Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Love Affair with Radiohead: Part 5 - Amnesiac

Man, time really seems to go faster and faster the older you get.  This past June represented the ten year anniversary of the release of Radiohead's fifth album, when in actuality, it feels more like its fifth anniversary.  I anticipate this will only get worse as the years go on.  By the time Amnesiac was released in the spring of 2001, I was totally hooked on Radiohead.  I probably listened to Kid A fifty times already (or at least it felt like I did) and I waited in anticipation for the so-called second installment to that classic record.  I was very much looking forward to a more guitar-driven album that had been promised through several reviews and word of mouth conversations.  I was still living in California during this time and continued to have virtually zero disposable income but unlike my previous experience, I was not hesitant to buy this album.  I made sure I had enough cash scraped together and the day it was released I walked to Amoeba Records in Berkeley after work (which to this day remains the greatest record store I have ever been to) and picked up a copy.  I can remember devouring the plastic wrapping to get to the CD so I could pop it in my Discman and listen to it immediately.  Say what you will about the benefits of digital media and MP3s and the future of the music industry, but few experiences and feelings will match those of actually purchasing a physical copy of a much anticipated album and tearing through it to give it that first listen.  I’m starting to feel like and old man, but screw it, it’s true.  When I was younger, buying music was much better than the way you kids do it these days, blah, blah, blah,………

I specifically remember the opening of “Pack Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box”.  It was electronic, but much more palatable than “Everything in its Right Place” the first time I heard it.  As I listened I was surprised to find zero guitars in the first few songs.  It wasn’t until a few listens that the “more guitars” promise I was given was understood to include only a few songs that were much more guitar-driven than any song on Kid A.  Though this was true and many songs were electronically driven, I still found this album easier to digest than its predecessor.  I remember seeing the video for “Pyramid Song” which also represents the last time I saw a new Radiohead video on MTV (or pretty much any video on MTV for that matter.  They gave that up years ago in favor of quality television programming).  The band was not pictured at all and the viewer was simply treated to a colorful display of a silhouetted figure swimming through a vast ocean as an eerie and syncopated piano part played in the background.  It was still weird, but more familiar.

Amnesiac also includes the only time the band ever released a different version of a previously recorded song.  “Morning Bell” is one of the last tracks on Kid A which was a song I liked very much, and despite the fact that Amnesiac is a much more user-friendly album than Kid A, its take on this song which is entitled “Morning Bell/Amnesiac” is more bizarre than the original.  Instead of the infectious and tempered drum beat and soothing electronic synths of the original, this new spin was much stranger and avant-garde.  And for some reason I was able to understand the lyrics better and realized that this song about divorce included the previously indecipherable lyric that was much clearer (and therefore also disturbing) in the new version: “Cut the kids in half”.   How cold can you get?

I’d probably have to say that my favorite track of this album is “You and Whose Army” which does a great job of taking a somber and slow-paced intro with a creepy combination of Yorke’s lead vocals and a background chorus of ooohs all put together by a slow strumming of non-distorted electric guitar.  All of a sudden a strong and urgent piano part comes in and takes you into a crescendo of a chorus that lasts a little over a minute but could go on for about five and you still wouldn’t want it to end.  I read a review somewhere in which the critic stated it was like “Hey Jude” in that he wished it kept going and going and I immediately understood what he was saying.

 I think it’s worth mentioning that the last song on the album “Life in a Glass House”, which is just another example of how creative and original this band had become, includes a crazy and jarring horn section that features a clarinet part that the band hired jazz great Humphrey Lyttelton to play on.  While Amnesiac wasn’t as groundbreaking or met with as much critical praise as Kid A, I think it is better in terms of how expansive it is.  There are still elements of the liquid and electronic type sounds of its predecessor, but there are more pop/rock/jazz oriented sounds as well.  In an interview, Yorke described the two albums and the differences between them: "Something traumatic is happening in Kid A… this is looking back at it, trying to piece together what has happened."  I still think trying to pick apart any meaning for Radiohead albums in general is difficult and fairly pointless for me, but I do like this explanation and can make some sense out of it.  Having said that, I don’t feel by listening to Amnesiac I therefore understand Kid A any better, but it is nice to juxtapose them against each other, particularly since they were recorded at the same time.

It would be several years before the band would release another album, but it was nice to have a live album released shortly after Amnesiac entitled I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings which was named after one of the tracks off Amnesiac, to tide us over.  While there are only eight songs on that album and seven of them are off Kid A and Amnesiac, the highlights include a previously unreleased and acoustic guitar-driven track “True Love Waits” (which remains for me one of their most beautiful songs) and a haunting live version of “Like Spinning Plates” driven by a walking piano part as opposed to the backwards electronic looping of the original version off of Amnesiac.  It makes you see the song in a total different light which is something the band became very good at doing and is one of the reasons I like them so much.

Overall, I don’t have as many specific memories with this album as I had with their previous recordings.  I will always associate it with that time in my life when I lived in California and started to become consumed and obsessed with the band.  It was also a very exciting time for me because I was treated to two new albums in less than a year which was a very common practice back in the 60’s but is essentially non-existent today.  Most importantly though, is that it gave me a glimmer of hope for their future.  I had read several articles and interviews about them that touched on the possibility of the band’s breakup or how difficult it had been to put these two albums together.  And while Kid A was a very depressing and disturbing album, Amnesiac acted more as a pick-me-up record with its more accessible sounds.  Lucky for me (and all of us, really) this glimmer of hope proved to be warranted as it would only take two years for their next album to be released.  The band had gone through a very trying time in the wake of the tour for OK Computer, and created two albums which highlighted their feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in the dawning of the new century.  I think they got some of those negative feelings out of their systems and they became more focused and comfortable continuing on as a band.  This would result in them releasing an album that truly solidified their determination and desire to move forward in the years to come which was very good news for all of us.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Bonnaroo 2011 - Day 1

My sixth consecutive year attending Bonnaroo came to an end almost two weeks ago and like all previous years it was a blast and over way too fast.  It was amazing how quickly the weekend went and by the end of the event, I found myself thinking that a major festival like this is little more than sensory overload and it can be hard to describe what was seen or experienced.  Shows ran together and it became easy to forget how the sequence of each day went.  So while I will attempt to capture my experiences and all the acts I saw here, I’m sure I will neglect to include some memorable moment or revelatory observation that no doubt crossed my mind.  Maybe next time I should take a notebook or something just to jot things down.

We had a very large crew this year that included a ton of family members.  Uncle JB made his regular appearance as did his two sons, John and Shea, but the big addition to the group was JB’s wife and my aunt, Gail, who actually almost bailed at the last moment.  Two other cousins, James and Johanna, made the trip as did JB’s buddies Marty and John.  We left early on Wednesday morning and eventually met up with some other friends as well as some more family members including my uncle Billy and his kids Dan, Kevin, and Lauren from New York.  Lauren’s friend Stephanie also came.  It was almost like a family reunion, and come to think of it, Bonnaroo is a great place to have one, especially if everyone is down with the music as we all were. 

They opened the gates at 7:00 Wednesday night but it wasn’t until 9 that we got in line.  Our wait was a short one though as we entered the venue and parked our RV around 11:00.  This gave us plenty of time to set up our campsite and to get a good night’s sleep which is typically a rare event on the Wednesday night before the festival.  The other great thing about this was that it allowed us almost an entire day on Thursday to just hang out which was probably the longest period of pure socializing we had all weekend.  We played all kinds of games, had some beer, ate some food, and listened to tunes.  JB’s buddy O’Reilly had some excellent speakers set up and we took turns playing DJ throughout the weekend.  Our RV was parked right next to one of the main roads and right across a set of port-o-potties which meant a lot of people were subject to our musical selections, and the cool thing was that many people who walked past us seemed to sing along or dance to the music we were playing.  Before the weekend was over, we would receive all kinds of compliments.

I was also sending text messages back and forth with a few friends who were making the trek separately.  My friend Vanessa was coming from the Boston area with her roommate Gwen and my friend Mishka was coming from New York with her friend Tara and a few others.  I originally thought it would be easy to meet up with them if we kept sending text messages but I soon realized this was going to be more difficult than I thought.  I sent them both messages on Thursday morning but I did not hear back from them until much later that day.  Apparently, my amazingly awesome iPhone is rendered quite finicky at Bonnaroo.

Eventually the day moved on to where it was time to head out to catch some live shows.  We hadn’t seen one band yet but it felt like the weekend was already half over.  I’d have to go ahead and say that this was the best Thursday I’ve ever had at Bonnaroo.  This was capped off by a phenomenal spaghetti and meatballs dinner that was basically unheard of before this year.  Having my aunt Gail there was awesome enough, but it got even better when she decided to cook us all a big meal before we left.  It might seem fairly simple to you, but believe me, it was a big deal.  For someone to cook a full blown meal in that small “kitchen” in the RV was quite a feat.  And it was delicious.  Actually, I’m not even sure if it was on Thursday or Friday that she cooked this meal, but it is certainly worth mentioning. 


1)  The Futurebirds: 
The year got off to a good start with a set by a little known band from Athens, Georgia.  I chose to see them because while during my research, they seemed to be the best of the choices available.  Sometimes that’s just what you have to do as invariably there will be times when you aren’t dying to see any of the acts playing and while many take these times to relax, hang out, ride the Ferris wheel, shop, etc, I make sure I’m checking some band out.  This is when I stumble upon something great and have an amazing time.  The band was pretty solid playing a mix of country and rock tunes and they emphasized those sounds with the addition of a banjo and slide guitar.  They didn’t blow me away, but they were a lot of fun.

2)  Freelance Whales: 
Going into the festival, I was excited to hear this band that includes five multi-instrumentalists who play an indie/folk/pop type of music that almost always includes the xylophone.  I love seeing bands whose members constantly change the instruments they’re playing.  It shows a level of talent that many bands do not have.  Most bands and artists specialize in one or two instruments but when you have a group that specializes in three or four each, well that’s something unique.  I particularly liked the box accordion and the prominent sound of the xylophone in several songs.  At one point, one of the members played the xylophone and the bass guitar at the same freaking time!  Never saw that before.  This went down as one of the two best shows that I saw on Thursday night. 

3)  Best Coast: 
After Freelance Whales I tried to catch the end of Karen Elson’s set who happens to be Jack White’s wife (actually, I later learned that the two announced their divorce the next day.  Jack White is just severing all kinds of ties this year).  I knew she was a model but was not aware that she was a musician as well.  I thought I would be able to see a few songs but she was just ending as I arrived, meaning that she cut her set short about fifteen minutes.  Now artists may need to do this for one reason or another, but why bother advertising a set that is supposed to last an hour when you only do 45 minutes?  For dudes like me who try to see a lot of acts, this can get annoying.  At any rate, I headed over to check out the set by Best Coast whom I was familiar with and while I do enjoy the album they put out last year which is chock full of 50’s style pop songs with a distorted, low-fi twist, I have to say that this was probably the most disappointing set of the weekend for me.  They just didn’t sound good.  At one point the lead singer made a comment about people not looking like they were having a good time.  Think she wondered later if that was because they sucked?  I think that is bound to happen sometimes.  With today’s technology and production heavy albums, it can be hard for some bands to put on a good or comparable live show.  Sometimes the live sound is just way different and less enjoyable than the stuff created in the studio.  I toyed with the idea of trying to give them more of a chance, but my mind was made up.  I was off.

4)  School of Seven Bells: 
As soon as I arrived at this set, I wished I had been there from the beginning.  I heard a little of their stuff before leaving for the weekend and I thought their atmospheric rock/pop sound was interesting enough to check out.  I only saw a few songs as they closed their set but to me they seemed much more polished and enjoyable than Best Coast. 

5)  The Drums: 
My other favorite act of the night was by this group of Brooklyn pseudo-Smiths wannabes.  I just found all of their songs to be upbeat and catchy and for a band that I’ve never heard of, it was a lot of fun getting into their music right away.  Probably the most striking aspect of their set was the dancing styles of the lead singer which seems to deliberately trying to channel the 80’s.  Very good set from a band I would like to get more into.

6)  Sleigh Bells: 
Earlier in the evening, I made a phone call to JB, which didn’t go through, as many calls didn’t throughout the weekend, and after a few rings a plethora of text messages came through that most likely went back to the beginning of the day.  Vanessa and Mishka were texting me their various locations throughout the day and who they were seeing.  It was at this moment that I realized I could not receive a text message unless I made an outgoing call.  Not sure why the iPhone was acting such a way, but it’s basically how I had to operate throughout the weekend.  Anyway, I had somehow managed to connect enough with Mishka to secure a meeting place for Sleigh Bells who played right after the Drums.  I had a pretty good spot and decided to stay there to wait for Mishka.  As soon as the Drums left the stage the crowd started plowing forward to get closer for Sleigh Bells.  I soon found myself in what would turn out to be the most crowded shows of the weekend and one of the most crowded of my life.  As people pushed past me I tried to keep my position as it was since the further I got up, the more crowded it would no doubt be.  After a few minutes of trying to just remain standing, I heard Mishka’s voice call over to me.  She was just a few people over so I made my way to meet up with her and her friend, Tara.  We talked for a bit and the show began which was very loud and included a huge number of flashing lights that came from behind the band making it very difficult to see them.  People were dancing and going crazy and we were just trying to stay alive.  I was able to make out the setup on the stage which was basically a series of giant speakers.  No guitars or drums or keyboards, just a huge set of speakers.  After about four or five songs we decided to make our way out of the tent to get to a more comfortable spot.  The amount of feet I stepped on and people I bumped into was too many to count.  Although Mishka and Tara started off right behind me, it wasn’t long before we were separated and by the time I got to an area that was merely somewhat devoid of mass amounts of people I had lost track of them.  After a few moments they made their way through the sea of people unscathed.  We stayed outside the tent for a bit before they went back to their tent.  I stayed for the rest of the show and while I enjoyed it, it turned out to be not as fun as I would have liked.  The lead singer’s voice wasn’t all that great when I was able to hear it over the blaring beats coming from the speakers and I’m also just not a huge crowd guy.  Maybe I’m getting old or maybe I’m not cool enough but being in a huge crowd like that is just not my idea of a good time.  Overall it was a decent set.  I’m just glad we didn’t get hurt.

7)  Childish Gambino: 
Sometimes a band gets notoriety just because of its members.  Childish Gambino is fronted by comedian Donald Glover who is best known for his role as Troy on the NBC comedy “Community” (which is a really good show by the way).  I’m not saying Gambino isn’t good or that they’re only out there because of its famous member, but I’m sure that has helped them accelerate their career.  Glover also put on some comedy shows throughout the weekend but in the six years I have attended Bonnaroo, the only comedian I’ve seen is Chris Rock and that’s only because he played the main stage and there was no problem getting a spot for that set.  The comedians perform in the comedy tent which requires you to wait in a long line and miss some dope music.  So every year there are some great comedians, and I always pass.  But I was glad I got to see Gambino which is a hip-hop outfit.  By this time in the evening I was pretty tired and only stayed for about four songs.  What I heard I liked and what was most noticeable was Glover’s crazy voice which at times reminded me of Nicki Minaj.  It was almost a panicking sound.  I wished I was up closer and that I wasn’t so tired, but by this point I had enough and turned in for the night. 


Bonnaroo 2011 - Day 2


8)  Ben Sollee: 
Over the years I’ve come to understand that I’ve come to enjoy certain artists’ live shows much more than their albums.  I first heard of Ben Sollee through JB and obtained a copy of his album, “Dear Companion” which, I’m not gonna lie, I never really felt.  I basically went to this show because everyone else in our group was and there was nothing else I wanted to see.  We got a great spot right up front and were treated to one of the best shows of the weekend.  Sollee is a cello player and combines his set with a drummer and a female violinist who also traded off on some other instruments throughout the show.  It is moments like this when the phrase “the lineup this year isn’t that good” is rendered ridiculous.  There’s always a surprise lurking somewhere.  You just have to have the wherewithal to seek it out.  It was also at this set where I found myself involved in what can be best described of the biggest hippie moment I’ve ever participated in.  Towards the end of the set, during one of the more emotional/peace loving songs, a number of Bonnaroo staff members started passing out yellow and green flowers en masse asking us to take one and pass the rest back.  People would take a flower, place it in their hair or hats, and pass the rest back.  I was towards the front so I was one of the first to get one and I doubted three would be enough for everyone.  But they kept coming.  And all the while Sollee and his band are playing this peaceful and somber musical accompaniment.  A few people around me flashed peace signs.  It was kinda cool, but also pretty cheesy.  And I somehow doubt that we’ll get out of Afghanistan any quicker because of it.  Oh, and in the video I’m linking here, you can see me, JB and James.  We’re off to the left and I’m wearing my blue Mets hat taking a picture. 

9)  Phosphorescent: 
I had some time to kill after Sollee so I checked out this band that was pretty decent but nothing noteworthy comes to mind.  Though I will say it is nice to pass time between shows you really want to see by seeing other shows that are invariably happening all around you.  If you plan it right, there is never a break at Bonnaroo.

10)  Justin Townes Earle:
I was expecting more of a rocking show from the son of legendary alt-country rocker Steve Earle (who for you TV buffs also had supporting roles in the HBO shows “The Wire” and “Treme”).  I didn’t know much of his stuff but knew enough that his show would be a good one.  While it took more of a folk/acoustic approach than what I had expected, I did enjoy this set which included two female musicians (one played the fiddle, the other the stand up bass).  A few songs into the set, I started to notice Earle’s guitar playing style and began to realize something amazing about it, and it wasn’t until later in talking with JB that my suspicions were confirmed.  Essentially, in many of Earle’s songs I heard a rhythmic guitar sound which seemed very apparent that he was strumming.  But I also heard more of a solo guitar part in which several notes were being plucked that went along with the rhythm.  I stood there for a few songs convinced that there must have been another guitarist playing offstage, or a recording playing those notes, or the possibility that Earle had looped that part.  The least plausible explanation that crossed my mind was that Earle was playing both parts.  For the life of me I couldn’t see him playing those solo-type notes.  I left the tent satisfied with the set but still puzzled over the guitar parts I heard.  Later that day JB told me that Earle most certainly was playing both guitar parts at the same time.  He is very familiar with Earle and also was front and center for the show so he got to witness it firsthand for himself.  I’m still blown away at the talent this guy has to be able to pull something off like that.  That alone could qualify him for the best musician I witnessed the whole weekend.

11)  Matt and Kim:
I decided to check out some of the set from this indie rock duo with techno type influences and Gail decided to come along with me.  I didn’t know much by them, other than what I’d heard on XM radio, but I liked it well enough to check out.  Of course, by the time we got there the crowd was huge and making our way up towards the front would have required a level of energy I just did not feel like exerting.  As we approached the back of the tent, I heard Kim talking about how she had noticed a few topless girls near the sound booth, and sure enough, as I looked up, I saw exactly what she described.  Kim then encouraged all the women to take their tops off since it was so damn hot out.  I immediately thought I picked the right set to see.  Of course, very few women, and none where I was standing, decided to take Kim up on her offer which rendered the set much less interesting than it could have been.  Anyway, Gail and I stayed for a few songs but since our spots weren’t all that great, we decided to leave and check out Grace Potter’s set.  Later on I heard that Kim herself took her top off as their set ended.  I’m still not sure if that’s entirely true, but I think it’s obvious that she at least likes to get others to show their boobies.

12)  Grace Potter and the Nocturnals:
This was another artist that I didn’t know much about but I had heard really good things about her live performances.  She played a nice style of blues rock that was highlighted by a dynamite version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”.  Definitely worth the stop.

13)  Freelance Whales: 
After Grace Potter, there was nothing I was dying to see at any of the tents or stages so I decided to check out Freelance Whales again, but this time at the Sonic Stage which is reserved for artists to highlight their sets in a more intimate and acoustic setting.  I noticed that the woman who introduced them is the same woman who always worked that stage in the past and while her overly flattering comments about them before they came on were very nice, I began to realize that this woman says all kinds of good things about every band that plays this stage (or at least all the bands I’ve seen play there in the past).  It’s almost too much and self-indulgent.  Like she knows something that nobody else does and by somehow promoting the band beyond any reasonable degree would make me like them that much more.  Hey lady, just introduce them and stop hogging the stage and robbing the band of playing time, all right?!  At any rate, it was nice to see these guys again in a smaller setting and they continued to solidify themselves as one of my favorite acts of the weekend.

14)  The Decemberists: 
I’d have to go ahead and say that the latest release from this group from Portland, Oregon The King is Dead may very well be my favorite album of the year so far (and bear in mind, Radiohead released a new album this year too, so what does that tell you?).  The album is pop/rock/folk perfection and melds a great number of relatively short songs that oftentimes sound like a cross between Springsteen and R.E.M.  To me, this is a much more welcomed effort than their previous album The Hazards of Love which was an odd concept album about……well……all kinds of weird stuff (including the brutal murder of one’s children).  For some reason the album never resonated with me, which makes it all the more intriguing that the songs I found the most exciting during this set to be from that very same album.  I don’t know.  I just can’t describe it.  Maybe I need to give the album another chance, but the songs from that album just translated so much better live than their other songs.  Not that any of their tunes were bad, I just don’t get as amped as I would like for their shows.  I’ve now seen them three times and I’ve yet to have that moment where I feel blown away.  Having said all that, I will say that front man Colin Meloy is one of the oddest I’ve ever seen.  But he does make for some interesting and funny banter with the crowd.  At one point he pointed towards the people in the VIP section and told them that when the revolution comes, they will be the first to go.  Needless to say, that comment drew out a raucous applause from us common folk.  It’s nice to know Colin is on our side.  It’s also relevant to point out that multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee was recently diagnosed with breast cancer so she was not in attendance for the show.  Instead, the band brought out Nickel Creek artist, Sara Watkins, to fill in the roll and a great job she did. 

15)  My Morning Jacket: 
Typically people are bound to ask a Bonnaroo attendee what the best show that person saw throughout the weekend.  For some this could be a difficult decision as there are usually so many dope bands that one sees at this thing that it can be hard to rank them all.  Oddly enough, I never remember having a year when this proved to be a difficult decision.  It was always an easy answer.  In ’06 it was Radiohead, in ’07 it was Wilco, in ’08 it was the Raconteurs, in ’09 it was Springsteen, in ’10 it was Kings of Leon, and this year it was My Morning Jacket.  And the funny thing is that I pretty much knew this was going to be the case within a minute or so of their set.  I had just purchased their new album, Circuital, and liked it from the start.  While they started the show with the first track from that album, it was very noticeable that the sound was off.  It sounded muffled and unclear and made me wonder for a moment if it was supposed to be like that, or if I was just losing my hearing.  After a few minutes; however, something kicked on and the speakers poured forth a much clearer and more powerful sound that automatically made it apparent that something was indeed wrong earlier.  Every song sounded perfect and I was in just the right frame of mind to be into each and every note they played.  From the most beautiful and soft melodies of “Golden” to the blistering rocked out version of “Anytime” the Jacket went balls out from the get go and never let up.  They have some great albums, but their live performance makes them pale in comparison.  I had seem them twice before at Bonnaroo but never all the way through.  The first time I saw them in ’06 they played a midnight to 3am slot and I lasted about an hour and a half before I started to fall asleep standing up.  The second time in ’09 they played another late night set but it started to pour halfway through and being as tired as I was I had to retreat back to the RV.  Finally, after so many years I was treated to an amazing set that I was able to stay for its entirety.  To say these guys are special is a gross understatement.  

16)  Arcade Fire: 
So how do you follow up one of the greatest shows you’ve ever seen?  How about a freaking headlining set by the Arcade Fire?!  Big ups to Kevin Macauley for introducing me to them back in the day before anyone else knew about them.  I made the comment before their set that it’s really amazing that they can headline a festival like Bonnaroo and only have released three albums.  But the thing is with these guys is that they can totally hang with that type of pressure.  They put on a phenomenal show with all kinds of energy, but it never seems to get to their heads.  Several times front man Win Butler expressed sincere gratitude towards the audience and it seemed genuine every time.  I’ve always seemed to give artists a pass for being assholes if the music is good enough to look past that.  But it’s really nice to have a stellar band be a group of good people too.  Yes, I understand that many great artists are tortured and have no choice but to be dickheads, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I’d have to say that the My Morning Jacket/Arcade Fire one two combo might be the best I’ve ever seen at Bonnaroo.

17)  Big Boi: 
I realized a lot of things at this set by the co-member of what could be my favorite hip-hop act, Outkast.  First of all, I was surprised that he played just about every popular Outkast song within the first thirty minutes.  I thought for sure he was going to save them for the end.  After Arcade Fire I waded my way through a sea of people and broke away from my crew, for I was the only one who wanted to see Big Boi.  It took a while to make it to the tent he was playing.  For some reason the Bonnaroo heads make it very difficult to navigate yourself out of the main stage area.  As I made my way up to Big Boi’s set, I heard him playing a song that sounded somewhat familiar but I could not put my finger on it.  After a few moments, I realized he was playing “Rosa Parks” which is one of my favorite Outkast songs.  Thing is that it didn’t sound much like the song I had come to know and love.  He soon started taking requests and before I knew it he was playing a medley of Outkast hits including B.O.B., Ms. Jackson, and Ghetto Musik.  And as he played, I noticed how he would perform each song only for a short period of time before moving on to the next song.  And I realized that this was something that I had seen in previous hip-hop shows that I’ve seen.  Instead of playing the whole songs, they cut them short and oftentimes perform them in different versions than the originals.  Now while I appreciate the different approach to performing these songs, I’d have to say that I do not like it.    I mean, I’m glad he’s taking artistic integrity and mixing it up, but seriously, why only go halfway when I can envision him being so much better?  Then again, maybe it was because I was far away from the stage or that I was so tired, but he basically played everything I wanted to he hear so I headed out early.


Bonnaroo 2011 - Day 3


18)  Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears:  Saturday morning I was able to meet up with Vanessa.  At her suggestion, we went to go see Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears.  I had listened to a little of his stuff before the weekend and he sounded like he would put on a good show that mixed funk, jazz, blues, and rock and I was not disappointed by his performance.  We weren’t there long as there was another band I wanted to check out but I’m glad we took some time to stop by this tent.

19)  Hanggaii: 
The moment I checked out this band’s stuff on Youtube I knew it was a show I wanted to catch.  I almost feel like words cannot describe this band from Beijing who performs while wearing traditional and ancient Chinese garb.  Their music is a combination of traditional Chinese folk music and modern types of rock.  The band consists of many members who create one of the most unique sounds that you can ever find.  I found myself really enjoying the show at first and was getting pretty into it, but halfway through I started realizing that some of the parts were over the top and borderline ridiculous.  I also found it funny that the lead singer always spoke to the crowd in between songs and spoke only in Chinese.  After each phrase the crowd would erupt in applause which made me laugh because in all honesty the dude could have been saying that we all were a bunch of assholes or something and nobody would have been the wiser.  He also had the most ludicrous “shirt” on that I have ever seen.  It was actually more of a cover for his shoulders and back as the entirety of his chest and stomach was exposed.  At one point I turned to Vanessa and said “I don’t know whether I love this or hate this.”  To which she replied that she loved it.  We watched the rest of the show and I still have that feeling of confusion which would probably make this one of the most interesting shows I’ve ever seen.  I still find parts of their stuff really great, but then another side of me chimes in and tells that what I saw is quite ridiculous.  Either way, this was a great show to have caught, and another reason why Bonnaroo is so great.

20)  Old Crow Medicine Show:  I don’t like to think I have many regrets going to Bonnaroo in terms of the bands I’ve chosen to see.  But that doesn’t mean that regrets aren’t bound to surface from time to time.  I have seen Old Crow a few times before in the past and have always enjoyed their bluegrass/Americana sound and to this day feel that their song “Wagon Wheel” is one of the best I’ve ever heard.  However, sometimes when you see a show, things just don’t work out the way you’d like them to.  The sound was not very good and it simply was not as loud as it should have been.  I was not even that far back but it was noticeable that the speakers just weren’t generating the power that they should have.  At one point, one of the members had to take the dobro he was playing and hold it up to a microphone since the PA it was originally hooked up to was not working.  And even when he did this it was not amplifying the sound nearly enough.  After the show I realized that while they were good, I missed out on an opportunity to see a band I’ve never seen before but was interested in, the Low Anthem.  But by the time I realized this, the Low Anthem were done and I had to focus on what to do next.

21)  Deer Tick: 
Sometimes you can see a band or artists and depending on the circumstances in which you find yourself, you can like a show more or less than you normally would.  I was beginning to feel more tired than I normally feel at this time during the day and my energy level was low.  I didn’t know much by this roots rock/Americana band but JB and many of the people I was with were very excited about this show.  While they all lauded this performance later on, I was left with a feeling that they were just OK and that I just wasn’t feeling them.  This was not an opinion that was popular amongst the members of my group as some said it was one of the best shows of the weekend.  What can I say?  I just wasn’t that into it.  Maybe if I had known more of their tunes or had been in better spirits when I saw them I would have felt differently, but I cannot pretend to like what I’m just not that into. 

22 +23)  Allison Krauss and Union Station / Portugal. The Man: 
I place these two acts together because I did not see a lot of their sets and used this time mostly to sit down and rest my legs which were killing me at the time.  Krauss was pretty solid as she and her band played a very mellow set of bluegrass type music along with Jerry Douglass.  Portugal. The Man was a band I had seen a few years ago at Bonnaroo and I was not all that impressed with them.  I felt I liked this set a little more and found myself enjoying a lot of what they were doing.  But I spent most of the time sitting down in the back trying to cool off a bit before meeting Vanessa for Amos Lee at the Sonic Stage.

24)  Amos Lee: 
After Hanggaii, Vanessa and I separated but agreed to meet up for this small set by singer/songwriter Amos Lee.  I didn’t know much of his stuff but really enjoyed this 30 minute set that included just Lee and his acoustic guitar.  And while watching the set, something happened that I had never seen before at another show, a couple in the front row got engaged.  Also, Lee made the comment that because it was so hot and muggy out, he couldn’t keep his guitar in tune.  While I agree that it sounded off in some spots, it wasn’t bad enough to take much away from this set.  I’m also not sure why the weather conditions would make it impossible to tune his guitar even for a little bit, but hey, he’s the professional I guess.  One final noteworthy occurrence was when the annoying woman who was introducing the bands at the Sonic Stage came out at the end and requested he play one more song.  Lee agreed and while he started getting ready the woman requested a specific song and Lee basically said “no”.  Not sure why he denied her but it was pretty funny to see him react like this. 

25)  Mumford and Sons: 
One of the downfalls of trying to see so many artists is that you forgo the opportunity to stake out and claim a good spot for a bigger act.  Sometimes it’s worth doing this if the act in question is one you really want to see or if there is nothing else going on and you can sacrifice 30-45 minutes to wait for the band you want to see.  Or you could just not plan ahead enough to know that the Mumford and Sons set would be so freaking packed that finding a good spot will be futile at best.  Vanessa and I met her friend Gwen and tried to make our way over to where JB and crew were but that proved too difficult.  We were pretty far back and again, the sound was not that great.  It’s too bad when you’re that far back because not only are you less invested in the show, but the people around you talk and move around much more so the intimacy of the show is somewhat diminished.  I was psyched to see Mumford especially since I missed out on them last year as they played at the exact time as the Avett Brothers, and there was no way I was going to miss them.  What I like about them too is that they do not seem to have any image problems.  Most of the members were wearing wife-beaters, mostly because it was so damn hot.  At one point they called out to someone backstage to come out and play the fiddle.  The guy that came out looked like some overweight kid you’d find at a videogame convention or something.  At any rate, they put on a very solid se that I’m almost sure I would be saying was one of the best I had seen over the weekend had I been in a better position to see it.  But such is the ways of the Bonnaroo gods.

26)  The Black Keys: 
By this time I really need to just lie down and rejuvenate for the evening.  I had separated from Vanessa and Gwen so that I could find JB and get an idea of where to meet him for Buffalo Springfield later.  I then headed over to the main stage area to catch some of the Black Keys set and relax a bit.  The main stage area is very large and is a nice place to find some grass to lie down in as opposed to the dry and dusty areas that are found in just about every other area of the venue.  I had recently seen a great show by the Keys in Orlando back in December so seeing this show was not on the highest of priorities and I was fine with just hanging out in the back rather than trying to get up close.  I will say that I do love this group and find them even more important now that the White Stripes are no more.  For few bands can create such a great combination of modern blues rock as the Stripes and the Keys can.  It was nice to see them introduced by comedian Aziz Ansari who must have just been hanging out as he was not on the bill for the weekend.  Like their show in Orlando, they started by playing many of their older songs just the two of them and later on they brought out more musicians so that they could play their more layered songs from their most recent album, Brothers.  I first heard of the Keys back in 2005 when I saw them at Lollapalooza in Chicago at the suggestion of my friends Kevin and Tina, and it has been nice to see their progression since then.  I’m glad they’re doing so well because they really are a great band and they deserve every bit of the notoriety they get.

27)  Buffalo Springfield: 
I think there is a law out there somewhere that states that if you take any old group of aging hippies that group’s performance will automatically be made ten times greater if Neil Young is playing with him.  I understand if people get sick of the aging artists of the 60’s and 70’s but seriously, if you can’t get down with Neil I almost don’t want to know you.  I left the Keys set early to make sure I wouldn’t have a problem meeting up with JB, Billy and crew and as I arrived I was pleased to see that they had established a spot much closer to the stage than when I had left them earlier.  As I found my spot it wasn’t long before I noticed a girl next to me who was just talking up a storm about how psyched she was to see Springfield.  She kept yelling things out that if memory serves me correctly, was something to the effect of “Buffalo Fuckin’ Springfield!!!  Whooooo!!!!”  Not the most creative thing I’ve ever heard, but I could tell she was pretty psyched.  I also noticed how the people around her were paying her more attention than she was probably used to due to the fact that she was one of those topless painted booby chicks that are no doubt found in large numbers at Bonnaroo.  At one point, an older guy asked if she wouldn’t mind having a picture taken with his buddy.  The young quasi-nudist happily obliged as the man told her it would totally make his buddy’s day.  Shortly before the set began, she and her friends began teaching another guy near us about the effects of ecstasy, or what is more commonly referred to as “Molly” amongst the concert going masses.  The guy was clearly trepidations about what he was about to embark upon but evidently, painted booby chick and her friends made convincing enough arguments for him to take the plunge and snort the powdered substance off his hand.  Once that was done, the guy was instructed to “enjoy the ride”. 

While few people probably had a better time than those taking Molly all around me, it was still great to see Young, Stephen Stills, and the other remaining living member of Springfield, Richie Furay play together once again.  While I only knew four songs (one of which was the Young solo classic “Rockin’ in the Free World”) I still thought these aging hippies brought all the energy and rocked out enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from such classic artists.  I’m glad I had such a good spot for this show and there was not one moment I was disappointed.  Towards the end of the set Young stated that they were about to play their one hit, which of course is “For What it’s Worth”.  He kept referring to it as their “45”, a tongue-in-cheek reference to what was once the norm in the music industry and now means absolutely nothing to anyone born after 1990. 

28)  Eminem: 
After Springfield I headed out to catch this headlining set for the evening by Eminem and I was surprised that Billy wanted to join me.  As we walked towards the main stage I heard the speakers pumping out the classic lines of Slim Shady’s track “Kill You”.  I don’t think Billy was all that familiar with the song and when the line “You don’t, want to fuck with Shady/ ‘Cause Shady, will fuckin’ kill you!” came out, Billy could do nothing more than laugh, and I had to join in too.  Quite a jump from “Stop children/what’s that sound?/everyone look what’s going down”, huh?  Billy and I grabbed a slice of pizza and stood watching the show from the back and apparently that’s all he needed to see, and I soon found myself alone to watch the rest of the show.  I gotta say, Eminem has amazing flow as a rapper and his show was very entertaining.  Granted it was over the top when he and his buddy MC took turns instructing both sexes to make rude gestures to the opposite sex and say “fuck you!!!” in some strange and childish competition, but the songs were spot on.  And it’s worth pointing out that he took the same approach Big Boi did and played many of his hit songs in a medley type style while saving the full song treatment for his more recent tracks.  I’m still not sure how normal that is, but my guess is that is the way the majority of rappers do it since every act I’ve ever seen follows that same protocol.  And I’m sorry, but his theme song from “Eight Mile” is one of my favorite rap tracks of all time.  I would probably never see an Eminem show on my own which is why I’m so glad he played Bonnaroo.  It’s yet one more example of a great show I would never see otherwise. 

29)  Dr. John with Original Meters and Allen Toussaint: 
I only caught a little of this set because it started right after Eminem finished and after that show I sat down to wait for the crowd to dissipate and as I did I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to a fireworks display off to the left beyond the VIP area.  I don’t recall this happening before at Bonnaroo, so it was pretty cool to see, but it also took time away from this set by a classic funk/jazz/rock pianist, best known for his song “Right Place, Wrong Time”.  Not only was I late in arriving, but apparently John found it necessary to take a set break about 45 minutes into his show.  I guess the guy is pretty old and breaks are pretty important for him, and he even needed someone to help him stand up from the piano and walk off stage.  I decided I didn’t want to wait around this late at night unless I was watching some band play so I decided to head out and catch one more show.

30)  Scissor Sisters: 
I was surprised to see this group get one of the late night billings but it wasn’t long after I arrived that I realized the billing made a ton of sense.  I’m not much of a fan of this flamboyant/glam/electro/dance/disco group but did find their set fairly entertaining.  And their song “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” is just about as catchy as you can get for a dance song.  But as is the case with most late nights at Bonnaroo, my energy level was near zero and I didn’t feel like I needed to stay out much longer so I headed back.  Though I was surprised to find everyone in my group sound asleep when I arrived back around 1:30.  I guess my younger cousins staying out until 7 am the night before did them in a bit.  Seriously, they shattered the old record for late nights by about three hours.  Oh, and this video isn’t the performance from Bonnaroo, but I since I couldn’t find a link for their performance of this song, I picked another one. 


Bonnaroo 2011 - Day 4


31)  Smith Westerns: 
I woke up Sunday morning fairly rejuvenated and made a promise to myself that I would have a much better day than the day before.  I found myself getting back into the groove of trying to see as much as possible and for some reason I wasn’t as tired as I was on Saturday.  The day started off by a set from this new band that consists of two brothers who are roughly 19 years old.  I had read some articles about them and bought their debut album Dye it Blonde which sounds like MGMT only with a little more rock/folk than dance/techno.  The lead singer also seems kinda pompous and arrogant (his closing remarks were: “If you didn’t like this set, Fuck You!”) but as I mentioned earlier, if the music is there, that’s not such a bad thing.  They put on a decent set and I was off on my last day.

32)  G. Love and Special Sauce: 
I think these guys play just about ever other Bonnaroo and I had never seen them until this year.  I had some time to kill before the next show and I was glad to have caught some of it.  It’s not my favorite type of music but it is pretty fun and is one of those bands I like much more live than I do on their albums.  While I was there, I noticed some guy walking around with a large bag draped over his shoulder.  Inside the bag were a number of smaller plastic bags containing something I couldn’t make out, but people were jumping at the opportunity to receive one of these free items from this strange man.  I found myself raising my hand to try to get my own free item when I then realized what it was…… pistachios.  I’m not a big pistachio guy and as soon as I saw what it was I retracted my arm and hoped I would not receive one.  But it got me to thinking about how people get all kinds of excited when someone else gives something out for free.  Regardless of the item in question, people love getting free stuff and I saw myself falling into that trap at the G. Love show.  Are we really that materialistic that we’ll jump at anything if someone is willing to give it to us free of charge?  It certainly appeared so at this particular gathering.

33)  Ryan Bingham: 
My buddy Bryan first introduced me to Bingham with the statement that if I liked the Avett Brothers, I should check him out.  While his style isn’t necessarily that of the Avetts, he does play a very good blend of roots rock and country.  I stayed for most of his set but was surprised that it ended so early.  I then looked at the program and noticed he was only slated for a 45 minute set and I don’t even think he lasted that long.  I’m not sure why that was because he has enough material to last that long and it made me wonder how they decide if an artist is to get 30, 45, 60, 75, or 90 minutes.  It probably has something to do with how big the band is, but 45 minutes just doesn’t seem like enough for anyone.

34)  Neon Trees: 
This was an OK set by a fairly unknown band, though I did recognize their song “Animals” from XM radio.  Nothing spectacular happened during this set which I did find a bit disappointing.  The lead singer seemed like he was going for the punk look but the songs and antics just didn’t seem to match up.  And he also did that cool rocker live performance thing where he held the microphone out for the audience to sing some of the parts.  I don’t necessarily mind this, but when you do it all the time and always do it during the chorus, it annoys me.  If that happens, my guess is the singer has no voice left or can’t hit the notes for some reason.  I don’t know if the crowd ever sounds better than the singer does.  Overall, not a bad set, but not all that great either.


35)  Amos Lee: 
I caught Amos Lee’s large stage performance which was pretty good but I’d have to say that I enjoyed his smaller set the day before.  This time he had a band behind him and it was nice to hear a fuller sound come from him.  But since I was further back and slightly tired, I just didn’t get that into it.  He’s still a very talented guy and has some great songs, but I think by this time in the day I was starting to lose it a bit.

36)  Junip: 
I think I would have enjoyed this set more had I not been so tired (I’m noticing a theme this year, I think I’m getting old).  This band plays a mellow/atmospheric/tranquil type sound that would have been much more appropriate in an evening setting.  While I enjoyed some of their songs, I found myself getting a little bored towards the end.  I was also getting annoyed by the dude smoking a cigar in front of me.  Being at Bonnaroo you have to get used to all types of smells in a crowded tent area including sweaty people and the things that they’re smoking.  While I’m quite used to and tolerant of cigarette and pot smoke, I just can’t condone cigars.  Take that nonsense somewhere else.

37)  Iron & Wine: 
I was expecting more from this band that has been getting all kinds of good press over the years.  Front man Sam Beam has created some very good albums and songs and the newest album Kiss Each Other Clean is very good.  Though he didn’t seem to play much from that and he opted for a fairly mellow set.  While he was pretty good, I wish he would have sped it up a bit more since I was in need of a pick me up before the last show of the weekend.  He did end the set very well with a much more upbeat and rocked out track and I saw more into what was possible with his group.

38)  The Strokes: 
It wasn’t until the last timeslot of the weekend until I came across the greatest conflict of the weekend.  The organizers somehow managed to schedule the Strokes at the same time as Explosions in the Sky, Beirut, and the Superjam combo of Dr. John and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.  I had narrowed it down between the Strokes and Explosions but it wasn’t until the end of the Iron & Wine set that I made my decision.  The Strokes were scheduled to play the same stage and I had a very good spot for what would no doubt be a very crowded show.  I decided it would be worth it to just stay there in the crowded area towards the front for one of  the bands I was most excited for when the lineup was announced.  I waited about an hour for them as they were late coming out and front man Julian Cassablancas later admitted they were watching the beginning of the Beirut show.  He also noted the conflict and thanked the crowd for making the decision to see them, but it almost seemed like he was thinking that we had all made a mistake. 

The Strokes are an odd band and it’s clear that they’re not very close at all.  And when they perform live they don’t seem like they’re having much fun.  They play some of the best rock/pop out there and their hooks are so infectious sometimes that you have not choice but to dance and sing right along.  But the way they stand there just makes it seem like they’re more concerned with their image as cool rock guys with a strong sense of fashion than they are about playing the music that made them so famous in the first place.  Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. is the only one who gives off the slightest sense of enjoying what he is doing.  Having said all that, the crowd was still very into the set as was I.  Cassablancas was kind of funny at times.  At one point he noticed famed Baltimore movie director John Waters off to the side of the stage and said “Oh, shit!  John Waters!  Right on!”, and while trying to begin the next song, he looked back at drummer Fab Moretti and Hammond talking back and forth and said “Oh, I’m sorry.  Don’t let me interrupt”.  Overall, it was a very good closing set, but like many other artists, they stopped short of their hour and a half schedule and did not play an encore.  I like the Strokes a lot and think their new single “Under Cover of Darkness” is the best of the year, but each one of them could take the ego and hipster thing down several notches.  It’s almost nauseating. 

39)  Superjam featuring Dr. John and Dan Auerbach: 
Since the Strokes finished early I had time to catch the end of this set while eating some delicious pad Thai for dinner.  The set was pretty decent but what I will always remember from it is the conversation I had with some concert goers near the table I was eating at.  Someone had left a to-go box on the table and had written on it “Please eat me.  Sunday, 7:00”.  I did not look inside the box but did wonder if anyone would take the box up on its generous yet somewhat sketchy offer.  Sure enough, a couple of stoned out younger hippie dudes walked up and pointed at the box and asked me if it was mine.  I told them it wasn’t and that I didn’t know whose it was, nor did I know what was in it.  One of the guys opened up the box and inside found a ton of food including slices of turkey and ham along with potatoes, some veggies, and what appeared to be chocolate pudding.  The guy then asked me and some others standing around if he should eat it.  I told him that it was up to him and then made the comment that someone probably had a camera and microphone on us to see what would happen as some sort of sociological experiment.  This got others to chime in with similar comments and finally the guy asked me what time it was.  I looked at my phone and informed him it was 8:15, a mere hour and fifteen minutes after this box was claiming to have been abandoned.  Of course, that is if you trusted that the box was telling the truth.  As soon as I told him the time you could almost see relief come over the kid as if an hour and fifteen minutes does not even come close to the threshold of how long the food would need to be stagnant before it would be rendered inedible.  I actually wonder how much time would have needed to pass before this kid would decide eating it would be unacceptable.  He then opened the box and dove in quite enthusiastically as did his friend, much to the disgust and disapproval of the girls across from us as their faces made painfully obvious.  I couldn’t help but laugh as they continued to chow down on this free food (further proving my point about people and the thrill of anything that is given away free of charge, even if it’s mysterious food that was touched by God knows who) and seemed quite happy with their decision.  I soon finished my food and then started to make my way back to the RV, for the weekend had come to an end.  As I left, I told the two kids to take care and to be sure and not get sick.  I’m not even sure if they heard me.  Either way, it was a very comical ending to an extremely full and busy weekend.

We took a while to leave our campsite as there was some cleanup to do around the area.  We were originally going to drive to O’Reilly’s house near Atlanta and spend the night there but plans changed and we ended up getting a hotel in Chattanooga.  The ride home was fairly uneventful.  I spent the majority of the time watching all three Back to the Future movies that my cousin John brought with him to play on the TV in the RV.  Incidentally, my cousin John absolutely loves that trilogy.  And while I myself very much enjoy it, as does just about everyone else I know, he takes his love to a different level.  For while most will say how much they like those films, he would go so far as to say they’re some of the greatest of all time.  And he means it.  As I watched them again for the first time in several years, I came across a lot of interesting observations that I will have to save for another time.  But I can say with some degree of certainty that they still hold up.  We made it JB’s house near St. Augustine and I then had a three hour drive back to my place.  I arrived home around 11ish and then had to get up the next morning to go to work.  It was kinda sad but also very fulfilling, for another year was in the books.

After reading all of this again, I realized there are several parts where it seems like I was complaining about the acts, or being too tired, or not being into a show for one reason or another.  I do not mean to come across like I did not have a good time, for the actual case is quite the opposite.  I still think seeing live music is one of the greatest experiences ever and even seeing a show that is merely OK is still a much better way to spend your time than many other ways.  Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from certain bands and their live performances.  Maybe the novelty of Bonnaroo has somewhat worn off with this being my sixth consecutive year.  Or maybe I’m just getting old and hanging out in an extraordinarily crowded venue in 90+ degree weather is getting more difficult.  Any way you look at it, it still is a great deal, to pay a few hundred dollars to see tons of bands in one place with people you really like hanging out with.  I still plan on going again in the future, but I also think it would be nice to mix it up at some point and check out another festival like Austin City Limits, Coachella, or to check out Lollapalooza again.  If anyone is down, let me know.  I’m sure we could work something out.