Friday Bonnaroo Beacon: Thursday Is the New Friday
In case you hadnt heard, Thursday is the new Friday at Bonnaroo (second only to dust being the new black but you know, whatever, its cool). While there were still some major pistons not firingthe two main stagesit felt as if there was plenty of momentum to get anyone going anywhere they needed to be musically.
If festival going conditions werent entirely idyllicManchester is currently experiencing its worst drought in 110 years with rainfall being 15 inches below normal fans still made the most of their initial forays into the site proper, milling about Centeroo as they sipped microbrews, scoped the many clothing booths, listened to fundamentals on glassblowing, got reacquainted with the layout or found old friends once again at the annual gathering. As the sun set into a golden soup, temperatures dropped and the anticipation for the festivals first real notes of music ramped up.
Prior to the music starting, however, the first live attraction was legendary documentary filmmaker DA Pennebaker. Speaking to a packed house after the screening of his Monterey Popa project he completed shortly before his groundbreaking Dylan documentary Dont Look BackPennebaker stood out amongst the crowd in a dapper blazer, trousers and leather loafers. I liked that people could come in and out of the film screening, he said in earnest. As for his first Bonnaroo experience, he drew upon his previous adventures in praising it: Anything you can to do bring talent together. There was indeed quite a bit of talent brought together last nightand a wide variety at that.
New soul man Ryan Shaw kicked off the evening at The Other Tent while indie rock-poppers The Little Ones revved up That Tent. I dont know how the first night is here usually, said Little Ones frontman Ed Reyes. I expect people to go for it. Dripping their way through an hour worth of songs, the Los Angeles quintet nailed the set, a sure primer for their upcoming festival gigs which include Glastonbury, Redding and Leeds.
Shortly after, psychedelic blues rock outfit The Black Angels seemed to channel a dustier, more droning version of The Jefferson Airplane via the Velvet Underground at its moodiest. The set-closing cover of The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog crushed in its amplitude and bombast.
Shooting over to The New Orleans Klezmer Allstarswith a quick stop at the comedy tent which heard Finesse Mitchell quip that only two days ago he was hula-hooping and smoking a bluntthe experience couldnt have be more different than just minutes earlier. Weaving traditional Jewish folk music with New Orleans jazz, the group made their way through rounds of improvisation. With a particular emphasis on the accordion, clarinet and violin, the set ended in the expected, whipped-up frenzy.
Triangulating back to Mute Math, one could hear the rollicking and ragged alt.country, folk-rock of Langhorne Slim whod semi-stuffed the Troo Music Lounge with his thump-n-shuffle trio. Mute Math, one of the few bands to return from last year, seemed to tweak early U2-like conventions at will, twisting and flexing songs like Control into triumphant charging melodies (to such a degree that frontman Paul Meany was doing handstands on his keyboard; he also made the oft-maligned keytar look pretty hip).
If the comedy tent seemed to have shockingly long, winding lines of hopeful attendees, its neighbor directly across the way, the Somethin Else tent, often gave it a run for its money as the seated-style jazz club holds roughly 500 people and did a brisk business packing each of its four sets to capacity. The highlight was legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson with organ player Lonnie Liston Smith, the latter donning a black vest, long white-sleeve button down and black turban all of which framed his draping white beard and mischievous smile. While working through various classics, they slowed down the tempo with a languid and slow-honey version of Louis Armstrongs What a Wonderful World.
We were a little shocked, said guitarist Bryce Denser of indie rock princes The National who enveloped That Tent with a finely-wrought set heavy on songs from their recent Boxer. We thought it was just going to be haystacks and tumbleweeds out there and it turns out the place is already teeming. Indeed things were just getting started.
Shifting some of their original, more metal-based sound for bluesier hard rock, Clutch delivered a writhing, full-throttle set across the way, igniting a decent amount of ambitious crowd surfing (perhaps a first for the festival). If pumping fists were something fairly foreign to Bonnaroo in years past, it would seem from the rapturous and rib-crushing crowd that theyve found a new home. Maybe it was the Tom Waits-sounding cover of the Willie Dixon blues classic Whos Been Talkin or the incendiary thump of You Cant Stop Progresswhatever it was, it worked.
Clutch wasnt the only metal band to have changed its sound. Acoustic, folk-rock, flamenco-metal duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, once in a thrash metal band together, were perhaps the evenings most anticipated performance. Coming onstage a half-hour late, the two had the crowd in its nimble hands at the first Metallica tease on their acoustic guitars (there would be many Metallicas teases including a full version of the ballad One). The two volleyed back rhythms and leads back and forth effortlessly, one minute Rodrigo flying through eloquent lines, the next Gabriela throwing devil horns in the air as she pounded out beats on the guitar body. A highpoint, after teasing Hendrixs Voodoo Child into Rage Against the Machines Bombtrack, was a full, audience-led and sung cover of Pink Floyds Wish You Were Here. That Rod and Gab vocalized not a word of it nor needed to cue the audience was an indication of the rapport in play.
Earlier in the evening The Little Ones closed their set with the refrain Show us where your heart is. On this Bonnaroo Thursday, that location was self-evident.
Report by Josh Baron