Live From Bonnaroo, volume 2 – various artists
Sanctuary Records 06076 84598-2
The second compilation of music drawn from last summer's Bonnaroo blowout is
a way more stripped-down affair than the lushly packaged two-disc souvenir
put out by Sanctuary late last year. There are no grand essays, no pictures
of endless crowds, no careful documentation. What there is, though, that the
first compilation lacked, is interesting music. For all of the talk people
talked about Bonnaroo being a grassroots music festival and all, there was
awfully little representation of that on the first discs (and even less
improvisation). Live From Bonnaroo, volume 2 fixes both of these
If one imagines Bonnaroo's four stages as poles or compass points or
something symbolic, with throngs of people spread out between them, then one
might see the singular goal of the bands playing as an attempt to get the
crowds to shift in their direction. The bands on the two main stages had
sheer size going for 'em, but the groups under the tents needed (and need)
more aggressive strategies. The music on the disc is entirely drawn from the
two sidestages, and one gets a pretty accurate map of the strategies the
bands were using to attract people — as well as a pretty nice overview of
the mid-level jamband scene as it stood in the summer of 2002.
The easiest way to get bodies to move, musically speaking, is – of course – to make 'em dance. This, then, gives a logical argument as to why funk has
pretty much become the universal glue holding together the disparate genres
crammed into a typical jamband number, and the bulk of the bands on the
compilation engage to some level. The ones that don't are actually notable
for just that.
At this point, The Big Wu weirdly seem like an anachronism with their
plainly Dead/Allmans-style sound — which, generic as it is, is actually
kinda refreshing amidst the company included on Live From Bonnaroo,
volume 2. Umphrey's McGee do a credible job of infusing prog with an
idiosyncratic jamband personality — a nice achievement. The Campbell
Brothers, from the same Sacred Steel scene as Robert Randolph, are – of
course – vivifying, and – er – authentic. RANA, meanwhile, deliver a tidily
compact version of their noise freak-out epic "It's So Hard (Believe Me)".
When all of the bands are made generally of the same instrumentation – guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and effects pedals – it's a bit odd to dole
out terms of like "organic" and "synthetic", but clearly there are some
bands who seem to be going for just those sorts of things. Keller Williams,
Col. Bruce Hampton and the Code Talkers, and Mofro clearly fall into the
former bucket, while the Disco Biscuits, Particle, and Drums & Tuba fall
into the latter. The bands at the extreme ends of these spectrums hedge
their bets in playing to specialized audiences, while those in the middle
might appeal to more, but risk playing less interesting music.
In general, the past few years have seen a decisive turn towards the center.
Mostly gone (with the exception of a few upstarts like Umphrey's McGee) is
the heady Frank Zappa influence. Hell, even Col. Bruce has headed for the
middle of the road. For all of Hampton's talk of musical outsiderness, the
Code Talkers are about as far as one can get from anything even
resembling weird. At least on disc (both this cut and their studio
album), Hampton is barely in evidence other than in name (and a guitar solo
that fades out midway through).
Of the groups represented here, the three that seem to be somewhere near the
"edge" (again, a mostly meaningless term) – The Disco Biscuits, Drums &
Tuba, and Particle – fare somewhat differently. In this setting, Particle
comes off as hideously superficial. There are the vaguest hints of dance
beat with a wanking guitar solo laid over the top, removing anything that
was structurally interesting about the innovation of fusing electronic beats
with live bands.
The Disco Biscuits don't do much better here, putting forth one of the worst
representations possible in the span of five minutes. "Mindless Dribble"
fades in with pandering banter. The song is played "backwards" – which makes
no difference if one has never heard of the band – pretty sloppily at that,
without any improvisation, which is (obviously?) the band's strong suit.
With "Air Con Dee," Drums & Tuba turn in the best cut of the disc —
danceable, experimental, minimalist, and cool. It even manages to be a
little dissonant while still retaining its accessibility. Good stuff.