The first full Bonnaroo day takes its toll. I didn’t last long after Radiohead. Despite promising electric dance parties in every direction, I decided to pack it in early, as Saturday had such an enticing line-up and I wanted to be in full-form for all of it. I decided this would be my weekend warrior day. I would start with bands as early as noon, and I was going to last through 3 am to finally see Skrillex perform. It was an ambitious undertaking.
The first two days I traveled solo, checking out bands that sounded promising or that I was familiar with. My lesson Saturday is that you can cover more ground and spend your time wisely if you meet people and find out about some acts you may not have otherwise.
Going into Saturday, I promised to engage with other festival goers more, to find some new bands, and most importantly, to last until early Sunday morning.
Pelican (THAT TENT – 12:15PM )
At a festival dominated by earth-tones during the day and bright colors at night, it’s actually refreshing to see four guys walk on stage in all black, barely address the crowd, and inject a little attitude. Pelican is an instrumental 4-piece from Chicago. While attendance at their set was sparse at first, more people started flocking to THAT TENT for something different. The heavy low end hit hard, vibrating in my chest and on the ground. Without a vocalist, it’s hard to submit the quartet into any genre. They fit alongside metal, post-rock, art-rock, punk, etc. The genre isn’t important anyway. On Saturday, THAT TENT would see Flogging Molly, Bad Brains, Puscifer, Danzig, and Alice Cooper all stomp across stage, so Pelican was a fitting opener for the wide range of heavy-hitting talent to appear later in the afternoon.
The Temper Trap (WHAT STAGE – 3:00PM )
Though Pelican promised that Bad Brains would “Rock my fucking face off” I decided to make good on my promise and follow a tip, over to the WHAT STAGE to see The Temper Trap. Whereas Pelican sounded great without a vocalist, The Temper Trap’s sound relies on the unique tenor of Dougy Mandagi, who explores the heights of his range with melodic runs and falsetto prowess. I was pretty unfamiliar with the band, save for their one song, “Sweet Disposition” which appeared in a few movies and commercials. Even for a relatively early set, The Temper Trap played to a massive crowd; a mixture of their fans and people settling in for the long haul to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers that evening. Newer songs “Need Your Love” and “Trembling Hands” off of their self-titled album were received well, and show the band moving away from the indie-moniker and more to the alternative rock category. Mandagi’s voice took a couple of songs to reach full elasticity, but once in top form it sounded great. His high range notes caused chills even in 95 degree sun. The band turned the guitars up loud, and let them loose during portions of the songs with no vocals. Temper Trap closed the set with their big hit, which brought everyone to their feet.
Punch Brothers (WHICH STAGE – 4:00PM )
Anything Chris Thile gets involved with is guaranteed to be more that entertaining, but borderline mind blowing. The singer/mandolin prodigy with a knack for song-writing made his name with the Celtic-infused blue-grass band Nickelcreek, then put out several solo albums, before forming Punch Brothers with a group of equally talented fellas. Now, Punch Brothers are one of the bands to watch, as even Elton John counts them as one of his current favorites. They performed songs off of their newest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?. While they performed well, such a big stage and big crowd made it hard to hear some of the bands quieter dynamics, like a few notes plucked on the mandolin or Thile’s lower octave whisperings into the microphone. The day before saw Punch Brothers at the SONIC STAGE for a brief set, and this would have been the one to check out to get a better sense of the band. I highly recommend keeping tabs on this band, and find a way to see them when they roll through town and play a proper venue to get a better sense of what this group is capable of.
Puscifer (THAT TENT – 5:00PM )
Following in the rowdy aftermath of a Flogging Molly concert is no easy task. Unless you’re Maynard James Keenan and a group of select musicians in Puscifer, able to bring a massive sound to a smaller stage. Puscifer had one of the more complicated stage set-ups of the weekend considering they played a side stage. With 6 monitors and a back-drop, technical difficulties postponed the start of the show by 30 minutes. The crowd was patient, and when the band walked on stage decked out in the outfits of an airline crew, the time lapse didn’t matter. Your captain for this show is Maynard James Keenan, front man for prog-metal-gods Tool and alt-rock-powerhouse A Perfect Circle. Puscifer is an artier version of both bands, and Maynard seemed more relaxed playing to a smaller crowd with this band. Puscifer played many songs from their fantastic new album, Conditions of My Parole. Tracks like “Toma”, “Man Overboard”, and “Telling Ghosts” appealed to fans of Tool, with sections built for head-banging. Maynard sounded great throughout, his unique tone shining through especially in some of the band’s quieter moments, like in “Horizons”. In-between songs, Maynard seemed bored with the idea of addressing the crowd, and instead he and his co-pilot threw airline sized peanut bags into the crowd, instructing them to share. The bags were emblazoned with a photo of a man on a plane with his head between his knees and the words “Vagina Airlines”, a tribute to their song “Vagina Mind”. While the band sounded fantastic, the technical difficulties and the pesky sunlight glaring on their monitors did take away from the performance built for the indoors. Despite this, Puscifer was the highlight in Saturday’s line-up.
photo courtesy of Melissa Denton
Childish Gambino (WHICH STAGE – 6:15PM )
This was one of the oddest set placements of the weekend. Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover, aka Troy from Community) brought his unique brand of hip-hop to the WHICH STAGE at Bonnaroo. Though he was sandwiched between Punch Brothers and Dispatch, it didn’t affect his crowd. His audience stretched back far, bleeding into walking paths and sitting areas. There were minor setbacks at first, his computer playing the wrong track at the start of the show. Barely missing a beat, Childish used the opportunity to freestyle while the issue was addressed. He then tore into his songs, throwing his body around the stage and spitting out rapid-fire rhymes in odd-cadence. Some of his songs resemble the content of Aziz Ansari’s more popular stand-up bits, how he came to fame and how odd it is dealing with the occasional fall-out from this. Though Aziz always seems amused by where his fame has brought him, Glover’s lyrics pay homage to the downside of fame, used against him by old friends and family looking for handouts. Though his name reflects immaturity, a few of his songs reflect a more serious subject matter, like the tough neighborhood where he grew up, how he was bullied as a child, and friends or family that still struggle with the life he could have had. After a few more solemn songs, Childish said “It’s hot out here. But we’re about to make it hotter” before flames burst onto the screen behind him and he launched into one of his fast tempo songs. At one point he skipped a line to boast “Watch my mouth on this” and met the challenge by perfectly executing the line of super-fast rhymes. Donald Glover is at least a triple threat (musician, comedian, actor). It’s hard to pick which one he’s best at, and the answer may be whichever talent he’s doing at the time.
The Roots (WHAT STAGE – 7:30PM )
John Lennon once said “to master something, you must spend at least 10,000 hours practicing.” If this is the case, The Roots have mastered their craft time and time again. This has to be the tightest band in the history of popular music, a fact that makes sense considering the members perform almost every single day, most days multiple times, as the house band for the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. So one would think they would hardly have time to prepare for a 90 minute set opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Bonnaroo. But they’ve transcended the need to practice and prepare. You have to see them to believe them. Every band at the festival played songs, 3-5 minute structures planned and performed. The Roots just play, in the most basic sense of the word, each pushing the limits of their skills whether it be drumming, guitar playing, or singing/rapping. For over 90 minutes, the music didn’t stop, as they bled one song into the next, going back and forth between originals and covers. The explosive performance set the stage for the anticipated headliner, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but The Roots performance, technical and entertaining, flawless yet effortless, would prove untouchable.
photo by Pop ‘Stache photographer Kris Wade
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