Friday, July 3, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 3 (Friday)

Fortunately, the remaining cloud cover from yesterday’s storm afforded the two of us an extra hour or two of sleep on Friday morning, though the cool weather didn’t last long. By noon, the oppressive heat that always comes with the Bonnaroo experience was upon us. Combined with the ridiculous amount of mud left over from Thursday, the environment felt especially hostile. However, the schedule went easy on us for the day, as we were able to stay at Which Stage for most of the daylight hours.

Though the little shade available was quickly occupied by sweaty hippies, we took comfort in the thought that the day’s music was sure to be excellent. Our schedule kicked off with Animal Collective, a band whose music I was not especially familiar with, but whom I was eagerly anticipating. While I didn’t quite understand the mass appeal garnered by their 2007 release “Strawberry Jam,” I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed their latest effort, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” The album’s uniquely electronica-infused experimental rock sound caught me rocking to the beat more than I’d care to admit. Plus, Animal Collective’s fans had previously convinced me that the band was capable of a massively entertaining live show.

However, I was quickly disappointed, startlingly so for the hype the show was getting beforehand. The bright Tennessee sun left the band high and dry on a bland stage setup, combined with an altogether uninteresting setlist. Ben and I agreed that this was likely due to the venue, which didn’t seem to jive with AC’s groove. A smaller, closed-air venue probably would have lent itself better, as the band was left without the lightshow for which they are famous. The music itself lacked bounce, and I think the crowd agreed; the many dancing at the start of the set quickly dwindled to a dedicated few, by which point I had lost interest completely.

Following Animal Collective was indie-rock outfit Yeah Yeah Yeahs, another band with whom I was not very familiar going in. I feared another Animal Collective-style disappointment, but my worries were soon dissuaded as the band proceeded to rock a strong set despite the glaring sun. The crowd seemed very in tune to the band, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took advantage, entertaining at the level that I would expect of a band playing a large-stage set at the nation’s largest music festival.

However, I should probably note that about 20 minutes into their set, I was hit with a massive head rush that sent me reeling through the crowd to a more spacious area. After stumbling through annoyed Rooers, I threw myself at the ground and waited until I could actually see clearly. Following this, I proceeded to waste 30 bucks on pizza, a poorly-wrapped burrito, a coke, and a frozen lemonade. Let’s just say that the heat did a temporary but effective number on me.

The refreshments did, however, help me make it to the first set that I had really been anticipating. Brooklyn-based rock stylists TV on the Radio have intrigued me since I first heard their latest release, the critically-lauded “Dear Science.” For a long time, I wasn’t sure what to do with this band. “Halfway Home,” opener for the album, stunned me with its sonic depth and instrumental grace, but many other songs left me wondering where to go. The band’s intense focus on diverse melody and quirky vocals lead me to think that they were just another indie/alt-rock group taking their moment before being forgotten in the blend. Then Ben introduced me to “Wolf Like Me,” a track off the previous album, “Return to Cookie Mountain.” The song changed my outlook completely, especially the live recordings; their sound was so monumentally huge that they simply had to be the real deal.

I therefore went into their Bonnaroo set with high expectations, and I was not disappointed in the slightest. TVotR started off on the mellow side, building to that epic sound that I had so far only experienced through Youtube videos. By the time the tandem of “Halfway Home” and “Wolf Like Me” rolled around, I was already convinced: this band rocks in a deep, complex, and evolving way. The grandiose “Staring at the Sun” was the first truly poignant moment of the festival, and when TVotR finished, I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle for the day.

It turned out that there was plenty left to experience. We chilled to the music of David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, who put on a solid, entertaining set. Deciding to skip the Beastie Boys, whom I’ve never really enjoyed much, we headed over to This Tent for Public Enemy, who put on a shocker by playing through their legendary album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” cover to cover. Chuck D and Flavor Flav still put out the goods, it seems, and the show was sick, to be sure.

The night concluded with a massively attended performance by mashup artist Girl Talk, who I also saw at Bonnaroo 2007. This year, his crowd was much bigger, his set much longer, and his mashups even crazier. He warned the spectators not to crush each other, apparently a common occurrence at his shows. If a DJ causes that kind of trouble, you know something’s up.

So, despite a slow start, Friday was definitely a fulfilling day. The euphoria from TVotR’s set continued through the night, and by the time we stumbled back to the campsite, we were fully ready for the weekend’s delights.

Part 4 coming soon, check back.

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