Running Down A Dream (_Bonnaroo Beacon_, Day 3)
by Josh Baron
_Tom Petty- photo by Jon Bahr _
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Theyre tough to make in general but at Bonnaroo theyre particularly painful, albeit in a sort of sadomasochistic way. Heres what was simultaneously going on yesterday at 7pm: Oysterhead (their first show in many moons), Death Cab for Cutie, Cat Power and Robert Randolph. Even if you split the hipsters from the hippies thered still be a tough break for each. And, as for me, I too am currently whining about these things: I decided to skip Tom Pettys headlining set (I can currently hear the thump of I Wont Back Down with Mike Campbell hitting those signature high notes) so I can write this story and catch all of My Morning Jackets late night set. Cest la vie.
It was hot yesterday. Real hot. And as you moved about the tents and stages, beer lines and bathroom lines, one got the feeling of being on a human rotisserie, each side getting equally scorched, some coming out a golden brown and many more ending up with sunburns that resembled bad modern art (extra bonus points for those with bad modern art from the previous day). And it was dusty. But hey, its better than mud, right? And whether its dust or mud, that elementary school refrain of dirt dont hurt seemed to resonate with the masses (if you dont believe me see the mushroom fountain for evidence).
Seu Jorge- photo by Alex Andersson
The days early rounds went to Brazilian star Seu Jorge. While more known as an actor in his native country- he was a star in the gripping film City of God- Jorge was hardly acting today. Backed by two percussionists, bass and drums, Jorges music was truly magnetic. Though few people had ever seen him, his stage presence was perhaps one of the most formidable and utterly engaging of the day. Each time he rhythmically lashed his short dreads around, sweat beading down his shirtless torso, the crowd erupted in roars. In return Jorge delivered more rapid-fire songs, vacillating his Portuguese vocal delivery between folk, rap and rock, and ending his set with a call-and-response tune dedicated to the impoverished and disenfranchised of Brazil. Sitting on some stairs after his set, Jorge pondered for a moment before flashing a smile that indicated hed found the right words: Music, for us, is essential.
A short while later, Ben Folds delivered his essentials, dedicating Rockin the Suburbs to next-town-over Murfreesboro with his style a campy mix of Jerry Lee Lewis and Randy Newman. And down a well-traveled road was freak-folker Devendra Banhart. Despite canceling a number of recent gigs, Banhart showed up in full effect, prowling, cavorting and twisting himself about the stage as if he were Jim Morrison reincarnate. Half-way through the set Banhart announced that this was his favorite part of the show: Who wants to sing a song, he asked. The chosen one was Trent Creswell from Chattanooga, TN who sang his own original Saddam Hussein (it was actually pretty decent).
Across the way, between the solar stage and the VW Garage with some Nickel Creek wafting over, 4-year old Cielo Bari from Willington, DE was making his own music in the Kidz Jam area. I like to play drums, he said, pounding out a few things on mini-skins while occasionally taking a break to bounce around in a kid-designed moon-bouncer and drive a sturdy three-wheeler. And- no lie- hes excited to see deadboy and the Elephantmen on Sunday. Meanwhile, Conor Oberst the young man who leads Bright Eyes, invited a few of his friends to join him for an encore of Soft Machines Kevin Ayers Singing a Song in the Morning. Those friends? Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals.
Oysterhead- photo by Jon Bahr
Shortly after, supergroup Oysterhead took the mainstage reuniting for the first time since 2001. Calling heavily upon its album, Grand Pecking Order, Les Claypool (bass), Trey Anastasio (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (drums) cranked out dark, psychedelic rock which saw Claypool changing costumes (pig & Elvis) and Anastasio breaking out his Matterhorn guitar and the group covering Jailhouse Rock. Said Copeland at the sets close, I want to take off my clothes and walk amongst you. And no, the naked guy you saw last night was not him (but good guess).
Closing out That Tent was Cat Power with backing by the Memphis Rhythm Band. Notorious for off-kilter performances due to stage fright, Chan Marshall (her given name) showed nothing but confidence as she danced her way through the soulful material off her most recent album, The Greatest. Striking up some solo piano towards the sets end, she put her elegantly wistful stamp on classics House of the Rising Sun and Dream.
Similar to when Neil Young closed out the Friday mainstage in 2003, Tom Petty reminded people why hes rock royalty. For sheer number of songs you know by heart without trying, Petty is hard to beat. Whats more, his kick-ass band is super tight and rocks as hard as any one still touring. A veritable hit factory, Petty rolled em all out like the seasoned pro that he is. Stevie Nicks appearance for Stop Dragging My Heart Around wasnt too shabby either. Nor were the encores of Gloria and American Girl which saw Nicks on backing vocals. Go ahead, admit it: you like Tom Petty a lot more than you did two days ago.
Perhaps the most anticipated late night act was Roo veterans My Morning Jacket. Delivering a three-hour set of pristine rock n roll, Jim James lead the band through thunderous guitar-driven epics while throwing in achingly beautiful ballads and euphoric bombast for good measure. However, some of the crowds favorites werent originals: the Rolling Stones Loving Cup, The Whos A Quick One, While Hes Away and The Bands It Makes No Difference. It was a tall order delivered with goose-bump perfection. James, prior to even stepping foot onstage last night, was already riding high with experience and anticipation: All my fantasies have been fulfilled. And, after tonights set, seeing the band elsewhere could ring true to what Steel Trains Jack Antonoff said about playing the festival: Its like having sex, so its hard to go back to holding hands. The rest of the tour, the energy cant touch it.
Umphreys McGee, who went head-to-head with the Kentuckys finest, also delved into some heady covers. After completing a two-hour set the band invited Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein out for The Beatles Baby Im a Rich Man. Now take a big breath because this is a long one: That segued into an inverted version of Pink Floyds Another Brick in the Wall, Part II into Dark Side of the Moon gems Brain Damage and Eclipse, the latter two featuring Tom Hamilton of Brothers Past on lead vocals and Joe Russo on backing. Eclipse was the pivot point which saw Umphreys leave the stage and the rest of the Disco Biscuits join Brownstein for Astronaut. The Biscuits are still playing as I type (its after 4am now). There was also some stellar hip hop courtesy of Lyrics Born, Common and Blackalicous.
Now there are plenty of you reading this that are saying, but he didnt mention this or he didnt mention that. It was the best set ever. As I said earlier, the Roo is about tough decisions. But the more I think about it, the more I realize its also about faith- have faith that you made the right decision. The beauty of this event is theres no bad choice when it comes to what music you decide to see. So I guess, in some ways, its like Robert Randolph said yesterday: This is like my church now. Hallelujah.