Everything You Need to Know About Bonnaroo 2007
BEST BAND YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF: Mute Math. Imagine you walk into This Tent at Bonnaroo, for the first band you see at the festival, and the band is fantastic. Imagine the band is playing energetic rock with dancey beats. Now imagine that the drummer has his snare drum on top of the lead singer's keyboard at the front of the stage, and he's perched on that keyboard, hammering away, and then he falls, and the drum falls...A few minutes later the band members are all jumping around like cooking popcorn, and the same drummer crashes into a wall of lights behind them, then when it falls, jumps up and down on it, breaking bulbs. Then they all stagger off the stage.I magine you have just had a great beginning to Bonnaroo.
MOST OVERHYPED BAND THAT DIDN'T DELIVER: Rodrigo y Gabriela. Ok, maybe you've never heard of them either, but this duo from MexicoCity had been talked up by friends and other people at the festival. They play sort of hard-rock acoustic guitar with a Latin flavor. Maybe after Mute Math I just wanted the rock. Despite Gabriela's raised fist or bullhorn sign in the air after every song (the universal gesture of metalheads, I guess), this wasn't it.
MOST OVERHYPED BAND THAT DID DELIVER: The Hold Steady. Sure, they sound a lot like Bruce Springsteen. But this was probably the most psyched band to play Bonnaroo, and they had a great energy that made you want to dance, or jump up and down, or hug them, or all of the above. And you had to love it when lead singer Craig Finn said, "There's so much joy in what we do up here." Awww!
BEST REUNION: The Police, but of course. They could have been tearing each other's hair out backstage for all I know (and apparently they did trash their trailer), but who doesn't love to hear "Roxanne" or "So Lonely" or any of the other hits live? These guys are amazing musicians, and any rancor between them didn't prevent them from playing well. Sting did solicit "ow-wee-oh" singalongs a little too frequently from the crowd, but we were in an indulgent mood. Line of the night: Copeland saying, "Sting will now take off his clothes and dance among you." (He didn't, much to some ladies' (not my) chagrin). Extra points to Copeland for being a Bonnaroo vet and the most pumped of the three.
BEST BAND RECOMMENDED BY BEN CHANG: Annuals.
He saw them at the Bowery Ballroom and liked 'em: it was a good call. These guys, from Raleigh, NC, have a nice alterna-rock sound with good percussion. I'm a sucker for good percussion.
BEST VISUAL & AURAL FEAST: The Flaming Lips.
If you haven't, go see them. Now. I don't want to give too much away, but there are laser pointers and Santa Clauses and a spaceship involved.
HOTTEST SORT-OF AUSSIE: John Butler (of the John Butler Trio).
Apparently he's big Down Under, where he relocated when he was 11. And he's talented: the Trio's sound is bluesy roots rock, with a dash of social consciousness.
BIGGEST UNEXPECTED SHRUGS: Wilco & Regina Specktor.
I was excited to see both of these acts, but they left me a little cold. Wilco was very mellow, Specktor too talky. As I discussed with indie-rock maven and co-worker Mark B, at a festival like Bonnaroo the pressure is on to keep spirits high and momentum flowing.
JACK OF ALL TRADES: John Paul Jones.
Yes, THAT John Paul Jones. He played with Uncle Earl, the great all-girl bluegrass band whose album he produced; he played the "Superjam" of Zepp tunes with Ben Harper and ?uestlove of The Roots; he played with country folker Gillian Welch.
SHYEST ROCK STAR: Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon.
They played a fun set (I was a fan already), and though they rocked I gotta say he seemed a little freaked. The next day, I saw him walking to see The Police, and said, "great show." He turned bright red (maybe it was the heat) and said softly, "thank you." He was wearing the tightest jeans I have ever seen on a man (and I lived in the East Village!)
BAND I LOVE LOVE LOVE BEFORE & AFTER BONNAROO: Dr. Dog.
I first saw this band from Philly in a sort of shack at South by Southwest last year. The little blond singer/guitarist was wearing a busted straw hat. His button-down was soaked in sweat. There was a really drunk friend of theirs right in front of the band who looked at any moment as though he'd topple onto the guitarist (or me, for that matter). Their music was a catchy Beatles-Beach Boys-influenced rock. I bought their latest album, and lo, it was good. At Bonnaroo, the blond guy had a shaggy beard & sunglasses instead of a hat, but he was still sweat-soaked, and he and his bandmates were still jumping around unsteadily, and they still were awesome. Yes, I said awesome!
LADY WITH A LOVELY VOICE: Feist.
This is another album I've been listening to recently, and Ms. Leslie Feist of Canada is just as good live.
BEST TUBA: The Roots' sousaphone player.
The Roots were great at getting the crowd going, and despite Jon Parales of the NY Times saying the band's "Masters of War" was too long, Mr. H & I ate it up. It's a Dylan song, and their version starts with the lyrics being sung to the tune of the "Star-Spangled Banner." By the end, the guitarist had rolled off the stage, still playing madly, to run down a walkway into the crowd -- and the tuba player had followed him.
BEST NOT-AT-ALL-HIPPIE BAND PLAYING TO WHAT HAD BEEN A JAMBAND FESTIVAL: The White Stripes.
This show got one of the largest crowds of Bonnaroo. They were dressed in their traditional red, and Jack White was running around the stage like crazy, while Meg sat demurely (and without much talent, some around me would opine) behind the drum set. There's something fierce and sweet about this band at the same time, with Jack's voice sometimes quavering as it rose, sometimes screeching.
SPEAKING OF CROWDS: You may wonder what it's like to be at a festival with 80,000 people, most of whom are camping, in 90-degree heat in Manchester, Tennessee.
There is indeed a funk -- I'm sure some of it was coming from me. People are indeed bombed out of their minds. There was indeed nakedness, most notably for me the guy without a stitch on-- except for his hat -- his body dyed entirely red, and dancing his ass off. But for a festival of this size, it was incredibly well-run, just as I found last year. The toilets were kept in reasonably good shape, there weren't terrible lines for food (though the prices seemed to have gone up from last year), people seemed in good spirits and were non-violent as far as I could tell, and bands played on time. The worst thing by far was the dust. When it doesn't rain on a huge festival grounds for four days, and there are many shuffling feet, a haze of kicked-up dirt hangs everywhere. That said, bring on Bonnaroo 2008!