BONNAROO 2014 FIELD GUIDE, PART 2
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Part two of our field guide to the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival covers what to see on Saturday and Sunday. Check last week’s issue for Thursday and Friday, or yesweekly.com for full coverage.
SATURDAY: 12:30 – 6:30 P.M.
It’s entirely possible to go the entire weekend without ever stepping foot in the Comedy Tent. The never-ending line that forms hours before the opening bell and always seems to wrap and wrap for days and days is the surest deterrent, but the Big Top holds a lot more people than one might think. The first two acts of Saturday are worth testing that idea, with comedy headliner Craig Robinson of “The Office” with his band the Nasty Delicious playing anything from JBs’ or Brubeck staples to Rihanna covers, or just delivering the kind of deadpan brilliance he displayed on the recent Comedy! Bang! Bang! episode titled “Craig Robinson Wears A Bordeaux Button Down & Dark Jeans”.
His follow-up act is jiggly comedy rock princess Bridget Everett, whose band the Tender Moments typically, but not always, includes Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz on bass. It’s a good moment for Ad-Rock to make an appearance, however; this weekend marks the five-year anniversary of what would be the final Beastie Boys show, which went down at this very festival.
Of course, not all music capably of making you grin from ear to ear is billed as comedy. Rail jumping day laborer-turneditinerant bluesman Seasick Steve has a story for every one of his homemade axes worth sharing — Super Chikan mad his diddley bow, and Jack White gave him a hubcap to a Hudson Terraplane, which he promptly strung up and plugged in. It’s almost too bad that his set of raw-dog Delta disco has to be played on the played on the main stage, because they’re the kind of relics that deserve close inspection. He needs room to accommodate a giant, however. His bassist is Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. By the way, while all of this is going on, the Farrelly Brothers will be in the Cinema Tent in the flesh talking about and presenting Kingpin and Dumb & Dumber.
While Bonnaroo has historically sequestered its EDM scene until late at night, it began experimenting with some acts in the daylight — SBTRKT played cerebral dubstep in the late afternoon two years ago and A-Trak banged out great electro last year, but Los Angeles duo Classixx are actually more fit for their early daytime set. Their debut album Hanging Gardens turned a shimmering sample of Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” into one of the most infectious tunes of 2013, and their music in general fits whether you’re dancing your ass off in the midday sun or lounging away from the withering heat. There’ll be unexpected concord in following their set with the unspoiled acoustic songcraft of Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit, whose new album Stay Gold is not a radical look at indie folk, but it is classic and compelling, if not collaborative. Derek Waters has that aspect covered in the Cinema Tent, however, as his live presentation of his hilarious “Drunk History” shorts — with an all-star lineup to include Nick Kroll, Taran Killam and Peter Farrelly — promises an appropriate degree of “interactivity”.
The unfortunate overlap of Cleveland soul great Bobby Womack and Blur frontman Damon Albarn potentially undermines one of the weekend’s best collaborations. Albarn produced Womack’s remarkable comeback album, The Bravest Man In the Universe, after Womack lent vocals to a pair of Gorrillaz songs. It is possible that Womack is whisked away on a golf cart to join Albarn for the end of his set, much more possible, in fact, than Albarn performing “Song 2”, of which the chances are at absolute zero.
6:30 P.M. – 12:00 A.M.
There’s maybe no greater pairing of artist and time slot than Phosphorescent’s early evening set. Matthew Houck’s romantic vision of country includes a wall of sparkling gold tinsel, a painstakingly adorned Mariachi suit, and a stage adorned with Spanish candles and fresh white flowers, plus songs carrying the emotional gravity or pure swagger to match it all. He’s a polar opposite of the candied electro-pop that Chromeo will bring to the Which Stage, who will draw a large enough crowd that one will actually be able to behold its craftsman beauty from a reasonable distance.
It won’t actually be main stage pre-headliner Lionel Richie’s first performance at Bonnaroo. He was actually lured in two years ago on a Sunday afternoon to join pal and collaborator Kenny Rogers for a duet of “Islands In the Stream” and a solo turn on “All Night Long”. It was glorious, and like Smokey Robinson, Richie is one of the very few of that generation still performing at the highest level. He’s still so on top of his game that just last week, he had an extra 15 minutes tacked onto his set at the expense of headliner Jack White’s show, though there’s certainly a case that Lionel is the real headliner. He’s certainly a surer bet than Lauryn Hill, whose propensity for lateness might make her the Kanye West of 2014. And a note on Saturday headliner Jack White regarding his Third Man Records mobile store: heat, humidity and expensive vinyl don’t mix.
12:00 – 4:15 A.M.
It says a lot about the quality of offerings when the most under-attended late night performance on Saturday is going to be Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. People using Bonnaroo’s schedule app have selected the Australian post-punk witch doctor’s set at a rate of only one-fifth of current R&B king Frank Ocean, the Flaming Lips and the potential boondoggle that is Skrillex’s Superjam. It’s good for those committed to Cave, however, because his concert hall tour is selling out every show. The lineup for Skrillex’s second show is a monument to the logistical feats this festival is capable of pulling together, but it could be problematic on two fronts: it might fall flat, like last year’s hip-hop Superjam nearly did, or it could force a lot of people who detest the bro-iest musician in the land to reevaluate their positions. His band certainly has the clout to do so: the virtuosic jazzelectronic group Big Gigantic form the core band with bass alien Thundercat, the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart and the Doors’ Robby Krieger. Guests will include Janelle Monae, all of Warpaint, Chance the Rapper and Jack White’s backup vocalist Ruby Amanfu. Where they’ll find common ground, who knows, but Skrillex’s love of the Doors goes deep, and drummer John Densmore has collaborated with him in the past on Doors’ samples. It will have plenty of room to maneuver, because the block immediately after was left empty in case the ship doesn’t get off the ground, or maybe in case it does.
There’s also a sense that the space to be occupied by Nick Cave and then Darkside might be somewhat underappreciated, even if it’s against titanic acts like Frank Ocean, the Flaming Lips progressive house king Kaskade. There, the Bonnaroo late-night populated by Cave and the lower-case funk of producer Nicolas Jaar’s duo Darkside, a head trip of gorgeous, brooding downtempo and ambient soundscapes that shudders and shakes with unexpected bass washes, and pokes and prods at the malevolent corners of your subconscious. The band’s American debut at the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit last fall was as rapturous as any performance there (AC Entertainment prez Ashley Capps was in the house for that one, too), or maybe any show last year, period.
SUNDAY: 12:45 – 11:30 P.M.
Those with the grit to make it through to Sunday are rewarded with a relatively unfettered path to the end, which later runs through one of the best, most curious bands of the entire festival.
Sunday begins with the ever-evolving Carolina Chocolate Drops play their umpteenth Bonnaroo show at noon on the main stage; the band has played the festival in all of their incarnations, and this one may not be their last after Rhiannon Giddens releases her solo album this fall.
After Lake Street Dive give a quirky, catchy spin on modern jazz cabaret, the abstruse Swedish collective known as Goat mash up hard Afrobeat born straight from the gut of Fela Kuti and mystifying the krautrock of Can into a single distillation that’s more singularly influenced by the Void than either. Said to hail from a small town in northern Sweden whose legacy is as a center for Scandinavian witchcraft, Goat mask their identities behind costumes that reflect their multitudes of cultures that their music appropriates. They call their concerts rituals, which fits in with the left-hand-pather nature of their make-up. Amidst gnarly guitar riffs and the twin banshee vocalists, their debut World Music makes unsettlingly oblique references to the mind of things that originally inspired the moral panic. It’s all in good fun though.
While When Warpaint afterwards feel tame by comparison, you know you’re headed for a mind-bending experience, but the monotone goth rock will be a steadied reprieve from Goat’s howling chaos. Some bands are just fine to stand motionless and behold — particularly when the layers of blisters on ones feet allow for little else — and Warpaint fits that characterization perfectly. Utter immobility may be in order, in which case Harry Shearer is in the Cinema Tent for the 30 th anniversary of This Is Spinal Tap, or there might be something in the tank for the dynamic duo Shovels & Rope. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are sui generis in the country vein, and their appearance later in the Bluegrass Situation Superjam featuring the weekend’s second cast member from The Office — and the incredible songwriter Robert Ellis — has the potential for transcendence. Just save some voice to sing along with Sir Elton. !