BONNAROO 2006: A CITY IN THE HILLS


Brain Damaged Eggmen by Dave Vann
A few clicks away, a bona fide arms-in-the-air par-tay was exploding across a packed field where Lyrics Born, Common, and Blackalicious rang heads with authority. As with much of the reggae here, it's always strange to see stages full of African-Americans playing to a sea of buttermilk, but the enthusiasm on both sides was palpable and blessedly color blind. It's impressive to see literally thousands of arms shoot into the air on command, and the roar each time they said "Somebody scream" was deafening. One thing this hip hop triple threat brought was a pronounced sense of showmanship. As much as they want to ignite minds, they respect their role as entertainers, too.


Jon Gutwillig :: Disco Biscuits :: by Dave Vann
For all those bitching about the reduced number of jam bands (whatever that is) at Bonnaroo this year, the gloriously tangled, insanely multi-layered pairing of Umphrey's McGee and the Disco Biscuits ranged far and wide. Despite speaking two fairly unique languages, the bands cross-pollinated for a unique hybrid on Friday. The finale of Umphrey's set went off like a smile bomb, traveling through "Baby You're A Rich Man" to "Another Brick In the Wall" to "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse." Biscuits Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner replaced UM's Ryan Stasik (bass) and Joel Cummins (keyboards) starting with "Another Brick" to reprise the Brain Damaged Eggmen, their Beatles-Pink Floyd tribute band that debuted earlier this year on Jam Cruise. There's a sense of daring-do to these in-the-moment stunts. Just hitting the right marks as this huge thing careens around has to be challenging. The VERY switched-on audience at this one rode every curve with cheek-stretching smiles. As always, I walked away stunned at the general level of musicianship being displayed, and not a little charmed by two bands I can't always find my way into.

New Orleans Remembered
Having wandered journalistically on Friday, I gave myself permission to really sink into the New Orleans-themed late night on Saturday. Dr. John - the man who gave us the name 'Bonnaroo' – planned a return to his '70s "Night Tripper" character for the first time in decades, followed by a mini-set from Rebirth Brass Band, and a pre-dawn funk-a-thon from Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk - the nastiest, most politically charged thing coming out of New Orleans today.


Preservation Hall by Pamela Martinez

Even if Congress and the White House have shirked their responsibilities to New Orleans, Bonnaroo made sure no one forgot about what happened there last year AND how much more there's left to do today. Every time my energies flagged, I would stop by the Preservation Hall Cafe and recharge with a smorgasbord that represented the past, present, and future of New Orleans music. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was the sound of Main Street, USA, an institution of bright brass and shuffling feet that made you kick your chair aside the second they started stomping. The New Orleans Bingo! Show assaulted us like clowns with a cause, fun and bouncy and not too well balanced. Liquidrone were an American cousin to Blur but with far greater sensuality. In fact, the feeling of skin and slink permeated most of the artists from the Big Easy. There's a hearty, gourmand's appetite to the New Orleans folks that inspires us to live a little more lustily.

New Orleans hit the main stage Saturday with the one-two punch of the Neville Brothers and the inspired teaming of Allen Toussaint with Elvis Costello and the Imposters. The Nevilles are the Nevilles. If you've seen them in the past decade, you have a good idea of what you're getting. And while pleasant enough, their Bonnaroo set held no surprises. Sturdy and full of bonhomie, the Nevilles have internalized a bit too much of the BBW-wine bar scene that's been their bread and butter for years.


Elvis Costello & the Imposters with Allen Toussaint
by Dave Vann
On the other hand, Costello and Toussaint hammered us with southern grit and overflowing soul packed with tight horns, menacing guitar, and one of the richest vocal blends this year. Tunes like "Broken Promise Land" off their new collaboration, River In Reverse, unapologetically force us to examine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and our collective debt to a city that's enriched the world's artistic culture in untold ways. Costello was in particularly fine voice, one of the most readily identifiable singers in a century with genius phrasing. Toussaint was no slouch either, commanding and welcoming in equal measures, making many of us sigh during "Brickyard Blues" and "Southern Nights."

Costello pulled out a new one he'd written just Friday for a TV appearance. Predictably, it was bloody great, which helps leaven Elvis' tendency to show off his abundant talents. Sexy horns and bouncing piano from that 88-key duster Steve Nieve propelled them towards the final verse, which Costello howled with impassioned abandon, "In the name of the Father, Son/ In the name of gasoline and the gun/ Wake me up!" Elvis urged the band to dig in with phrases like "Come on and get some!" Working from new arrangements by Toussaint, familiar tunes like "High Fidelity" and "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" were given church revival bang. "Watching The Detectives" had a Kingston vibe and Mancini smoothness that practically reinvented it. Costello proved an enthusiastic entertainer, wooing us with asides like "We love you - individually and as a group." Later, he remarked, "I've never written a song with the words rock 'n roll in the title, and I've written 350,000 songs," before diving into the record shop homage "International Echo" off River. Nice to hear someone sing "Give me 7-inches, give me 12" and NOT have it be a double-entendre! Without question, this was one of the festival highlights.


Dr. John by Jon Bahr
Returning to Saturday midnight, all these various New Orleans threads seem to tie themselves up as Dr. John emerged dressed head-to-toe in dark feathers. A massive voodoo doll sat on stage, and the whole group - reportedly hand-picked just for this gig – looked as if they'd leapt from the gatefold of some rare piece of vinyl. A mocha enchantress danced as seductively as Salome throughout the simmering incantation. Full of devils that burn a candle on you, the songs captured the lazy eyed hypnosis of the original recordings but let them fly through the night air. Nostrils full of witchy woman incense, we danced dazedly, drinking in the twinkling lights and perfect half moon as "Mama Roux" made us howl happily half mad. Later, appropo of nothing, the Doctor growled, "It's going to rain. It's going to rain, motherfucker!" JamBase columnist and Honest Tune magazine publisher Tom Speed turned to me, his voice low and serious, and said, "It's going to rain tomorrow." Dr. John had called it into being, and a short burst of precipitation the next morning was merely a prelude to the downpour during Phil Lesh's set.

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