BONNAROO 2006: A CITY IN THE HILLS


Michele Stodart :: The Magic Numbers
by Dave Vann
The Magic Numbers make me swoon. I'm not prone to faints, spells or any other Victorian silliness but the vinyl warmth of their high reaching voices just does me in. Saturday afternoon, beneath gray skies, they bottled all the sunshine around us and unleashed it in notes of pure light. The shuffling backbeat and bell tones of "I See You, You See Me" whisper back to John Sebastian and Brian Wilson but with a more hickory tone, and Angela Gannon is Phoebe Snow and Sandy Denny in one package. New material like "You Never Had It" was chunkier, pumped up, and garagey. At times they remind me of the sugar smack of family bands like the Osmonds or Partridges. That's no dig, especially given how easily their music goes down.

It was heartening to see one of my favorites from the '80s still walking the boards on Friday. World Party is the name Karl Wallinger has used for his varied, often unsung pop explorations since leaving the Waterboys in 1985. Working with a spare setting of mostly acoustic guitars and violin, Wallinger jumped around his catalog of undiscovered classics. Classy and a bit cheeky, Wallinger speaks in a way that makes me want to find him voice-over work. He's so natural and inviting, and his lyrics have a '60s optimism that's heartening in these cynical times. By the time he brought out the electric guitar for "Way Down Now" off 1990's tremendous Goodbye Jumbo, the crowd had grown considerably. Like Peter Case and Paul Kelly, Wallinger steadily hones his craft, releasing a new album from time to time just so we don't forget he's out there. He's comforting in a Beatles sort of way. I can't think of too many nicer things I could write about a musician.


Grace Potter by Dave Vann
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are instantly likeable festival dynamite - big and bright yet muddy like Creedence. On Saturday, they jumped on it like a hound committed to wearing every bit of meat off a bone. I watched jaws drop as Potter opened up. Hers is a voice from above with a healthy knowledge of the fire down below. I'm seriously diggin' the harder edge they've developed. There's absolutely nothing "girlie" about this now. Guitarist Scott Tournet was just plain mean (a major compliment in my book), and bassist Bryan Dondero could be a member of '70s Little Feat. It's taken a while for drummer Matthew Burr to grow on me. He has the Cro-Magnon swing of the Secret Machines' Benjamin Curtis but with a lot less finesse. Once I succumbed to his Animal (as in The Muppets) charms I figured out why he's here. Potter herself is a Hammond organ whiz, vamping like a lightly tipsy Stevie Wonder. Her songwriting compares favorably with early Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin, whose fans would love what the Nocturnals are laying down. I'm always happy to see them on a bill - which says a lot right there – and they were in top form at Bonnaroo.

Space Cowboys
I arrived at Dungen to discover Albert King being slow-boiled over an open flame. Sweden's finest trip masters played with real heart and youthful moxie on Saturday. They passed a notebook into the crowd near the beginning, inviting us to write in our email addresses, and hoping aloud it would return to them later in the day. Dungen's leader Gustav Ejstes read the quote on the front, "Instead of saying that won't work, find out what does work and go out and do that." The newer material finds Dungen working in English for the first time, and while there's less jagged rambling it's no less engaging. When the group really got cooking, Gustav jerked around like a giddy marionette, letting his brothers tug his strings every which way. The drummer's striped shirt made me think, "So that's where Waldo ends up as an adult!" A prancing summer delight called "Festival" seemed custom made for Bonnaroo. "Panda" from Ta Det Lungt was even more locomotive in concert, big steel barreling down a steep grade with little hope of stopping. They kept the same barbaric energy in the final section, which crushed heads Kids In The Hall fashion. Yeah, Sweden!


Reine Fiske :: Dungen :: by Dave Vann
Brothers Past rattled Sunday morning with marvelously tweaked big rock. They bring it like a stadium headliner instead of the club/theatre act they are, much like the early days of Gomez. It may just be their music is too large, too ambitious, and too engaging to remain in small rooms for long. They have a varied repertoire that could appeal to fans of moe., Talking Heads, or Pink Floyd without sounding precisely like anyone else. What gets me is their weird edge, chock full of mystery noises courtesy of vocalist-guitarist Tom Hamilton's laptop digressions and keyboardist Tom McKee's messy palette. Clay Parnell (bass, vocals) and Rick Lowenberg (drums) handled the reggae and metal tangents skillfully. As solid as Lowenberg was, I was elated to hear that former Om Trio percussion demon Ilya Stemkovsky will be filling the drum slot starting in July.

Sunday, the Codetalkers dropped a space mountain of funky whomp on us. Dressed in suits (very classy), they looked ready for a Sunday service. They moved limberly as one mind through singer-guitarist Bobby Lee Rodgers' fantastic compositions. At their core, they're populist rockers making music radio should be gobbling up. Live they take it WAY out. With steely- eyed intent, they probed the possibilities of their brand new album, Now. When they delved into the blues – a form that suits Rodgers – they captured the real ache of a line like "I've tried, I've tried, I've tried." They ramble with the same knife-edge gusto as vintage Butterfield Blues Band or more obscurely, the Numbers Band (15 60 75). On a tune about Hawaii that had everyone shouting "Aloha," they hit like the Ventures swinging a nine-pound hammer. The presence of Col. Bruce Hampton (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Hampton Grease Band) may be what first put this group on the map, but increasingly this is Rodgers' show. Col. Bruce was in fine form, wrenching emotions from a slide guitar that were positively bizarre. Anchored by the rhythm team of bassist Ted Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell, the Codetalkers provided ample reason why they're fast becoming a favorite of many people.


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