Bonnaroo now holds an odd place in the summer festival circuit. Although it is out of touch with its roots on some levels, it is looking ahead to the future to be able to sustain itself. With a Friday line-up bearing the likes of Metallica, My Morning Jacket, and MSTRKRFT -– it sums it up all in those three names. Metallica being the new generation of headliner material (thank the lord they nixed the two-night Widespread Panic runs), My Morning Jacket finding themselves a staple on the schedule, and MSTRKRFT falling in line with the current trend of electronic DJ late-night sets (because why not have booty bass at 3 A.M.?). That doesn’t even include the always-pleasant surprises you’ll find along the way. People complained about the Bonnaroo headliners this year, but what they didn’t take a look at was the depth within every genre across the board.
The crowd has been interesting, to say the absolute least. For one thing, I’ve never seen much cocaine at the likes of a festival with supposed “free-spirits”, but people flocked to the white stuff. Some may say Metallica caused it, others just stopped being affected by Red Bull, and so they turned to making their entire face numb for an all-night marathon. The hippie factor has diminished quite substantially, probably because they weren’t offered to see String Cheese Incident for the 27th time this year or the produce prices got too high to sell their new-aged bullshit.
After a wretched morning of chasing whiskey with beer with frat boys and Volvo kids alike, the only thing I needed in my life was Jose Gonzalez. Although he had quite the battle with the bands playing at other stages flooding into his sound, he always finds a way to trooper through being the little guy with nothing but an acoustic guitar. As things got louder—he played louder and captured everyone’s attention rather they wanted it captured or not. Gonzalez’s performance was proof that if someone writes good songs consistently, people will listen. Rather than MGMT’s Thursday night performance where a small handful of songs held the crowd’s attention (although “Electric Feel” absolutely killed – yet, everyone was left standing with their hands in their pockets during filler.
I’ve been skeptical of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova since their independent hit Once—because I couldn’t quite measure its level of authenticity. Some of the songs felt insincere, others felt heartbreakingly sincere. But I’ll tell you one thing. When these two take the stage live as under their new moniker, The Swell Season, every pore out of their humble bodies surged with emotion. Songs like “Falling Slowly”, “Lies”, and “Leave hold more weight than one would think live, and they transfer over into a full band format beautifully. Also, shockingly everyone in attendance knew all the words. In environment’s like Bonnaroo you really get to see artists breakthrough –- and the stars from Once had their work cut out for them.
Up next I had a very reluctant set on my hands. !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk, which is pretty damn funny to hear people and try and say leading up to the show) fell outside of their environment during a hot day set where people just seemed to be too exhausted to dance. Where they last left the crowd drenched in a mass of sweat a few months ago at Langerado during the night, the day just didn’t fare too well for the New York art-rockers.
After !!!, M.I.A. was scheduled to cancel, but she showed up for what she announced was her last show of the tour – although I missed the set, the information was somewhat troubling that the wrong information was reported from the press with regards to cancellations -– it frankly doesn’t help anybody out, and a “surprise” performance when she was already scheduled is just uncalled for.
With a couple hours to relax, whiskey commenced in the campgrounds in preparation for my first (of hopefully many to come) Metallica performance. Chris Rock was set to play on the mainstage immediately before the legendary thrashers -– and it fit surprisingly well. Rather than spending hours making fun of white people this time around, Rock went for the women. He may have caused a ruckus among a breeding ground of feminists, but when was Chris Rock not a name associated with controversial? I’ll spare you details on the jokes, because nothing is worse than trying to transcribe that into print form -– let’s just say he was in rare form and held one of the biggest audiences at the festival still standing at the end.
And while we are talking about big audiences, Metallica had the largest army of the night -– and to great avail, because they were hands down the masters of Friday. Generally, the headliners can be rather week –- but there was so much volume coming out of the speakers (not to mention the most active crowd of the weekend thus far) that you could hear booming far into the campsites. There were no flashy stage set-ups or any of that who-haw to distract from the performance –- the songs were plenty enough. Playing with lightning speed and accuracy, Hetfield, Hammett, Lars, and Trujillo played like they were 20 last night –- and it was un-fucking-believable. From start to finish hands were in the sky to classic cuts like “Nothing Else Matters”, “Enter Sandman”, and “The Unforgiven”. Also included were deep cuts off their debut full-length Kill Em’ All with “No Remorse” and necks were left in pain during the speed-anthem “Whiplash”. Hammett also appeared later in the night at the SuperJam (which included Les Claypool and members of Gogol Bordello) and during the My Morning Jacket set. [Download Metallica set]
The late nights are always party time, and nothing starts a party like MSTRKRT at one in the morning. With rave tendencies and drug dependencies, this was one giant dance fest –- and rightfully so. One of the most talked about performances of Friday, everyone that left was spreading the word –- and it looks like this may have been exactly what they needed to escape the shadow of Death From Above 1979. Also playing was Tiesto, who shared the stage at certain points with Jose Gonzalez during “Crosses” and Tegan and Sara showed up to sing as well.
After slightly wearing down, I finished up my night at My Morning Jacket, who was surprisingly less than stellar this year at Bonnaroo (when usually they have legendary performances here; see 2006 setlist). The songs from their recently released Evil Urges unfortunately don’t fall in place with the rest of their set, therefore creating an inconsistent performance. This is the first time I’ve claimed this in my existence –- but I think the My Morning Jacket kool-aid I’ve been drinking might be slightly wearing off. Let’s wait for the next record before I jump too far ahead of myself.
All in all, Friday was beyond a success. The crowd was a lot less drug oriented and more people seemed to be here to actually see the bands playing. Always a complaint with Bonnaroo as more drug-oriented than music oriented, the tables may have finally turned –- and I have to commend the Bonnaroo organizers for their excellent decisions on the line-up this year. Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a full day ahead and a cooler of iced cold Pabst with my name on it.