Ah, Bonnaroo, land that I love. Where all the prettiest girls (and some of the boys) wear bikinis 24/7 and there is music everywhere you turn. This year was a brutal experience. A powerful storm rocked it's way across the festival grounds the day before crowds started to arrive, turning the place into a soggy quagmire. To get out of the campground to the road that took us to the site or to the press compound involved a series of hops, jumps planks, skids and cardboard, which took you around hopelessly stuck vehicles and leaky shower facilities that smelled like cat ass. Night time was worse, as muddy sinkholes appeared out of nowhere as you stumbled your way back to your camp.
Aside from that, the weather was high 90's in both temperature and humidity and the whole time you were there you sweated profusely, dripping, slimy soaking sweat that did not let up. It felt like we were waging a jungle war at times; bodies in the crowd became wet, slimy jungle foilage as you trekked to the primary target avoiding craters and quicksand pits and bodies on the ground. Even at night, when the grounds of Bonnaroo normally cool off, it stayed hot and smothering. Ultimately, the weather could do nothing to stop the rock, and despite a line-up not as stellar as they have been in the past, Bonnaroo still managed to live up to it's rep as the premier American Rock Festival not named Coachella.
Thursday was a wash, by the time camp was set up and mud pits were navigated, I only got to catch gloomy, boring set from the The XX that did nothing to justify the hype they've been getting. Friday was another story. Abiding by the age old Bonnaroo effect, where you take an up and comer, put them in front of the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of and they will perform the set of their life.
Gaslight Anthem was a good example, I'd always thought of them as Springsteen-lite or the modern day John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band. Live on the Which stage they turned into a different animal, during their set they combined the viciousness of punk with the cool of hard-core rock-a-billy. Sure, they're covering ground already claimed by Social Distortion, but Gaslight Anthem's jersey shore thing gives them a fresh angle. Next up, Tokyo Police Club tore it up with a garagey intensity at The Other Tent. Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zero's also made an impression among the huge mid-day crowd. The audience adored them, singing along and dancing in the heat with big goofy smiles.
I finally hit the big stage for Tenacious D, one of the bands I'd been looking forward to. Jack Black and Kyle Gass poured it on, performing a set that was as rocking as it was hilariously entertaining. The pulled out all the classics like "Wonderboy", "Kickapoo", "Fuck her Gently" and "Tribute" they did a great song about "Dio" and they had the Devil and a evil robot. Everything you could hope for from a rock show.
I skipped King of Leon, because, well, I don't like blatant sell-outs. Besides I had to take my medicine and get ready for the late night clusterfuck. Whoever it was in the Bonnaroo camp who thought it would be a good idea to have Daryl Hall and Chromeo, The Black Keys and The Flaming Lips play at the same exact time should be hung from their choad. So, with eyeballs that looked like black saucers, I decide to start at the Drryl Hall / Chromeo show, which was basically a live showing of their episode of "Live at Daryl's House." Daryl Hall came on and proved he still had some of the best blue-eyed soul voices in history. Starting with "Out of Touch" and running through such hits as "Adult Education" and "I Can't go for that (No Can Do)" before I had to go.
Stumbling at a brisk pace through the crowd assembled for the Black Keys I noticed all the hippie kids decided this was the place for them, and the Keys were pouring it on thick and heavy for them, spinning out a bluesy gutbucket jam that meandered just enough to keep the hula-hooping hippie girls entranced.
Making my way through the crush of bodies to an acceptable vantage point from which to see the Flaming Lips do Dark Side of The Moon, The lysergic rush that was gripping my brain was turning people's faces into blurs, they all looked half dead, unhappy and seemingly on the verge of doing bad things. I would see their eyes and a few paces later their jaws would stop, I was walking in a post-apocalyptic Dali landscape. I had to regroup, back away from the edge of hysteria and get ready to see one of my favorite bands do one of my all time fave albums. Still standing there waiting, I couldn't help but wonder if The Kings of Leon had fucked these kids up, that the secret, evil corporate messages hidden in "Sex on Fire" had somehow sucked the life right out of them.
The Lips started up and just like that people were rocking out, smiling, laughing and enjoying life. What KOL took, King Wayne Coyne and his freak orchestra gave back ten fold. They did "Speak to Me" "Breathe" and "On The Run" before Coyne did a little rap about the goodness and pureness of Marijuana and the need to legalize it. He then invited the crowd to light up and led them in "Inhale...Exhale...Inhale...Exhale..." The air filled with smoke as 40,000 people all exhaled pot smoke at the same time.
It was a unique experience and a testament to just how freaking cool Wayne Coyne really is. "Great Gig in the Sky" was an amazing experience, with Wayne's Nephew Dennis nearly stealing the show with his siren wail. DSOTM is one of those albums that is unfuckwitable, but The Lips and StarDeath and White Dwarfs not only did it justice, they transformed it into a new epic that took the record and reimagined it as if Syd Barrett had done it with The Dust Brothers behind the helm.
Saturday came and I woke up in a puddle of sweat with my head feet away from the exhaust pipe of my camp neighbors, who were sleeping in their car under a tarp in air conditioning. That's camping for you. I hurried to see Jimmy Cliff who cleared the acid cob-webs and carbon monoxide from my system with a fun set that included a killer version of Cat Stevens "Wild World." I make my way to a glimpse of The Melvins who was playing thick heavy music that actually matched the thickness of the air. "Black Stooges" and "Pig House" ruled, but I couldn't shake the weirdness of seeing The Melvins in bright daylight in a giant tent.
I run back over to the big stage and catch The Dead Weather. Alison Mosshart, not Jack White, is the star of this band, and she nearly ran herself ragged putting on a helluva rock show. She was like a feral cat prowling the stage, snarling and spitting out venom. They opened with a Pentagram cover and ran through their albums' best material including "Hang you from the Heavens" and "Die By The Drop." It was a good set, Jack White is a great drummer, but he is clearly wasting his talent here. If I'm gonna see Jack White in a band I want to see him up front controlling the chaos, not hiding behind a drum kit and a stupid looking hat.
Bored with Mosshart's Josie Pussycat act, I cut out and go over to see Weezer. Boy, am I glad I did. Starting off with the entirely appropriate "Hash Pipe" Rivers Cuomo and crew knocked it out of the ball park. They played hit after hit both old and new. Cuomo was at times snarky, funny, scary and neurotic, in short, everything a rock singer should be. They had the crowd won over completely from the get-go with a glorious "Undone (the Sweater Song)" early in their set and kept them in the palm of their hands with a seamless set and completely boundlessly rocking set. Weezer was the surprise of the weekend.
I wondered how Stevie Wonder was going to move the kids packed into the big field. They all looked too young to know what Stevie was all about, would they even know the songs? My answer came when Wonder opened his set with a rump-shaking "Master Blaster" and "a few songs later, "Higher Ground" the segued into a lengthy funk workout that included versions of P-Funks's "Give Up The Funk " and Marvin Gaye's "Heard it Through the Grapevine." Later, He pulls the crowd together for a spine-tingling sing-a-long on "Living for the City" as 80,000 voices filled the air, Wonder was grinning ear-to-ear proud of his children who clearly adored uncle Stevie. He pulled out all the stops, playing "Sir Duke," and "Superstition" with as much vim and vigor as he did way back when. He gave a nice funk workout to "Do I Do" and thankfully did not play "Part-Time Lover" or "I just Called (to say I Love You)" it was a perfect set from an American Icon, who still has a lot to tell the world.
Jay-Z was next, and he didn't disappoint. "99 Problems" was awesome, as was"Jigga What, Jigga Who" and "Empire State of Mind." He was the consummate showman, engaging the massive crowd as only a master of his domain could, but I wanted to see Beyonce and I was disappointed. Besides after Stevie Wonder, Jigga Hova just didn't have the firepower to compete.
I stopped by The Lunar Stage to see my buddy Marcel Fenbaum, who was in charge of the stage that played replays of Conan's set (all I managed to catch of it was his surprisingly good version of Elvis' "Polk Salad Annie"), World Cup Matches and a seemingly endless parade of DJ's. He has been on-site since Monday and looked as if he was a bit dazed from the heat, humidity and the constant thump thump thump of the DJ KasKade who had the swelling crowd of kids doing the Molly Zombie Shuffle. It was too loud to chat and the day-glo dancers were about to give me a full blown flashback. So I left. But, I salute Marcel, he is a stronger, more professional man then I could ever hope to be. If I had his gig, I would've shot up the place and turned the gun on myself.
I fought my way through the grinning molly zombies and made my way to a safe place, a place that was warm and comforting, where men did not dance like girls. Gwar. It was blood, maggots and metal metal land. I had found a happy place in a late night wilderness of trance dancing ecstasy fiends.
Sunday Morning came down still soaked in sweat, still sucking exhaust fumes. Dazed and filthy, I was done. But I had a little more to do. I caught Against Me! doing a fun, infectious punk rock set that woke my ass up in time to witness the legend that was Kris Kristofferson, who laid out classic song after classic song to a worshipful crowd. "For the Good Times" was breathless in it's beauty, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "Help Me Make it Through the Night" showed off a genuine American treasure showing off the talent that made him legendary. It was a perfect set, one I didn't want to taint with Dave Matthews or Phoenix, so I split while the going was good.
I danced out of Bonnaroo 2010 with giddy visions of air conditioning, showers and real toilets, glad I wasn't captured by molly zombies.