Since I’m a creature of habit with limited, decade-old camping gear, my sleeping situation has been the same for the past five years of Bonnaroo-ing. I have a tent, and inside that tent is an air mattress that probably has a leak in it, a sleeping bag, a sheet and a blanket. The sensible Bonnaroo camper — one who doesn’t want to wake up in a pool of sweat at 8 a.m. — winds up sleeping on top of all of that stuff. On Thursday night, I slept inside my sleeping bag and was still cold. And, while I welcome the mild temperatures and the lessened chance of spontaneous combustion via heat index, that was totally weird.
Then I tried to escape my sleeping bag and immediately pulled a muscle. An auspicious start to Bonnaroo day two!
After chugging a cup of iced coffee and lathering on enough sunscreen to basecoat a house, my first destination of the day was Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., playing a stripped-down encore at the Sonic Stage. Seth, our one-man animal rescue, caught DE Jr.² at their main gig in one of the tents on Thursday, but their delay-loving hooked-up pop songs seemed like as good a place to start as any. Here’s the deal, bands: if you whistle into an old phone receiver into a delay pedal, I’ll listen to your songs. And that is the most Bonnaroo sentence I have ever written. I don’t even know who I am anymore.
Junior Junior’s short set gave way to tUnE-yArDs, a band that I’m starting to realize I only like live in theory. Don’t get me wrong — Merrill Garbus’ loopy Afrobeat-inspired world pop is inspired. Last year’s Whokill may not have been one of my favorites of 2011, but the singles have outlasted albums that I thought were better overall. “Gangsta” is an objectively great song. But, there’s a significant difference between listening to a tUnE-yArDs song on Spotify and seeing it happen in front of you.
Garbus is essentially a one-woman band, using an elaborate rig of drums, ukuleles and her own voice to layer in each detail of the song. She’s joined by another guy on bass and sometimes a couple of horn players, but let’s get real: This is all about her. This means a couple of things. First, she can’t just launch right into “Bizness.” It takes a minute to layer everything together and turn stray bongo thwacks into something resembling a song. In turn, that means that tUnE-yArDs has zero momentum. Every song feels like a roller coaster — great while it’s happening, but how long do you really want to wait in line for the fun part?
Second, the looping thing starts to get tedious after the first few songs. True, the hippie contingent was grooving hard on it, and maybe I’d be more appreciative of Garbus’ concept if I were a more technical-minded music fan, but it just felt like watching someone build a house. Yeah, it’s impressive, but who cares? I’ll visit your house when it’s finished, but I don’t really want to see you hammering the nails. I couldn’t help but wonder if anything at all would really be lost in translation if Garbus ditched the loop pedals and transitioned those songs into a traditional band. My answer to that question no one asked is "No."
Any idle thoughts about catching Aziz Ansari were deflated immediately by the sight of the ticket line, which easily stretched into the thousands, sending me toward camp for some midday relaxing before Caitlin Rose’s set at the beanbag shantytown formerly known as the “Great Taste Lounge” — one of the more inexplicable changes to the Bonnaroo layout this year (followed closely by the tall fences blocking sightlines on the edges of the tents). I do not wish to know the depths of the grime that is assuredly on the pillows laid out on the rafters at this stage, but I’m sure there’s a tiny microbial civilization growing in one of them.
Anyway, Caitlin was great. But do you really need me to tell you that? Broken up by sarcastic, self-effacing banter, Caitlin & Co. played a set of new songs and old had the crowd (even the ones perched in beanbags) amped. Or at least as amped as one can get while listening to country music on the verge of being drowned out by whatever rock band is playing nearby. I’m sure everyone else will have more to say on that tip.
A few hours later, I returned to the Lounge for Oberhofer, which was perhaps the most fun I’ll have all weekend. Born out of Brooklyn, Oberhofer plays bright, sentimental indie pop, loaded down with hand claps, whistles and xylophones. They are, in short, a band that was genetically engineered specifically for my taste in music. Closer to Matt & Kim than Elephant 6, Oberhofer is summer music personified. They’re uncompromising in their infectiousness, though I guess not enough to force people from their fetid beanbags onto the dance floor. But, I’m not sure anything could. Mark my words: Oberhofer will be back, and they won’t be playing the cafe stage.
And then Radiohead happened. I have plenty of petty complaints I could lob at the band — mostly based around how little I care for King of Limbs — but all of those quibbles melted away as soon as they played the opening chord of “Karma Police.” My bad, Radiohead. I totally get it now. I may have preferred if my first live Radiohead experience had happened in 1997, but this was amazing too in its own way. My only regret? Leaving early to snag a spot at Black Star, missing their “Paranoid Android” closer and, instead, standing around like a jackass in the sand, waiting for show that would start 25 minutes late. Well played, Bonnaroo.