Saturday :: 06.13
Strolling into the grounds on Saturday it was hot, but after the rain we had on Thursday, heat and humidity (sans falling water) felt like a victory for sure.
No one sleeps much at festivals. It's part of the deal and you just gotta roll with it. Standing under That Tent with a gorgeous breeze and The High Priest of New Orleans Music holding court on his grand piano, this was fuel for the soul, washing off last night's party and clearing our heads for the coming day's adventure. Toussaint is a legend, there's no denying that, and with the humid air and giant white tent, for a minute I thought I was at Jazz Fest. With his stellar band (sax, guitar, bass, drum, percussion), Toussaint worked the ivories as he sang "Sneaking Sally Through The Ally," "Soul Sister," "Hercules," "Get Out Of My Life Woman" and more. Burnt and tired on Saturday morning (err... afternoon) not much makes you wanna sing and clap, but Allen Toussaint certainly did.
|Allen Toussaint :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder|
Booker T & the DBTs
I wanted to "see" more of Booker T & the DBTs, but everyone has to eat, and my gut was letting me know my time had come. So what I did was get some food behind the Which Stage so I could keep an ear on what was going down. Mixing songs from their recently released Potato Hole such as the title track, "Pound It Out" and their cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya" with Drive-By Truckers staples like "Let There Be Rock" and set closer "Lookout Mountain" (the highlight of the set for this DBT fan), as well as Booker T's classic "Green Onions," I was glad I heard bits and pieces as I stuffed my gullet with homemade tacos!
I love Bon Iver. For Emma, Forever Ago was my favorite album last year and all three times I've seen Bon Iver I've been completely blown away. But having seen Justin Vernon multiple times recently I stayed for Booker T & the DBTs (and my lunch) and only caught the end of their set - which had fans spilling out of This Tent. Arriving for "Regarding: Stack" and a massive, euphoric full-crowd sing-along on "Wolves," I was second-guessing my decision to eat. It was beautiful stuff, and the huge mass of people definitely agreed. I wish I had seen "Skinny Love," "Flume," "Blood Bank" and "For Emma," but you can't do it all and I bet eating helped me more than I'll ever know.
|Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder|
It was almost 5:00 p.m. and I had one hour before the next set I was definitely seeing (Wilco). I took the opportunity to roll through the grounds and catch a few songs from different acts, starting with the Del McCoury Band at the Other Tent. This is probably the greatest bluegrass band I will ever see, heck they might be the greatest bluegrass band any of us will ever see. These guys play fast - really fast - and they never miss a note. Fingers are flying and vocals are soaring. You look up "professional" in the dictionary and Del should be standing there with his impossibly full silver hair. Del's son Ronnie, who won "Mandolin Player of the Year" honors eight years in a row, was a vision to behold, and when they teased "Poor Heart" off Phish's A Picture of Nectar those in the know let out a giant yelp.
I was eager to see these freaks do their thang, but it was oppressively hot in This Tent and Wilco was getting close, so I only stayed for two songs. What I did see was enough to make me realize I have to get my ass to their next show in my town. It was weird. It was sexy. It was gender bending and it was a party. Whenever a band is doing something no one else is (or at least doing it better than anyone else), it's worth looking deeper, and of Montreal has definitely made me curious.
|of Montreal :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder|
Same theory as Bon Iver, I couldn't convince myself to go see Mule when I've seen them so often and there were bands (like of Montreal) that I've never seen. I did however walk through the Mule crowd on my way to Wilco and was able to take in almost the entire ballad "Beautifully Broken." I wish I had been able to see Radiohead's "Creep," U2's "One" and Neil Young's "Southern Man," but with Jeff Tweedy and his boys about to kick off on the main What Stage I was on a mission and nothing was stopping me.
6 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Saturday may have been the greatest festival run I've ever witnessed. Wilco > The Mars Volta > Bruce Springsteen > Nine Inch Nails. WTF? Long before I got to Bonnaroo I knew this was gonna be the shit, and boy was it. With the heat of the day gone it was getting easier to find one's groove, and when Wilco kicked off with "Wilco The Song" off their forthcoming new album, Wilco (the album), we all screamed the chorus, "Wilco will love you!" Every song was well executed and performed with that classic Wilco mix of beauty and chaos. We let our minds drift during "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and we rocked out to the long "Handshake Drugs" with mad-genius guitarist Nels Cline crafting sharp angles with his lead. New track "Bull Black Nova" was a clear highlight with a tension-building format that allowed Tweedy's vocals to pour across the urgent beat to great affect. "You Are My Face" created space for beautiful harmonies, and again, the guitars built into dissonant waters with "Shot In The Arm." When not erecting intricate sonic structures like they did on "Jesus, Etc." or letting Cline just go nuts with his rig, the band would often twist three guitars into a triple helix as they did on "Impossible Germany." The Mars Volta was about to start so I started making for the path, and walking out I kept thinking, "Man, this really is one of the best bands in America," at which point "California Stars" began and I had to turn back. Even if I missed the start of Volta, "California Stars" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard and I needed to get it in me.
|Jeff Tweedy - Wilco :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder|
The Mars Volta
Slimmed down to a six-piece from an eight, The Mars Volta melted the Which Stage. The set began with a bit of a false start that led frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala to joke about their tuning techniques. In fact, Zavala was about as lighthearted as I've seen him, joking that he was happy to be at Burning Man and interacting intimately with the front of the crowd. As they exploded back into "Goliath," Zavala whipped his thick, bright white mic chord around like Indiana Jones as lead guitarist/master mind Omar Rodriguez Lopez turned the song inside out with psychedelic power. As Zavala sang, "Never heard a man speak like this man before," Lopez would answer with a twisted guitar line. "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)" followed and was every bit as sprawling and intense as one would hope, and new song "Cotopaxi" was vicious. The band would produce huge swells of manic cacophony only to tear open a seam and drop into languid moments of tranquil guitar and subtle bass. Drummer Thomas Pridgen is mesmerizing. He moves from thunder crushing drums to delicate hi-hat work effortlessly, and he never ceases to amaze with the amount of notes he's able to hit. During "Drunkship Of Lanterns" I was compelled to write down "Industrial Dub Rock," and I recall being fully under their spell, transfixed by the happenings on stage. "Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus" closed the set and might have been the single greatest song of Bonnaroo. It was incredibly long and drifted into so many sections I forgot what song it was on more than one occasion. There was the beautiful guitar passage from Omar, the disgusto-funk from keyboardist Ikey Owens and then there was the back-end "Strychnine Jam." Although as far as I know still technically part of "Cygnus," for the last part of the epic jam Cedric started repeating, "strychnine... I want your strychnine," over and over above a stretched out, patient foundation. It was totally demented and absolutely awesome. One of the best jams I've ever seen by this band, and that's saying something, people.
|Cedric Bixler Zavala - The Mars Volta by Vann|
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
The Boss in a field with about 80,000 people, it's the stuff of legends. There actually seemed to be a small, strange division between younger fans there presumably to see Phish and the rest of us who just like all kinds of music, but I did hear a few grumbles about Springsteen headlining Saturday night. How in the fuck you don't dig Springsteen is beyond me, but to each their own. And if you're even remotely into the craft of songwriting, well, then you already know Bruce is the man. If you didn't somehow dick it and wind up in your tent Saturday night (nothing else was scheduled during Springsteen) one has to assume Bruce won you over with his marathon live show. "Badlands" was the first offering and had the masses singing loud and proud. A few songs in, things really got interesting with "Outlaw Pete." Not a song I would inherently look forward to, this was the first time Bruce went into full story mode, and let me assure you, when Bruce starts telling a tale he's brilliant, captivating, one of the best I've seen. He continued the story vibe later with newer song "Working On A Dream." Inside this song he turned our big field into a church, preaching to his congregation about bringing down the walls of hate and building a house of love. It's the type of thing that can fail easily but when done right can be incredibly powerful. And to not mention the giant E Street Band would be criminal. From guitar solos to "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons' sax to the perfect back-up singers to the stellar drumming by both Max and Jay Weinberg (who took over for his dad about halfway through the show), nothing chugs along like the E Street Band. There was a Motown swing to certain songs, while others were punched up with gritty rock glory. Both "Thunder Road" and "The River" (two very clear highlights) were pealed way back, with the tempos slow and tense. Closing the set with "The Rising" and "Born To Run" brought the crowd to a boiling point. Coming back with a huge never-ending encore that included "Hard Times," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," "Land of Hope and Dreams," "American Land," "Rosalita," "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark," The Boss conquered Bonnaroo and I was exhausted just watching him. If you're a skeptic, or if you just don't want to see it, I can understand how Bruce might not flip your switch. But, if you just stop thinking and feel, if you just give yourself to it, if you just believe, it's all there in Bruce Springsteen, and I for one believe in The Boss.
|Bruce Springsteen :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann|
Sorta like after Phish on Friday, following a full day of amazing music and the never-ending Bossathon, my team was frazzled and full of music, so we elected to bounce around and catch pieces of various late night shows instead of shacking up at one.
After replenishing ourselves appropriately in various tour buses and RVs, we started our late night crawl at Nine Inch Nails. Holy shit, they are awesome! All heavy and crazy with exploding lights and some sort of post-apocalyptic rock, it was head-splittingly brilliant. And knowing this was rumored to be NIN's last U.S. performance I can't believe I let myself be convinced to leave. Ditching NIN would prove to be the worst decision of my Bonnaroo.
From NIN we went to MGMT. Granted it was packed and we set up shop outside of That Tent, but it pretty much sucked. The album is awesome, but live it was definitely underwhelming. We still managed to dance to hits like "Time To Pretend" and "Electric Feel" (both great songs for sure) but before long we lost interest and roamed by This Tent, where moe. was holding court.
My days with moe. seem to have come and gone (although I still have nothing but respect for these master jammers), and while it sounded fun with talk of both Grace Potter and Brock Butler sitting in, by the time we got there it was incredibly crowded and approaching 3 or 4 a.m. (it's hard to keep track at that point). We pulled the chute and elected to crash and burn.
|Nine Inch Nails :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann|
Continue reading for Sunday's coverage...