Bonnaroo 2009: Bruce Springsteen, Animal Collective, Nine Inch Nails and more 

'Roo the day
We experienced some slight delays at Bonnaroo press check-in, but did manage to catch Passion Pit, who are certainly of the Animal Collective/Grizzly Bear/MGMT/new-rock-based-group-with-electronic-leanings ilk (our companion referred to them as a "tweeboard" band), and that makes for a strong dance party—precisely the type of pump-priming party Thursday night should kick off with. It's a lot of falsetto over four-on-the-floor beats, and while it isn't especially innovative, it got the kids movin' and shakin' as we all weathered the mounting storms. Plus, something about Passion Pit reminded us just slightly of Q Lazzarus—you know, the girl with the song from the Silence of the Lambs mangina scene. So that's good.

Ooh, that smell. Which smell? This smell.
After a rain-drenched rager of a first evening, Camp Spin woke up amid a swamp of fishy-smelling (Phishy-smelling?) mud puddles. While trudging through the muck toward Centeroo, we came across local Road to Bonnaroo 8 off 8th champs Heypenny in their infamous marching-band attire. Looked like they were stirring up some attention...or, at the very least, a few curious stares.

Around 2 p.m. we caught Brooklyn indie collective The Dirty Projectors. While we're most familiar with the eerie, fractured and minimal tone of their early work, we were not disappointed to find their sound had grown into a whimsical, psychedelic dirge featuring layers of squirrelly guitars and harmonies. Scanning around the press pit, we were at first taken aback to notice the legendary David Byrne rocking out up front. Moments later, he was joining the band onstage for a cover of his song "Knotty Pine."

After spotting Avey Tare side-stage at The Dirty Projectors, we headed over to Which Stage to see what he and fellow Animal Collective members Panda Bear and Geologist had in store for the festival crowd. We climbed into the upper reaches of the sun-baked press bleachers and caught a bird's-eye view of the midday influx of shirtless 'Roo patrons, and it quickly became apparent that a large portion of the crowd was seeing the hipster icons perform for the first time. It's a shame, too, because the typically entrancing lights flashing onstage during their set seemed a bit silly in broad daylight. (A friend informed us that Geologist allegedly had a wedding to attend later that day, hence the uncharacteristically early set time.) While Panda Bear's vocals were mostly smooth, Avey Tare was pitchy, and songs from Merriweather Post Pavilion sounded thin and not especially engaging. We resolved to watch the final quarter of their set on the televisions in the guest area while copping some shade-time and refilling our booze tanks.

As mixed as our overall feelings about Grizzly Bear are, we can easily say that they were one of the most technically proficient acts we caught all weekend. Like little blue-blooded cherubs, G. Bear delivered their four-part harmonies in near-perfect, angelic falsettos. Between-song transitions were swift and seamless—that earns big points in festival performances—and the crowd went nuts for "Two Weeks," the undeniable single from Grizzly Bear's latest, Veckatemist. Later, when we bumped into their bassist exiting the pooper, we let him know that we enjoyed his set. We must have looked as blitzed as we were, because the face he responded with was a bit funny. Or wait...doesn't he always kinda make that face?

With Grizzly Bear, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold and King Sunny Adé all playing at roughly the same time on Friday afternoon, there was a tough decision to be made. Those who went with Nigeria's King Sunny Adé were treated to what was easily one of the most exciting performances of the entire festival, even if less than 1,000 people came out to the Other Tent—which was located on the outskirts of Centeroo—to check it out. Both hypnotic and upbeat, King Sunny—with six percussionists in tow, creating the loudest drum sound we've ever heard—had us living the high life with with his juju beats. Our feet were moving and our jaws in the mud. During the set we saw Phish bassist Mike Gordon dancing among the crowd, who were too busy taking in the music and having mental orgasms to notice that the night's headliner was cramping their style.

We would have been more than happy to have heard David Byrne only play selections off last year's excellent Brian Eno collaboration Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which made for a quite a pleasant surprise when—on top of the ETHWHT material—we were treated to a set that was chock full of choice Talking Heads classics off Fear of Music, Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. Among the highlights were "Heaven," "I Zimbra" "Take Me to the River" (doubling as a nod to Al Green, who had played a few hours earlier), "Crosseyed and Painless," a glorious sing-along to accompany "Once in a Lifetime" and a version of "Burning Down the House"—as sung by Byrne wearing a tutu—that whipped the crowd into a frenzy of Girl Talk proportions. Onstage, Byrne was accompanied by a stellar seven-piece band who flawlessly re-created the sounds of the old Heads records, as well as three dancers who gave the performance an extra hint of class. If only they'd played "This Must be the Place (Naive Melody)" the show would've been perfect. At one point during the set one particularly ornery 'Roo-tard decided to clear an area around himself and take a piss in the middle of 10,000 people—we could have done without that. Also, what's the deal with the Which Stage not having a video screen? This stage is fucking huge and only one percent of the crowd can actually make out a performer's facial expressions. Maybe next year.

The Protomen's anthemic stuff seemed perfectly pitched to the fervent crowd that gathered to see them in the Bud Troo Music "lounge." People knew the words! It's not often that dudes in silver face-paint are the norm, but The P-men took full advantage. With rumors of a cancellation from Phoenix circulating in the press area all day, we waited on pins and needles to determine whether or not we'd catch a set from the seasoned French popsters. We were pleased not only to see that they'd made it, but also that their show offered what was pretty much the perfect combination of Bonnaroo factors: It was a late-but-not-exhaustingly-late set from a band with an established catalog as well as a growing level of momentum behind their latest release (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix). There was enough surging, pulsing, strobe-light-bathed energy during Phoenix's set to rival our already-mounting synthetic high, and it was totally awesome.

Girl Talk shot toilet paper at people, and had his computer come unplugged or something. Pretty Lights were great. It's one big blur after (and mostly including) that.

Onward is heavenward
Early Saturday afternoon, we swung over to catch legendary modern rocker Robyn Hitchcock, who was continuing the tradition of his jangle pop roots with his new band the Venus 3—featuring Peter Buck and members of Young Fresh Fellows and Ministry. Hitchcock has made a name for himself the last 30 years writing surreal, comedic, melancholy, psychedelic tunes with an overtly British presentation—his new stuff is more of the same and no less awesome. Saturday brought an Elvis Costello solo acoustic show—that is, if "solo" means "with extra keyboard and guitar accompaniment." He wasted no time breaking out the hits. Classics like "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Watching the Detectives" and "Veronica" came out immediately with new cuts peppered increasingly in between.

With palpable Boss anticipation mounting and a line forming for Bruce's pit over three hours before his set, Wilco stepped onto the main stage to a relatively subdued audience. Even Jeff Tweedy knew most folks' minds were on the Boss, because he made what he claimed was a joke about getting "Bruced" vs. getting "booed." Tweedy & Co. opened, appropriately enough, with "Wilco (the Song)," and while they let incendiary lead guitarist Nels Cline off the leash for the newer material, he mostly laid back for Yankee, Ghost and Summerteeth tunes. (There was even a Mermaid Avenue song in there!) Because the What Stage crowd wasn't as packed for Wilco's set as most, security allowed folks to come and go from the pit. Oddly enough, we saw two people pass out due to heat- and/or drug-related issues. Even a rabid Tweedy fan can admit that if your roll is derailed to the point of unconsciousness during a Wilco set, well, shit, you're doing it wrong.

Between all the drugs, lack of sleep and blisters on our feet we were taxed far beyond exhaustion by the time Bruce Springsteen's Saturday night set rolled around. Operating purely on the adrenalin, we plowed ahead and braved a crush to get in the What Stage pit, which was downright scary.It was all worth it, as from the count off into a rousing version of "Badlands" that opened the set all the way through the closing run of "Rosalita," "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark," Springsteen was out for blood, working every inch of the stage and beyond with more determination to win hearts and minds than any up-and-coming act we saw throughout the weekend. Onstage Springsteen mentioned that this was only the second festival appearance the band has ever done—the first was only a mere two weeks ago in Holland—and out of the comfort zone of being in front of his cult audience, he showed the Bonnaroo crowd why he's known as The Boss. In fact, the energy of this audience—made up mostly of Springsteen virgins—blew away that of the crowd at last summer's Sommet Center show. The excitement of the crowd wasn't lost on Bruce, who looked like he was having the time of his life for the three hours he was onstage.

Late Saturday night is the point at which all serious 'Roo-tards must make the decision to either mobilize or capsize, and it was just before Yeasayer's set at That Tent when we decided to kick it into high gear. Since we last saw them, Yeasayer have added an auxiliary percussionist (a shirtless fella who bangs on MIDI pads and whatnot) as well as giant, strobing globe lights that hang over their heads like something from a Seuss nightmare. Their vocals seem to have improved since we saw them at Lollapalooza last summer, and the trance-inducing jams from their forthcoming record (no scheduled release date yet) worked quite well for folks getting their second and third winds.

Nearly unconscious from sleep-dep, we trudged on to Which Stage at 1 a.m. to catch Nine Inch Nails. The band came out swinging with a light show we thought might blind us. Sound was nothing short of stellar as the band dealt out a brutal, career-spanning playlist that sent the crowd into various degrees of apeshit. Trent Reznor thanked the audience heartily and announced that this would be the band's final U.S. appearance. We thought he meant "final U.S appearance this year," but later reports indicate that he meant "ever." NIN closed with an emotional rendition of "Hurt" that, if it really was Reznor's goodbye, was a fitting one.

Uneasy as Sunday morning
The final morning was groggy but cool with a heavenly overcast offering much-needed relief from a long weekend while we caught our first show of the day. With his roots in NYC hardcore, Ted Leo now trades in sharp melodies and power pop hooks laid over a punk foundation but still retains all the political consciousness of his hardcore days. Erykah Badu was running late, which ruined our chance of catching more than the very beginning of her set. What we did catch was spine-tingling artistry—a performance of exquisite, mind-bending soul. She also had a badass flute player, and we love us a good flautist. And with that, our ride said it was time to go, and another Bonnaroo was in the books.

Too tired...to think..... Exhaustive coverage at Nashville Cream. Email thespin@nashvillescene.com.

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