Mos Scocious (Bonnaroo Beacon, Day 4)
By Mike Greenhaus
GRABbing it with gusto- photo by Jon Bahr
It takes a few days to truly settle in: the blurry-eyed enthusiasm, the unpredictable collaborations, and, yes, the deodorant masked odor that can only be described as feteroo. But, before you know it, Bonnaroo is in full swing and Thursday nights festivities feel as distant as last years SuperJam (not to mention last Wednesdays shower).
Saturdays schedule mixed new faces (Mute Math, who offered a set of its carefully calculated future-rock in the Troo Music Lounge), old friends (Les Claypool, one of the only artists to appear at every Bonnaroo since its inception) and first time visitors who performed like Bonnaroo stalwarts (we tip our hats to Blues Traveler, who helped lay the groundwork for the weekends festivities by spearheading the traveling H.O.R.D.E. tour).
By year five, Bonnaroo has blossomed into a fully functioning society. With relative ease one can register to vote, update a My Space profile or catch the final goal from the weekends eagerly anticipated World Cup matches (the US tied Italy 1-1). Falling just short of commanding its own ZIP, Bonnaroos city has also expanded to include a number of stylistic boroughs. In fact, depending on ones interests, Bonnaroo can be broken down into several genre specific mini-festivals, each characterized by its own headliners, surprise guests and late-night offerings.
A fan of New Orleans trademark funk/soul could start his day with an early-afternoon set by the Neville Brothers, enjoy a traveling Big Easy tribute curated by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint (highlighted by the pairs Katrina eulogy The River in Reverse) and stay up until dawn with Louisiana icons like Dr. John, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Rebirth Brass Band. Similarly, indie-rock aficionados had the opportunity to catch a high-energy set from New York/Philadelphia darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Swedish psychedelic swirls of Dungen and the late-night burlesque of the Dresden Dolls. The Magic Numbers and Gomez fought for the somewhat oxymoronic title of Englands best Americana act; the former favoring harmony laced California-pop, the later blues-inspired fish nchips rock.
For fans who favor improvisation, DJ Logic jammed with MMW, Rusted Root teased Watchtower and Claypool rolled out his sitar-happy Fancy Band. World music fans were also in luck, whether it was the infectious dance-beats of blind African sensations Amadou & Mariam or the cross-generational, multi-genre beats of Damian Jr. Gong Marley. The younger Marley also offered two of the afternoons most memorable anthems (while proudly uttering the j-word): his fathers Jamming and his own Welcome to Jamrock.
Perhaps the weekends most enjoyable left field addition, Cypress Hill inflated a festival- size Buddha onstage near the end of its set, simultaneously encouraging its audience to pull out that sticky green stuff. Its hit-filled set also featured a number of cuts from 1993s Black Sunday, including Insane in the Brain and Hits from the Bong. Falling squarely into a genre of his own, Beck danced alongside a miniature mannequin and offered a showstopping rendition of Where Its At. Earlier, Beck nodded to his onetime backing band, the Flaming Lips, performing the art-rockers Do You Realize? The semi-acoustic Sonic Stage also offered its share of highlights, ranging from Tom Hamiltons rendition of the Beatles Eleanor Rigby to moe.s Happy Hour Hero. Recalling its on-point performance from Friday night, the Disco Biscuits managed to sneak, not one, but two segues into an abbreviated 30-minute Sonic Stage set.
Of course, Bonnaroo has long served as a launching pad for tomorrows festival favorites and Saturdays lineup featured a number of able bodied contenders for next summers big thing. Steel Train who graduated from its Thursday night showcase to a coveted Saturday afternoon spot veered toward to eclectic, shifting from the lullaby-like harmonies of Road Song to the Arcade Fire energy of Alone on the Sea with striking ease. Likewise, Recent New Groove Jammy winner Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, opened the days activities in That Tent, while Potter and bandmate Scott Tournet later delivered a performance for XM Radio.
Thom Yorke gets The Bends- photo by Jon Bahr
Since Bonnaroos initial artist announcement, all eyes have been on Radiohead, perhaps Englands most important export since Pink Floyd. Offering a well-balanced mix of classic anthems (No Surprises) and material from its forthcoming solo project (Body Snatchers) Radiohead turned the weekends intense performance, opening with Hail to the Thiefs There There and closing its proper set with its signature ballad, Karma Police. In certain ways, Tom Petty and Radiohead are a study in contrasts. One is the embodiment of summertime idealism, the other industrial realism. Petty speaks in broad guitar strokes, Radiohead minimalist paranoia and synthesized beats. Yet, both acts produce equally anthemic music, seemingly designed for a festival of Bonnaroos magnitude.
Bonnaroos first English headliner, Radioheads appearance continued a cross-pond dialogue stretching back since the 1960s. Performing its lone festival date on a stateside theater tour, Radiohead arrived with a subdued light show, characterized by primary hues and dim backlight. Fans added their own colors, however, throwing glowsticks and sparking lighters during decade old hits like The Bends. It wasnt until the frantic buildup of Paranoid Android that Radiohead unveiled the Andy Warhol kaleidoscope characteristic of its past arena-outings. Yet, perhaps the groups naked performance was a blessing in disguise, stripping the space-rock stars down to the core unit that still serves as Radioheads bedrock.
Saturdays late night events evoked the spirit of New Orleans during Mardi Gras (and/or Spring Break). Previewing their upcoming summer tour, Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon took the stage with the Benevento/Russo Duo for Saturdays high profile SuperJam. Anastasio, who flew back to Bonnaroo after opening for Petty in St. Louis earlier in the evening, arrived in top form, as if driven to win back fans who questioned his direction since Shine.
Opening with a reworked version of the Duos sing-along Play Pause Stop, the title track from its forthcoming studio disc, the group mixed new originals like Dragonfly with material from each players solo canon. A year after many claimed the former Phish guitarist jumped the shark with a cover-heavy late night set on the Which Stage, Anastasio appeared focused and energetic, rearranging Mr. Completely and Goodbye Head for his new project (unofficially referred to by many as G.R.A.B.).
For those who have spent the weekend debating the merits of hippies versus hipsters, the quartets set offered a comfortable middle ground: using the Duos hard-edged rhythms to focus the Phish pairs improvisations, G.R.A.B. sounded hip, yet comfortable. Marco Benevento, who utilized a baby grand piano in addition to his own keyboard toys, proved to be a particular force, shifting the group into fresh atonal territory throughout the night. The groups future touring mate Phil Lesh even stopped by early on, leading the all-star collective through Casey Jones and Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad.
The Night Tripper- photo by Kevin Yatarola
Meanwhile, several of New Orleans most important names filled This Tent with an evening long New Orleans tribute, tied into Bonnaroos annual float parade. Draped in a full-on Night Tripper regalia, Dr. John opened his set with Wade: Hurricane Suite, handing over the stage to the Rebirth Brass Band and a Skerik-enhanced version of Dumpstaphunk (both Tony Hall and Raymond Webster, who perform in Anastasios solo band also traveled back to Bonnaroo with guitarist for their late-night performance). Meanwhile, moe.s Chuck Garvey and Jim Loughlin teamed with Umphreys McGees Ryan Stasik and Joel Cummins for a costume-clad Masquerade Ball, recruiting Addison Groove Projects Rob Marscher for the final portions of its set.
Saturdays festivities not only firmly establish Bonnaroo as Americas answer to Glastonbury, but confirms that English and American acts will continue to swap ideas and push each other further into the 21st century. As Thom Yorke said from the stage, This is what I call a music festival.