Bonnaroo Top 10
by John Cheesman and Juliette Gobin on June 28, 2013
Posted in: Album Review, Concert, Electronic, Music, R&B / Soul
So it’s been a little under 2 weeks since Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival ended. After taking to decompress, reflect, and (for one of us) take a trip to St. Martins for some beach time, we are ready to share with the eager readers our recount of the amazing festival. To keep things manageable, it’s just going to be a top 10.
Bonnaroo, for those that aren’t familiar with the festival, takes place each year on a farm in Manchester Tennessee, which is essentially the middle of nowhere. Roo started back in ’02, and has been growing steadily ever since. This year the headliners were Paul McCartney and Tom Petty, if that helps give some perspective. Most attendees of Roo also camp out, which deters all but the biggest of fans.
The music kicked off on Thursday. This post is going to be split up by day, and all pictures are from the Bonnaroo website! Check them out, they have great shots of most of the artists (bonnaroo.com/photos/)
Thursday, June 13th
When this cult god walked on stage you could instantly distinguish between the true fans and the unsuspecting newcomers, soon to be caught in the crossfire. To introduce himself Ariel announced, “welcome to the only man worth seeing at this festival,” and then added as a sort of consolation—“it’s not an insult, just a true fact. Bitches.” For me, the show was truly extraordinary. I laughed, I cried, I screamed at moments when I shouldn’t have; for those poor neophytes, however, I can imagine this might have been an uncomfortable set. He’s a notorious diva, and this was definitely on full display at Roo. Luckily, he made it through the whole set (unlike Coachella 2011), but his music often doesn’t translate very well to a live setting. While this lo-fi, fonky style of performance is interesting to some, it can come across as lazy and unprofessional, especially when Ariel is behaving irrationally. During “Kiniski Assassin” Ariel started repeating the line “I sank my battleship; you sank my battleship” like a broken record (dream come true !!), which I can imagine might have left some people a bit perplexed. The band also didn’t have much of a stage set up— the focus was definitely on Ariel whipping his hair and singing in strange voices. My highlight from this set was when John Maus, amazing artist and Haunted Graffiti band member, appeared on stage with a bottle of champagne… Of course.
Purity Ring played at a prime spot (9:30-11 pm) the very first night of Bonnaroo which meant that the crowd was a lot fuller than I thought it would be: I did not encounter a single aggressive crowd during the whole festival except for this one where people had no qualms in pushing each other out of the way just to get closer to the stage. Not expected at all at a Purity Ring concert. However, it was completely worth it. Megan James and Corrin Roddick came out with their usual light show installation and morphed the tent under which the audience was dancing into a woodland fairy world. The show was great. The music was incredible (especially when Roddick started improvising on his cocoons during “Obedear”) and James’ delicate, child-like voice traveled effortlessly, unimpaired by the synth and percussion. All this praise considered, Purity Ring wasn’t the kind of band that could be as great as I know them to be in a huge crowd. Even though their beats have a strong hip-hop influence, their music stays quite aerial, almost fragile, which, I feel, is better suited for an intimate setting. However, their show was anything but a miss. The fact that we were squished against trashcans and fences didn’t change the fact that we all danced like maniacs, amazed at every single thing that James and Roddick did.
Friday June 14th
I was 15 minutes late to this set and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive myself (I’m sry Charli bb). When I got into the crowd, Charli’s energy was already at maximum, and everyone was dancing. I expected a small audience, but the turn out was insane. The 20 year old English girl was dressed in a too-short camo crop top and a black sports bra, a high waisted school girl skirt, also too short, and platform converse sneakers. She played every song from her album, True Romance, and I was shocked at the number of people who knew all the words to all of her songs. For me, the biggest appeal to her live show was that I could relate so well— she is approximately my age, and to see her doing what she’s doing is, like, incredible. In addition, her music is instantly recognizable as a product of my (our) generation. Without the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and the Spice Girls, there would be no Charli XCX. To pay her homage, Charli covered “I Want it That Way,” which was totally my highlight of the show. I also loved her closer, “Grins,” which was so explosive. Her raunchy dancing kept everyone moving, and I was definitely no exception. Oh, and just a side note, this show was at 2:15pm, right in the prime heat of the day. The fact that Charli and all her fans (<3 <3) were having so much fun when there was so much danger of fainting and heat exhaustion is testament to this young force.
I had been running from concert to concert for 12 hours now, Paul McCartney went 30 minutes overtime which totaled my xx waiting time to 1h30 (no hard feelings, it is Sir Paul McCartney), and my 3 cups of room temperature, yellow tinted instant coffee I had for dinner were wearing off. My stubborn self told my pansy self to stick it out for at least one song, no way are you going to leave your 5th row spot now. And then the xx came on, made me stay the whole set and had me asking for more by the end of it. Every single second of this concert was perfection. The stage was constantly filled with smoke, which made Romy, Oliver and Jamie look surreal in their all black, business casual attire. Romy and Oliver’s voices were even more soothing live than on their records, as they murmured into their microphones in an “I just rolled out of bed and I sound fantastic” way. Every single song was changed up and remixed, which made the live show a completely different experience. Songs were slowed down and drawn out to accentuate Romy and Oliver’s catchy guitar and bass riffs, then suddenly turned into smooth house beats to shove Jamie’s talent in all of our faces and have the whole crowd dancing. They had the crowd eating from the palm of their hands: we had no idea when the song would stop, when the beat would drop, when they would suddenly go a cappella. And, AND! None of this took away from how connected everyone felt to Romy, Oliver, and Jamie and to their music. Their lyrics of the pains of love and the even harsher pains of heartbreak seemed to resonate with everybody (I may have shed a tear during “Sunset”, but so did the big dude next to me!) and the three looked out of this world, but still very grateful and down to earth (it was Oliver’s birthday so after Romy had gotten the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday”, he pulls out a disposable camera and asked with his sexy British accent “Do you guys mind if I take a picture of you really quickly?”). I could talk about this concert forever. If you EVER have the chance to see the xx – Do it. Drive hundreds of kilometers if you must. Trust me. It is so worth it.
Ok wow. I walked into this show well equipped with the knowledge that Animal Collective is known to put on kick-ass shows. I walked away from this show thoroughly convinced that no pix, or youtube vids of rare songs, or vinyl-pressings of their performance in Spain that one time can ever do justice to the real live show. Just to try and give y’all an idea of what was going on, the stage was covered in huge inflatables— claws, fingers, mouths, and teeth. On top of this, there was some serious projection action and the light show must have cost a fortune. From my spot, I couldn’t honestly see that much of the stage. I wish more than anything that I could’ve fought my way to the front, but at 2AM when these guys took the stage, I didn’t have the energy or the willpower to force my way anywhere. So I stood on a hill and, incidentally, had the most perfect view in the world of Geologist, who was wearing a head lamp the kind of looked like a scooba mask. Anyways, the group’s performance was absolutely on point, and watching these guys collaborate was pure magic. My favorite moments were those when every instrument was going crazy, everyone totally engrossed in their own craft and yet so in tune with those around them. You can tell that this type of awareness can only have grown out of years and years of playing weird experimental music together. I was shocked at the frantic energy at this set, especially at 3AM when “My Girls” began. Animal Collective teased this one out, milked out all possible enjoyment from the audience. The lights were overwhelmingly blue; the whole thing was really very aquatic. Another great thing about the show was the variety of the set list. I was expecting to hear mostly Centipede HZ and some of the newer cuts, but I was delighted to hear a few older tracks, like “What Would I Want? Sky,” and my personal favorite of the show, “The Purple Bottle” (Also “Peacebone” and “Did You See the Words”). When the show ended at 4, I was totally wiped— spiritually cleansed if you will. I went straight back to my tent and tried to fall asleep before the sun came up, but meanwhile Colorado native Pretty Lights continued to play until about 6AM. Crazy time y’all.
Saturday June 15th
Solange went on when the sun was high in the sky and the heat was unbearable, which might explain why the crowd wasn’t as big as she deserved it to be. John and I made it our mission to be in the front for this one (after waiting in line, we were easily in the 2nd or 3rd row) and still had enough personal space to break out our groove moves (as one must during a Solange concert). She came on in full beauty with two incredible backup singers and a band to reckon with. The guitar was a lot more prominent live than it is on the record, as it picked away at sexy Marvin Gaye-ish riffs. The whole set seemed like an incredible blend of smooth R&B, girl group/Motown harmonies and 80s pop. Basically, everyone was dancing even though we were sweating like we’d never sweat before. Solange made us all believe that our pelvis rolls were as sexy as hers (which they totally were) because the music was just way too funky to stand still. She was flawless and so cool as she broke into a little choreographed danced she had with her guitarist. She even covered the Dirty Projector’s “Stillness is the Move” and proved that her voice was jaw dropping, delicate, and oh so sweet. Solange made us forget about re-applying sunscreen and drinking our 7th water bottle of the day and made us do our “I’m naked and alone” dance (don’t deny it, I know you all have one) and have SO much fun.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
BE WARNED. THIS IS THE FULL UNABRIDGED REVIEW. IT IS VERY VERY LONG!
Disclaimer: the following review is so biased, it really shouldn’t be in anything other than my diary. I had been craving to see Edward Sharpe since 2009. I basically bought my ticket to Bonnaroo for this very concert. I waited in line for 2h before the show (got my nose sunburnt to a crisp!) because I was not going to struggle to see the stage for this one. Finally, the whole 12-piece band walks on with smiles so big, it looked like they had coat hangers stuck in their mouths. Right away, they shone like rays of love and happiness, which sounds so sappy, but I have no shame (yes, I full on cried a total of 5 times during this concert)! They opened with “40 Day Dream”, with lead singer Alex Ebert moving around the stage as if the music was possessing him. The veins in his neck were sticking out, his legs were flying high with every step he took, and his torso and arms were trembling as if he was the chosen one. Let me be honest, I’m in love with Alex Ebert, but it’s scary to think of how much he made me and everyone else at this concert see him as a messiah. In retrospect, that makes me a little uncomfortable. But then again, he never claimed to preach or seemed to be above his audience. After ruminating on this concert for a long time, I came to the conclusion that people who are such big fans of him simply love the fact that he seems uninhabited by any negative vibes, and wish that they too will someday understand love, friendship and life the way him and the rest of the band do, as they do what they love, surrounded by people they love, seemingly, without a gram of anxiety. Oh how great life would be with no anxiety or overthinking right? Well imagine seeing a group of 12 people making it look like it can be that way!? During the very first song, Alex made it clear that he wished there were no boundaries between music makers and music lovers: he walked straight off the stage and started making his way around the crowd. The band had no set list: either Alex would start humming or slowly singing the beginning of a song, or different members of the band would say what song they wanted to play next. During “I don’t wanna pray”, Alex went around stage holding up the mic to band members making him or her sing their own verse to the song. When Jade Castrinos started singing “Fiya Wata”, the crowd went nuts as she shyly smiled, danced around stage, and walked on top of the amps as if she was alone in a cornfield. For the second half of the concert, Alex and Jade would ask the crowd what song they wanted next, and whenever they would get a clear answer, they would start that very song. During “Home”, when in the recorded version there’s usually a small spoken conversation between Alex and Jade, both of them linked arms, Jade said “Alex I want to go down there!” pointing to the crowd, and they jumped off and started running into the crowd asking “Who has a story they want to tell?”. When this one teenager told his story about how the day Edward Sharpe played at the hospital he was in for leukemia, he received a transplant from an anonymous donor who saved his life. He was invited on stage and asked to help out on the tambourine for the remainder of the concert. At the scheduled time, the band said their goodbyes and left the stage, but everybody in the audience stayed and demanded one more song. They came back out and did two more songs, but, since they were already 15 minutes overboard, were asked to leave the stage because tech and crew had to set up for David Byrne and St. Vincent. Alex and Stewart Cole (the trumpetist) came out with a small megaphone and said that they were going to run across Bonnaroo to the Sonic Stage (a tiny maybe 20 foot square stage in the middle of all the food vans where small acts usually play) and play some more. So of course I started running. It took about 20 minutes to get sound check ready so in the mean time, Alex and pianist Mitchell Yoshida were improvising with whatever band member was ready to play. This waiting time filtered out a lot of people from the crowd, so by then, there were maybe 30-40 people in the audience. The band played for another hour, only songs who’s title they could decipher from the screaming audience. They invited “whoever has an instrument they want to play” to come improvise on stage with them (two people had a harmonica and a drum with them, gotta remember to bring a harp next time I see them). After a total of 2h30 of playing, the band was running out of songs and energy and reluctantly had to leave.
Now for an unbiased comment: every song was drawn out to longer than it usually is to allow for a build up of the song and an eventual “BAM” moment where every instrument would be jamming full speed to create an incredibly full sound. Their improvisational skills and their completely unplanned show at the Sonic Stage proved that each band member was a master at their instrument (and all of them played more than one instrument) and could so effortlessly follow along with anything that came up. This gave room for band members to go off on their own and do whatever they felt like doing because their instrument was basically an extension of themselves.
This concert was an emotional roller coaster. Even without my emotional attachment to this band and their music, their improvisation and “in the moment” mentality made the concert seem like a communal bonfire instead of a precisely crafted performance that we, as the audience, were merely privy to because of money we spent. We weren’t simply watching them play music; we were as much part of their experience as they were ours. Every band member scanned the crowd the entire time, actually looking straight at people instead of closing their eyes or looking above the audience (I swear I had a moment with Alex, I am totally aware that no one will believe me and I am FINE with that). Stewart was constantly taking pictures with his camera and every band member had a look of gratitude and amazement at the crowd the entire time. They weren’t surreal untouchable creatures that shoved their talent that I envy into my face: they made me feel as important to them as they are to me. On paper, Alex’s behavior may sound pretentious but he just looked like a confident guy who was reborn and enjoyed every second of life. Every band member just seemed happy. And not just in an ephemeral way. They looked like people who were happy at the very core of their being because they realized that they had no reason not to be happy. And, well, that made me happier than I had been in a very long time. Do you remember the last time you cried of joy 5 times?
Post concert, I waited around, too stunted to return to socializing just yet. To my great luck, Alex came out to hug everyone who was still around (there were about 15 of us) and as he approached me, the only thing I could say was “Can I…” (I was going for Can I give you a hug?). Still shook his hand, but I definitely need to work on my ‘star struck’ impediment. After that, I sat by myself for about an hour, pondering life, what I had just experienced, whether the fact that I would do anything that any Edward Sharpe band member told me to do meant that I was easy prey for any cult and whether the vegetarian corn-dog that man sold me was really tofu (I asked, it was just “a really convincing piece of tofu right!?”).
Believe it or not, what I just wrote here is an abbreviated version of the way I explained it to my friends (and yes, some of them aren’t my friends anymore after I made them sit through my hysterical tirade). I haven’t found a way to express how incredible (not good enough) this concert was in a single word.
Just sent an email to my dean stating that I will not be returning to Middlebury next year. Decided to become an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros groupie. My privileged education is so worth it.
By the time Beach House got on stage, I was about to fall asleep standing up. The previous night was Animal Collective, so obviously I was low on zzz’s. I proceeded to enter the festival grounds around 2pm and see shows constantly until 9pm, because hey, I’m dedicated. Beach House got on stage at 7:15, and it took everything I had in me to stand up and enter the crowd. I actually managed to get within the front 10 rows, and it turned out to be a great show. Victoria Legrand is as beautiful as ever, in case anyone thought otherwise (lol). She was wearing a sparkly silver jacket, and my favorite thing about this performance was the way she made constant eye contact with the audience. Even while furiously playing at her synth, Victoria would be looking out, her hands striking blindly. The whole show was, to use a word that is far too often thrown out around Beach House, dreamy. Purples and blues dominated the light scheme, and the Baltimore band members’ velvety voices added to the ethereal vibe. About half way through the concert it started to get dark out, and maybe it was exhaustion playing tricks on me, but I swear something changed. The ending of the set far outshined the front, and Legrand belted the first chorus of “I’ll Take Care of You,” a tear came to my eye (love me bb!).
Mac Demarco played twice, once on Sunday at 12 am at the “New Music on Tap Lounge”, a tiny tent where up and coming acts played throughout the festival, and again at 2:30 pm on Sunday at a slightly larger stage, the Sonic Stage, where, again, only smaller acts would play. The Sunday crowd was going insane, surfing above mosh pits and dancing so violently without a care of who they hit in the process. The coolest thing was that people weren’t just doing this because they were drunk or on way too many drugs (well maybe they were) but seemed to do this because they loved Mac Demarco. I did not expect to see so many people singing along to almost every single song. The crowd was great, which gave Mac and his band a lot of energy. Not that they needed it though. They came out looking like goofy teenage kids (which they aren’t) in oversized t-shirts and beaten up baseball caps. After lighting a cigarette, taking a couple of puffs, putting it in the cigarette holder that was an extension of his guitar capo and saying “This is a song about smoking cigarettes”, he went into a gorgeous rendition of “Ode to Viceroy”. They had the enthusiasm and the “holy shit, maybe I can be a rockstar” attitude of a couple of kids that had only performed for themselves in various basements. Apart from just how funny all these dudes were, the music was great and a lot more dancey and energetic than his recorded material. All in all, this was a fun concert where I was cracking up the entire time. He definitely deserves to come back next year and play at a bigger stage.
Sunday June 16th
David Byrne and St. Vinccent
So, a couple things to point out about this show right off the bat: Annie Clark’s blonde hair, David Byrne’s amazing white geddup, and the, like, hundred piece horn section. Oh and the whole thing was choreographed. Am I right or am I right? This was the last show I saw at Bonna, and it was a perfect way to end a few awesome days of music. While I’m not hugely familiar with Love This Giant, the two’s collaboration album, I definitely got the sense that the piece works better live than it did on record. Then again, I’m a total sucker for any sort of live horn ensemble, so I’m totally biased. Both Byrne and Clark played original material as well, so everyone got to hear at least one Talking Heads/ St. Vincent cut. “Burning Down the House” was a beautiful solitary moment(I was separated from my group), and while the people next to me probably thought I had a personality disorder, I had a great time dancing solo. This song also definitively proved that David Byrne has still got it. His white hair was flowing, his voice sounded impeccable, and, like I said earlier, his dance moves were on point. Annie Clark had a cool sort of robotic vibe going on with her moves, and while she seemed a bit awkward at times I appreciated the 80s nod. Actually, there was a sort of awkwardness to the whole performance— just a slight layer of kitsch or a tad too much theatricality. I thought it made the performance charming and cute, but some said this effect threw them off a bit. Eh, I loved the show either way.
And there it is— the super Bonnaroo blog post. I’ll end by saying that we had a really really awesome time, and if anyone gets an opportunity to go to Roo, you definitely should. The music and the environment are amazing, and you are sure to have a great time. Leave a comment about any of what we had to say <3 y’all.
— a pic of your lovely authors from Bilboard.com (we’re famous y’all)