The Festival that was Bonnaroo ’09: Day Three

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After four long days, which featured torrential downpours, grueling heat, lots of mud, and over a hundred of music’s best acts, the 2009 edition of the Bonnaroo Music Festival is now and will forever will be a memory. Join us, while we remember and review the festival that was Bonnaroo ‘09…

Sun and The Boss. It was hard not to be excited about those two things as Saturday descended on the green fields of Bonnaroo. And that’s without mentioning everything else making up day three. Trent? Wilco? The Mars Volta? A lack of mud, well, kind of? It was certainly a day worth remembering…

Elvis Perkins In Dearland:
This Tent: 12:30-1:30

There’s a lot of mystique surrounding the man who goes by the name of Elvis Perkins. Most know that his father was Norman Bates in the original Psycho and that his mother was tragically killed in September 11th.  But what does that say about him as a performer? Not much. Unfortunately, when he and the rest of Dearland made their way on stage Saturday morning, much of that air of mystery remained. Elvis Perkins is a weird dude, and his cleverly lackadaisical delivery of slow churning pscyh folk only exacerbates his oddness. He was interesting to watch, and as the set progressed, the band’s energy level rose notably. They even invited the cast of Bon Iver, Justin Vernon and all (why he didn’t have Justin sing on a track was confusing), for the last few songs. It was a good way to start another great day of music. – DL

Booker T & the Drive-By Truckers:
Which Stage: 3:00-4:45

Technically, there was no super jam as this year’s Bonnaroo, though one can certainly make a case that Booker T and the Drive-By Truckers’ performance on the Which Stage on Saturday afternoon was just as good as any super jam of Bonnaroo’s past. Maybe it was just the combination of Booker T’s soulful organ and the rock fury of the Drive-By Truckers shelling out classics like “Green Onions”, but that was just something particularly captivating about the hour-long performance that left quite a bit of awe. – AY

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Rodrigo y Gabriela:
What Stage: 3:30-5:00

It’s always a pleasure to hear the glorious sounds of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s flamenco induced, acoustic guitar playing, but it was the magic behind this Mexican duo that kept everyone’s spirits high during the sun’s peak hours on the What Stage. Known for their fast, rhythmic guitar playing the duo captivated the audience with what they’ve always done best, along with impressive solos and a couple of new songs from their currently unreleased album 11:11. As always, Rodrigo continuously grabbed the crowd’s attention by repeatedly asking for our assistance carrying the beat, which made their hour and a half performance fly by almost too quickly, despite of course, our aching and raw palms. By then end, the crowd was left in a stupor; completely numb from watching Rodrigo’s fingers fly vertically along the fret board as Gabriela geared our focus towards her wavering fingers and unique rhythmic knuckle playing. – AF

Bon Iver:
This Tent: 3:30-4:45

The name may translate to “Good Winter” in French, perhaps raising some doubts as to how the chilly, atmospheric folk would translate in the blistering Tennessee heat. But, for Justin Vernon and the rest of Bon Iver, the name could mean “Bad Band” and they would still blow everybody within a hundred feet right off their feet. Justin and the dudes that make up the impossibly humble, yet unbelievably powerful Bon Iver, did exactly that on Saturday. The large “This Tent” was packed tight with bodies. I mean packed. Rumor has it that Drew Berrymore and Justin Long watched on from the equally populated VIP area to the stages side. There really wasn’t a more electric crowd at all of Bonnaroo, and for good reason. This was a hair raising, bone chilling, downright beautiful thing to witness. And it wasn’t soft or cutesy either. Throughout the unbelievable performance, Vernon attacked his electric guitar, two drummers slammed their arms down with great force, and atmospheric textures still found their way in. Perfect control was the key here, and it was there in excess. Vernon sat down with his national resonator for a stirring rendition of “Skinny Love,” with every single audience member singing along. He stood up and thrashed on songs like “Wolves” in a set that included a wonderful cover of Yo La Tengo’s “I Feel Like Going Home” and highlights from the beautiful For Emma, Forever Ago.

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The true high point of the best performance at 2009’s installment of Bonnaroo (yep, I said it), however, came at the set’s bittersweet end. Nobody wanted the guys to exit the stage, but it would have been wrong to attempt to follow up all the raw energy and utter passion that Vernon and the rest of his band brought out during the impossibly climactic “Wolves”. With the crowd filling in by chanting the mantra-like ending lyrics “What might have been lost” Vernon was able to take his falsetto to immeasurable heights, impossibly crooning his way to a finish. Drums crashed, and chaos ensued before it was all over and the guys walked off of the stage, drenched in sweat (at least Justin was). Not one person could say it didn’t leave them standing in amazement, and the festival’s true highlight left everybody wanting to see Bon Iver again as soon as humanly possible. It may not have been a good winter, but it was definitely a phenomenal something. – DL

Of Montreal:
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Just a few years ago, there weren’t many people who knew of Of Montreal. But, after countless tours and ridiculous stage shows, the media took them under their wing and come Saturday at Bonnaroo, the band’s set at That Stage was packed to the brim. The scene that soon ensued went something like this: After making fans wait 15 minutes past their original start time – thanks elaborate stage setup!, a man dressed in a suit and tiger mask appeared and smashed a bottle over Beatle Bob, who, yes, is still alive and was getting ready to introduce the band. Then, strode out the members of Of Montreal in their flamboyant costumes sending the crowd into a frenzy. A few minutes into the first song a Christmas tree was brought on stage by an assistant in a gas mask. He was joined by three others in zip-up pajamas who danced around opening their gifts; the first two were gas masks and the third was poison gas that resulted in the death of one of the kids. Out there? You bet.

Needless to say, Of Montreal’s hour long performance was easily one of the more entertaining sets of the weekend. Of the music played, because Of Montreal is a band first and foremost, the biggest highlight had to be the 12-minute epic that was “Past Is A Grotesque Animal” from 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? If you weren’t a fan of Montreal before the performance, you certainly left as one. If you were under the influence before the performance, you left scared shitless. – AK

What Stage: 6:00-8:00

Of course, at the Which Stage on Saturday, Wilco did what Wilco always does when they perform. They put on a solid show, filled with explosive energy, laid back whimsical philosophy, and heartbreaking tragedy all in one performance. Playing a great deal of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and highlights from most of their more recent studio albums, including the brand new Wilco (The Album), Wilco made a good choice by not trying to pull of a new album listening party in the form of a live performance. It was hard not to have a good time with Jeff and the rest of the guys in such highs spirits. Tweedy’s touchingly pathetic attempt at humor made fans remember why they fell in love with him in the first place: “If you guys start booing us, we have a built in excuse tonight.  We’ll just pretend you’re saying Bruuuuce.” With little crowd laughter, Tweedy pleaded, “I worked on that all day.” But there was no booing to be seen as Nels Cline shredded his strings and bent his guitar’s bridge, Glen Kotche effortlessly flailed about his drum set, and every one else did their part. The controlled chaos that Wilco can bring forth to seemingly simple songs is always great to see live. At the end, the guys proved they aren’t lying when they say “Wilco will love you.” – DL

The Mars Volta:
Which Stage: 7:15-8:45

Playing on the main stage at the same time as The Decemberists and Elvis Costello proved to be a rough decision, but it was hard to say no to The Mars Volta, what with their unique progressive-psychedelic-experimental-the-list-could-go-on rock sounds? As guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López slipped into the groove, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala revved up his stage show, whipping around his white microphone cable while singing very apt lines like, “Give me that corpse please/That one that tore nightly/I really want it now.” Because he doesn’t play an instrument, Bixler-Zavala sought to match Rodríguez-López’s mind shattering riffs by falling to the ground and gyrating around the stage, all of which could have been more suitable for a nighttime slot.

“We’re gonna play one from our first album,” Bixler-Zavala declared. “Because according to our fans, all the other ones suck!” That, of course, led to “Drunkship of Lanterns”, the long, sweet and sour epic off 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium. In the audience, one fan casually remarked that she went to high school with the prog-rockers and when asked what they were like, she said, “Just like this. They did their own thing and told everyone else to fuck off.” Word to the wise: Let them do what they please, The Mars Volta put on an incredible show, even despite the rosy sun. – AK

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band:
What Stage: 9:30-12:30

It’s hard to sum up the three hours of heart-stopping, earth-shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking music that descended on Bonnaroo’s What Stage at 9:28 p.m. and refused to let go until three hours later. After all, entering the festival, there were about as many questions surrounding Bruce Springsteen & the Street Band‘s headlining performance as there were sun burnt, wide eyed campers conjugated at the What Stage waiting for Springsteen to appear from the shadows. How would Springsteen translate to a festival with a particularly strong jam base, especially in a year where Phish would be performing two sets? How would the ordinary festival fan react? How would the new material go over? Would he even dare to play it? Would The Boss take advantage of the slew of adoring artists willing to scramble on stage for a guest appearance at a moments notice?

This wasn’t New Jersey. This was Manchester, Tennessee.

By a little after midnight, our questions had been answered, with many perhaps different than what was originally guessed. There were no Morellos, Escovedos, or Anastasios on Saturday night. Minus an appearance from Evan Springsteen during “American Land”, this was strictly an E Street Band performance.

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Set wise, Springsteen played it safe, seemingly well aware that a large contingent of the audience wasn’t familiar of selections past the greatest hits. So, following a few numbers from his latest offering, Working on a Dream, The Boss did just that – he opened with “Badlands”, thrilled with “Out in the Street” and “The River”, and offered an encore featuring “Rosalita”, “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” back-to-back-to-back. When request time came, the vibe was much of the same: Rather than embark on the latest edition of “Stump the Band,” Springsteen took to a performance of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – I kid you not!, “Growing Up”, and “Thunder Road”.

Three hours and 28 songs later, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band had answered all the aforementioned questions. Some, like most of the 80,000 who watched the band on Saturday night, surely walked away impressed with thoughts ranging from “Wow, I got to see ‘Born to Run’, dude” to “How old is that guy?” Others, such as the small contingent of Springsteen diehards who traveled to Manchester for the weekend, likely had an opposite opinions, perhaps a bit displeased by the greatest hits and cheesy mentality of the set.

My answer to the latter perspective? The Giants Stadium, WOAD shows will return. But for one night, in a field in Manchester, Tennessee, The Boss went a different route, one which made for one memorable evening for those 80,000 gathered in that field in Manchester, Tennessee. – AY

Nine Inch Nails:
Which Stage: 1:00-3:00

It’s hard to believe Trent Reznor when he says that this will be Nine Inch Nails’ final tour. After all, Reznor has taken long breaks in between albums up until his recent kick of productivity. But it sounded so sincere when mid-set Reznor stated, “It just dawned on me that tonight is our last show in the US.” If NIN genius is indeed calling it quits for good, then Saturday’s 1 AM set made everyone in attendance quite mournful of the loss. Drawing highlights from nearly every one of NIN’s albums, the set was chock full of raucous sing alongs and heart wrenching ballads that only Reznor could pin down. Skittish drum machines, ominous fog, and glaring strobe lights welcomed Reznor and touring band to the stage. The guys were at the top of their game, in a performance that was different from most other NIN shows. Instead of the usual, perfectly orchestrated, art-piece like NIN show, Reznor’s Bonnaroo performance came across as a raw, impromptu, intimate performance. Perhaps this was due to the rather informal way everything was done, the minimal band size (only four of them), and the lack of ornate lighting (though the lights weren’t completely simple). It was like seeing them in your backyard, despite the huge crowd that looked on. Everybody was chanting along to “Head Like A Hole” and “The Hand that Feeds”, and a surprise cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” was exciting, but not until the stunning rendition of “Hurt” did it feel like this was the last time any of us would see NIN again. As Reznor sang the sad tune, nearly on the verge of tears, lighters went up, and he signed off, possibly for the last time ever on American soil. – DL

That Tent: 1:00-1:45

Yeasayer has come a long way since releasing All Hour Cymbals back in 2007, and Saturday night’s set must have been a milestone for them as they played to their largest audience yet in the That Tent. The band’s live set has changed some over the past year and a half as they have expanded it bringing on another member to help out on the electronic percussion which in turn has allowed Chris Keating to become more of a front man. Their sound has also expanded as they continue to rework old favorites like the more guitar focused “2080” and the spacey opener “Sunrise”. The energy was huge in the shrinking tent as the band introduced new songs that had some people wondering if they had been slipped something. Vocal effects, reverb, and some huge bass lines kept the dancing up with the roar of the audience getting louder after every song. For a band that had often been missed at the bottom of festival line-ups, this was their long awaited introduction to the music community, and it was a mind blowing one at that. – EM

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That Tent: 2:15-3:45

This time last year, MGMT managed a popular Thursday night spot, which one could certainly argue attested to their rise in popularity over the last year. On early Sunday morning, the duo of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, now backed by a full band, returned to Bonnaroo for a much anticipated late night set at That Tent. And, well, some of the things that went down easily rivaled the festival’s biggest names. Although main stage act Nine Inch Nails were set up at Which Stage for an epic late night set at the same time, MGMT seemed to hold more than a candle to Reznor and Co. That Tent proved to be too small, with the crowd not only overflowing the boundaries of the tent itself, but spilled all the way back to the vendor stands and merch tents. Glow stick wars rivaled Phish’s Sunday set and standards “Time to Pretend”, “Electric Feel” and “Kids” electrified the crowd. One can now only wonder what where MGMT will be this time next year. If their Bonnaroo set is any indication, the duo could rise to be one of the most exciting acts in, hell, the entire world. – TB


Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3:

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Elvis Perkins In Dearland:

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Booker T & the Drive-By Truckers:

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Bon Iver:

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Press Conference feat. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog:

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Of Montreal:

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Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band:

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Nine Inch Nails:

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