Tag Archives: Bonnaroo

Kanye West at Bonnaroo 2008

I didn’t think I’d say anything more about Kanye West’s ante meridiem show. But I had to put something up after reading Stereogum’s post about Kanye’s cap-locks blog rant regarding his postponed-then-much-delayed fizzle at Bonnaroo.

I stayed for the show, and I was glad to do so. I hadn’t seen a rap show in a decade (Ice Cube), and I think that Kanye has done some brilliant or at least incredibly interesting things.

But I agree with the commenters who say a simple apology or even acknowledgment of the audience’s tenacity in standing sardine-style waiting for him would have gone a long way toward building good will. Also, if he would have mentioned that his crew forwent some of the pyrotechnics in favor of actually getting on with the performance, we wouldn’t have been so disappointed in his “Glow in the Dark” tour’s much-hyped light show. Watch video of some people’s reactions at Bonnaroo (wait for the end for a woman to say “S my D, Kanye”) courtesy of Spin.

His blog post? Even if there is a “sorry” or two in there, and despite the logistical obstacles, his lyrics from the song Stronger say it all:

“You should be honored by my lateness
That I would even show up to this fake shit”

Live and die by the pen, dude.

Putting Bonnaroo aside, I’m uncommitted about how interesting Kanye is at this point … particularly after being initially fascinated by the three different music videos for the intense yet catchy song Flashing Lights, and then being horrified at the “she was asking for it” message at the end of one of them (the third one here on MOKB). In the chorus he says to his girl, “As I recall, I know you love to show off / But I never thought that you would take it this far,” which is innocuous in and of itself until paired with images implying the drunk golddigger’s rape at the end of the vid. Very uncool.

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The Swell Season at Bonnaroo 2008

The Swell Season captured the spirit of Bonnaroo best, of all the great bands I saw (pictures). You can download the show, transformed magically into mp3s, here, or any of 15 other live shows of theirs here.

I expected great things from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, but I also know it’s hard to put a sweet sound out into the great outdoors and manage to maintain intimacy and vibrancy all at once. Their songs did just that, and their humility and joy refreshed us despite the mid-day heat. The two musicians really did fall in love while filming the movie Once and making the music that became not just a soundtrack but also this group The Swell Season. They interacted on stage just how I’d hoped: adoring looks, encouraging cues, an ever-so-slight touch on the shoulder while they worked out what to play next.

If you haven’t bought any of their stuff yet, I would recommend the collector’s edition of the Once soundtrack that also includes a couple of live cuts and a making-of DVD. Perhaps it talks about how they fell in love while filming and touring. And the actual movie DVD is out now, too, if you missed it in theaters. If you saw the movie, you won’t be surprised to know The Swell Season covered two Van Morrison songs, Astral Weeks and Into the Mystic.

Glen was much more of a showman than I expected. He orchestrated the audience without commanding us (see future post on Metallica at Bonnaroo), encouraging us to cut loose with no inhibitions in the spirit of a festival. We were hungry for this sort of communal happiness, and the packed audience ate it up and gave it back to the performers on stage tenfold.

Glen and Markéta were accompanied by Glen’s usual band (since 1990) The Frames. I’ve not been able to get into their records, but this show made me want to keep trying until it takes. The drummer was an incredible mix of charismatic and seriously absorbed, the guitarist and bass player were great role players, and the violinist played so emotively I actually looked for another woman singer when he laid harmonies over and under Markéta’s soaring vocals.

The song I loved best was originally a Frames song, called God Bless Mom. It’s not anywhere online live to show you. I’ll keep a lookout. The video for the original version of the song does nothing to capture the dynamic range with which The Swell Season infused it.

I love The Pixies. I was amped for a Pixies cover by a downloadable concert of The Swell Season at the 9:30 Club offered by NPR here. So when the band left the stage and Glen and Markéta had a confab and then broke into a cover of Levitate Me, I went ballistic. You can’t see me going apeshit about five rows back in  the crowd, which is only due to the camera angle, but it’s still fun to watch them.

The band worked a jam for a while, which was unremarkable in and of itself. But Glen asked poets to come up on the stage, and two people took the invitation. The man who went first looked at the crowd in awe, genuinely taken aback by the sea of people focused on him. Glen nodded in shared astonishment, and with that bolstering moment the dude plowed into a really good poem. I tapped him on the shoulder later and thanked him for letting us all be part of something special, and he seemed to take the compliment as seriously as I meant it.

Final note: They did an encore, Hey Day (written by Mic Christopher), which was racous. What more could ya want?

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Iron and Wine at Bonnaroo 2008

I really like Iron and Wine. I have loved the direction in which they’ve grown, fleshing out their sound and increasingly embracing grooviness. Woman King was my favorite until The Shepherd’s Dog, and there’s nothing more exciting than knowing one of your favorite active bands is cranking out ever-better discs [buy them!].

A lovely little review exultingly examines the change in Beam’s sound:

“Basically a one-man band until this release, Beam left his four-track machine behind in his bedroom and expanded his music to include polyrhythmic textures, percussive flourishes, and multicultural influences. Nothing too radical here, but if you’re familiar with the hushed intimacy of his earlier work, it’s significant.”

The author likens Iron and Wine’s shift to the change in Paul Simon’s career ushered in by Graceland. The comparison is too forced, but the article is endearing nonetheless. I mean, what (beyond over-exuberance) can be faulted in sentences such as this: “At its best, Iron & Wine’s music feels magically haunted like a Southern Gothic musicbox found in an attic that chimes intimate secrets into your ear.”

Now that I’ve established I’m a fan, I can safely say I hated seeing Iron and Wine live at Bonnaroo. They sounded good, all eight musicians. Sam was crooning, she was harmonizing and plucking her violin strings, the xylophone was hyping the beat, the trap set and auxiliary percussion balanced their contributions perfectly, et cetera, et cetera, as Yul Brynner pontificated. They even jammed out the riffs, as is appropriate for Bonnaroo.

But it was uninspiring. When I see a band live, I need the lead singer to acknowledge the audience exists. Make eye contact just once. Crack a smile or a joke better than the bitchy:

“Last time we were here, you guys danced like crazy when we played fast and shut the hell up when we played a quiet one,” Mr. Beam said from the stage after a few songs. “Are you going to do that again?” [from this lame NYTimes review]

It’s a festival, dudes; at least look up from your perfectionism and try to have a good time once in a while. Us audience members want to have a good time or at least be transfixed as we were for the similarly contemplative set by José González. Instead, I and my compatriots felt alienated and fidgety. In fact, two-thirds of us voted with our feet and left our primo spot center stage to catch Little Feat or Ben Folds.

I was seriously considering traveling four hours each way to see Iron and Wine earlier in the year. I’m glad now I didn’t spend the ticket and gas money. I love live music more than most things in life, but for this band I will be henceforth content to hear the songs, in all their brilliance, on disc or (for the live jams) online. If that appeals to  you, check this MPR show or the umpteen downloadble concerts.

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Bonnaroo 2008

7th annual Bonnaroo

700 acres

70 miles from Nashville

70,000+ people (not quite sold out at 80K)

Bonnaroo 2008 YouTubes

Bonnaroo 2008 Downloads

Dig it. I had a great time at Bonnaroo.

But in comparison to other festivals, it felt surprisingly less hippied out, which was disappointing. I didn’t feel like I was going to randomly get hugged by someone overwhelmed with love for his/her fellow man in line at the Port-a-John. Everyone seemed pretty self contained, going about the business of seeing great bands but not really engaging with each other like I’d hoped. Maybe it’s the sort of drugs that are in vogue? I’m not sure.

In good news, with all those people standing crushed together, trampling the Tennessee earth as they herded from stage to stage, I never saw a single act of violence, or even aggression. Hell, I never even heard a malicious comment (except those directed at the excruciatingly tardy Kanye West). All in all, a most excellent display of humanity. Bravo. Even the Highway Patrolmen who pulled us over for whipping a U-turn on the interstate let us go with little more than an admonishment : )

My friends and I asked many people what “Bonnaroo” means. The only answer besides “dunno” was “have a good time!” I think this was just a gut reaction, but it is actually accurate: “The word Bonnaroo, popularized by New Orleans R&B giant Dr. John with his 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo, is a Cajun slang word meaning “a really good time.” The name was chosen for its literal meaning, and also to honor the rich Louisiana music tradition that inspired the organizers’ desire to provide many styles of quality live music for appreciative fans. The word Bonnaroo is actually a creole-French construction taken from “bon” (french for “good”) and “rue” (French for “street”).” Thanks, wiki.

I’m going to be rolling out posts about bands I saw at Bonnaroo, but here is a scattering of thoughts that aren’t strong enough to stand on their own.

Matt from You Ain’t No Picasso is the only music blogger I read (shocking, since I read a bunch) who was there. He took some killer photos of My Morning Jacket‘s epic set, and his review of his fellow Kentuckians is better than I could do from my location way back from the stage, under a tree to escape the worst of the rain.

Yes, Kanye was inexcusably late. Yes, he was so late the sun started rising about 15 minutes into the show. Yes, the “light show” we were promised did not deliver. Yes, there was booing. But the booing subsided after the fans who continued to wait realized they were making a choice to stay and thus needed to either leave or shut the hell up. It was a refreshing bit of groupthink that changed the crowd from something that made me think “Great shades of Altamont” to “Wow, these people have mellowed out.” Or maybe we just became stupefied with sleepiness and lost the energy needed to be pissed.

The New York Times’ Bonnaroo blog sucked. Dude stayed at the Country Inn and Suites. He had an epiphany of festival-going when he got out of the media corral and onto the lawn with the hoi polloi. Wecome to the fold, eh. The posts were short, lame, and showed a lack of research. It’s really too bad. Example.

More to come.

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