It goes without saying that Paul McCartney flat out slayed 'em on Bonnaroo's What Stage last night. Snagging Sir Paul as a main stage headliner is possibly the biggest coup in Bonnaroo's 12-year history. To no one's great surprise, McCartney dished out sheer unfettered joy to the thousands via a masterful marathon performance that featured onw heart-warming soul-sending classic after another. You can be sure that his eyes have beheld many wonders over the course of a 50+ year career that is unrivaled and unparalleled in every way imaginable. But even McCartney himself could not disguise his expression of awe and disbelief at the size and deafening enthusiasm of the Bonnaroo crowd.
Today and tomorrow, I'll focus on the smaller stages to catch up close and personal performances by JEFF The Brotherhood, The Revivalists, and Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Already today I've seen the Futurebirds destroy the Sonic Stage with their peculiar powerhouse hybrid of Indie Country.
Sir Paul's son James McCartney drew a respectful and curious crowd to the On Tap Lounge for his early afternoon solo acoustic performance. Sadly, the booming bass reverberating from the larger stages all but drowned out his gentle folk pop purr. If you could huddle up close enough to the stage, he sounded pretty good. But the son of a Beatle deserves better accommodations.
We are barely halfway into this thing and Bonnaroo's memorable performances and highlights already seem too good to be true. In addition to 12 stages featuring live music for 18 hours a day for four days straight, the assembled press are privy to gut busting scenes of spontaneous hilarity in Bonnaroo press conferences twice daily.
Without fail, these press conferences will feature provocative observations from the panelists about their respective Bonnaroo experiences. But more often than not they will degrade into an impromptu exchange of silly quips, wacky tales from the road, and dirty jokes. Friday was no exception.
After setting the bar obscenely low for the 1pm press conference with multiple references to sex acts taking place on and off stage, it was the affable Matt + Kim who stuck around for nearly 45 minutes afterwards, smiling broadly, Happily answering more questions and posing for photographs.
The press conference itself was a chaotic and ramshackle riot that teetered on the brink of peep-show perversion for the duration. Perhaps this was no surprise as its schizophrenic panel included TV star Ed Helms and classic rocker John Oates alongside the eager upstarts Matt + Kim, Nicki Bluhm and Michael Angelakos from Passion Pit. Aside from a brief description of Oates' charity work, the discussion was a lighthearted group improvisation on the pros and cons of playing big festivals.
Helms is doing double duty at this year's Bonnaroo, presenting a comedy revue in the festival's comedy tent and hosting a Bluegrass jam on one of its main stages. Asked why he loves the banjo, Helms sighed, "I believe that banjos are very irritating and that's why banjos and comedians get along."
"Hey Ed," a smirking Oates chimed in, "Do you know why there's no banjos on Star Trek?"
"No John. Why is that?"
"Because it's the future."
Later in the day there was a 4 p.m. press conference that featured some very insightful exchanges between country rocker Jason Isbell and Jazz Fusion guitar legend John McLaughlin (pictured). The Bonnaroo crowd warmly embraced McLaughlin's evening performance in That Tent, causing the master musician to grin from ear to ear from the first notes of his set to the very last.
Though they started 30 minutes late, Rock icons ZZ Top performed a smoking midnight set in This Tent to a capacity crowd who sang along to nearly every song in the bands hit-laden set.
Friday's Bonnaroo festivities started with great promise, as we were treated to a surprise performance by Jack Johnson in the press tent. Johnson is a last-minute fill-in for headliners Mumford and Sons, who had to cancel because their bass player had a medical procedure to fix a blood clot in his brain earlier this week. Warmth and humility emanated from Johnson as he debuted two brand new songs accompanied by ALO's Zach Gill on accordion.
An hour later Trixie Whitley slithered on to the Which Stage in a long black gown and proceeded to mesmerize the mid-day crowd with her hypnotic and soulful swamp Rock. There were moments during her set when she sang with such power and pathos it literally knocked the wind out of me. The crowd was so awed by Whitley's performance they stood in a stunned silence so quiet that at times you could hear shutters clicking in the photo pit.
I don't think Chuck and I stopped laughing once during a spontaneous and hilarious 15 minutes we spent chatting with Daniel, Thomas and new drummer Johnny Colorado of the Futurebirds. We barely had time to catch our breath and regain our composure before a 4 p.m. press conference that featured comedians Michael Che and Mike Birbiglia, as well as Jason Isbell and Jazz Fusion guitar legend John McLaughlin.
Around the festival grounds today we've heard remarkable performances by Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Nashville's Alanna Royale and Trombone Shorty.
Coming up later tonight: Wilco, Paul McCartney, ZZ Top and many more.
As Thursday began, we heard the tragic news of two people from the Tristate who were killed in an automobile accident on their way to the festival. (Five others were injured in the same crash.)
All told, Bonnaroo attendees and staff number close to 90,000 souls during peak hours. For this long weekend in June Manchester becomes the seventh largest city in Tennessee, with births and deaths on-site like one would expect in a small city over the course of any 96-hour span.
On a brighter note, this year's festival kicked off with a young couple tying the knot under the multi colored arch at Bonnaroo entrance.
In the late afternoon I wandered through Centeroo, perusing the various vendors' booths. Corporate sponsors abound, but non-profits and independent artisans dominate the Bonnaroo bazaar.
In the shadow of a Ferris wheel and psychedelic light tower a giant throng gathered in and around the area surrounding the Other Tent to greet Cincinnati's pure Pop pride and joy Walk The Moon.
Technical glitches delayed the start of their set but they had the crowd bouncing, clapping, singing along and eating out of their hands from the minute they took the stage.
WTM singer Nicholas Petricca shouted, "We're called Walk The Moon! We're from Ohio!" and the crowd roared as the band launched into their single "Tightrope." This writer has never seen a larger crowd assembled for a performance in the Other Tent and Petricca's buoyant charm and boundless energy kept the crowd pumped and jumping throughout the bands' entire performance.
Later in That Tent, Father John Misty brought the weird and the beard via his sardonic Folk Rock parables. I half-expected the depth and humor of FJM's material to sail over the heads of most Bonnaroovians but I was pleasantly surprised to hear many people singing along. A huge fan of his new Fear Fun album, I think I would have driven all the way to Tennessee just to hear Misty sing "Only Son Of The Ladiesman". He didn't make me wait long, playing it in the No. 2 slot.
(Walk the Moon hotos by Chuck Madden)
EDITOR'S NOTE: For this year's installment of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., CityBeat sent the veteran ’Roo team of writer (and musician) Ric Hickey and photographer Chuck Madden down south again to report on the festivities. Keep an eye on this here music blog for updates, pics and more from Tennessee all ’Roo weekend. (If you can't make it to the fest, Cork n' Bottle in Covington is having a "Road to Roo" party that runs through tomorrow's festivities, with a live stream from the fest, drink specials and a rotating collection of visiting food trucks.)
Turkey vultures circled overhead as Chuck and I drove through the rolling green hills of central Tennessee between Murfreesboro and McMinnville, on our way to Manchester for the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Our circuitous route through small towns and backwoods was briefly complicated by pounding rain. But soon the skies cleared and we found our way to the media campground located behind Bonnaroo's Which Stage, happily settling into an area that's just a few minutes walk from the festival grounds.
The friendly spirit of the festival was upon us immediately as we were greeted by new friends, fellow travelers in the campground and other members of the assembled press in the backstage Media compound.
Highlights of our Thursday perambulations included Futurebirds in This Tent, a glimpse of slam-bang Country rockers Houndmouth in the On Tap Lounge and a display of first class Honky Tonk by J.D. McPherson in That Tent that stopped Chuck and me in our tracks.
McPherson had the crowd smiling and dancing to a Rockabilly hybrid that swung like a wrecking ball. Western Swing met Chicago Blues as McPherson and crew featured upright bass, B-3 organ and saxophone for a syrupy saunter through Bo Diddley's "I Wanna Try For You." McPherson himself added some tasteful Telecaster licks, bringing a warbling echo of Surf music to the mix.
Fan-shot video of McPherson swingin' through "Your Love."
Proto-Hip Hop legend/innovator Blowfly returns to Newport, Ky., tonight for a show at the York Street Cafe. The altered-ego of Clarence Reid, who wrote and produced R&B tracks for artists like Betty Wright and Wilson Pickett, "Blowfly" began releasing cult fave "adult" material in the ’70s/’80s, his cool, spoken flow setting a blueprint for rappers to come.
Blowfly (who appeared at York Street Cafe last September) has continued to put out albums, notably 2006's classically ridiculous Blowfly's Punk Rock Party, which featured reworked satirical renditions of hits by The Clash ("Should I Fuck This Big Fat Ho"), The Dead Kennedys ("R. Kelly in Cambodia," featuring Jello Biafra himself as a guest) and the immortal "I Wanna Fuck Your Dog," based on The Stooges' seminal "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Reid was also the subject of the interesting and acclaimed documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly, which you can watch through Netflix.
Tonight's show kicks off at 8 p.m. and features special guests Hurricane Hot Pants and Vampire Weekend at Bernie's.
• Death Grips is a primal force of nature that seems built to subvert. Entering the world of this Sacramento-based experimental Hip Hop trio — frontman Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, keyboardist/programming guru Andy “Flatlander” Morin and drummer Zach Hill — is akin to being trapped in a demented, all-immersive video game designed and conceived by Harmony Korine and Charles Manson. Strap in for a wild, sensory-altering ride.
Death Grips' full-length debut, The Money Store — somewhat improbably released by the bigwigs at Epic Records in April of last year — is a dense, claustrophobic head-trip marked by Burnett’s rapid-fire raps, most of which are hard to discern amid the clanging sonic assault that surrounds him.
The Bomb Squad’s Public Enemy heyday is an obvious touchstone, as is any number of far lesser known art-damaged outfits. A glance at the lyric sheet confirms the workings of a paranoid mind. Try this from “The Fever (Aye Aye)”: “Blade cut me/Sewer drain grated/Bubonic plague/Spreaded faceless/Lurking in the deadest spaces.”
The Money Store is challenging, fully-realized stuff, which makes the details of its follow-up, No Love Deep Web, released six months later, another fascinating wrinkle in the ongoing Death Grips narrative. The trio dropped the sonically spare (for these guys) album as a free download after Epic balked at releasing it so soon after The Money Store. The label supposedly hadn’t even heard the finished “product.” Then there’s the fact that the cover art features a photo of Hill’s erect penis with the album’s title written on it in black magic marker.
And now for the only obvious development in Death Grips’ creative trajectory to date: They have since parted ways with Epic. (Preview by Jason Gargano)
Death Grips performs tonight downtown at the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre. Ratking opens at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door.
Here's a video clip for Death Grips' "I've Seen Footage," from The Money Store.
• Josh Tillman is a funny, hyper-articulate guy with an absurdist streak that makes itself readily apparent in interviews and between-song live-show banter. Yet you wouldn’t know it by listening to the seven solo albums he put out as J. Tillman from 2004 to 2010, all of which were pretty serious-minded, sonically straightforward affairs in the mold of the folkies he once supported as an open act: Damien Jurado and Richard Buckner.
“When I was 21 I wanted to be (seen as) a 40-year-old alcoholic trucker,” Tillman said of his early, vanity-driven persona in a recent interview with KEXP.
Enter Father John Misty, a moniker/conceptual shift that seems to have unlocked the 32-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s playful side. FJM performs tonight at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $17 at the door.
The new outfit’s 2012 debut for Sub Pop, Fear Fun, is a musically diverse gem, moving from the lilting Folk of “Funtimes in Babylon” to the lush Pop gold of “Nancy From Now On” to the atmospheric rocker “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” with seamless grace.
The affecting album-closer “Everyman Needs a Companion” brings to mind a meld of the criminally underappreciated Grant Lee Buffalo and the kinda over-praised Fleet Foxes (for whom, curiously, Tillman was the drummer from 2008 to 2011). Best of all is the rollicking, twang-infested ditty “I’m Writing a Novel,” which features some of Tillman’s most inspired word play and impassioned singing.
Then there’s Tillman’s “performance” as Misty, which takes on a whole new dimension in a live setting. With his lanky frame, handsome, bearded face and slithery-hipped dancing, he conjures Jim Morrison as lounge singer — which, believe it or not, is a good thing. (Preview by Jason Gargano)
Here is the video for "Funtimes in Babylon."
Opening the show is Pure Bathing Culture. The upstart two-piece (and, when live, four-piece) — led by old friends, romantic partners and Vetiver members Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman — filled the genre box on its Facebook page with “New Age/Slow Dance/Adult Contemporary/Spiritual.” Though it could be a joke on the band's part, the connection makes sense.
“Pendulum” — a track off PBC's debut full-length Moon Tides — has the pretty reverb and general je ne sais quoi of an Indie Pop song, but its soothing lyrics about swinging like a pendulum and downbeat, sunset-on-a-beach vibe also reflect the band potentially using New Age as a legit influence.
By the time of Moon Tides’ release in late August, when the band leaders are doing the press rounds, hopefully someone will think to ask about this link and close the case for good. (Preview by Reyan Ali)
Here is PBC's video for "Pendulum."
The first day of summer isn't for three more weeks, but MidPoint Indie Summer begins this evening.
The free, every-Friday concert event — sponsored by CityBeat's MidPoint Music Festival (which recently announced another stack of performers for this September's fest) — is part of Fountain Square's PNC Summer Music Series, which kicked off earlier this week. Shows start every Friday at 8 p.m., preceded by the 4EG Happy Hour (5-8 p.m.), which includes a special guest DJ each week (today it's DJ Ice Cold Tony) and lots of drink specials.
MidPoint Indie Summer shows feature primarily local acts, but also a few national touring performers. Click here for the full lineup so far.
Tonight's MPIS headliners are using the event to launch into a new phase of their career. It's officially the last show by 7-year-old, nationally-acclaimed Indie Pop band Pomegranates … but also the first show for the band under its new name, Healing Power. Pomegranates/Healing Power will be playing song from all five Pomegranates albums, "some we haven't done in years," the band writes on its Facebook page. Healing Power already has some solid bookings this summer, including dates with Cold War Kids, Ra Ra Riot and former Miracle Legion frontman March Mulcahy.
R.I.P. Pomegranates, and welcome to the world, Healing Power. Here's an oldie but goodie, from 2009's Lujo Records release, Everybody Come Outside! (The band has confirmed this one's in tonight's set!) Pomegrantes/Healing Power performs at 10 p.m.
At 9 p.m., great Covington quartet The Yugos perform, celebrating the release of their brand-new Life is Awesome and Then You Live Forever LP, a stellar exhibition of the band's twinkly/trippy, melodic Dream Pop. The album was posted today on The Yugos' Bandcamp page. Check out the fantastic first single from the album, "Dream Away" (a free download), below and grab your album download here to get even more pumped for the show tonight.
Kicking off the show in style at 8 p.m. is Cincy Indie Rock threesome The Never Setting Suns. The band has independently released a pair of strong albums so far, including last year's Time & Eternity. Download that album's "Meet Me There" for free here.