My feet were sore, my lower back was throbbing. I didn’t make my lofty goal of staying up past 1 am and watching the insanity that is Skrillex (and I even wanted to catch a 3:45 am showing of Wet Hot American Summer…also didn’t happen). Now was not a time to sit back and relax…Sunday promised a great line-up to redeem for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ performance.
The nice thing about Bonnaroo is that you don’t really want to sleep in, because at 8am your tent is pre-heating to 325 degrees. By 9am, I was up and packing so I could make a smooth getaway…but not before I finished out the festival in style. Here we go!
The Delta Spirit (WHICH STAGE – 12:15PM )
I’ve only heard good things about this band. All of my friends back home in Chicago rave about their recent set at Club Metro, and make me feel badly that I missed it. So I was determined to get going at the crack of noon to see these guys play. After watching two of their songs, I believed music had redeemed itself from the night before. The band played with passion and vigor. Singer Matthew Vasquez, looking like a young Harry Connick Jr, pushed the boundaries of his howl. The band’s more upbeat songs managed to get the crowd moving, even though the audience collectively shared one hangover. Vasquez spoke to the audience, “It’s really encouraging to see this many people out, first thing on a Sunday.” They played one slow song because “it’s Sunday”, before closing the set with “California”, which must be their hit because it got the crowd more involved and pumped up before moving on.
Gary Clark Jr. (WHAT STAGE – 1PM )
People who complain about guitar rock going the way of the dinosaurs haven’t yet heard of Gary Clark Jr., the singer/guitarist from Austin Texas. Heavily slated in the blues, but giving it a modern feel to make it seem interesting again, Gary Clark Jr. commanded the stage with riff after riff. Because it was so early on Sunday, crowd participation was low, but every head was nodding along with the beat. After a raging stomper, he slowed his set down with a jam fit for the grey skies of a sleepy Sunday. While a fine singer, his guitar playing is the main attraction. In this Woodstock-esque setting, it was hard not to draw comparisons to another young guitar virtuoso.
photo by Pop ‘Stache photographer Kris Wade
The Beach Boys (WHAT STAGE – 3PM )
It wasn’t my original intention to stay for The Beach Boys set, but I felt good after Gary Clark Jr.’s set, so I hung out at the WHAT STAGE for one more set. I knew this would be the one band that would impress my family when I tried to recant my experience later on, less I try to sway my grandma on the awesomeness of Puscifer. Never a huge fan but knowing most of their hits just by existing, I was genuinely impressed by the group; consisting of Brian Wilson, Mike “Doctor” Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks. For the first portion of their set, I closed my eyes and imagined their younger forms on stage. It wasn’t hard to do. Their harmonies were still mostly perfect, and their three signature vocal sounds – Love’s low croon and nasally lead vocal and Jardine’s high falsetto – were ever present and showed little signs of aging. The crowd was incredible; everyone went nuts for this band that has been around for 50 years. When troubled genius Brian Wilson walked over to his piano, sat and sang one of his many songs about surfing and California, men and women of all ages swayed with smiles in the light summer breeze. They may be a nostalgia act for some, but it’s hard to deny the infectious happiness that creeps up when you hear “California Girls” or “Surfin USA”, timeless tributes to having a good time.
War on Drugs (THIS TENT – 3:30PM )
I only managed to see this full set because I wanted great positioning for The Joy Formidable and Young The Giant, performing after. To me War on Drugs is just another indie band with a generic sound that kind of fades into the background. The drummer sat and waited while the electric beats programmed into their set did his job for him. The singer contributed minimal vocals, which is fine, but they added very little to the sound. The bassist and singer looked at each other as if they had just had it out back stage and didn’t want to be there. This type of music may translate well to a late night set with lights and smoke at a small club, but considering the two top-notch performers coming after them, the set came off as lazy and uninspired.
The Joy Formidable (THIS TENT – 5PM )
Any cobwebs and yawns still sticking to my body from the set before were shaken violently from me by the punishing bass tones of The Joy Formidable. This Welsh 3-piece brought their heavy, modern rock songs to Bonnaroo with a vengeance, playing mostly material from their 2011 release The Big Roar. Singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan was a sprite, jumping around the stage, playfully interacting with her band mates, and screeching melodies over incredible volumes of noise. The amazing rhythm section of bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas were locked in. Rhydian brought such intensity to the show and at the end succumbed to it when we hurled his bass around, yelled at the crowd, and attacked (in a fun way) Thomas’ kit, and then Thomas. It’s easy to see how the music could take over with such force. These 3 pack such a punch that the Foo-Fighters handpicked them to accompany them on tour last year. Ritzy took a few breaks to talk to the audience, her Welsh accent making her curses sound nothing short of adorable. “We’re quite glad to be playing festivals again. We’ve actually been working in the studio, and just finished our second album”. The front few rows were practically drooling at this admission. Set highlights included perfect performances of “Austere” and “Heavy Abacus.”
photo courtesy of Melissa Denton
Young the Giant (THIS TENT – 6:45PM )
Mark my words, Young The Giant will be festival headliners within 2 years. Their song-writing, matched with their charming, incensed stage presence makes them a live favorite. With only one album, but such strong songs to pull from, Young The Giant closed out my Bonnaroo experience with style. Singer Sameer Gadhia started the show by walking over to his classic looking microphone, and smoothly singing “I Got”. The band launched into the song, and the dance party ensued. Other hits like “Apartment” and “Cough Syrup” were also early in the set, prompting sing-a-longs. The young band even had some new songs from an upcoming album. The new tracks were more upbeat and guitar heavy, but added great dynamic to the set next to songs like “God Made Man”, “12 Fingers”, and the high falsetto chorus of “Guns Out”. “This is a festival, so we want to do something special”, Sameer said before leading the band in a cover of R. Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition”. Half-way through the song, a large flock of their attractive friends emerged from the side of the stage, spraying the first 4 rows with champagne and hugging the band members. Young The Giant are rock-superstars that just don’t know it yet, or don’t care, humbly welcoming their friends on stage and sharing the moment with everyone. However down to earth they may be, they know a hit when they write it. They saved the crowd-favorite song “My Body” for last, and played it like there was no tomorrow. For us fans, sweating and dancing against the stage and each other, there wasn’t one…so we followed suit. Many crowd-surfed, all sang along to the catchy chorus “My body tells me no / but I won’t quit / because I want more”. As my feet and back cried out in agony, 4 full days into and at the end of my journey, these words took on new meaning. I raised my arms and danced hard in the last moments of the festival. Young The Giant left the stage, declining the crowd’s request for an encore, knowing their last moments on stage couldn’t be topped.
photo courtesy of Melissa Denton
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