Posted on 12 June 2010.
Bonnaroo Friday had a rocky start for PopWreckoning. Sweltering temperatures and a “knock” on our tent woke us to inform us that we had camped in the wrong spot. Frustrated, we packed up our tent and began rewandering the muddy roads trying to figure out what we couldn’t figure out the other day. Fortunately, the Bonnaroo fates finally took mercy on us and we at last got our new camping spot: in VIP. Huzzah! Free showers and close to Centeroo!
Press goes through orientation on Friday, so after resetting up our tent, we headed to the media area to hear the ins and outs of Bonnaroo with the wonderful Big Hassle Crew. They shared some good insights, photo rules and a few good jokes.
Press got a special treat today: an acoustic performance of Dr. Dog. The band played about three songs rich with banjos, guitars, and light drumming. acoustic. Check back for a video from the band’s acoustic performance a little bit later.
I glimpsed a bit of alt country act Jessie Baylin and a long line waiting to see Conan O’Brien, while I was walking over to the uke wielding Julia Nunes. The quirky singer played a very long set list of her original tunes and fun covers. Never has a been a ukulele been more bad ass than in her hands. When it came time for her to play a cover of Weezer, Nunes hinted that she might be joining the band for their Bonnaroo set on Saturday. Nunes also announced she had been camping with the rest of us plebes instead of enjoying a trailer or hotel like many other artists. All the more reason to love her.
Then, it was off to see Canada’s Tokyo Police Club over at the Other Tent. The young rockers began with the feedback that kicks off their first song on the newly released, Champ. “Favourite Food” is one of my favorites on the new album and it was a great way to start their set. The band looked absolutely jubilant at the audience’s warm reception. They followed it up with the classic “Nature of the Experiment” before delivering another new one. The old hits were there, but so were plenty of new ones. I can’t wait to see these guys take off with Champ.
Begrudgingly, I pulled away from TPC to go to the Troo Lounge to see Young Veins, a new 60s revivalist rock band. I went into the set knowing nothing about them, but the tunes were catchy and it was a well done homage to rock of old. As I bobbed my head along with the tunes I couldn’t help, but think something was…pretty odd. For a band I had never heard of, they sure looked familiar. Turns out I knew them better than I thought. This is the new band of former Panic! at the Disco members, Ryan Ross and Jon Walker.
No Springsteen at Bonnaroo this year, but we did get Jersey’s second best: The Gaslight Anthem. These guys just released the killer, anthem-heavy American Slang and delivered a set chock full of those tunes as well as the stuff that helped get them national attention.
It was a rough decision where to go from there: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes were singing their heartwarming tunes out at the Other Tent and the Gossip would be setting up at This Tent, but as great as it is to see some of the bigger stages/acts, the best part of Bonnaroo is seeing the up and coming talent on smaller stages. So I made my way to Troo to see PopWreck love Kevin Devine. He’s been doing pretty well for himself, playing nearly all major US festivals this year, and it seems word of his passionate rock is beginning to spread. Troo was packed – and not just with general public fans. It seems Kevin was the musician’s choice, too. Members of Manchester Orchestra hung around backstage watching their fellow Favorite Gentlemen perform his tunes that range from the political to the heartbreak. I also spotted Person L/The Starting Line’s Kenny Vasoli watching, too.
Of course, I didn’t spend too much time people watching. It was hard to take my eyes off Kevin as he dipped down with his guitar just to pop back up to yell into the mic on an especially emotionally-charged chorus. Kevin modestly talked to the crowd, but some of the stuff he said in between songs was just as great as the songs: “You might be saying ‘are there two bass rockers on that stage?’ There are! You’re not fucked up on mezclin yet. You wil be. And I’ll be selling it to you.” He must have been feeling the Bonnaroo love because he then played a new song, “She Stayed a Steam,” off an upcoming Fav Gentlemen release. The song starts slow, but the buildup is great to an especially big chorus. I can’t wait to hear more. Kevin ended with “Brother’s Blood,” and I had a gut-feeling that nothing left at the fest would even begin to compare to his performance.
Giving my feet a break from all the walking, it was back to press for a mini-press conference with some big name artists such as The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Ok Go’s Damien Kulash. While the band members talked about the differences between playing music at a fest vs. a club and what Bonnaroo means, comedian Jeffrey Ross stole the show with his clever quips about the fest: “I saw a band called The xx. They put me to sleep. They should have been called The zz,” he joked. But it was all in good fun: “I only roast the bands I love. All comedians are wannabe rockstars. That’s where this comes from.” Jeff is in charge of the Bonnaroo Roast and based off this sampling, it’s going to be a good roast.
The next chunk of the fest was like a special movie edition of Bonnaroo, and no, I didn’t go to the Cinema Tent. Three of the next four acts I saw consisted of people well known for their work in films. Zooey Deschanel (Elf, Yes Man) sang vintage rock in She & Him with the amazing guitarist that is M. Ward. Though She and Him basically is Deschanel and Ward, they were backed by a band that included several girls simply there to give back up vocals and harmonies. The music was pleasant and made more rockable by Zooey’s constant jumping up and down. Though many went to go see Zooey, they got hooked in by the music and stayed for the whole set.
The only thing that kept me from staying for their whole set was that The National was set to begin playing soon and I love the way the bass vocals carry over their big brassy and string heavy indie rock tunes. Half-expecting good music with little stage presence, I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm they delivered. Lead singer Matt Berninger joked with the audience and even crowd surfed. It was big; it was fun.
Then it was time for movie star number two: Jack Black in his band Tenacious D. This was also my first glimpse of Conan O’Brien who had been emceeing the What Stage all day. It was fun to have a comedian introduce the comedic group. The set was like a cross between a play and a rock concert. The guys are skilled musicians, but their stage banter was just as essential to the act’s performance. For example, at one point, Jack Black pretended to accept an emergency phone call: “What? You want to make a ‘Pick of Destiny 2’? But there’s a catch? You want me to do it with the guy from ‘Mall Cop’?” This caused Kyle Gass To storm off and Black to perform “(Dude) I Totally Miss You.”
My third and final movie star act was none other than Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. It was kind of insane the reaction Martin got. The guy had only walked out to the side stage to huddle with his band before the set and people swarmed the barricade to get a picture of him…again, not on stage. Martin took the almost-too strong reaction kindly, “I’ll tell you one thing. I wish I practiced,” he said. “It has been a long time dream of mine to play bluegrass at Bonnaroo. Today, I feel one step closer to that goal.” Then the band began their bluegrass tunes. The pluck of banjos, the flying bows of fiddles: it was furiously fast and fun. Then time for more jokes before the next jam: “This is a song that…well, that pretty much says it” or “I wrote all the songs you’re hearing myself, which I think distinguishes us from every other bluegrass band at Bonnaroo playing their own stuff.”
I left Martin a little bit early to explore and walked by the psychedelic jams of Les Claypool and the piano songs of the adorable Tori Amos. This was on my way to jam rockers Dawes at the Troo Lounge. Dawes again proved that Troo, despite being one of the smallest stages, had one of the best lineups of the day. Dawes was the type of rock music that you could sit back and relax to, but you could also stand up in dance. Definitely, check them out.
Kings of Leon had the undivided attention of Bonnaroo for the next chunk of the night: no one was up against them. The What Stage was packed as the Southern rockers blazed through tunes “Sex is on Fire,” “The Bucket” and even a Pixies cover. To be honest, I found it a bit boring, but there are thousands of other people who seem to disagree with me. Oh well. I do give the band props on the long set and also the long encore that included the popular “Use Somebody.”
Without a doubt the Flaming Lips were one of the primary draws of Bonnaroo this year. Not only was the band going to perform all of Dark Side of the Moon with Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, but they were also treating fans to a regular Lips show. The infamous hamster ball made its return after the “birth” of the other members onto the stage. Coyne wheeled around over the audience, immersed in a sea of confetti. It just got bigger from there: more confetti, more fog, more dancers and guest singers (Beth Ditto and Margaret Cho). In stark contrast, the Dark Side performance lacked the theatrics of the preceding performance, but that was still pretty cool, too, because it proved the Lips weren’t just a gimmick band. I guess there was one major theatric. They ended with a giant fog projection of the artwork from Dark Side over the audience. Epic.
Though it seemed like at first that everyone and their moms were at the Lips, the Black Keys did somehow manage to wrestle a sizable crowd to their set at That Tent. The set wasn’t as crazy a spectacle as the Lips, but it was still a good show in which they invited up extra musicians and played a decent number of brand-spanking new songs.
I know that it is almost blasphemous that I didn’t return back to the Lips to see all of Dark Side of the Moon. But Bassnectar was beckoning. Bassnectar is a bad ass dj and he turned This Tent into a giant dance party. I would have been content just dancing into the morning twilight with him, but even though it was 2 a.m., there were still tons of acts to go.
Rumor was that Kid Cudi wouldn’t be able to perform since he was arrested in New York the day before. So I skipped it. Turns out he did perform. Alas. But it wasn’t too bad because it just meant I had more time to enjoy LCD Soundsystem. They were surprisingly awkward, but it was fun and worked well for their style of music. It was still a dance party at the This Tent, but a different sort of one from the remixing of Bassnectar. Not surprisingly, people went crazy for “Drunk Girls,” considering that’s what half the crowd was. I love how intimate the band made this performance feel and in their hands, it was pretty easy to find the energy to party with them until 4 a.m. What a great way to end the night.
More photos and recaps from Bonnaroo coming soon. You can view Day 1: Thursday’s recap here.