Bonnaroo 2013 Coverage
WPTS goes to Bonnaroo! Photo Credit Fil Manley. Photoshop by Kayla Sweeney.
This June, WPTS Radio sent staff to Manchester, Tennessee for 4 days at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Read on for full festival coverage, plus backstage interviews and performances from particular artists.
After a late arrival and check-in, the first act I decided to take a look at was AraabMuzik. Twenty minutes past his 6:15p.m. scheduled start time, Abraham Orellana came rolling out onto the stage with a single question for his dedicated fanbase: “Ya’ll ready to get this shit started?”
Yet despite his claims that the set was going to be “legendary,” AraabMuzik’s performance was anything but. His straight-DJ set was as unimaginative as it was monotonous. Combined with his lack of stage presence, his uninspiring execution led to arguably the most disappointing set of the weekend. Even the energy of Orellana’s supposedly diehard fans felt artificial — even forced. I failed to understand what caused all of the hype surrounding AraabMuzik. To be fair, though, the guy had just been shot in the stomach only 6 weeks prior. He’s fine now.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti:
After a lackluster musical kickoff to the weekend, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti delivered with a straight, no-nonsense indie rock set. After thanking their moderately-sized crowd for coming to “the only band worth seeing,” Ariel Rosenberg and company dove into the heart of the matter by combining smooth, warbling vocals with a soaring keyboard and a few sick guitar riffs that showcased the band’s cohesion and dynamism. The show was purely about the music, and there was very little banter from Rosenberg or the band, with the notable exception of a request to “turn those f*cking lights off” so that the band could get back to their set, which mainly consisted of songs from their two most recent albums, Mature Themes and Before Today. Low-key psychedelic visuals and a Arswaying, attentive crowd made for a pleasantly relaxed early-evening set.
After a short break from Ariel Pink, I wandered over to check out British rock act Django Django over at That Tent, a sizeable, yet cozy space underneath the large lean-to tarp ceiling. From the very first chords of their self-titled debut album, these guys instilled in the huge crowd a driving, infectious energy that sustained itself throughout their hour-long set. For four middle-aged white dudes, the members of Django Django demonstrated considerable endurance, stopping their rocking set only a few times to take short water breaks. The band’s completely synergistic performance, in conjunction with great sound, spiral lighting projections and an involved crowd made Django Django a thoroughly enjoyable show. The set’s high point was when a ton of balloons suddenly descended from the rafters and into the outstretched arms of Django Django’s adoring fans.
Check out an interview with Django Django backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Django Django perform “Hand of Man” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Django Django perform “Love Start” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Japandroids won the award for the most frustrating crowd experience of the entire festival hands down. Despite various attempts to ramp up the audience that began with guitarist Brian King yelling “anything goes!” before jumping right into “Adrenaline Nightshift,” a bare stage, poor lighting and an insufficient level of sound from King’s guitar led me to have rather conflicting feelings on the whole experience.
As the band careened from “Fire’s Highway” to “Younger Us,” the crowd’s response remained placid at best. It took until ”The Night of Wine and Roses” — at which point the crowd didn’t answer King’s request for them to help out with the lyrics — that I came to the realization that at least 90% of the audience was only there to save a spot for the coming Alt-J. There was a huge dichotomy between the small pocket of diehard Japandroids fans up at the front and the rest of the maddeningly apathetic Alt-J crowd. At one point, the crowd even took advantage of a pause to take up a cheer of “U.S.A! U.S.A!”
I felt bad for the duo, who are actually Canadian. I really did. They played their hearts out and didn’t deserve that kind of audience. When at last the final chords of “For the Love of Ivy” hung in the air, it came with a sense of relief after an unfortunate combination of poor acoustics and crowd dynamics led Japandroids’ enthusiastic rocking to ultimately fall on deaf ears.
Father John Misty:
After nearly 15 minutes of battling to get out of the awful aforementioned Alt-J crowd who I will never forgive, I was able to catch the very end of Father John Misty’s set. The former Fleet Foxes drummer’s live performance — and the disco ball it included — brought a surprising amount of energy to the songs off his debut solo album, Fear Fun. A true performer, Joshua Tillman had the crowd transfixed, listening intently to “Everyman Needs a Companion” before he broke into his last song, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.”
This is when things became really interesting: As the song went on, Tillman took matters literally into his own hands, turning his mic stand upside down and running around with it in a frenzied, almost violent fashion that was as riveting as it was surprising. Amid flashing lights, careening guitar crescendos and the roar of the audience, Tillman’s antics came to a crashing finale as he smashed his microphone down onto the floor before taking a bow. A good choice for Bonnaroo, it was clear that Father John Misty made many new fans that night.
Check out an interview with Father John Misty backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Father John Misty perform “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Father John Misty perform “Only Son Of The Ladies Man” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Father John Misty perform “I’m Writing A Novel” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
As he entered 20 minutes behind schedule, and I hoped that he wasn’t taking a cue from AraabMuzik, Killer Mike topped things off Thursday night with an incredibly interactive set, taking multiple breaks from the music to talk to the crowd. After a brief, but heartfelt thank you to his audience, Killer Mike led off with “Big Beast,” the crowd yelling and fist-pumping along to the refrain of “pow, motherf*cker!” The energy level remained high throughout the set, with cries of “I ain’t never scared” and “f*ck Ronald Reagan” echoing inside the small tent during Killer Mike’s aptly named songs “Never Scared” and “Reagan,” respectively.
But the real highlight of the show was Killer Mike’s genuine persona. He seemed amazed that so many people came out to see him. During his 30-minute set, he interacted with the American Sign Language interpreter, talked about how the government is watching that porno you made with your girlfriend and tried to find the words to describe how thankful he is to everyone who bought El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure and all they did for him. And he mentioned that he would pay them back with a free record by both artists, Run the Jewels, available here.
Killer Mike ended his terrific set with “God in the Building,” leaving the crowd with some choice words of wisdom afterwards: “If Jesus were alive, where d’you think he’d be? He’d be here at Bonnaroo, getting high with you and me.” Amen bro.
After a short press conference with Matt & Kim, Ed Helms, JoHn Oates, Nicki Bluhm and Michael Angelakos, I began Friday with Local Natives. Hot off the tour for their second album, Hummingbird, the band showed considerably more confidence and general stage presence than when they first began playing festivals in support of Gorilla Manor back in 2010. After a composed lead off with “You & I,” they dove straight into their single “Breakers,” as guitarist Ryan Hahn danced and shredded across the stage. From then on, the rest of the set was predictably sedate, the audience quietly swaying along to “Wide Eyes,” “Wooly Mammoth,” and the crooning vocals of “Ceilings” before they broke out into full-on headbanging halfway through “Shape Shifter.” The band carried on with focused intensity through “Heavy Feet” and “Airplanes” until gradually slowing down their sound, only to then bring it back up to a stunning crescendo on “Colombia.” “World News” and “Who Know, Who Cares” were all that separated Local Natives from their anticipated finale, “Sun Hands,” at which point the crowd — WPTS staff included — went crazy, dancing and screaming the lyrics at an intensity matched only by that of the band members themselves.
Check out an interview with Local Natives backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Local Natives perform “Breakers” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Local Natives perform “You & I” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Out of all the bands performing at Bonnaroo, Brooklyn-based indie rock band DIIV probably had the worst luck. After missing their flight out to Nashville and subsequently missing their set early Thursday, DIIV was rescheduled for Friday evening after Earl Sweatshirt canceled due to a bad bout of pneumonia. After a quick thank you to The BasedGod, DIIV brought the beachy vibes, keeping the crowd enthralled despite not having a keyboard. Apparently, their keyboard player had quit the band earlier that morning.
Amid some strange antics from frontman Zachary Cole Smith, who was playing with a ski mask on and asking for drug donations on stage, DIIV played old favorites “Pull Your Eyes Down” and “How Long Have You Known.” Smith then debuted a new song for the audience, singing the lines, “Do you feel older now? / Does it feel watered down?” The band continued with “Follow,” and made it only a few chords into “Wait” before Smith broke a string on his guitar, which he did again later again during the performance of another new song titled “Dust.”
But despite some bad luck and technical difficulties, DIIV kept the crowd’s attention through a cover of Kurt Cobain’s “Bambi Slaughter” and their finale, “Doused.” While I was bummed about Earl Sweatshirt’s cancellation, DIIV’s shoegaze drones and earnest demeanor proved a welcome respite from the Tennessee summer.
It’s hard to say whether it was the lack of stage presence, the crowd’s inability to do anything but sway, the afternoon Tennessee sun or a combination of all three, but Friday’s Grizzly Bear performance was downright boring. The indie-rock mainstays got off to a quiet start, going from “Speak in Rounds” into “Adelma,” “Sleeping Ute” and “Cheerleader,” throughout which the energy level remained low, and the band appeared somewhat detached. Shields single “Yet Again” demanded some sort of reaction from the audience, but even that was lackluster. The excess of reverb on “Knife” was a little off-putting, and even Edward Droste’s tale of his mechanical bull ride in Nashville — during which he apparently lasted a grand total of 90 seconds — failed to move the crowd. I left after “A Simple Answer” and “While You Wait for the Others,” but from across the festival grounds, the sounds of Grizzly Bear playing crowd-pleaser “Two Weeks” (with Solange!) echoed far and wide about an hour into their set. At least the Volkswagen commercial fans finally got what they wanted. All in all, Grizzly Bear’s set left me wondering if I would have been better off seeing Foals instead.
During a late afternoon lull in my schedule for the day, I took a mosey on over to the sprawling grassy plains of the main What Stage to check out Wilco. Performing for a crowd of predictably older folks, Wilco began with the lead-in to “Poor Places” before moving to “Art of Almost,” followed by “I Might.” As they played through “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” and many others, the band demonstrated that, despite members pushing 40, Wilco still knows their stuff. No crazy stage antics or fancy parlor tricks were needed to draw in the outstretched crowd of all sorts of people, but rather good music proved to get the job done. During a 90-minute show, Wilco maintained a steady focus, playing everything from “Kamera” to “Jesus Etc.” as the sun slipped behind the horizon. Taking a cue from the middle-aged fans around me, I took a seat and casually watched people dance to the mellow sounds of Wilco’s performance.
The Wu-Tang Clan:
Twenty years in hip-hop and still going strong, the Wu-Tang Clan drew in a crowd of massive proportions, showing off their surprisingly synchronized rap skills for an entire hour and a half of complete badassery. It was clear they had done a lot of rehearsing before the commencement of this tour, their first since 2010. From crowd surfing while standing up and still rapping to throwing things over to the DJ — who almost spun the records with his feet — for some rad spinning, Wu-Tang gave their loyal fans one hell of a show to enjoy. Look forward to a 20th anniversary album!
NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM PAUL MCCARTNEY. Also his dressing room had leopard-print pillows in it, but don’t ask me why I know this.
After the musical lull that was Paul McCartney’s standalone three-hour set, The xx came on to the Which Stage to put us all to sleep — or, that’s what I was expecting, at least. But The xx proved me wrong, emerging from a sea of fog and lights with “Try,” followed by “Heart Skipped a Beat.” As the first lines of “Crystalized” rang out, the crowd’s energy picked up, and people began to sway along to the minimal guitar rhythms.
This kind of quiet entrancement continued throughout the set as the songs blurred into one another and the crowd stood attentively, absorbing every sound. This came as a surprise to me, as the vast majority of the crowd was only there for Pretty Lights’ coming performance. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising: After all, Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s ambient vocals were on point the entire night, which in combination with the extensive fog and drifting lights made for an ethereal experience.
After a short pause for the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to frontman Sims, The xx went into “Shelter,” followed by fan favorite “VCR.” Only when the final chord of “Infinity” was left hanging in the air did they transition seamlessly into “Intro,” a combination that stirred the crowd from their trance-like state. A couple of thank yous and a photo-op for the crowd was all that separated us from the final song of the set, “Angel.” With that, The xx took a bow and disappeared back into the fog from whence they came.
Check out an interview with The Xx backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to The Xx perform “Sunset” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to The Xx perform “Angels” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
If there were such a thing as the best beards of Bonnaroo award, it would most definitely go to ZZ Top. I only caught the end of their set, but it was enough to watch them rock out to “La Grange” like true champions. I was bummed that I missed out on the rest of the show, but it was worthwhile to see the finale. I would definitely see them again.
As the crowd for ZZ Top parted like the Red Sea, I jostled into position for Animal Collective. In sharp contrast with the crowd at Japandroids, the people camped out for Animal Collective were a collectively amicable bunch, friendly and talkative even while pressed together into what seemed like an excessively sweaty can of sardines. Their dedication and patience would prove necessary, as the members of Animal Collective that were present — excluding Dan Deacon, although Michael Winslow from “Police Academy” did make a surprise appearance — jerked us around for a real tease of a show.
Apparently it takes a while to set up all those Centipede Hz-stylized inflatable decorations, and AnCo started off late with bits and pieces of “Moonjock,” preserving the trend of playing throughout the show just enough bits and pieces of familiar songs to get the audience’s hopes up before slipping back into an indistinguishable sea of improvised sound. With multitudes of crescendos that built up to nothing and only a couple of tracks off of Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective’ set demonstrated a general lack of imagination, but seeing nearby Lala the Teletubby crowd-surfing his way to the front of the stage was definitely a high point.
Coming off their stellar show at Pittsburgh’s Altar Bar, Death Grips made for an odd choice to begin Saturday’s Bonnaroo festivities. A heavily stratified crowd divided the hardcore fans from the rest of the less interested, head-nodding dudes in the back. And as anyone who went to the Pittsburgh show can tell you, a Death Grips performance is all about where you are in the crowd.
From farther back, Death Grips was something of a mess: no lighting, poor sound and mostly unintelligible lyrics, with the notable exception of the refrain “I’m in your area” from “Hackers.” Even the finale was somewhat anticlimactic, with MC Ride dropping the mic as Andy Morin gave a single shove to throw the keyboard stand before the duo walked off stage in unison. All in all, the act would’ve been a better fit in a small, dark space packed with people, but instead the set was showcased at a large tent in the middle of the day in sunny Tennessee — not the best fit for Death Grips.
Portugal. The Man:
After debuting a few tracks off of their new album, Evil Friends, at a press conference earlier that morning, Portugal. The Man did their own sound checks on the Which Stage before opening with “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” at 4 p.m. sharp. A set that was heavy on material from Evil Friends and In the Mountain in the Cloud left me wishing they had played some of their older material and wondering if it would’ve killed them to play “Chicago” despite the fact that half the band’s members have come and gone since 2006. But Portugal. The Man spiced up their more generic indie-rock leaning set with a number of unexpected additions, including covers of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” the “Dayman” song from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and an unexpected appearance by Weird Al Yankovic on the accordion for the band’s live rendition of “So American.” Portugal. The Man made a true performance out of things, clearly having a great time up on stage and not satisfied with just playing cookie-cutter album versions of their songs. The juxtaposition of “Hey Jude” into “Sleep Forever” sent the crowd off with some fuzzy good feelings and a thorough sense of satisfaction with the performance. Although their music may have changed over the years, it’s clear that Portugal. The Man genuinely love what they do and have a lot of fun with it.
Check out an interview with John Gourley of Portugal. The Man backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Portugal. The Man perform “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Portugal. The Man perform “Sea Of Air” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to Portugal. The Man perform “Creep In A T-Shirt” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Walking over to This Tent for the Dirty Projectors, the sweet harmonies of “Cannibal Resource” swelled and filled the late afternoon air with dreamy vibes as frontwoman Amber Coffman showed off her pipes for their substantial audience. Headed by David Longstreth, who bears a striking similarity to WPTS’ Thursday 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. programming host, Steve Makin, the Dirty Projectors appeared less like a creepy cult act than they did at last summer’s concert at Mr. Small’s Theatre in Pittsburgh, yet still retained their high-quality harmonics. From the crowd’s response to “Dance for You” through “Offspring are Blank,” the Dirty Projectors maintained a hypnotic hold over the audience, broken only by an awkwardly mixed rendition of “The Socialites,” in which the percussion was too loud and Amber’s mic too low. During a short break prior to the start of “See What She’s Seeing,” Longstreth asked the crowd to feel pity on all the short girls out there and let them up onto the shoulders of taller folks, creating a “see what he’s seeing” phenomenon. The Dirty Projectors continued through “Temecula Sunrise” and “Stillness is the Move” before rocking out to “Useful Chamber.” As the last chords of “Impregnable Question” sang out into the light, the Dirty Projectors reaffirmed their position as the perfect band for a chill afternoon hangout.
It’s Bjork, so what can I say? Maybe it was the sun, the fatigue or a combination of the two, but seeing Bjork was more akin to a spiritual experience than just your average concert. Dressed to the nines in a short bubble-inspired dress and a head covering somewhat reminiscent of a slow motion still of a popped water balloon that takes a moment of thought in order to fully digest its strangeness, Bjork interpretive-danced her way around the stage, incorporating her scores of back-up vocalists into her choreographed performance. No photos or videos were allowed, but the large screens adorning the sides of the What Stage showed 3-D depictions of space, the earth, oceans and landscapes.
But it wasn’t just all about the visual: For much of the show, I just rested on the grass, looking up at the evening sky and the people around me as I listened to Bjork show off her impressive vocal range — a symphony of sound mixing together. Her final song, “Declare Independence,” featured lightning visuals and waves upon waves of flashing lights, building up to a frenzy perfectly in time with her vocals. And as Bjork returned to the stage for her encore “Nàttúra,” volcanoes erupted on the screens for a stunning end to an equally impressive performance. Anyone who went to see Beach House instead that night missed out.
After a much-needed nap during The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons replacement Jack Johnson, I went off to watch Chicago’s R. Kelly take to the Which Stage to headline Saturday night’s events. After a delayed start and a New Year’s Eve-style announcer-mediated countdown, R. Kelly broke out into “Ignition (Remix),” and rarely took a break throughout the majority of his hour-long set. Singing only small parts of songs in order to get through his extensive discography, R. Kelly proved to all that he is a master of the freestyle, going on about everything from how pretty the ladies in the crowd were to how he “needs a towel to wipe my face cuz I’m sweating like a motherf*cker.” After singing the entirety of “I’m a Flirt,” R. Kelly finished his set with “I Believe I Can Fly,” reminding us all of the glory that is “Space Jam” as we sang along and hundreds of bird-shaped balloons filled the sky. The only disappointment that night was that we didn’t get to hear any of “Trapped in the Closet.”
A late-night hitter, Alexander Ridha, performing under his stage name Boys Noize, didn’t disappoint on the volume scale, delivering a loud and pure DJ set that left the ears of yours truly — who just so happened to be standing directly in front of the subwoofers — ringing long into the morning. With only a multitude of flashing lights and Alex on the podium, Boys Noize was a straightforward set of pulsing sound— or, dare I say, “noize” — that ignited the crowd like a pool of gasoline. The crowd was the most entertaining part of the whole experience, throwing around a notable assortment of inflatable animals. Probably the most impressive crowd surfing I saw the entire weekend occurred when one girl rode a giant inflatable orca whale all the way to the front of the crowd. Mad props.
Definitely the most entertaining set of the weekend, Action Bronson, born Ariyan Arslani, rolled out onto the stage in typical fashion, smoking what was to be the first of many blunts to come. It only took him getting through “Pouches of Tuna” before another freshly rolled blunt was thrown onstage, which Bronson promptly picked up and lit, took a few hits of and threw back out to a girl in the front row of the pit. Where was that fan when DIIV needed him on Friday?
After some straight freestyling, Bronson suddenly jumped off the stage and straight into the pit, continuing to freestyle as he wove his way through a packed crowd. Eventually returning to the stage, Bronson caught an inflatable alligator from the audience, rapped about it and smoked a blunt in a lounge chair before jumping back into the pit once more. At one point, Bronson took things outside, walking out of the tent proclaiming “the show’s over here now” as the crowd surged along with him. They would have followed him back onstage too, were it not for the security staff blocking the entrance to the VIP section I was in. A big teddy bear of a guy, seemingly unfazed by his popularity, Bronson obliged his fans with photos, hugs and even a couple of iPhone selfies before returning to the stage to perform “Bird on a Wire.” Dope.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis:
Judge me as you will, but yes, I did go see the first part of Macklemore’s set. Riding the success of singles “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis drew in a substantial crowd to the lawn of the What Stage long before they were even set to begin. Striding onto the stage in full confidence, Macklemore led off with “Ten Thousand Hours,” and quickly had the audience swaying and dancing along. His first time playing Bonnaroo, Macklemore flattered his audience, quipping “you know it’s a good festival when it smells like weed and musk.”
After the throwback song “Crew Cuts,” Macklemore stated that, “out of all the festivals, Bonnaroo has the most style,” calling out a guy in the crowd that, despite 90 degree heat, chose to wear a fur coat, which was later sent up to the stage in a crowd surfing-like way for Macklemore to wear for “Thrift Shop.” Macklemore demonstrated considerable agility, bouncing around the stage in his newly acquired fur coat while Ryan Lewis hung out in the background. As the opening piano lines of “Same Love” rang out, I had to run off to bigger and better things, but from what I had seen, it was clear that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis knew how to keep a crowd’s attention.
After the relative intensity of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Wild Nothing turned things down a bit, leading off with “Shadow” off of their most recent album, Nocturne. The band kept their concentration on the task at hand, heads bent down as if they were a shoegaze band, rarely looking into the crowd. Despite a crowd that was at times apathetic and at other times head-nodding along, Wild Nothing kept their energy level high through “Golden Haze,” “Only Heather” and more before transitioning into “Live in Dreams.” The audience seemed to wake up to the sound of the synths on “Paradise,” clapping the band on as they picked up energy. Although it was not the most memorable performance of the weekend, Wild Nothing’s set was full of chill vibes and clear sound, just an indie band doing what they do best.
His first performance at Bonnaroo, Kendrick Lamar showed no evidence of nerves as he led off with “The Art of Peer Pressure.” Despite the large crowd, the audience response to Kendrick’s second song — and WPTS favorite — “Backseat Freestyle” was surprisingly tame. After a quick break to thank his fans, Kendrick continued with “P + P” before effortlessly freestyling straight in to “F*ckin’ Problems,” which unfortunately lacked an appearance by A$AP Rocky, despite his presence elsewhere at the festival.
With the crowd sufficiently riled up at this point, what ensued next was a war between two sides of the divided front pit. Kendrick goaded us on as each side tried to outdo the other, trading chants of “f*ck that side!” and seeing who could “make the most noise.” Kendrick brought this artificial rivalry into “Money Trees” and “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” next, before stopping to give a shout-out to his day-one fans, paying them homage with a live rendition of “A.D.H.D.” off of his first release, Section.80. It didn’t appear that there were many day-one fans present at Bonnaroo, though, as the vast majority of the audience failed miserably to sing along. Kendrick topped off his set with “m.A.A.d City” before ending the evening with “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the crowd shouting along to what seemed like the one song they could actually follow.
Casually walking onto the stage to greet a crowd that bulged out far past the corners of This Tent, Tame Impala started off with the intro to “Led Zeppelin,” seamlessly transitioning into “Solitude is Bliss.” Not really one for words, Tame Impala kept their performance focused on the music, skipping along through “Jam,” “Apocalypse Dreams,” “Music to Walk Home By” and “Keep on Lying” before returning back to a reprise of “Jam.” The colorful, swirling visualizer projected on the wall behind the band mixed well with the psychedelic, pulsing guitar and distorted vocals to create an atmosphere that was as chill at it was suited for the undoubtedly high audience. Lead singer and guitarist Kevin Parker drew a laugh out of the crowd after a shout-out to the fans with the inflatable Buzz Lightyear balloon and Nicholas Cage’s disembodied head on a stick before jumping headfirst into “Elephant.” A little freestyle improvisation before returning to the last refrain of “Elephant” launched the crowd into a flurry of motion, alt-bros and hipster dudes alike head-banging along. As the audience sang and swayed to “Feels Like it Only Goes Backwards,” it was clear that Tame Impala, seemingly unfazed by the breadth of their crowd, could forge together a live product that matched — or possibly even exceeded — the quality of their studio sounds.
Due to a scheduling conflict, seeing the first half of Tame Impala unfortunately set me behind schedule for the The National, who were playing the main What Stage across the festival grounds. The sounds of “Anyone’s Ghost” filled the air as I approached the front area of the stage prior to the Dessner twins breaking into “I’m Evil.” Through “Squalor Victoria,” “Under the Gun” and “Abel,” The National demonstrated an intensity not quite felt on their studio albums, with frontman Matt Berninger pacing the stage and screaming into the mic while Bryce Dessner shredded on the guitar.
As the band continued into “Apartment Story” and “England,” backup performers who were introduced only as “Kyle” and “Ben” sent clear waves of trumpet and trombone sound into the crowd. The further into the show we got, the more absurd Berninger’s stage antics grew. He threw a mic stand off the stage during “Humiliation,” crouched atop a speaker before jumping into the crowd in “Graceless” and eventually wandered off to the sides of the pit during the finale of “Terrible Love.” Maybe it was the onstage drinking, but Berninger seemed somewhat out of sorts, almost unsure of how to feel about everything going on around him. However, the remaining members of The National were apparently used to dealing with Berninger’s antics, and continued to play with taut expressions as he ran around throughout the crowd. Bryce Dessner’s facial expressions in particular were priceless: lips tightened into a terse, thin line across his face, his forehead wrinkled in thinly-veiled exasperation. Despite somewhat awkward stage dynamics, the band’s clear talent and passion for their music surely made The National an act worth seeing.
Check out an interview with The National backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to The National perform “Don’t Swallow The Cap” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to The National perform “Sea Of Love” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
Listen to The National perform “This Is The Last Time” backstage at Bonnaroo (courtesy of Music Allies):
David Byrne & St. Vincent:
Following the end of The National, I headed over to the Which Stage for David Byrne & St. Vincent. Already partway into their set, David Byrne and Annie Clark started off with a nice gesture, giving individual shout-outs to every member of their entire brass band accompaniment, each of whom sang a line before passing the mic on a cover of “Wild Wild Ones.”
I was pleasantly surprised when the lights dimmed and a spotlight shone only on Clark as she began her original song, “Cheerleader.” Clark would continue to perform her own material throughout the set, playing “Northern Lights” with the backing band and “Cruel” in between songs with Byrne, such as “I Should Watch TV” and “The One Who Broke Your Heart.” While Byrne and Clark were awkwardly adorable together, it felt as though Clark was restraining herself on the performances of her solo material. What could have turned into some serious guitar shredding was instead measured and calm. After a cover of “Burning Down the House,” Clark and David Byrne returned to the stage for a duo rendition of St. Vincent’s “The Party” before covering “Road to Nowhere” with the full band. As the full ensemble paraded themselves out to 1920s-era ragtime and the lights went dim for good, the audience was left with fuzzy feelings from the night’s decidedly quaint, if not “quirky,” performance.
-Natalie BenoyDisclaimer: WPTS does not claim the rights to any of the photographs above (except perhaps photos taken by yours truly). All Bonnaroo backstage performances and interviews are property of Music Allies, and are used with their permission.