Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bonnaroo - Sunday, June 14

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
In the first of what turned out to be many fruitful half-sets I caught Sunday afternoon, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists brought the weekend's best gracefully-aging melodic punk to The Other Tent, and they brought it hard. Busting out mostly new tracks interspersed with old favourites (I've never listened to a Ted Leo album, so this is purely judging by the reactions of the into-it dudes and dudettes around me), Ted and his band covered everything from simmering midtempo jams to more standard punky-pop blitzkreigs. Plus, when introducing "Even Heroes Have to Die," he explained, "The point is, everybody is human...that's not usually the point, but I thought it was appropriate for Bonnaroo."

The Dillinger Escape Plan
Sunday's lineup at That Tent was likely a Bonnaroo first, consisting exclusively of metal bands. Oh how quickly things change. It's not clear whether this new direction paid off, as the crowd gathered for Dillinger's theatrical math metal was noticeably sparse compared to other midday acts – though the pit seemed to be in a fine form. I was mainly there to see lead vocalist Greg Puciato jump into/on top of the crowd, which indeed happened on their epic closer. And boy can they shred!

Brett Dennen
For the last couple years, I've kept Brett Dennen at arm's length, expecting to quickly bore from what I assume to be a body of heard-it-before work hidden below his satisfyingly unique voice. And yet, I found Dennen and his California boys' somba-inspired khaki rock to be danceable and enjoyable in the non-ironic kind of way. I have to agree with an equally impressed attendee beside me, who announced to a friend, "This guy's got some soul!" That, and it was more ska than folk. Go figure.

Erykah Badu
Despite being just the second – and first officially scheduled – act to play the What Stage on Sunday, it wasn't until a half-hour into her scheduled set that Badu's band opened with "A Milli"' followed by an utterly pointless intro funk track. That chord progression sure got tiring after a dozen repetitions. When Badu finally strutted onstage sporting a cool-as-fuck tophat and Public Enemy sweatshirt, the real show began, showing off her off-kilter harmonies and power-woman sensibilities. For the most part, the crowd seemed to really enjoy it.

Andrew Bird
Bird is one of those artists with a big enough fanbase and praise for his live show that his albums should be a safe bet. I even had a "holy shit what music is this this is great" moment midway through Armchair Apocrypha working late one night last fall, yet further pre-Bonnaroo listens of the same record proved strangely uninspiring.

Thankfully, Bird's voice was far stronger and more dynamic – and his multi-stringamentation more pronounced – live than on Armchair or even the arguably-superior Noble Beast. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for loops of beautifully plucked violin lines. Let's go with that.

Mike Farris
I was sucked into the Sonic Stage for the positively penetrating pipes of Mister Mike Farris. I didn't mean to spew alliteration all over your screen like that, but that's the only way to describe this bluesman's tenor. Great stuff.

Neko Case
Despite my and other audience members' repeated heckling for songs from the Virginian redhead and New Pornographer's back catalog, Neko Case and the Sadies stuck to material mostly from Middle Cyclone – the blander/poppier (take your pick) follow up to Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. No matter, Case's talent has always superseded her songwriting, and it was wonderful to hear her vocal harmonies reproduced so scrupulously.

And to compliment her and her backing vocalist's good-humoured banter, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog joined her onstage to tell some clich├ęd-but-chuckle-inducing Bonnaroo jokes and sing an astonishingly in-tune duet. It was a nice moment, her and the guy with his hand up a dog puppet's ass.

Distinctly mellower than their Friday kicking out of the jams, Phish's first Sunday set trotted along comfortably and capped off with a well-documented appearance from Trey Anastasio's "boyhood hero, and still hero" Bruce Springsteen. Their version of the archetypal cover band track "Mustang Sally" put me right back to Father's Day car shows in the park, except only better and at Bonnaroo. Then, after an intense weekend of music and little-to-no rest, I fell asleep during their second set. But I bet it was fun.

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