After surviving a near-blown out tire, finding that your cars speed is indeed not "checked by aircraft", and discovering that the difficulty of purchasing beverages at Wal Mart decreases in proportion with the growing size of the white crosses dotting the sides of the Southern highways, we finally reached Manchester, Tennessee just as the gates opened for Bonnaroo 2009.
Thursday's lineup was relatively weak, which turned out to be a blessing as the day was primarily used for setting up camp and discovering the most successful way to waterproof your campsite, as the weather shifted from torrential downpours to uncomfortable humidity nearly every hour. Nevertheless we made our first muddy trek to Centaroo to catch White Rabbits, Portugal. The Man. and Passion Pit that evening.
Portugal. The Man. was our first great discovery of the trip. As they were one of the first acts to go on, their audience was characterized by worn-out travelers, unfamiliar with the band, itching to see a concert. As the show went on, there was a clear sentiment in the crowd that they were well worth the trek.
The night wrapped up with electo-indie Passion Pit, which was easily the best show of the evening. The Tennessee heat was finally subsiding, and the scenester crowd had found a place to congregate in what felt like a sea of hippies. Fresh off their new CD, Manners, they put on a crazy show.
Friday afternoon, I eventually garnered up enough energy to make it back to Centaroo in time to see Gomez finish up their set. Then came who I was most excited to see, Animal Collective. I don't want to say the show was a let down- it was anything but- although something about the sound system at the Which stage was way off. The bass was so heavy I could hardly hear Avey Tare or Panda Bear's crooning in My Girls. However, as the set continued either they began to sound better or I adjusted, as Fireworks, their version of Panda Bear's Comfy in Nautica, and Brothersport were all amazing.
Then virtually the same crowd headed over to This Tent for Grizzly Bear (although some remained behind for the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, which I couldn't catch.) After spending a while adjusting the sound system, they began to play. It soon became clear that the seemingly endless sound checks were well worth it. They couldn't havesounded better, considering they were playing an outdoor venue and their sound is extremely dependent on careful execution. The tracks off their newest album Veckatimest were the highlights of the show, especially Cheerleader and While You Wait For The Others.
From there I returned to the Which Stage for TV on the Radio, whose show sounded infinitely better than Animal Collective's, likely due to the more conventional instruments in use. While their set list was flawless, the atmosphere for the show was slightly disappointing. It felt like the songs couldn't peak in the dead heat of the afternoon, especially with songs like Dancing Choose.
Next up on the Which Stage was David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads. As entertaining as it was to see the aging alt-rock god sing classics like "Once in a Lifetime", the dancing troupe backing the band made theshow much more enjoyable. Chances are, seeing David Byrne truly was a once in a lifetime type deal, so I'm glad to be able to say that I was there.
After passing out for a bit in the Cinema tent, I made my way over to That Tent for the stacked lineup for the evening. First up was the French band Phoenix, who I was mostly unfamiliar with. However, they blew me away and made the second great discovery of the trip. If you get the chance to see them live, don't pass it up.
Then came probably the most indescribable show of the week, Crystal Castles. Fog machines filled up the tent to the point where only the strobe lights and flying glow sticks could be seen, and soon the incomprehensible screaming of lead singer Alice Glass' began. And so the show went. Nevertheless, it was the closest I've ever come to "raving."
Finally, at 2:15, Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk arrived onstage. As soon as the mashups began, the stage was flooded with an already hyped-up crowd. The show was flawless, save a few wires unplugged by the moshing crowd (of which Gillis was a part). There were some "tracks" which resembled ones off of Feed The Animals, but the majority of the show was simply Girl Talk looping songs in and out. However, he followed suit with the CD insofar as the show began with Play Your Part part 1, and ended with part 2. And so the day ended.
Saturday started off with Bon Iver.
How does one begin to write about this show? I could mention the genuine perfection of lead singer Justin Vernon's falsetto,
or the amazing backing of his bandmates. For Emma, Forever Ago sounded better live than I eve
r expected it to, considering how much of a solitary listen the album is. The show peaked at the very end, as the massive crowd sang "what might have been lost" during Wolves, in what was hands down the most moving moment of Bonnaroo. Other highlights included a great cover of Yo La Tengo's "I Feel Like Going Home".
Then I caught a bit of of Montreal, but they unfortunately came on late and I was not about to miss Wilco. From what I did see, the show was trippy as hell- including pig masks, gas masks, and Mike Myers masks. All to be expected from Kevin Barnes & co, I suppose. I can only imagine what happened after I left..
After endless tent hopping, I finally got the chance to see a show at Bonnaroo's main venue, the What Stage. Probably my personal favorite band in attendance, Wilco, had the stage from 6-8 as the sun set above the 100,000 'roo attendees. There is no better band for this transitional time, as their setlist included an assortment of heartbreakers and pick me ups. Jeff Tweedy calmly controlled the stage, hardly needing to boast showmanship to keep the crowds attention (or, perhaps he knew that no matter how hard he tried, Bruce was certainly going to trump his efforts in a few short hours.) He also explained that was unafraid of being boo'ed, as he and the band mates "would simply pretend the crowd was chanting 'Bruce'".
And so they did. The Boss took the stage around 9 and went straight until 1230. As I had heard from practically everyone I know, he was an absolute powerhouse on stag
e- so much so that I actually had to sit to catch my breath multiple times during the show. In what was far and away the most absurd portion of the evening, he began to play "Santa Clause Is Coming To Town" after an audience member requested the song, throwing a cutout of Santa on stage. His later rant concerning our need for "sexual healing" and how we should "construct houses of love" provided serious comic relief to the evening, although I'm not sure he meant for it to. The E Street Band backed him even through his strange ranting, including Springsteen's son Evan (whom I will be attending school with next year..) in the latter portion of the show. The night ended with Born in the USA, Glory Days, and Dancing In the Dark. Cue cheesy segway concerning our night time dancing only just beginning...
Next up was Yeasayer and the much anticipated MGMT. Yeasayer put on a good show, drawing a relatively large crowd for such a late show which showed that they are truly a band on the rise. Finally at 2:15 MGMT took the stage, and while many people thought the show was a letdown, I can't say I agreed. Their setlist included their hits (Electric Feel, Kids) as well as a number of songs from their upcoming CD, entitled Congratulation, due out sometime next fall. They played a handful of tentative songs from the new CD, the best being the title track which ended the show.
On our way out, we stopped in and watched Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play in between moe.'s sets. This made Grace Potters third or so appearance on stage at Bonnaroo, as well as an entire page about her in the Bonnaroo newspaper. Looks like she's doing pretty well, as far as publicity goes. Moe. came on as the sun was rising, and my friends and I decided to stay until they stopped jamming and started singing. We gave up after 20 minuites or so.
Thus, my concert viewing came to an end, as we had to take off before any of the Sunday shows. From what I'm hearing, the highlight of the day was Phish's jam session with Bruce, as well as their extended version of The Velvet Undergrounds "Rock and Roll." We hit the road around noon, and soon enough Wal-Mart's security was back up and running, and the crosses slowly shrank from towering monstrosities to church decorum. I guess its worth mentioning that en route home, there was still no sign of speed checking aircraft.