BonnaBlog: Friday

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Just added – photos from last night’s My Morning Jacket set!  Click on to check ’em out, and to read all about what’s going on at that great festival in Manchester, Tennessee! 

Saturday, 7:09 CST:  Just added – photos from MMJ’s epic late-night Friday set, courtesy William McBride!  Click the thumbnail to check them out!

 


Saturday, 3:30 CST: The overarching theme of Bonnaroo has increasingly become diversity.  That point was expressed more strongly than ever this year when it was announced that Metallica would hold down the Friday night headlining slot on the What Stage.  While that may have been shocking considering the first couple of jam-band heavy lineups, these days, it seems to just fit.

Metallica’s Lars Ulrich said Bonnaroo was a “no-brainer.”  On Friday night James Hetfield reiterated the point to a drenched crowd, telling the appreciative crowd that his band supported live music, and that’s why they came to Bonnaroo. The lead singer asked for a show of hands to see how many people were seeing Metallica for the first time, and seemingly half of the crowd raised their hands, and they kept them in the air for most of the night.

But although Metallica was nominally the headliner, Bonnaroo is all about diversity, and the heavy metal legends were only one of many, many stellar acts who performed on Friday.

Seeing the The Drive-By Truckers in the daylight hours is a bit disconcerting. It’s even stranger seeing them at noon after struggling through a morning-after. There’s a certain cognitive dissonance at work when there’s a part of you that wants to pump your fists and take a slug of Jack Daniel’s but your internal clock keeps reminding you that, "hey, it’s noon!"  But that didn’t matter, because this particular performance was at Bonnaroo, where it’s best to ignore that voice in your head. The Truckers kick-started the day with a muscular performance on the Which Stage that spanned their entire catalog. Joined by Spooner Oldham, they surveyed tunes from their opus Southern Rock Opera (“Ronnie and Neil), their latest album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark with “Home Field Advantage” and back to old classics like the set-ending double punch of “18 Wheels of Love” (featuring an extended narrative) and “Lookout Mountain.” By the time they left the stage, it felt more like midnight.

When Les Claypool brought out his theatrical sonic weirdness, time was completely irrelevant, if it existed at all. A few songs into his set, he yowled his now famous incantation, “Bonnaroooooo! Bonnaroooooo!” like a foghorn signaling the official commencement of the craziness. Backed by drums, cello and guitar, Claypool’s lineup this day was stellar. Claypool donned several of his disguises to the delight of the crowd—he came out in the pig mask for “Long In The Tooth,” walked on and off stage with an ape-gait while wearing a monkey mask when he performed “Whamola,” and slipped on his Elvis hat while his guitarist played the electric saw. Yes, it was a saw with some time of pickup on it, played with a bow. Claypool’s unique brand of dramatic oddity is the perfect accompaniment to an already surreal experience.

Willie Nelson performed on the Which Stage too, but unfortunately mailed in a relatively lackluster set, consisting essentially of an hour and half medley of his best known tunes. Still, his repertoire, voice and persona are enough to be crowd-pleasing when he’s not at his best.

Over on the What Stage, The Raconteurs held court, and their hard-charging retro-rock set the bar high for the rest of the weekend. Brendan Benson and Jack White traded turns on the mic, underscoring the fact that this is a band and not just a side-project for White. Ripping through material from each of their albums, The Raconteurs crunched and churned, dispersing multi-layered rock anthems. “Many Shades of Black” took on an operatic sway reminiscent of the best work of Queen. A true class act, The Raconteurs took a gentle group bow after blowing up Bonnaroo. Jack White ended their set with a simple statement, and introduction: “Up next is Chris Rock and I like him very much. Hope y’all have a great time. We love y’all.” The feeling was mutual.

This year, a comedian graced the Bonnaroo’s largest stage – the What Stage – for the first time.  While the much smaller (and air-conditioned) Comedy Tent has been a mainstay for years, the daunting task of a comedian performing to tens of thousands of concert-goers was ambitious to say the least. But Chris Rock pulled it off with a piss-yourself hilarious performance that provided an exhilarating change of pace. Rock riffed on race, sex and terrorism and had fun chiding the crowd: “I know some of y’all are on Xanax. That’s sad, taking an anti-depressant to see a comedian. I am an anti-depressant!” Indeed.

Rock was vocally psyched about Metallica too, and provided the introduction to the band over an epic PA entrance music: “Ladies and gentlemen of Bonnaroo, you are about to see the baddest motherfucking band in the world, Metallica!” Metallica came out blazing and rarely let off the gas for their two-and a half hour set.

But while Metallica was the nominal headliner, the night belonged to My Morning Jacket. In what was an instant Bonnaroo classic, MMJ’s late night set on The Which Stage spanned four hours (with only a twenty minute set break) and touched on every nook and cranny of their catalog, injected by an array of soul covers. Flanked by a dozen glowing orbs, MMJ took the stage and opened with the title track from their new CD, Evil Urges.

Even this early on, it was clear the band had something up their sleeve. There was an aura and anticipation that portended something special. After faithful rendition of “Off The Record” and “Gideon,” the first of the covers came—Sly & The Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime.” It was after midnight, so it wasn’t hot anymore. But it was certainly fun.  For this, and several subsequent tunes, the band was joined by what Jim James referred to as “The Louisville-Nashville-Area Horns.” Guitarist Carl Broemel sat down for beautiful pedal steel guitar swaths on “Sec Walkin” and “Golden” and James switched to bass guitar for “Two Halves.”  For Funkadelic’s “Hit It And Quit It” James mesmerized the audience with a glowing, seemingly electro-magnetic device he wore on his finger like a e-bow ring, allowing him to manipulate sounds coming from the strings of his guitar without even touching it. James was in command of the band, and audience, all night. Next was a soulful and earnest take on Eryka Badu’s “Call Tyrone.” The choice and selection of these soul songs from every era lends some perspective to the R&B leanings of Evil Urges and the falsetto that James employs to such unique effect.

By now, the rains had come. Sheets of water were pouring off the stage and as a precaution, stage hands came out to protect the equipment and attempt to dry it. James and Broemel left the stage while this work took place, so bassist Two Tone Tommy, drummer Patrick Hallahan and keyboardist Bo Koster took the opportunity to engage in an ambient jam. The crowd didn’t mind the rain, but when James returned, he reassured them, “It feels beautiful to be bathed in golden rains from the heavens! Electronics and rain are not friends but we are trying to make them friendly.”  In an earlier edition of the Bonnaroo Beacon, the daily newspaper of Bonnaroo, Jim James was asked who he would want to collaborate with if he could collaborate with anyone he wanted. His answer was Kirk Hammett of Metallica. He got his wish, as Hammett came out for the set-closing “One Big Holiday,” full of rock bombast and blistering solos from both guitarists.

A short break followed, but MMJ came back ready to dance. Jim James wore a wide straw hat and a black cape as they opened the set with James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” followed immediately by Kook & The Gang’s “Get Down On It.” The soul hits kept coming with “Across 155th Street” by Bobby Womack.  After this session of soul hits, they returned to their own repertoire with a marathon set that included “Wordless Chorus,” “Mahgeeta,” “Sweet Nothing,” “Librarian” and a compelling “Dondante.”

My Morning Jacket was slated for a slot from midnight until three a.m. but they just wouldn’t quit.  By the time they closed out the show with a arm-swaying, lighter lifting take on Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home,” replete with the zaniness of Zach Galifianakis, who roamed the stage dressed up as Little Orphan Annie and flashed his green briefs.  By this point the crowd was in a state of delirium, and so was the band.  It was past four.  “Thank you for filling us with love and making our chest cavities structurally sound,” James proclaimed.

In many ways, My Morning Jacket epitomizes the spirit and diversity of Bonnaroo. They’ve been hailed by the jamband, indie and mainstream rock press. They are a fantastic live act who have performed many memorable shows at Bonnaroo.  Every year, there seems to be (at least) one show that you know will go down as a classic. This was it.


 
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Friday, 8:11 CST: Just added – a couple of unofficial shots from today’s Umphrey’s McGee, Raconteurs, and Drive-By Trucker sets.

 

 Thanks to contributor William McBride for these shots! Click the thumbnail to open the gallery!


Friday, 1:31 CST: A couple of years back, Bonnaroo started adding a few unannounced Thursday night shows for early arrivers to the festival, which officially began on Friday. Now in its seventh year, it’s safe to say the festival starts on Thursday.

A full slate of performers drew large crowds to a number of tents on Thursday night.

This was no warm-up schedule.

By Thursday at sunset, Bonnaroo Take Seven was on.

Shows started just as the sun began its descent over the sweaty Tennessee landscape that was once again transferred into the city of Bonnaroo. What Made Milwaukee Famous sounded the starting gun at This Tent at 5:45 pm. 

Three hours later, MGMT brought their synth-fueled, freak-rock soundscapes to the same stage. Their performance washed over the crowd with a multi-textured aural sway, building danceable grooves punctuated by ever-heightening tension. Lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden, swathed in head scarf and floral print pants, fronted the wide-ranging performance with understated authority. They leaned heavily on selections from their break-out debut CD, Oracular Spectacular – particularly the crowd-pleasing, electrified lean of  “Time To Pretend.” 

Over on the Other Stage, The Felice Brothers kicked the party into high gear, with accordion-playing Felice proclaiming “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!” as he lit a cig and took a pull on a whiskey bottle before breaking into the rip-roaring opener that used the refrain “Where’d You Get Your Liquor From” to rowdy up the crowd. The Felice’s gutbucket romp is a highly energetic blend of a panoply of roots styles. The most obvious comparisons are to The Band, who they willingly cop to being influenced by. But their youthful vigor infuses their sound and performance with that most elemental aspect of rock ‘n roll—danger. The drumming Felice lept from his kit at one point, landing mid-stage. The washboard player pantomimed a dramatic interpretation of an amphetamine –paced murder ballad, “stabbing” the accordion player, who promptly fell to the floor. Guitar and fiddle intertwined to produce a high-octane roots rock hoedown that frothed the crowd into a dancing, swelling organism. Yes, Bonnaroo was on. 

That Stage was home to Bonnaroo’s headbangers, with Austin Texas’ The Sword pummeling the crowd with their Sabbath-esque thump. Following The Sword was the all female Zeppelin tribute band—Lez Zeppelin.

A new stage this year is the New Orleans-themed Something Else stage. An air-conditioned re-creation of New Orleans clubs like the famed Maple Leaf bar, replete with tin ceiling, Abita on tap, jambalaya  and New Orleans bartenders, the Something Else Tent will play host to a cavalcade of new Orleans musicians throughout the weekend. On Thursday, PBS (George Porter, Russelll Batiste, Brian Stoltz) were slated for a midnight until 4:00am slot. Throughout the weekend, Anders Osborne, Henry Butler, Morning 40 Federation, Soul Rebels, Dumpstaphunk, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and other Crescent City legends will make Something Else something else. It costs five bucks to enter the Something Else tent, which stings in light of the already high-dollar ticket prices, six dollar beers, and various “incidentals.” But the sting is eased by the fact that the proceeds go to New Orleans charities that are dedicated to rebuilding and retaining the unique culture of New Orleans.

With the Drive-By Truckers starting things off on the Which Stage at noon on Friday, there’s no doubt that this year’s edition of Bonnaroo has hit the ground running.

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