Festival Coverage

Bonnaroo in Review

Last year was my first Bonnaroo, and I knew as I left the arch still dazed by Explosions in the Sky’s performance that I would return for the 2012 installment. And it didn’t disappoint.

Being a little more well-versed this year in what to bring (water water water water water..and glowsticks) we packed up the car and headed on the 9-hour drive to Tennessee.

DJ Kligz made some killer flower crowns for everyone:

Thursday, Centeroo opened before any bands started, so we explored the not-as-music-related activities:

Once the music got going, we checked out Rubblebucket at the Solar Stage. If you’re a triangle native, you may be familiar with them from Shakori Hills or when they opened for Tin Can Sailor at The Pour House. Funky and dancey, they put on one of the most fun shows all weekend. Word around the farm was Feist went to oneof their performances during the weekend too.

Next, I pretty much stayed at The Other Tent: The Cave Singers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., White Denim and Phantogram. The crowd was absolutely massive for all of these – we luckily had a spot on the right side up against the fence for most of this though. Sing-a-longs and long jam sessions kept the crowd happy.

Friday was packed with some of my favorite performances of the weekend.

At the Kooks, we ran into DJ Bex in front of Which Stage. They were as fun as you’d expect them to be and covered old songs as well as tunes from their most recent album, “Junk of the Heart (2011).”

I hopped over to That Tent to see Ben Howard – easily one of the best feeling concerts of the weekend. I realize I put Tune-yards on the back burner for this (still caught the last 30 minutes of their set, which included “Gangsta,” “Bizness,” and “My Country”), and I don’t regret it one bit. If you haven’t listened to Ben Howard, you should. The crowd was mesmerized and the band’s instrumentation was beautiful. Ben, I love you.

Two Door Cinema Club, who played at This Tent (these names aren’t confusing at all, right?), had a crowd so large that is was backed up to the Mushroom fountain – where paint-covered patrons cool off and attempt to get faux-showers. We went to see Laura Marling instead, who is as beautiful as you’d expect with effortless and smooth playing. After our ice-filled bandanas melted, we claimed some space at What Stage for The Avett Brothers. Their opening song was “Will You Return” which I couldn’t have been happier about. They play both slow and fast hits throughout their performance, as well as covered two Doc Watson songs. As NC natives, there’s no doubt he was a big influence on them.

As with any music festival, you should always check out the bands a little off the beaten path – hit the smaller stages and tents. Jukebox the Ghost followed The Avett’s performance at the Destination Escape Tent. The band’s energy was contagious. They not only played songs off their June release “Safe Travels,” but also did a super fun cover of “I Will Love You Forever.”

And there was no way I couldn’t reminisce about middle school and stop to dance when Ludacris played classics like “Roll Out,” “Move B*tch,” and “Stand Up.” Apparently there was also a life-size Justin Beiber cardboard cutout floating around the crowd, too. Foster the People had an equally large crowd, backed up to the point you could hardly see, despite the single big screen on the side of the stage. They had a cool set up though, with lights, neat backdrops – oh, and at least a two-story inflatable ghost monster thing that came out during “Pumped Up Kicks.” There was a mad rush to What Stage in preparation for Radiohead’s 10PM performance. They had puppet lights set up, which were moveable LED panels that changed position with each song. This was an iconic performance, and after Thom Yorke dedicated “Supercollider” to Jack White with a cryptic message, we can only wonder what’s next for them.

Saturday Agenda: Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, The Temper Trap, Punch Brothers, SBTRKT, Mogwai, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice Cooper, Superjam (?estlove with D’Angelo), Skrillex

We waited in line for the pit for The Temper Trap, giving us a front and center view of the show. Not to mention watching Charles Bradley was a great start to the day with his feel-good soulful tunes. Seeing The Temper Trap without colorful lights was a little odd to me,  but they still did the water-filled drum solos they’re known for. Drawing a lot of the songs from their self-titled June release, they still hit on most of the favorites from their previous album “Conditions (2009)” (“Drum Song,” “Science of Fear,” “Down River,” “Sweet Disposition”).

Punch Brothers were somehow dressed in suits. While they looked classy, I can’t fathom how they weren’t dying. The heat was as bad as last year by any means and I believe stayed under 90 the whole weekend, but I still think anyone wearing long sleeves was a little insane. Seeing them perform, regardless, made me respect them a lot more. I’m fairly sure Chris Tile (mandolin, vocals) can rock harder and play faster than most speed-metal guitarists.

Switching from bluegrass to electronic, we moved over to SBTRKT, the London-based DJ.  Usually I’m not a fan of seeing electronic music live for the musicianship – I expect them to press a few buttons and dance around with a hint of emceeing. This was different. Moving all around the stage with his collaborator Sampha, they really made it something to watch to. There was even a drum set for a song or two.

Their final song came and Kligz and I pushed our way to the front as fast as we could. If you know me, you know I love post rock, and if you love post rock, you love Mogwai. Around since 1997 (“Mogwai Young Team”), they’ve made their heavy mark on the genre. And being from Scotland, they don’t frequent the US very much. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. The only thing that broke my hypnotic trance during their stellar performance was a band of Teletubbies that danced to the front of the crowd, hugged everyone, and left. Hashtag Bonnaroo.

Just when I thought my mind had recovered from their show, Red Hot Chili Peppers started. As a side note, I should say RHCP were one of the bands that my parents and I all enjoyed, so it was one of the go-to’s growing up. I’ve probably listened to “Californication (1999)” more than any other rock album and Flea has been my favorite bassist since I knew what one was.  This show is partially why I’m just now regaining my voice.

I promised my mom I’d see Alice Cooper. It was cool, and everything you’d expect at an Alice Cooper show – eyeliner, studded jackets, raised drumset, cocky pacing around stage. He’s still got it.

I don’t have pictures of either of these, but the Superjam and Skrillex finished the night. The Superjam was killer, Roots drummer ?uestlove led the jam, with originals and covers ranging to Zeppelin. This was prematurely interrupted as soon as Skrillex turned on his computer, radiating bass from the What Stage to the Mushroom Fountain in front of This Tent. It was a weird place to be, the intersection of two polar opposite types of music. We gave in and went over. In a raised platform, Skrillex was illuminated by a huge LED screen behind him and it rained glowsticks everytime the beat dropped.

As soon as we got back to our camp, it started raining – very atypical for Bonnaroo. The rain continued until the next day, misting on and off for Sunday.

I found a band I hadn’t heard of on Sunday – Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds. Brooklyn-based with nine members, their sound is a blend of rock, ska, blues and soul. We saw Fruit Bats (lovely, as always) and Grouplove (it was too crowded to see them, which took away a lot of the splendor of their performace), and I wish I would have seen The Black Lips. While en route to other concerts, they sounded like a lot of fun. We endured what we could of Mac Miller (sorry if you like him – not my cup of tea at all.. but he had a big backwards neon hat-wearing crowd that was really into it) to get a good spot for Ben Fold Five. This was their second show after reuniting as a whole band. They were all smiling from ear to ear, and Ben snapped some pictures of the crowd. Between songs were some silly stories and comments about their weekend. They played so hard Ben broke a string – on a piano. When does that happen?

The last show I saw of the weekend was The Shins, who followed BFF. Besides being surrounded by hardcore fans, we also spotted some celebs, like McLovin’ and other artists from the weekend. Beach balls flew around, everyone danced, and somehow the webstream made it look like it was sunny outside. Maybe that’s just another effect The Shins have.

All in all, amazing weekend.

See you next time, roo.

Concert Review

Phantogram and EXITMUSIC at Cat’s Cradle, 11/15/11

I had the opportunity to see Phantogram at Cat’s Cradle last year, which ended up being a great show. I was really excited when I found out they were coming back around to the Triangle, but their performance this past Tuesday, Nov. 15, was not quite what I expected. I’ll get into this in more detail in a bit, but first I want to discuss EXITMUSIC’s opening performance.

EXITMUSIC was treated to a large crowd of fans, all pumped for the show that was about to ensue. Their set started out strong: the percussion was spot on and the lead singer had a very distinct, yet interesting voice; I instantly drew connections to the Zola Jesus performance I saw a couple of weeks before. Their style capitalized on the point at which a buzzy, guitar-driven band pushes into more intimate territory.  Unfortunately, that became redundant after a while. It was as if every song was meant to build momentum, but the set never hit a climax (although, it would fit their name of “EXITMUSIC”: every song written like the last song of an album).  The crowd was pretty stoical as well, presumably due to the fact they were just there to see Phantogram.  Their recordings do not succumb to this issue, however, so I would recommend listening to this band.

The set change involved putting a ton of lights around the stage, which got me excited for what was to come. The projections during Phantogram’s last performance were spot on, so I was excited to see how all of these lights were going to be implemented into the show. After the stage had been filled with fog and all of the band’s equipment set up, the crowd was pumped for Phantogram to begin.

After getting over the initial shock of the amazing light setup that was taking place, I realized I wasn’t into the performance. Phantogram started by playing a lot of tracks from their new EP, Nightlife, and an irking rework of an older song from their debut, Eyelid Moves. The striking break-beat drums of that release had been replaced by a more rolling rhythm line, and the guitar had been pushed down in the mix to make room for heavily sequenced synthesizers. The dark and intimate emotion of their older work was being replaced by a sense of artificial happiness that did not go over well, in my opinion. The crowd, which was densely packed and composed of a lot of new faces, didn’t seem to mind, and the band trudged on.

This mood pervaded a good bit of the rest of the set. Things started to change as the aggressive drumming on “Futuristic Casket” began (break-beat intact). The performance of that song was a complete change-up for the set. It felt aggressive and dark, and I was very impressed with how the lights interacted with the music. They ended their main set appropriately with “When I’m Small,” which was also a very solid rendition that rang true with everything their fans love about the original.

As the band left the stage briefly, mountains of applause erupted. Phantogram came back for a two-song encore, which began with the uncharacteristically slow “Nightlife.” This song was probably the highlight of my night; instead of pushing in those aggressive synths like they had for much of the performance, they kept the song rather stripped-down, which was a great stylistic choice both as a performance progression and as a closer.

All in all, Cat’s Cradle put on a decent show, though there were some mixing kinks. In general, the vocals were fairly quiet, and the percussion during EXITMUSIC’s set was mic’d too high. I would most definitely go back to the venue and am still digging the changes they implemented earlier this year.

-John and Kenneth