Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Bonnaroo Recap Part 1: Thursday and Friday

What a week. We left Cleveland for Manchester, TN late Wednesday afternoon and pulled into the Bonnaroo grounds at about 5:00 AM. After the annual ritual of pitching tents in the darkness and tapping one of our 1/4 kegs with bleary eyes and clumsy fingers, we all enjoyed a sunrise beer before catching the few hours sleep that would have to tide us over until Thursday night.

This year, we actually had an RV and so enjoyed a better camping experience and a closer campsite than we’ve had in years past. Thanks to Tim for generously supplying the RV. Cheers, mate.

bonnarooThere is a lot to enjoy about Bonnaroo. Time away from work, time with friends, watching the freaks, meeting like-minded people from all over the country, pretty girls, cool tattoos… Heck, just the Tennessee sun. I won’t go into all of that. You’re here to read about music. I’ll simply say you should make time to go to Bonnaroo. It is an exhausting blast and the line-up is unmatched, as far as I’ve seen.

Here is what I saw.

I only caught a few acts on Thursday. There aren’t that many to begin with the first day and my short nap didn’t carry me all the way to 1:00 AM.

White Rabbits
These guys play kind of Punk-influenced Pop. There was nothing too ground breaking going on, but they had great, full sound live, helped immensely by their two percussionists. I liked their song “Rudie Fails.”

He’s a California rapper some of whose stuff is on my iPod. I like his sound and he’s got flow, so I checked him out. Sadly, I have to say he did his thing, but it didn’t do much for me. Just him and a DJ. He had his flow going, but the whole thing sounded thin. Check out his records, but I would recommend passing on the live show unless you’re a big fan.

Portugal, The Man
I had never heard of these guys, but I’ll be looking for some of their stuff. Very impressive. They did a great cover of Three Dog Night’s “One is the Lonliest Number” and the song after it was fantastic (still looking for a title; maybe you can find a set list). Complex, often-changing songs, tight musicianship, and an exciting stage show. Check them out.


The first band I caught Friday was Gomez. I am a big fan and I’ve actually written about them before, so I was excited to see them. Their 75-minute set was as good as any show of theirs I’ve seen. One highlight was a cover of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp off of Zeppelin III, which I had never heard done live before. They introduced it by explaining it was written about Robert Plant’s dog, which I had not known. They also played some stuff off the new album. I have not given it enough listens yet to fall in love with the songs, so it was great to hear them done live. I will spin the new album some more as a result.

The Itals
I had to take in a little Reggae at Bonnaroo and I had missed Midnite the night before so I caught The Itals. I got the sense these guys have been at it a long time. They put on a nicely polished show full of funky grooves.  The one annoying part was I swear he must have told us 25 times that their CD was on sale at the side of the stage. I didn’t pick one up. Like Blues, Reggae is something I like a lot more live than recorded.

Vieux Farka Toure
The Other Tent had all African acts on Friday. The first one I caught was Toure. He is the son of famed Malian musician Ali Farka Toure and seems to have inherited the full measure of his father’s talent. The show was great. His music showed a little more Western Rock influence than I expected. It was a good blend and a hard-rocking show. Here is a video from his 2006 album.  This sounds very West African, much more than the show I saw.

Bela Fleck & Toumani Diabate
This was one of the shows I was most excited to see. I’ve written about Toumani Diabate before and I’ve been amazed by Bela Fleck every time I’ve seen him. This was no exception. Diabate plays the Kora, an African harp. If I understood him correctly, he comes from 71 generations of Kora players and the Kora he had with him is 700 years old. Bela played one song you had to see to appreciate. He plucked normally with his right hand, but rather than making chords with his left, he bent notes with the tuning knobs throughout the song. It was one of the most amazing displays of instrumental mastery I’ve ever seen. The two playing together were fantastic. My only frustration with the show was Diabate’s seeming unwillingness to take many chances. He was masterful when Fleck played African tunes with him. When they ranged into Bluegrass or Blues, though, Diabate played a great deal less. It seemed he was uncomfortable with the chord progressions and scales and didn’t want to drop any klunkers, so he just didn’t play much. I think everyone in the room wanted him to walk out on a limb and would have been very forgiving of any bad notes. It didn’t happen for us, though.

King Sunny Ade & the African Beats
I missed some acts I really wanted to see to hang out at the African music tent. I missed Animal Collective, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Galactic, and others. The reason, though, was to see music legends like King Sunny Ade and I don’t regret my decision in the slightest. They were delighted to be there and played spot on. King Sunny Ade has been in this business a long time, but he is still a powerful singer, a vigorous dancer, and a masterful bandleader. What a show. Here he is caught live a couple years ago.

TV on the Radio
These guys are growing on me, but very slowly. I have a few tracks on my iPod that I really like but have to confess I don’t like most of the songs on their albums. Their live show was good. Their sound was tight and full, but I’m still hampered by the fact that many of the songs don’t really grab me. I will say I like them more now than I did before I saw them live. As they say, people who like that sort of thing will find it the sort of thing they like. Here they are on Letterman doing the song that is an expert level track on the videogame Rock Band.

Beastie Boys
Unless you’ve taken the time to listen to entire Beastie albums and maybe even some side projects, you may not be aware of how talented these guys are. It’s not all Fight for Your Right. They’re technically accomplished instrumentalists who are equally comfortable in Hip Hop, Punk, Metal, and Jazz. The musical vision they display blending these styles is the reason they’re superstars. The show was great. They played a lot of hits and even ran Nas out for one song. They rearranged some songs so that the raps were the same, but the music and noise you are used to hearing behind it was completely changed. It never sounded like a mistake to me and in fact kept some of the old songs sounding fresh. I had intended to catch some Beasties and then go see David Byrne, but found I couldn’t leave.

I will admit this was the reason I was most excited to go to Bonnaroo. Phish back in the saddle. I have seen Phish something over half a dozen times. I was with friends who are Phish heads and between us we have all seen probably 30 shows (with some overlap). The consensus among the Phish heads was that the Friday night show was the best they’ve ever sounded. We have maybe seen better shows (maybe) but they were well-rehearsed, completely tight, and on fire. Almost no mistakes at all (believe it or not, I heard Paige drop a couple notes, but Trey didn’t seem to make a single mistake – not one). You may or may not be aware of Trey’s legal difficulties right now. I believe he is undergoing random drug testing while on probation. I have to say, it seems a clean Trey Anastasio makes a big difference in their sound. They played heavily from the old catalog, including Chalkdust Torture, Divided Sky, Possum, Down With Disease, Stash, Golgi Apparatus, Wolfman’s Brother, Poor Heart, Harry Hood, You Enjoy Myself, and Wilson. Plus covers of Highway to Hell and an encore of A Day in the Life. I left elated and anxious for the Sunday night show.

This is already my longest post ever, so come back tomorrow for reviews of Saturday and Sunday.


June 17, 2009 - Posted by | Alternative, Hip Hop, Jam Bands, Jazz, Popular, reggae, Rock, World Music

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