Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bonnaroo Saturday, 6/15/13 [Jack Johnson, Björk, Billy Idol, Nas, Dwight Yoakam, R. Kelly, Weird Al, William Tyler and More]

Posted By on Sun, Jun 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Bonnaroo Saturday is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of the party. Even if the headliner turns out to be a dud — as some might say Jack Johnson is, triumphant as his last-minute sub-in really was — Saturday is party day, like it or not. Anyway, with a lineup peppered with greats, locals and promising newbies alike, The Spin slathered ourselves in sunscreen, downed a couple of complimentary drinks and dove into the action whole hog. Let's do this, Bonnaroo.

We’re not sure if it’s their desert-cult chic or the fact that their Dust Bowl punk sounds more or less like we feel (i.e., delirious and caked in a dense layer of dirt), but Ranch Ghost’s Saturday opening set had us totally locked in. The addition of Majestico keyboardist Mitch Jones had the band rolling six deep on jams like “New News” and “Nahla” for a crowd of grimy Bonnaroovians and a contingent of Nashville’s Dead — including Cy Barkley and Christina Norwood, among others. As we associate Ranch Ghost with warehouse shows, their spooky psych rock thing works perfectly at Bonnaroo, and we couldn’t be any more pleased.

The sweet sultry sun had already done a great deal of the work in getting the crowd nice and sweaty before Sacramento experimental hip-hop troupe Death Grips even hit the stage. Despite inexplicably missing drummer, founding and once sole member Zach Hill, remaining members MC Ride and Andy Morin had no trouble doing the rest, whipping the crowd into a fit of hysteria with bombastic, distorted and mangled thump, punctuated with shrill glitches and shirtless, heavily tattooed Ride’s paranoid and violent screams and repetitious rhyme flows. While we can’t say the show itself matched the same percussive spectacle we saw months ago at a dark club in Austin, the crowd seemed no less impressed, disregarding the swelter and going accordingly apeshit.

Solange, little sister to Queen Bey, turned in a set of breezy, reggae-infused, vintage R&B grooves that were as sexy as they were laid-back. With guitar solos cribbed straight from the Jefferey Osborne playbook and tones plucked from Danceteria, Solange brought a vibe both playful and powerful.

Against a backdrop of dubstep and moody indie-pop wafting across the field, Daniel Romano doled out some OG honky-tonk in the New Music Lounge. The young Canadian cut a figure like Hank Williams in his ascot and rhinestone-studded suit, but his voice reminded us more of GP-era Gram Parsons with less twang. Perhaps as a nod, Romano's set included the hymn "Farther Along," rendered with the same sincerity (if not the fine backing harmony) displayed by Parsons at the end of Burrito Deluxe. As the former punker told the Scene's Jewly Hight back in February, his love for traditional country is serious, and it shows. Even in the ways he's funny: the clever story song "Chicken Bill" ended inconclusively, with an offer to meet him after the show to learn the rest of the story that's perhaps as good for merch sales as it is for showmanship.

We feel like we've written this before, but it bears stating once more: Nas is never not awesome. It's been a couple of years since his last 'Roo appearance, but the dude's clearly at home on the What Stage, and we were right up front to witness it. Nas has a ton of good material — some of the best in the history of hip-hop, honestly — and the set managed to draw on all eras equally, an impressive feat given that his career has spanned 20 super-productive years. From Illmatic-era classics like “Life's a Bitch” to the lead single from his latest Life Is Good, Nasty Nas was all up in that area.

It’s been a few years since The Spin caught Indie darlings Matt and Kim in action. Since then, they’ve dropped an additional two albums, seen their fan base swell considerably, and ironed their live show into a proper arena-twee spectacle. With perma-smiles in place and matching outfits in tow, principle members Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino never seem any less than ecstatic to be on a stage. Swapping between cuts from their high-speed, synth-driven punk-pop albums and and their newer more hip-hop influenced sound, the duo performed interludes of can’t-miss party favorites like Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” and banter that relentlessly encouraged festivalgoers to fornicate, albeit responsibly and not before wiping down appropriate parts with baby wipes. To facilitate, the band also tossed out condoms and baby wipes throughout the show.

As daylight started to burn off in the early evening of Saturday, Cat Power strode onto Which Stage for a set of confessional ballads and sensitive indie rock. Although it’s been a few years since Chan Marshall hid under a piano or abandoned a show due to anxiety, that reputation of being an infamously erratic performer still — perhaps unfairly — still haunts her. And while it is true that Marshall still doesn’t look totally comfortable on stage, her transition into folk rock territories have also represented a shift into a more consistent, reliable show. And as much as we love a good train wreck, we felt somewhat relieved that one was not to be found in Cat Power’s set of newish material, which covered Sun and The Greatest, among others. We can’t say it was the most thrilling show we saw that day, but it was a pleasant enough diversion.

Then That Tent was just like karaoke at Twin Kegs! Only Dwight Yoakam knows the words to his own songs. And he can actually sing. So really it was nothing like karaoke at Twin Kegs, beyond the fact that a big chunk of the crowd was buddies on a bender. Side-stage was like a Nashville chapter meeting of Hipsters Anonymous with all the the likely suspects, with Jonny Fritz to William Tyler making an appearance in the crowd. Yoakam was stellar, delivering a set of old and new, his classic '90s country with his current sounds — which The Spin thinks borders on power-pop (YES!) — that connected with the sun-burnt, country-fried crowd.

As we found a spot in What's stage-right scaffolding just before 7 p.m., The Spin spotted one young lady holding a sign that read "Björk, I've waited 21 years for this moment" and weeping uncontrollably. Indeed, the godmother of modern art-pop has that kind of effect on some people, and when she took the stage — on the heels of her 14-piece mostly blonde female choir and two-piece band — we were delighted (but absolutely not surprised) at the tiny Icelander's outlandish wardrobe selections. A notice onscreen before her set told us that Björk didn't want folks taking photographs of any kind, but we soaked in the ensemble with our brain-camera the best we could: Clad in a silver dress covered in bulbous little lumps and wearing a mask of sparkling crystal spires that surrounded her entire head, Björk galloped and scooted across the stage, interpretive-dancing her way through songs with absolute purpose. Her choir, wearing brass-and-blue tunic-like dresses, bobbed and bounced like a rogue box of Christmas ornaments during the gorgeous "Crystalline," and their pitch-perfect harmonies bolstered the sheer sonic splendor of "Bachelorette."

There wasn't a lot going on in the way of visual production — we all know that Björk loves geology, as videos of the earth opening up and tectonic plates sliding back and forth flashed onscreen behind her. But the elfish 47-year-old's voice was the main draw, and it was absolutely on point. Also on point was her percussionist Manu Delago, who played a pair of what's known as Hangs — pan drums kind of resembling inverted steel drums that are played with the bare hands — during "One Day," and his precision was absolutely astounding. The explosive electro-punk rave-up "Declare Independence" was a cathartic end-of-set moment, with Björk demanding that we raise our flag higher and higher.

We cruised toward the fading sunset and poked around the edge of the biggest damn crowd we've ever seen at Which Stage, lending further credence to the joke that The Lumineers could have replaced Mumford & Sons as What Stage headliners for Saturday night and no one would have noticed. Did someone forget to tell these peeps that they could be seeing Björk, Dwight Yoakam or Beach House right then? Seriously, it's a 90-minute set — what's the rush? We waded in past some folks dressed as bananas to see what we could find out. The indie-folk trio was nothing if not professional, genuinely appeared to be having a great time, and poured themselves into their performance — even playing a few songs down in the audience. Strange, then, that this anthemic band seemed somewhat quieter than every other act we've seen on Which Stage this weekend, barely drowning out the chatter. For whatever reason, the sing-alongs, even to the breakthrough hit "Ho Hey," were a bit lukewarm. Was the bulk of the crowd there to save spots for R. Kelly? The world may never know.

Our feelings toward the Saturday night main stage headliner had ridden the roller-coaster from "meh," to "whoa, hope that dude's OK," when we heard about Mumfords bassist Ted Duane's surgery to treat a brain aneurysm last week and the band's subsequent cancellation, to "please be Brian Eno doing Here Come the Warm Jets, pretty please" and back to "meh" when Jack Johnson was announced as the pinch-hitter on Friday. Now that it was finally here, things hadn't changed much. On tired and dingy Bonnaroo Day Three feet, we shuffled to What Stage, where the savior of the day, who was already in the mid-state this weekend for a private gig at Third Man Records, appeared promptly at 9:30 with his backing trio. They suffused the teeming masses with beachy good vibes, causing not a few of them to simply drop where they stood, which created a minefield of partied-out Bonnaroovians.

Jack Johnson
For every napper, there was at least one true fan who knew every word of every song, from hits like "Still Wishing, Still Dreaming" to a cut from the Curious George soundtrack; showing how well he knows his audience, an "aww"-inspiring Johnson mentioned he was making sure to play that tune before the parents out there had to put the kiddos to bed. Two new songs were debuted, including one written about the whole experience of covering for the Mumfords. The other was a work in progress, and exemplified why Jack Johnson just isn't in our wheelhouse. Not everything has to be as challenging as, say, Björk or Albert Ayler, but if you're going to write a happy love song, it's got to have some meat to keep us engaged. "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" is a fiery testament, "Julia" a haunting echo, but "I've got everything I need, because I've got you" accompanied by ukulele and melodica (perhaps one of the most amiable beach-bummy combos since Jimmy Buffett dined at Rotier's) sounds like a greeting card from the generic "Someone Special" section of the rack. But everybody's got to have somebody to love, right? In the best of all possible worlds, the Johnsons are gateway drugs to Dylans, Kristoffersons and Cashes, and before you know it, you're collecting compilations of obscure blues singles, so (not to contradict Sir Paul) live and let live, we say.

Little Nashville had once again gathered just before 11 p.m., this time at the crowded On Tap Lounge for the stylings of homegrown guitar wiz Wiliam Tyler. For much of his set, he was joined by the same three-piece backing band he played with at his own club Stone Fox on Wednesday night: Luke Schneider (Natural Child, Lambchop, Lylas, more) on steel, Reece Lazarus (Stone Fox dude and occasional local sax and/or bass sideman) on bass, and Jamin Orrall (JEFF the Brotherhood) on drums. Songs from Tyler's Merge debut Impossible Truth retained their brain-burrowing hypnotism, but with the added dimensions of a strong rhythm-section backbone and sweeping steel melodies, the tunes were as transfixing as ever we've heard them. Willy T. & Co. closed with Bobby Charles' "Tennessee Blues," the B-side from a single Tyler released via blog/label Nashville's Dead. Tyler fittingly dedicated the song to Nashville's Dead dudes Dillon Watson and the late Ben Todd, the latter of whom also founded the Freakin' Weekend festival in Nashville before his death in February. The performance was moving. Anyway, speaking of freakin' weekends ...

Well, if nothing else, R. Kelly sure as hell knows how to make an entrance. At the strike of 11:30 p.m., Kells appeared above the Which Stage, riding in the bucket of a fully extended cherry picker, hovering above the giant spinning question mark that brands the stage for about half of “Ignition (Remix).” And then, somewhere around the line “It’s the freakin’ weekend, baby, I’m about to have me some fun,” R. Kelly got stuck.

Or, at least, that’s the best guess we have for what happened. Suddenly, the lights cut and the music dropped out. With no explanation, the stage was dark for a good five or six minutes, the truck slowly lowering R. Kelly to ground level. Here’s how good a performer R. Kelly is — we honestly weren’t sure if this was part of the show or not. And once he finally got to solid ground and finished what he started, we had basically already forgotten that somebody nearly needed to call the fire department to get R. Kelly out of a tree. Undeterred, Kells hit the stage running with a medley of jams like “Bump N’ Grind,” “Sex in the Kitchen,” “I’m A Flirt” and his remix of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.” The only thing missing was a spotlight shooting out of his crotch, as described by Aziz Ansari in his first comedy special. But, we guess the swarm of white balloons released after “I Believe I Can Fly” will just have to do.

Pulling ourselves away from the deluge of hits was no easy feat, but faintly hearing iconic rocker Billy Idol open with “Ready, Steady, Go” (a mini-hit from his early band Generation X) made our responsibilities much easier to stomach. When he followed up immediately with “Dancing With Myself” (also originally a Gen X tune), our fists were full of sweet nostalgia and pumping accordingly. However, this show still had another hour-and-a-half of run time left. After patiently waiting through Idol’s cock-rocking hard rock '80s deep cuts (aided visually by what looked like a series of Windows 95 screen savers and replicated to par with the help of glam metal legend Steve Stevens on guitar) “Cradle of Love” and “Eyes Without a Face” made us realize how few of the man’s singles we actually knew and loved. The rest were essentially popular cover songs, and the anthemic “Rebel Yell” was surely the closer. With that in mind, The Spin was intent on jumping ship before cuts from 1993’s critically blasted Cyberpunk started surfacing.

We know we've thrown around the phrase “religious experience” before, but this time we mean it: The high priest of nerd culture, Weird Al Yankovic, took us to the mountaintop, and we may never come back. Downplaying Al's involvement in the development of The Spin's aesthetic value system is next to impossible — we've been down since Polka Party — and being able to witness him in front of a wild, awestruck festival crowd was downright mind-blowing. Well, maybe the minds were blown already, thrown like badgers from an apartment window, but that just played to Al's strengths and made the crowd like putty in his hands. From '80s classics like “Fat” and “My Bologna” to his Coolio-infuriating “Amish Paradise," Weird Al played all the hits, wore all the costumes and destroyed any chance of us enjoying humorless music ever again. And we're not afraid to admit that the entire tent singing “Yo-yo-yo-yo-Yoda” until the lights came up kinda made us cry. Like we said, it was a religious experience.

Weird Al Yankovic

The Saturday night Superjam band's reputation preceded itself: By the time we got over to This Tent, the crowd bulged a good 10 yards from its edges, and the anticipation was palpable. We thought it was ready to blow when a ripping Hendrix-style riff on "The Star Spangled Banner" went down, but there was at least another 15-minute lull before start time. The payoff was worth the wait and then some: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with The Meters' Zigaboo Modeliste on the skins and Jim James and John Oates out front flipped our wig (especially Oates' solos, that man is a beast), but the special guests set it on fire. R. Kelly dropped in and dug back to his roots, raising hackles with Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me" and "A Change Is Gonna Come," while The Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard demanded "Satisfaction" with conviction to rival both Mick and Otis. After wrapping his set, Billy Idol stopped in to pay tribute to Marc Bolan by leading "Bang a Gong," a showcase for the band's ability to jump any genre gaps. Just when we thought our tank was dry, on came Larry Graham, supreme ruler of low notes from Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station. We were tired and coated with the frosting of three days in the woods and fields, but forget Cloud Nine — this one went to Eleven. Singalongs led by Graham on "Thank You" and "Everyday People" alone would've made the show one for the record books, but the closing on "I Want to Take You Higher" levitated the whole mass of people about three feet off the ground.

Empire of the Sun
After a 35-minute delay, Empire of the Sun came on stage looking like Cirque du Soleil re-imagined Game of Thrones as a space opera. Backed up with a crew of spandex-clad interpretive dancers and some pretty impressive headgear, the much buzzed-about stage spectacle of Empire certainly didn’t disappoint. What they may have lacked in fat suits and high-flying crane maneuvers, the Australian dance-pop duo outclassed every band on the lineup in total unbridled weirdness. We’re sure there’s some method to their madness, but we’ll be damned if we have any clue what that is. All we know is that Empire of the Sun is the jam. Don’t let people try to convince you that Jack Johnson headlined Saturday — it was all about Empire’s space-age disco inferno. The crowd may not have been totally familiar with the cuts off the band’s newly released second album, Ice on the Dune, but as sleep-deprivation-induced delirium swept through the crowd, singles like “Walking on a Dream” and “Alive” had the kids in the know screaming for more. It wasn’t quite a Saturday capper like Kanye’s infamous “Glow in the Dawn” set from 2009, but it was a rad spectacle that we hope we’ll be able to see again one day.

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Bonnaroo Saturday, 6/15/13 [Ranch Ghost, Solange, Dirty Projectors, Björk, William Tyler, Billy Idol and More]

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