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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bonnaroo 2008 recap

Better late than never... Bonnaroo was a good time and an exhausting experience. After finally sorting through my notes, pictures, and memories, here's the recap.

8:50 pm MGMT

Bonnaroo put a lot of great indie acts on Thursday night this year. We got there around 5, sat in traffic for a couple hours, set up our tent, and hurried up to MGMT's stage about 30 minutes into their set. The tent was unbelievably packed. The high point was an extended jam of "The Handshake," followed by "Electric Feel" and the crowd-pleaser "Time to Pretend."

9:20 pm Nicole Atkins & The Sea

Frustrated by the sea of people at MGMT, we ventured to see our friend Nicole Atkins, the budding vocal superstar herself. She sounded great as always, particularly on "Brooklyn's on Fire," "Maybe Tonight," and her cover of Patti Smith's "Pissin' in a River."

11:30 pm Vampire Weekend

This is a band I couldn't get into for the longest time, but after giving their debut album a few more spins and seeing their show at Bonnaroo, they've won me over. "We're a jam band, we just play really short songs," said singer Ezra Koenig. "Oxford Comma," "A-Punk," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"... pretty much every song they played sounded terrific. "M79" rocked even without the strings. Best show of the night.

12:30 pm Steel Train
Hand-clapping rock and power pop. They tossed in a decent cover of the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979."

1:15 pm Fiery Furnaces

The Fiery Furnaces amaze me with their ability to play their intricate songs, which change time signatures with seemingly every other line. It would be amazing if they could simply replicate the songs as they appear on CD, but instead the Furnaces actually change up the arrangements when they perform live, speeding up the fast parts of "Clear Signal From Cairo," for instance. I don't know how they keep it all straight. They must practice for weeks before every tour. Very impressive.

The other sweet part about this show was that someone brought a half-dozen life-sized cardboard cutouts of the Furnaces and passed them around the crowd as if they were crowd surfing. It was hilarious.

2:15 Dark Star Orchestra
They opened with the least-inspiring cover of "Stir it Up" in music history. I couldn't take much more after that.

2:30 pm Tegan & Sara

They played most of The Con, including a nice version of "Nineteen" they dedicated to their True Colors Tour partner, Cyndi Lauper. My only complaint was the high number of slower songs, which comprised almost half their show.

4:30 pm !!!

Insane dance rock, just like when I saw them last year. Singer Nic Offer did his hysterical gyrating and crazy-man dancing. They closed with one of their best, "Heart of Hearts."

6 pm Umphrey's McGee
Completely fucking boring. I don't know how anyone can like this shit unless they're high. Then again, maybe that's the point.

6:30 pm MIA

When I saw her last year, she sucked, so I wanted to give her another chance. Unfortunately for me (fortunately for her), her tent was so unbelievably crowded that I couldn't even see the stage. This was the largest crowd I've ever seen for a small-stage show. She definitely wasn't as boring as last time; "Bucky Done Gun" was among the many songs that got everyone dancing.

7:10 pm Willie Nelson
Willie's a living legend. And at this point he's mailing it in. He played the two songs I was hoping for, "On the Road Again" and "Always On My Mind," but he sang maybe every other word, and tried to get the crowd to sing most of the lines. It was like he was sleepwalking. Forget his tax problems; the IRS should go after him simply for this awful performance.

7:45 pm Chris Rock
I once referred to Chris Rock as "the funniest man on the planet." I no longer feel that way. He's still funny, but he's gotten too preachy. His best bits tonight dealt with the presidential election. On John McCain: "Wasn't he too old ten years ago? Who's going to be his running mate, a nurse?" On Barack Obama: "He has one of the blackest names in the world. It's right up there with Dikembe Motumbo." On Hillary Clinton: "She would not get out. Leave the fucking party! A girl with class leaves the party an hour before the lights come on. But hoes wait for the lights to come on, and they roaming the parking lot like, 'Hey, where ya'll going? What's going on? Where's the aftershow at?'"

9 pm Metallica

The metal legends opened their show with several of their oldest songs, causing me to doubt whether they knew how to do this festival thing. At festivals, you're not playing to your hardcore fans, you're playing mostly to casual fans. So digging deep into your catalog isn't recommended; you just gotta play the hits. But Metallica rocked so hard, it didn't matter that most of the fans didn't recognize the early shit. And as their set progressed, Metallica did indeed bring out the hits. A tepid, powerless "The Unforgiven" was their only misstep. They tore through "Nothing Else Matters" and "Sad But True" before closing their set with the scorching 1-2 punch of "One" and "Enter Sandman," later returning for an encore that featured "Seek and Destroy." I'm not a huge Metallica fan, but I can objectively say theirs was the best show of the festival.


The Toronto electronic duo got the crowd dancing within seconds of hitting the stage. I've seen a number of DJ sets at festivals, but this one was on a whole different level. The thing that struck me most about this year's Bonnaroo is how much everyone wanted to dance, and these guys were certainly a catalyst for that.

2 pm Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

Old-school soul and funk at its best. I highly recommend this woman. She'll show you a good time.

2:45 pm Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck
We mainly went to this just to stay out of the sun. It was good background music. And Bela Fleck is the banjo king.

3:30 pm Gogol Bordello

I waited for this all weekend. This was probably the festival's most electric show. The fans knew all the words to every song, and the band members bounced around the stage playing their wonderful gypsy punk music.

5 pm Cat Power
A little strange. I was happy to hear the jazzy "Lived in Bars," but two minutes in she turned it into an up-tempo freakout. I wasn't impressed, but I have much respect for Cat Power. I found out later that Eddie Vedder and the Olsen twins were in attendance.

6 pm BB King

Another artist I can add to my list of "Legends I'm Glad I Got To See Before They Die." BB's show wasn't anything spectacular. "Rock Me Baby" was cool. I suppose the fact he can get on stage and play at age 82 is impressive enough by itself.

7 pm Iron & Wine

Wow, I didn't expect much from them (him), but was blown away by the beautiful, poignant melodies. Finally, a much-hyped artist lives up to his billing.

8 pm Jack Johnson
I spent most of this show lying on the ground trying unsuccessfully to squeeze in a nap. It was decent music, but there's nothing engaging about Jack's songs at all. I just wonder how in the world he got so popular. Bringing out Eddie Vedder for a duet was a nice touch.

10:15 pm Pearl Jam
I didn't see much of this show. Here's the thing about Bonnaroo - because the music goes so late, and because it's impossible to sleep in past 8 am due to the sun and heat, you get virtually no sleep. By the third day you're running on fumes, and you have to make some difficult sleep-related decisions. I made the decision to go back and nap through Pearl Jam so I could catch the shows later tonight.

I'd seen Pearl Jam last year at Lollapalooza and figured that was good enough. Then of course I hear that Eddie & company put on a 3-hour, 3-encore performance that some are calling the best of the festival. Good for those guys. But why didn't they do that at Lolla, when everyone expected them to?

1 am Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros was the number one reason I bought Bonnaroo tickets. They endured some ugly technical problems that marred the end of "Vaka," but Jonsi laughed it off and urged the crowd to be patient, in his endearing broken English. "It's a little bit messy on stage," he said. "We're playing new songs we're not used to playing." They played most of their upcoming album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, with "Gobbledigook" and "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur" proving positively irresistible.

3 am Ghostland Observatory

I arrived during the extended dance rock jam "Midnight Voyage," which was followed by electro-craziness with glow sticks flying everywhere and laser lights shooting out from the stage. The crowd wasn't huge because a lot of people went to see Kanye, but Aaron and Thomas rocked it hard.

4:30 am Kanye West

I've already written a separate blog about Kanye's performance. Read it here. Yeah, he went on late and quit after only an hour. But it wasn't nearly as bad as people are saying, and everyone who saw it will be talking about it for years, for better or worse.

2:15 pm Broken Social Scene

This is a band I've tried to get into because bloggers rave about them. But I left after a few songs due to extreme heat. And boredom. As always, I'm open to having my mind changed, but the next good song I hear by these guys will be the first.

2:45 pm Ladytron

If you've heard the first 30 seconds of a Ladytron song, you've heard the entire thing. Even the really good songs - like "Seventeen" and the new single "Ghost" - got old after a couple of minutes.

3:15 pm Jakob Dylan & the Gold Mountain Rebels
Jakob is playing low-key rootsy folk rock these days. He's not likely to make an appearance on the pop charts anytime soon, but it's decent stuff. The only Wallflowers track he played was a slowed-down "3 Marlenas."

4:30 Aimee Mann

I'd forgotten Aimee Mann existed until I saw her name on the schedule. She's drifted into irrelevance while others of her ilk, like Cat Power and Feist, have seen their popularity explode. Based on this show, I can't say her popularity dip isn't deserved. Aimee isn't bringing a whole lot to the table when it comes to live performances.

5:30 pm Solomon Burke

No other festival would invite a 68-year old rock and R&B legend who can barely walk, but that's what makes Bonnaroo great. Solomon Burke had one of the smaller crowds of the weekend, but delivered one of the most powerful shows. Seated on a custom-made throne, the Rock N Roll Hall of Famer belted out hits of his own, and a medley of "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and "Mustang Sally," dedicated to his fallen friends Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Bo Diddley.

6:15 pm Robert Plant & Alison Krauss with T-Bone Burnett
Alison is one of my favorite singers, so I was thrilled to end the weekend with this show. Things started off very mellow, sounding almost exactly like their CD Raising Sand. But it kicked into high gear as the set wore on, with "Nothin'," which showed up Krauss's violin playing and Plant's wild vocals. They closed with powerful versions of Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore" and their own duet "Gone Gone Gone."

1 Metallica
2 Sigur Ros
3 Gogol Bordello
4 Vampire Weekend
5 !!!
6 Solomon Burke
7 Fiery Furnaces
8 Iron & Wine
10 Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
11 Nicole Atkins & the Sea
12 Ghostland Observatory
14 Kanye West
15 Tegan & Sara

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