Originally, this was going to be an interview with just Mr. Bonebrake, but then Billy Zoom turned up. Two X members for the price of one. What luck! And what can I say about this band that hasn’t been said before? Well, for one thing, Billy Zoom is an amazing guitarist, and it’s great to see him playing again after a decade away from music. And DJ Bonebrake is a phenomenal drummer whose contributions to the band are usually overlooked. And finally, it’s an honor to interview them.—Robin Cook
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While the weekend was winding down, most people spent time lying under the shade or wandering outside of the shows into some of what else Bonnaroo has to offer. The organizers over the years have caught on to what shows to book for Sunday, and this year’s Sunday lineup was the perfect detox from an upbeat, fatiguing weekend.
As I made my way in, it looked like a lot of people had already cleared out of the festival—because the second largest stage at Bonnaroo was nearly empty. This could also be due to the fact that their fan base wasn’t exactly in attendance, but this was by far the sleeper show of the weekend. Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab (named after the famous club) took their brand of African tinged Latin music and put Sunday on the map. Being one of the most seminal world music bands since their resurgence in the United States due in part to their reissue of Pirate’s Choice in 2002, the low attendance of this show was near astonishing. Regardless, the boys brought passed their liveliness and spirit on to those that were lucky enough to stumble across the gem of the festival.
The same story followed for Solomon Burke, the King of Rock ‘n’ Soul. Everyone in attendance was either just getting out of the sun or over the age of 40, and until Burke’s enormous figure took the stage 45 minutes after his scheduled time—people swarmed towards the tent. Sporting a medley of “(Sittin’ On) Dock of the Bay” and “Mustang Sally” and cuts off his records from Proud Mary to Nashville—old and young alike were all smiles and sing-a-longs. He called for a group of dancers, and a small crowd flooded the stage to dance with the most soulful band of the weekend. As famous festival emcee Beatle Bob said, “This is real soul music, not Kanye West with a computer.”
Solomon Burke - Interview (Bonnaroo)
Broken Social Scene
To close out the weekend, there was a time conflict of Broken Social Scene and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss—so I had to split up the two and catch a taste of both before heading on my way. BSS was a perfect closer for the hipster crowd—the colored Ray Bans were out in full force during their performance dancing along to the groups at time cluttered, yet epic compositions. “7/4 (Shoreline)” was the highlight of the show with the pulsating, constant drum beat awash in Amy Millan and Kevin Drew’s vocals. “KC Accidental” was also on point with its moments of Quadrophenia style guitar duets. [Download Broken Social Scene set]
Broken Social Scene - 7/4 (Shoreline) (Bonnaroo)
Broken Social Scene - KC Accidental (Bonnaroo)
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss were across the way giving the crowd a taste of what could’ve been with their psychedelic folk rendition of “Black Dog” that will leave your mouth watering. Krauss and Plant would trade off and then duet (with moments of T. Bone Burnett at the mic) throughout the performance composed of mostly tracks from their record Raising Sand, sharing the spotlight with complete admiration for one another. Neither have any kind of ego on stage and it shows—the way their voices match is so pure and enduring that one can only hope they share a career together for years to come.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
As I cut the day short before Widespread Panic, I was ready to get on my way back to civilization. This year’s Bonnaroo was absolutely different from the five I have experienced before, and that’s why I keep going back. Some are better than others, and this one ranks at the top. All those out there that were worried about what this year’s lineup would do to the reputation of the festival need not worry. This festival is not “commercial” and never will be, so stop telling yourself that MTV and Clear Channel own the thing and making excuses not to go—because where in the hell else can you see this diverse of a lineup? No, it doesn’t have all your jambands, or all your indie rock delights—but that’s the glory of it—there is always something to see, and always something to expose yourself to. Do yourself a favor, make it out next year, and don’t be so judgmental of something different happening. It’s what makes Bonnaroo stand out at the top of the summer festival run.
While Friday was on point, Saturday left thousands exuberant and others –- well, a little bit pissed off by the end of it all. Notoriously the day for everyone to put their lives on the line for consumption of drugs and one heavy dousing of alcohol, this was the year to do it if you were planning on it -– the weather lay overcast above the throng of thousands in their finest.
To kick my ass in to gear, there was no other possible way to start my day than seeing Atlanta metal gods, Mastodon. There were times during this set I thought the entire tent was going to come crashing down while the bass-heavy notes were shaking my insides left and right. That could also have to do with the fact that I ended up in a mosh pit unintentionally (two mosh pits so far at Bonnaroo, it’s the beginning of a new era) and ended up with a handful of blood smudges on my wonderful white shirt from those that had a little more anger pent up than me at the time. Premiering new songs (hopefully from the upcoming record they are working on with Brendan O’ Brien) and spending time backtracking their catalogue –- there was no evidence of disappointment at this show. It’s possible that because I’m in a somewhat newly acquainted metal stage in my life that Metallica and Mastodon up to this point had been the most successful shows of the weekend. It’s also possible that these audiences are finding a new appreciation for the genre while they usually aren’t exposed to it in this environment. Mastodon fan or not, you left this show fucking shook up -– and it was beautiful as can be.
Shortly after, I had quite the change of pace over at Cat Power –- when her usual anxiety ridden self makes the most awkward stage movements of anybody since Ian Curtis. That’s just fine though, considering her voice is so damn sultry that one can’t help but swoon (not to mention she is one of the most extraordinary looking humans on the face of the earth). That’s not to mention she always puts together one of the most killer bands in the business, featuring backing bands that perfectly compliment her voice. I think it’s the only way she can really perform nowadays, considering her famed solo performances never quite went off without a hitch. [Download Cat Power set]
Cat Power - Tracks of My Tears
Lying in a hammock in the VIP area while taking in some of B.B. King’s stellar set was next on my list of priorities. Playing to a crowd that really felt like winding down, King brought em’ on home and layed it down with the usual showmanship that included call-and-response style conversations with his band and the audience. The man shows no signs of slowing down with age, and this performance put the fact that he has a record coming out in the fall on my radar.
Bonnaroo’s still relatively new Somethin Else’ Tent (named after the classic Cannonball Adderley record) highlighted New Orleans this year -– charging a $5 entrance fee for donations to the revitalization of the city taken down by Katrina. The thing that absolutely blows my mind is that Ivan Neville’s Dumstaphunk, a band full of artists from the ol’ bayou with the Neville stamp, was the damn giddiest I had been all weekend from an artist. Maybe packed with 150 people, everyone from the front to back got together for a common cause of funk and danced in the tent-formed-New Orleans style club. Anyone associated with the Neville family never fails to deliver the funk.
While I tried to muster up the strength to make it to Pearl Jam, it just didn’t quite happen. A long night was ahead considering Sigur Rós and Kanye West were scheduled to play back to back with late night sets, and chances were, my ass wasn’t sleeping. I was a bit apprehensive about how a Sigur Rós set would go over at Bonnaroo –- but other than a few technical difficulties, it was as close to perfect as it could get. Experiencing them in this environment, as odd as this sounds, the band finally felt human. After the technical difficulties, it broke down the audience between performer and audience, and made the whole thing a much more intense, emotional experience. They’ve changed their show for the new record, and have abandoned the giant screen for a more regal, straightforward approach, which could also help breaking down the aforementioned barrier. Everyone was dressed in their best attire and a horn section joined for cuts off their upcoming record, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. The new tracks, such as “Gobbledigook”, transfer beautifully live –- and in case you were wondering -– they make them just as epic as the previous tracks. It’s absolutely wonderful to see them head in a new direction, and it works for em’ –- the set felt completely organic and inspired.
This however, could not prepare us for what the hell Kanye was about to pull. Scheduled to come on at 2:45 AM, he finally took the stage after stalling, in Kanye fashion, until 4:15 AM. The glow in the dark tour seems like a totally watered down version of 2001: A Space Odyssey and was cheesy as get out -– but you pretty much had to go into the set not expecting too much. There was rumors spread that Daft Punk was going to show up (of course, untrue) and people seemed ultimately let down as the sun was coming up at the end of West’s set.
At the end of it all, everyone was a bit pissed off –- but what the hell else were you going to do at 5:00 in the morning, go back to your tent? Kanye’s show was of epic proportions, and although cheesy, that man’s confidence is arrogant, yet empowering. Anyone who can still be that big and attract that many fans at 5:00 in the morning, has some clout, and rightfully so. Pissed off or not, people stayed and are still going to buy his records -– so at the end of the day he wins.
So as I make my way into another day of Bonnaroo, Saturday remains another success, and Sunday may wrap up on the best festivals in its seven-year history.
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]
Metallica - Whiplash
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.
My Morning Jacket
Chicago’s Smog Veil prides itself on its catalog of “underground, challenging, unknown, and/or bombastic rock ’n’ roll.” (Label artists include the legendary Pere Ubu.) Now Smog Veil has a new challenge: becoming an eco-friendly record label and setting an example for the rest of the industry. Co-owner Frank Mauceri tells more.—Robin Cook
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