Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bonnaroo Day 4: 6/15/08

All good things must end, and Sunday of Bonnaroo always opens with a note of sadness as everyone realizes the music will soon be over and real life is beckoning. The day was especially low-key for me, as there were far fewer acts I wanted to see today than on any other. As it turned out, that just made room for more discoveries, the first of which was Ladytron. Indie electro-pop can get real tiresome real fast, but their disco beats and repetitive dual-female vocals added a gothic Nine Inch Nails touch that kept each song interesting and unique, creating a hipster dance party for the small but appreciative crowd. The industrial beats and the peppy vocals were a great start to the day, but one can only imagine how much fun the set would be as a light-show late-night.

After wandering by the incredible blandness of Wallflowers frontman (and Bob’s son) Jakob Dylan, I quickly decided that Robert Randolph’s Re
vival was where the action was at. Backed by a funk band with three pedal steel players, Randolph topped the rest with wild solos, jumping atop his chair and inviting a bevy of girls onstage to dance along as he played blues and Bo Diddley covers. The highlight of the show was definitely the encore though, where T-Bone Burnett came out for some blues improv. Though Burnett contributed next to nothing, Randolph used the opportunity to riff on some blues lyrics, repeating the line “T-Bone’s listening to some music” (or something similar) before eventually throwing in “T-Bone’s listening to some…KANYE SUCKS” that drew the biggest cheer I heard all weekend. After speaking a bit about how disrespectful that was for a performer to act like West, the crowd broke into a joyous “Kanye sucks” chant that felt purifying after the previous night’s frustration. This chant would be theme of the day, as other performers from Rogue Wave to Broken Social Scene referenced the disaster and every random “Fuck Kanye!” yell all day drew huge cheers. Seeing the unifying power of the anti-Kanye attitude among attendants almost made last night worth it.

The acoustic performance by Larry Campell, Jackie Greene, Phil Lesh, and Theresa Williams (Larry’s wife) was amazingly uncrowded for a set featuring Lesh, one of Bonnaroo’s premier performers, but that just meant good spots were easy to come by. Unfortunately, those who did show up were only rewarded with confusion on the part of roadies as they and the artists wandered around, apparently unclear on how to set up this one-off performance, leading to a long delay. The set was mostly worth the wait, opening with “Friend of the Devil” and going through one song after the other. Jackie Greene took the lead on most vocals, but seemed to be the least interesting one of the bunch as Lesh, determined not to become the leader of this ensemble, did so little as to render himself useless. Being that anonymous seemed disrespectful to a crowd mostly there to see him in the first place, and as one song bled into the next the foursome never quite hit the chemistry that would have kept the set entertaining. Many other than the most zonked-out hippies wandered away.

This just gave people like me a chance to check-out a far better set, Solomon Burke’s soul explosion. He sat up in his throne doing hit after hit (many not his own) in an all-request show. Like Randolph, he invited up a series of back-up dancers from the audience for singalongs like “Mustang Sally” and “Down in the Valley”. His smoothly dressed R&B group laid down the horn-based funk in a way that would have done the Dap-Kings proud. The only downside of the show was not strictly Burke’s fault, but his massive size (he’s well over 300 pounds) led to a need to be ministered to by one of his young backing singers, who mopped his forehead and gave him water with overtones so unavoidably sexual that the whole scene surely induced awkward collar-pulls from others besides me. Though a hell of a performer, in the midst of the party you can’t help feeling bad for someone too large to move independently.

For my final show of the weekend (no interest in headliner Widespread Panic), Robert Plant and Alison Krauss could not have been a better cool down. Their tight harmonies and smooth-lounge backing lulled you to sleep before rousing you back awake with a trademark Plant yelp or country-blues Zeppelin cover like “Black Dog”. To translate the theater show into the larger open-air setting the highs were made higher and the lows lower, replacing the album’s subtlety with attention-grabbing extremes. This worked on some songs, like a rocked-out take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothing,” but others like the Tom Waits cover “Trampled Rose” lost something when nuance was replaced by Krauss blasting your eardrums off like a bad Joan Baez impersonator. The interplay between the two was the clear highpoint of the show, most notable when it was missing. Krauss had quite a few solo slots of songs I assumed were her own that were so country-bland you couldn’t help peering into the wings hoping for Plant’s reappearance. If Zeppelin’s rumored Bonnaroo showing didn’t materialize, Plant’s tasteful but passionate performance provided a perfect capstone to the weekend.

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