last, I give you Brandaroo...

A Sludge Through the Fuzz and Mayhem of a little festival in Manchester, TN, just south of reality

Thursday: Oh, the Water; Let it Rain All Over Me
On the road to Bonnaroo the weather is breaking, or so it seems, but we still have a few more hours and two more companions to join on our adventure. About an hour and a half from Manchester, TN, the site of the greatest American Rock Fest! we locate a MAPCO off the Interstate and wait. Our plan is to allow for Reid and Phil to find us so that they can trail us in a southern monsoon to sit in traffic together for 3 hours and then park next to one another for the wknd. Good planning.
From here to Manchester there is approx 100 miles, 90 of which are spent moving about 65mph through a constant downpour, the remaining 10 spent at about 0.01mph on the shoulder of the Interstate. To help time pass Ben and I place a traffic waiting duration bet. He takes a stab at two hours until we enter the grounds. I stake my claim at three. We draw the halfway point at 2 and a half (we both graduated from really good colleges). Anytime before and I am burdened with the duty of granting Ben the wish of ‘cold beer’ wherever we are, whenever we are. It could be in the middle of the best set of the weekend, right as things are getting crazy and that overwhelming craving for a cold beer just might strike Ben’s fancy. I will have to deliver such deed if this bet goes awry. I give Ben an eat shit look when they check my ticket at 2hrs 49min.

Alberta Cross: 5:30 – 6:30pm, That Tent
Alberta Cross is a perfect band to kick the wknd off with. They are a New York based band that has heavy buzz despite not yet releasing an official album, one to keep an eye on. The lead singer, who I had mistaken with a female until actually putting eyes on the band, has a perfectly scratchy voice and the same look as Modern Age Beck. The show is very laid back and enjoyable. This will lay a nice groundwork for the chaos to come.

White Rabbits: 6:45 – 7:45pm, This Tent
White Rabbits is a six piece outfit also from New York who favors themselves to indie pop the likes of Spoon, but with far more percussion. Their current single Percussion Gun is the perfect intro to their sound, which sounds far better on album. The show is lacking in performance, more theatrics amongst the drummer than true musical abilities of the band. A let down after having enjoyed their first album and pegging them as a band that might surprise me. As Phil so aptly put it, ‘I don’t trust bands with six members.’ Very ‘oh, alright.’

Portugal. the Man: 8:30 – 9:30pm, That Tent
Reid convinces us to give it a shot and he delivers with the best surprise of the weekend. Reigning from Alaska, this unlikely set produces the finest stage presence of any of the tent acts for the entire festival. The sounds are heavy on blues rock with latin flavors and equal amounts world and psychedelic. There are several movements where the band hit its stride and the keys from the synthesizer (second already) are balancing out the high pitched vocals and the guitar/bass combo is thrashing around the stage much like a MMJ show that we all agreed the elements were there for a Santana cover, which is fine by me. With the sun dropped and the stage lights bouncing of the band, the ceiling and the crowd, we took in every bit we could. This performance without a doubt falls into the ‘awesome’ realm.

The Low Anthem: 10:00 – 11:00pm, That Tent
When planning any event that has several different occurrences scheduled for different and overlapping times you run the risk of putting a square in a triangular hole. Unfortunately for The Low Anthem, they are putting a hexagon in a round hole. Blame this on scheduling not the band. Their sound is that of rocking chairs and your grandfather enjoying an August Sunday evening discussing Whiskey and Women. It’s fantastic music, when the time is right. The band do all they can to up the tempo and engage with a raucous and frustrated audience. For me, the ideal time would have say been 8:30. But you can’t change the past, you gotta keep on rockin.
Passion Pit: 11:15 – 12:15am, This Tent
With radio friendly singles such as Moth’s Wings and the widely successful Sleepyhead, this pop-synth heavy band draws the biggest crowd of the night allowing the dance friendly tunes to hop and skip throughout the darkness. As the crowd dances, and claps in lead singer directed patterns, the night begins to turn for the worst. Winds begin to whip and the clouds rush across the sky, dark and menacing. Sprinkles are splattering across the top of the tent and the temperature plummets. The energy is in the air and the crowd pulls off the vibe and the band is all the better for it. Unfortunately, the pull so much energy that they drain the system and the crowd is pulling the band through an awkward silence as techs scramble to get things back…a sign of the storm to come.
Delta Spirit: 1:15 – 2:15am, This Tent
Taking in the full essence of Bonnaroo and the storm, DS deliver a heartfelt rockin’ show. They are honored as the rain pours over the lip of the tent and streams onto the second half of the crowd that us folks are sticking the elements out. Puddles grow so fast that I am soon separated from my group and hang tight on my island until that too washes. If you’re feeling what I’m feeling c’mon (people c’mon) All you soul searching people c’mon! Sadly, my group wasn’t feeling it to the full extend and we bail just as the crank up Trashcan, the stellar track from last year’s Essential list making album. We dash through the sludge and fast flowing streams as the sky pelts us from above, hopping, leaping and sliding our way across the farm back to Han Solo.

Friday: They go we go, and I want you to know, what I did I did
One of the best parts about Bonnaroo is recounting the night’s events the following day. What shows your neighbors went to, what was stellar, who underperformed and what Wookie went on a rampage and ran atop your car in the early morning hours, soaking wet, clad in colorful yarn bundles, muddied, delirious and uncontrollable, and what’s to eat?
We have down time before the shows begin again so we rest up in the shade, let the soothing sounds of Sigur Ros do its’ magic as we eat and hydrate as much as possible. The clouds begin to clear and the sun is soon in full bloom. With a full slate of indie rocks finest, it is going to be a scorcher! The heat index will be up there as well…Zang!

Katzenjammer: 12:00 – 1:00am, That Tent
Katzenjammer is a Norwegian all female funky, pop, zany collaboration with Ukuleles, banjos, giant cat painted bass, kudzu, and wildly fun energy and vocals. The sound is the underscore of a Norwegian female sing-along, but with southern US style and twang. It is a rare thing indeed. We are blown away. Byrne knows his shit. It Ain’t No Thing!

Animal Collective: 2:45 – 4:00pm, Which Stage
Legions of hipsters are gathering on the field to hear the bizarreness, from over a hundred yards away. I am a fan of AC, but this is not how I want to see them. It is HOT. The sound does not travel well over the open field and there are far too many kids. After three songs, we decide to bail out and cool off. I got Summertime Clothes in, my jam of the year, but it did not sound at all like I wanted it to. Grizzly Bear: 5:00 – 6:15pm, This Tent
The Grizz sweep through on point renditions of songs spanning the full range of their releases and they leave the crowd yearning for more. They just have a precision to them, they treat their music as art and they want it brought to the people as they see fit. It’s rare to witness a band this unabashed about perfection. They do not disappoint my outrageous expectations. They were to be my ‘it’ band of Bonnaroo and for me they delivered.

TV on the Radio: 6:45 – 8:00pm, Which Stage
I am a huge fan of TVOTR but have of yet seen them live. They are far more engaging live than I predict. Their sound comes off more soulful, more relaxed live. Things do not seem forced or over produced, they just sound right. Their sound is unique and ideal for a setting sun. I am delighted by this show and cannot wait to see them again.
Phish: 11:00 – 2:00am, What Stage
This show is epic and they are cranking out songs I know and like but my attention span cannot adjust to the speed of this show and I take off on my own after about an hour. I did enjoy jogging along the back wall to the sounds of Gumbo in the dark with Phish’s massive light arrangements gone blurry from this distance, pretty cool experience.

Public Enemy: 12:30 – 1:45am, This Tent
This is unlike any show I have ever experienced. It feels like a MTV production. I mean shit, Flav-A-Flav and Chuck D are telling me we must stand as a Nation of Millions to Bring Da Noise! and at the same time they are giving me a sales pitch on buying their albums…it’s kinda ridiculous, but awesome all the same, in a militant kind of way.
Crystal Castles: 12:45 – 1:45am, This Tent
Most will have little idea what or who Crystal Castles is so the easiest way to explain is to think of an Gameboy on crack with a freaked out Eastern European punk grrrl screaming while constant strobe lights flood a tent full of machine produced smoke, smothering a sea of glow stick wielding hipsters. And then multiply that by 5! I have no real way to put this to words, so I yield to YouTube clips.

Girl Talk: 2:15 – 3:45am, This Tent
Perhaps the only thing crazier than a Gameboy on crack is every pop song and rap song you have ever heard on crack at the most wacked out and largest dance party the state of TN has ever known!
This show defines people’s weekend. There are countless hipsters who waited all day for this at their tent. The energy is unreal, frantic, and borderline out of control. The show is forced to stop on a few occasions to relent on those being crushed by the crowd. I keep my distance but am overwhelmed still.

Saturday: It’s Too Fuckin’ Hot for Santa Claus

Elvis Perkins in Dearland: 12:30 – 1:30pm, This Tent
This is blues and swagger, joy and sorrow. This is a classic showman doing his business as it ought to be done. He is an entertainer, but not a stage act. He plays with the crowd, to the crowd not just before them. He is a treat to listen to. Misery loves company and company comes in the form of fellow genius odd man singer-songwriter, Bon Iver. They share the stage, providing a brass section a spark that ignites the crowd. Brilliant show.

Heartless Bastards: 1:30 – 2:30pm, Which Stage
They are not a phenomenal band, not even really great. But they are damn good and that’s about all you can ask for from rock n’ roll.

Bon Iver: 3:30 – 4:45pm, This Tent
The live work is brighter, more fleshed out and far more of a full band production than the album would lead one to think. He interacts with the crowd as well as any singer I have seen. Dearland joins Bon Iver as best friends will do and the connection these bands have is pure magic. Bon Iver closes the show will a roof busting rendition of Wolves in which he forces the crowd to sing our stanza louder and louder and louder…it may sound corny, but it was amazing.
What might have been lost
Wilco: 6:00 – 8:00pm, What Stage
Man, what can I say, these guys just deliver. This is what a live show is to be. There is just a perfect balance of showmanship, execution, delivery, crowd interaction, antics, solos, vast sounding catalogue and an overall expertise to the craft.
Tweedy still holds himself as the reluctant star. “If you guys start booing us, it’s ok, we’ll just tell ourselves you’re yelling BRUUUCE! Really, it’s alright.” As the show rolls along it grew legs, the band warms up to the crowd and before long Tweedy has a cameraman plucking the chords on his guitar, Nels is melting minds with his masterwork and the personality of this band explodes. Any band that can span from a 12min+ Spiders to a rollicking Man Who Loves You and close out with Hoodoo Voodoo is awesome in my book.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band: 9:00 – 12:30am, What Stage
You may have your own opinion of the Boss, I for one do, but you cannot challenge him in the slightest about the heart he pours into his work. The iconic Hall of Famer works a crowd like he is hosting a backyard BBQ, everyone feels welcome and everyone feels a true connection. That ain’t easy to pull off in front of 60k folks that have been rocking for 3 days in the heat and mud.
The Bonnaroo moment came as thousands of proud Americans from teens to grandparents rang out Santa Claus is Coming to town under the blanket of the smothering June TN night sky and it could not have been more fitting.
Bruce exclaimed, ‘It’s too fuckin’ hot for Santa Claus,’ but it’s never too hot for a classic rock show.
I now know why they call him the Boss.

Yeasayer: 1:00 – 1:45am, This Tent
I am not sure if it is the crowd or the difficulty of adjusting to life after Bruce, but I struggle to connect fully with this show. I dig Yeasayer and the stage setup is pretty stellar, but we are so packed in with kids camping out for MGMT that it is difficult to get the most out of this show.
Nine Inch Nails: 1:00 – 3:00am, Which Stage
They played most all of the major hits, skipping a few, but leaving no one let down. Trent engages in very open dialogue with the crowd. He tells us he has had enough, he’s too old to keep doing this anymore. In an odd way it is kinda sad, well as sad as a NIN show can be. He is after all an understated genius and perhaps one of the most important figures in music since the early nineties. He is part of our culture at this point. I am elated to have taken part in this moment in music history.

1 comment:

kavorka said...

I checked out Passion Pit's album, "Chunk of Change" based on what you'd wrote about them.

Very good stuff. Thanks for steering me toward them.