Words by: Wesley Hodges
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival :: 06.10.11 :: Manchester, TN
”I hope the present for you is glistening with notes that ring so true.” - My Morning Jacket’s "Slow Slow Tune"
|Bonnaroo 2011 by Jake Krolick|
This year’s Bonnaroo seems to be written in reverse, as old and trusted truisms of the festival unravel and expectations quickly lose relevance. For starters, as I said yesterday, there was Thursday’s embarrassment of riches, taking the opening day from a casual meet-and-greet to a can’t-miss full day for those looking to see the real next big thing. Next, there was the late night, a lineup making it difficult not to embrace your inner hip hop fan with the likes of Big Boi or the semi-disappointing Lil' Wayne emcee’ing the prime time Centeroo party. It’s hard to believe we are only just now hitting the turn of this mammoth weekend after last night’s 1-2 knockout bill of My Morning Jacket and Arcade Fire to ring in the first of two huge nights at this year’s Roo. Amongst the Dust Bowl that has already become Centeroo, several bands managed to create an early afternoon buzz surrounding their performance. Two early shows that I was unable to make but seemed to cause a stir were Jessica Lea Mayfield and Justin Townes Earle - tough choices have to be made and sometimes seeing an up-and-coming metal band (Kylesa) or Celtic-inspired indie band (Givers) takes first priority over a familiar act. Now looking down the barrel of a Buffalo Springfield, Eminem, Meters/ Dr. John, SCI and STS9 evening slate, it’s time for the weary to hydrate and remotivate, because this thing is far from over. Here were a few of the shows that stuck out on Bonnaroo Friday.
1. My Morning Jacket
|Jim James @ Bonnaroo ‘06 by Dave Vann|
Going into this one it was already prevalent that trying to even compare what was to unfold at MMJ’s big stage debut to the “Return To Thunderdome” show in ’04 or the legendary late nights from ’06 & ’08 would be an irrelevant exercise. Given a mere two hours, the band did what they do best, giving the main stage crowd a delectable set of heavy hitters that was mostly expected on paper but expertly delivered in a way that proved once and for all that these guys, at long last, belong at the throne of this beautiful yearly happening, having earned their keep along the way in a very organic and inspired way.
Sound problems marred the early-goings of this set, as Yim’s vocals somehow weren’t beaming out (except from the monitors) for the first few verses of the band’s new blockbuster opener “Victory Dance.” Despite early issues marring the band’s most important set to date, if there’s any lead singer able to roll with such frustrating problems and find a way to turn things around quick, it’s Yim Yames. The lead singer rolled with it and the moment the vox kicked in full force, the crowd responded with a collective and uproarious sigh of relief as the sun set over Bonnaroo and order restored itself. Songs like “Off the Record,” “Dancefloors,” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” (a tune I’m convinced after last night is a genre in itself) arrived with an added emphasis on Friday evening, but no moment proved more memorable and poignant than the epic “Steam Engine,” replete with a waterfall of glowsticks to light up the night sky as the song reached its pre-jam-out apex. MMJ in 2011 is as professional, tight, and multi-faceted as any modern act – although the wondrous days of long hair and raw, unpolished psychedelia seem to have passed by. We have clearly arrived at a new era where the band takes on the lofty responsibility of carrying music festivals and stepping up to the big, big time. The two minutes of the “Run Thru” jam captivated the type of lightning-rod energy this festival runs on. To close it down, “One Big Holiday” never seemed more appropriate, a chance to once again celebrate this growing giant and bask in the fact that our generation has a band that the next generation may describe as classic. After over a decade of existence, it’s clear after last night that these guys are just getting started, introducing an ever-growing fan base to new musical ideas and instilling the belief that rock-and-roll is still alive and well.
2. Big Boi
I’ll be brief here because there is little to convey besides the fact that this was the real hip-hop event of Friday night, tucked away in the semi-obscure Other Tent while a downright massive crowd congregated in anticipation of Lil’ Wayne’s intriguing Which Stage late night set. There is no question after last night that Big Boi had his performance well-rehearsed and very well in tune with the obscure rhythms of Bonnaroo late nights. A dance crew flanked the Outkast rapper as he ran through a host of his old band’s tunes like “So Fresh So Clean” and a crowd request for “Ms. Jackson.” Several fans hailed this one as the show of the day, and if I would’ve been able to stick it out for the full deal, it may have made it to the top.
3. Arcade Fire
|Arcade Fire by Tony Stack|
Arcade Fire’s always anthem-heavy set inspired a communal experience at What Stage despite a packed field that perhaps rivaled the enormity of Radiohead (2006) or Jay-Z (2010). “Ready to Start,” “Haiti,” and “No Cars Go” stuck out as the winners of the performance. The marquee display above the band was fitting given the last 18 months this band has enjoyed. No major festival at the current moment ISN’T showcasing Arcade Fire, and for good reason. This musical collective has the largesse and rare, impassioned knack for crowd engagement that few artists can come close to competing with. Songs like the organ-heavy “Intervention” likely made it to the back corners of the 700-acre farm and beyond, as Win Butler’s vocals inspired several overheard comparisons to a certain Talking Heads lead singer. A genuine sense of gratitude for their fans support and energy is well-conveyed and comforting in comparison to other festival headliners, and it’s always impressive when a headline-size band can instill this sort of close connection with such a swelling crowd.
Others Happenings in no particular order on Bonnaroo Friday:
The Black Angels – A brief stop-in was everything I thought these guys would bring and more, a dark and stormy hard rock respite from the beats-heavy atmosphere in every other corner of Centeroo. One thing’s clear: The Black Angels bring it.
Ratatat – Couldn’t help but think to myself how great it is that there is a band out there so committed to a certain sound and coupled with a ravenously intense late, late night crowd, these guys were able to inspire and garner themselves hordes of new fans as their crescendo-built rave rock zoned in.
Shpongle presents The Shpongletron Experience
|Kylesa by Josh Miller|
This set completely escapes categorization and at the moment, apt description. The hoopers, the visual stage build and the air-thickening ambi-trance turned This Tent into a Shpongle’d out dream world for the still-sizeable crowd lingering around once Simon Posford helmed his grand booth around 2:50 a.m. There are weird scenes at Bonnaroo, and then there was Shpongle.
With each growing year I become more and more convinced that there is nothing better to kick out the early afternoon Bonnaroo cobwebs than a heavy metal show, and Kylesa simply reaffirmed this belief, with the two drummers syncing up for most of the set, reminding me (in a very great way) of last year’s epic Melvins set.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
One of a handful of acts from the Bonnaroo old school, it was great to see the original lineup for the first time and feel a connection to my first Bonnaroo (2003) and see one of the initial bands to show me why a yearly trip to Manchester is a priority. Artists like Victor Wooten are truly once-in-a-lifetime, and the Flecktones mellowed down the dusty afternoon crowd in a righteous way.
Non-Musical Moment of the Day:
A group of parachutists (likely unplanned by ‘Roo organizers) floating above Centeroo towards the end of Primus’ set – very cool.
Things are rolling again, so I’ve gotta run. Check out the webcasts if you’re at home. Desitively Bonnaroo!
JamBase | Manchester
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