Fergus & Geronimo – Funky Was the State of Affairs album review

The word “interesting,” ironically, may be the least interesting adjective in the English language. It pretends to make an opinion without really saying anything about the subject. To say something is interesting is to say that it captured your attention and held it for a certain period of time, long enough for you to think with at least a sliver of consideration and, hopefully, to form an opinion, but apparently not a very strong one. Interesting is lukewarm and does not communicate anything terribly precise.

In some cases, however, it can be the best way to describe something, especially if you are unable to gauge the reaction of others to that thing. It was the first word that came to mind upon a first listen of Fergus & Geronimo’s sophomore effort Funky Was the State of Affairs. From start to finish, the record truly is an interesting experience. Equal parts the Hives, Joy Division, Blur and Parliament/Funkadelic, Fergus & Geronimo delivers an insane tour de force of weirdness that seems to have covered enough bases to be enjoyable at times for anybody. The Texas-based duo manages to combine elements of psych-pop, proto-punk and funk, among many other styles and genres, to create an extraordinarily unique LP.

Spliced with spoken word tracks such as the opener “Planet Earth is Pregnant for the 5th Time” and “The Strange One Speaketh,” the ceaseless beats and grinding guitar riffs weave a musical journey which calls to mind DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. and the fuzzed-out euphoria of Animal Collective. “Earthling Men” takes cues from the controlled, delayed feedback of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, while both parts of “Wiretapping Muzak” owe a tremendous debt to ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears.” The driving bass and melodrama of “Drones” hark back to the post-punk Great Britain of Peter Hook in the 1980s, and the closing title track is every bit as fun as many Sly & the Family Stone cuts. The list of bands and artists that this record reminds me of, really, could go on for at least another three hundred words.

All told, Funky Was the State of Affairs is a superbly original release in a world where such an accomplishment is not as easy as it once was. Andrew Savage and Jason Kelly, the duo masterminds of the band, should be proud of this work, even if the spoken word tracks can get weirder than the music. An album like this comes along none too often anymore, yet releases like this, perhaps unfairly, are often overlooked. On Funky Was the State of Affairs, Fergus & Geronimo reflects its influences while creating something entirely new, the failed responsibility of many contemporary musicians. If nothing else, the album is worth a listen. If you’re interested.

Peter Lovett – Flying Away EP review

The term “singer-songwriter” has evolved over time, as most things do, from the barnstorming folkisms of Woody Guthrie to the industrious complexities of Bob Dylan to the Americana of the Eagles to today’s indie folkies like Bon Iver. One could make an argument that just about anything falls under the umbrella of the term, even someone as un-Dylanesque as, say, Nicki Minaj. Many contemporary musicians adopt the “singer-songwriter” title to conjure images of acoustic guitars, simple bands and lyrics that tell stories. Among the most traditional singer-songwriters that remain is the now Texas-based musician Peter Lovett.

His second release, an EP entitled Flying Away, does not deviate too far from the course set by his 2010 full-length debut, Now and Then. Two songs from that album, in fact, find their way onto the EP two years later, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Man” and “Mr. Heartluck and Trouble, Stay Away From Me,” each of which has a subtle change in title from the last release. The album opens with the 70s funk horns and organs of “Down to the Beach,” which may have appeared on the Super Fly soundtrack had Curtis Mayfield envisioned it first. The rest of the album takes a decidedly more refined approach; indeed, much of it calls to mind the easygoing melodies of Jackson Browne. The layered harmonies of the title track and the slide guitars of “Mr. Heartluck and Trouble, Stay Away From Me” hark back to the Eagles and similarly-styled ’70s country-rock. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Man” has the chugging simplicity of an early Beach Boys cut, minus any of the muted beauty or the cracked genius of Brian Wilson.

As on his first release, Peter Lovett seems to be on a mission to prove himself worthy of the giants on whose shoulders he stands. He has already personally received praise from Jackson Browne and now seems to be seeking vindication from the listeners and record labels who have spurned him for two decades, all the while maintaining the dignity of a serious musician with a task at hand: “I’m trying to live out my dreams,” as he says on the closing track, “He’ll Find a Love.” Lovett’s dedication is rewarded on Flying Away, and his love for classic singer-songwriters is evidence enough to give him credence and hurry him on to his next release.

P.O.D. – Murdered Love review

One of the premier turn-of-the-century rapcore bands, P.O.D. has kept consistently busy during its time in the limelight. The band releases an album every few years, touring in between and attributing all of its success to God, as is the Christian metal way. Even since the notable heyday of The Fundamental Elements of Southtown and Satellite, P.O.D. manages to pop up in commercials, movies and as background music for extreme sports montages on YouTube.

Murdered Love, the band’s eighth full-length studio release, brings more of the same, a heavy, detuned guitar-driven sound combined with elements of hip-hop and alternative, melodic hardcore. The album opens with a fade into the first song, “Eyez,” which immediately establishes the “surrender to the higher power” agenda: “When it all goes down/we will rise/but you ain’t seen/nothing yet.” Sonny Sandoval, the group’s lead vocalist, often speaks his way through verses while singing choruses, as on “Higher.” The high energy of the tracks carries most of them, which have a way of starting softly before blowing into distortion and heavy, plodding guitar riffs accompanied by throaty screaming through the speakers.

A subtle highlight on Murdered Love comes at the halfway point with “Beautiful,” an upbeat rumination on the meaning of life and apathetic tendencies on the parts of young people: “Hey/you’re beautiful/and there’s enough love for the whole wide world.” While the album mostly presents positive imagery through its lyrics, “Beautiful” actually sounds like a happy song rather than a Metallica rhythm track overdubbed with a Christian message. When the track does get heavy, its sound leans more on the side of, say, Lifehouse than Black Flag.

On the second half of the album, the band retracts back to its generally accepted method for producing songs: energy, guitars and sometimes unintelligible, ethereal vocalizations. While there are some catchy moments amidst the madness (the “Stop, drop, ROLL!” chorus of “On Fire” comes to mind), P.O.D.’s lack of growth and experimentation beyond standard nu metal practices generates a mostly forgettable record within a mostly forgettable catalogue from a probably soon-to-be-forgotten band. For the moment, however, if you have always enjoyed what P.O.D. does, Murdered Love fits the bill.

Holograms – Holograms review

Punk gets its rocks off on the fact that most of its musicians are poorly trained, if at all, and have little sense of well-being while banging away at low quality instruments they probably bought secondhand from a pawn shop that may or may not deal in human trafficking when the lights are out. Such is almost certainly the case with Holograms, the Stockholm-based quartet who seek to reconcile the resentment of postmodernism with the emotional, melodic sensitivities of punk in a post-White Stripes world.

The band’s self-titled debut album, Holograms, plays out with all this as a backdrop. Slightly more musical than, say, Johnny Ramone and incredibly more in-tune than, for instance, the Sex Pistols, Holograms works to its strengths: apathetic aggression, raw power and a teeming backbeat that harks back to the golden age of punk while retaining the “indie” that allows for a synthesizer providing much of the harmonic nuance on the record.

The opener, a suite-like group of sections entitled “Monolith,” careens for four-and-a-half minutes, with guitarist/vocalist Anton Spetze teetering close to an edge from which he never quite topples. “Orpheo” starts with a riff reminiscent of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By the Way” before spiraling into a classic punk destroyer, and “Transform” has all the elements of a weird Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd track. “Fever” features an affectionate moment of slowing down, allowing the band, in one of many instances, to stretch itself beyond the barging rhythms of simplistic punk.

At its heart, Holograms is a shining example of twenty-first century indie punk. There is a lot of shouting and a lot of words that the listener may not understand, but the message is clear: Holograms is here, they are angry and they want you to be angry with them. In the grand scheme of lo-fi noise emitting from your stereo, what more could you ask from a band?

Everclear – Invisible Stars album review

Alternative pop-rock is not dead. Repeat: alternative pop-rock is not dead. It just isn’t that pop anymore. The group of bands that held court on Total Request Live around the turn of this century have, for the most part, faded out of the limelight or broken up (in some cases, with the members breaking up, embarking on splintered side projects and realizing quickly that the whole was far greater than the sum of the parts). Like the contemporaneous teen angst film genre, alternative pop-rock had a solid run at the top and influenced plenty of music, for better or for worse, but that time has long since passed.

With all that in mind, Art Alexakis is back to open his heart to the world on Everclear’s eighth studio album, Invisible Stars. Having already officially released five “best of” compilations and changed its lineup twice in the last eight years alone, one would venture to guess that Everclear’s time has gone the way of Michael Jordan’s playing career, but Invisible Stars is manages to squeeze out more nectar from the fruit, albeit in minute, recognizable drops.

By and large, this album does not stray too far from anything Everclear has ever produced. Most of these tracks would fit perfectly on So Much for the Afterglow or either of the Songs from an American Movie discs, when the band was at its pinnacle. The lyrical content seems to come mostly from Alexakis’ personal experiences, as has been the Everclear status quo.

The first song, “Tiger in a Burning Tree,” is a short, weird choice with which to open an album, as the vocals alternate from sounding as if they were recorded over the telephone to being recorded into a microphone. “Be Careful What You Ask For,” the album’s first single, creates a dialectic with the claims that, “We burn out in the dark…We will never die,” though the poignant line in the unbearable heat of the summertime seems to be, “Life looks better when you waste away the day.” An almost certain TRL #1 video in 1999, “Jackie Robinson” provides the most direct ancestral line to classic Everclear, with lyrics about the evolution of race relations and a reference to the 2008 Presidential election played over a chord progression of which, while we’ve heard it before, we can never seem to get enough.

The best times for Everclear were spent echoing from speakers in millennial high school parking lots, Carson Daly has moved on, and while Art Alexakis continues past the half-century mark with a group of people he can legally brand with his band’s name, we know better. Invisible Stars is enjoyable for what it is, and people looking for tremendous artistic growth probably will not find it here. We also know that, even if our memories of Everclear are inextricably linked to movies and moments that we thought were much funnier at the time, we can certainly watch the world die one more time with the next American Pie sequel, and Everclear will be there.

The dB’s – Falling Off The Sky album review

A lot can happen in a span of twenty five years. Communist superpowers can crumble beneath the weight of sheer, raw capitalism. The world’s most diverse nation can unite in the face of terrorism. LeBron James can win an NBA championship. Indeed, in the time since power pop outfit the dB’s last released a studio album, the world has undergone strange and wonderful changes, but the group seems to have retained much of its pop sensibility.

Falling Off The Sky, the dB’s first effort in over two decades and the first with the original lineup in three, harks back to its debut album, 1981’s Stands for Decibles, more than Repercussion, and the complementary jangling tones of Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple hammer the speakers from the start. “That Time is Gone,” the album’s opener, begs us to, “Wake up, wake up, wake up” and belongs in the same garage rock family tree as ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” and the Keggs’ “To Find Out” as well as a host of early Kinks and the Who singles.

Most of the tracks feature some kind of punk influence while holding onto the nuances that make listening to pop a generally less angry experience. Some songs, such as “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” and “Collide-oOo-Scope,” seem to be amalgamations of two or more songs, with varying tempos and conflicting themes in lyrics. There are also elements of McCartneyan baroque pop, on tracks like “Far Away and Long Ago,” that test the musicality of the group and vary the overall feeling of the record enough to keep it interesting.

The dB’s became one of the most influential groups of 1980s and 90s alternative rock, exerting influence on bands like Yo La Tengo and R.E.M. With Falling Off The Sky, the dB’s take cues from the very bands they influenced, carrying the proverbial Olympic torch to new generations of power poppers. Many of the songs touch upon themes relevant to an aging rock group, but the dB’s’ return puts its longevity as a working unit at the forefront. With the final song on the album, “Remember,” the band seems to be rhetorically asking itself the question, “Remember thinking you could die?”

Tomas Barfod – Salton Sea review

Danish music has not of yet left an especially impressive mark on popular music. Suffice it to say that the most prominent Danish musician right now, and of the last twenty or so years, may be Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. Scandinavian music in general does carry with it the catchiest connotations for the average American listener. The Danes are making tremendous strides, however, and one artist in particular may be able to capitalize on the wildfire popularity of indie electronica.

With the release of his solo album Salton Sea, Tomas Barfod, drummer of Scandinavian outfit WhoMadeWho, bridges several gaps with which electronica can struggle at times. Being a drummer, Barfod utilizes the tangible kit to great effect as the backbeat for much of the album, but on several occasions the kit seems to fight with a synthesized drum kit, creating a sort of battle between the sounds. Tracks on the album alternate between having vocals and being entirely instrumental, giving the album the experimental feel that Barfod is reconciling with himself and toying with the listener to see what works best.

The opening track, a nearly five-minute romp entitled “D.S.O.Y.,” builds continuously without ever really going anywhere. The momentous climax that the listener expects never reveals itself, which may be a cunning ploy on Barfod’s part to fool us before we have gotten to know him. From there, though, the tracks pay off with dividends. Barfod’s two collaborations with Swedish singer Nina Kinert (“Till We Die” and “November Sky”) in particular sparkle, with Kinert’s seductive vocals bringing the kind of sample-worthy quality that is bound to appear in an Avicii remix before too much longer.

“Came to Party,” an ode to club life, features only one line: “Everybody came to party.” Universal sentiments do not exist if that is not one of them. The dazzling “Aether” showcases Barfod’s melodic prowess as well as his adept timekeeping on the drums, and the track which follows it, “Nighthawke,” emphasizes harmonic displays that echo and reverberate throughout the album.

Overall, the album takes on a Hot Chip vibe, circa Made in the Dark. Barfod shows that he is an effective electronic musician in his own right, though collaborations with the other members of WhoMadeWho throughout yield positive results. With any luck, Salton Sea will bring Barfod and his comrades some popularity, help to redefine cross-genre electronic music and give Denmark credit where credit is due.

Friends – Manifest! album review

Since LCD Soundsystem first popularized the term “disco-punk” about ten years ago, scores of groups, both affiliated with LCD’s DFA label and otherwise, have infused portions of the disco-punk sound into their own. One of the latest, Brooklyn’s Friends, created a sizable stir with the 2011 release of its singles “Friend Crush” and “I’m His Girl.” Both are featured on the full-length debut of the group, entitled Manifest! Hailed as the “hottest record in the world” upon its release by BBC Radio One, Manifest! invites listeners to the dance floor, and we are only too willing to accept.

From the initial, heavily-reverberated drum introduction of “Friend Crush,” Friends is out to get the party started while leaving room for reflection. The opening track is an examination of how friendship comes to be, applying the customs associated with burgeoning romantic relationships to strictly platonic ones (“I wanna be your friend/I wanna ask your advice on a weekday/I wanna plan something nice for the weekend/I wanna be your friend”). Immediately, it is not beyond the record to cultivate images of Nancy Whang singing James Murphy’s lyrics.

“Home” also borrows from LCD’s lexicon, with the hook sounding quite similar to an unused bridge in “Time To Get Away.” The song thematically discusses the idea of giving up love when it does not seem reciprocated, but, as with the overwhelming majority of songs on the album, it is hard not to feel elated when singer Samantha Urbani coos, “If you had treated me right, I would do everything that I could for you.”

Conversely, “A Thing Like This” takes its vibe from 80s alternative post-punk and features a guitar riff that would make Johnny Marr proud playing over a delectable synthesizer and almost-African percussion. “Ideas On Ghosts,” a minor-key lament on spirits and life, haunts the speakers for a full three-and-a-half minutes with a processed synthesizer that emulates an orchestra.

From the bass-heavy “Ruins” through the funky “I’m His Girl” to the closer “Mind Control,” Friends keeps the foot consistently tapping and the mind running. The band acknowledges its roots while forging forward, something every act for the last few centuries, whether consciously or not, has probably attempted. Manifest! stands as both a monument to LCD and as proof that in a post-LCD world, it is still okay to be cognitively rhythmic.

2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival review – Part II

Waking up on Saturday morning at Bonnaroo carries with it the curious sensation that work is unfinished. At this point, the music festival has become less about fun and more about completing a task. To come out alive, even if sunburnt, malnourished and sleep-deprived, seems like an accomplishment worthy of an entry on the résumé. Surely an employer would be impressed with an arduous, days-long struggle for survival in the oppressive heat of the desolate Tennessean countryside. With that thought lingering in the backs of our minds, my compatriots and I, jobless for the summer, rattled back to Centeroo for another string of concerts.

Saturday’s first act at What Stage was Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, another retro soul outfit in the vein of the previous day’s Sharon Jones that radiated the feeling of a show at the Apollo. Bradley, a former James Brown impersonator, made his case as the hardest working man in show business, sweating his way through a funk-tinged set that included an earnest cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” The Extraordinaires put on their very best JBs faces as well, creating a tight backdrop on top of which Bradley could vocally improvise. He closed the show with the suggestion that this was not his best but promised that there would be better for everyone in the crowd somewhere down the line before going in front of the stage and, like a politician working the crowd, shaking the hands of everyone within arm’s reach in the front rows.

The Los Angeles-based Celtic punk group Flogging Molly then stretched its wings at That Tent with an electrifying set that probably sent many audience members scrambling in the hopes of finding any trace of Irish ancestry. This Tent then featured DJ SBTRKT, whose collection of masks alone is enough to keep the audience on their toes but whose electronic vibes keep those very same toes tapping, at the very least, and leaping at most.

Following an introduction in which its “head of security” referred to the iconic Bonnaroo fountain as the “Hep-C fountain,” the Scottish group Mogwai did its very best to accelerate the spread of tinnitus among males aged 18-34 and whomever else was present for its set. The mostly instrumental, entirely powerful show had its moments of subtle melodic grace, but the majority of the songs simply tore open BJ’s Warehouse-sized cases of whoop ass. Some selections featured two guitars in what sounded like a bitter battle to the end, and others had three in a similar format. The intricacies of what Mogwai was doing may have been lost at times, but this group employs a “sum greater than the whole of its parts” mentality, and every moment of music was drenched in intense, awesome force.

The final half-hour of The Roots’ performance was as tight as expected; a performance of “The Seed (2.0)” transformed into a medley that included a cover of the late Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle” before ending with Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.” Saturday’s main headliner, Red Hot Chili Peppers, played a set bookended with hits that featured guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in an expectedly less prominent role than his predecessor, John Frusciante. Klinghoffer did not overextend himself; he stuck mostly to the basic framework of solos and complementary riffs on the Frusciante tracks, such as “Californication” and “Scar Tissue.” Flea and Anthony Keidis, each approaching the half-century mark in age, reveled in the testosterone-fueled music they have created in the last three decades. The group did delve into a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and gave an extended, five-song encore that included “Give It Away.”

?uestlove took time to catch his breath following the Roots’ show before he hosted the annual Bonnaroo superjam, a tradition that often brings together musicians who had not previously worked with one another. The hasty amalgamation, whose performance began almost half an hour late, included members of the Roots, Morris Day’s the Time and Prince’s backing band, but the most intriguing surprise came when, for the first time in twelve years, R&B singer D’Angelo crooned on an American stage. Considering ?uestlove said the group had merged on the basis of their shared work in New York’s Electric Lady Studios, it began, appropriately, with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” before running through many funk standards and other covers. Representative of how quickly the group had thrown a setlist together, D’Angelo could be seen reading lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Never Should Be” as the song progressed. A raucous version of the Beatles’ “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” heavily influenced by Joe Cocker’s version, struck the particular fancies of many in the crowd, and a jam based on the Band of Gypsies’ “Power of Soul” showcased each member’s fluid virtuosity.

The final act of Saturday night at This Tent was a full-length presentation of the GZA’s classic solo album Liquid Swords. Rapping over the instrumentation of the Latin band Grupo Fantasma, GZA’s flow was as seamless and his delivery as powerful as ever. Without the support of his fellow Wu-Tang Clan members, GZA spat their lines from the album himself, putting it into an entirely different perspective for those familiar with the original work. Live instrumentation in hip-hop seems to always provide an extra source of excitement, and GZA capitalized on that with Grupo Fantasma in their first-ever live performance together. Even with only a sole member to represent, Wu-Tang again displayed its enormous influence on hip-hop culture. With that, we returned to our tent comfortable in the knowledge that only one day, albeit a guaranteed marathon, lay ahead of us.

Sunday morning did not bother waking us up with the cold to which we had become accustomed at 5 a.m. Instead, the heat was the only way out of unconsciousness. With hours until any shows began, my friends and I decided to attempt to cook bacon. Two problems quickly arose: first, our complete lack of charcoal knowledge led us to continually fail to light the grill. Second, the bacon was expired. We settled for the last remnants of our pre-festival trip to Wal-Mart as the most important meal of the day before heading into Centeroo.

Sunday became the day of What Stage. Gary Clark Jr. was the first performer, and his brand of electric blues not so much knocked the socks off the audience members but rather destroyed every fiber of fabric on anyone’s foot. His wailing guitar and passionate vocal delivery reminded everyone that rock is based in the blues, with “Bright Lights” being the focal point of his set.

Next on What Stage were the Beach Boys. To be honest, I was expecting an air of nostalgia more than an actually commanding performance. Brian Wilson has not been himself since 1966, it seems, and Mike Love has been riding the Beach Boys cash cow for decades. With Wilson and other founding members, however, the Beach Boys excelled onstage. While the first half of the set was dedicated to mostly lesser-known and newer selections, the second half would have doubled perfectly as a live Greatest Hits record, and every song triggered head-bobbing and dancing among the crowd. Beach balls were thrown into the audience, and even when it rained it felt like we were at the shore, in the hot sun, just listening to Pet Sounds. Wilson, the only surviving brother of the original Beach Boys, even mustered the strength to deliver a mesmerizing vocal on “God Only Knows,” one of the most enduring pop melodies of the twentieth century. The band was, for all intents and purposes, one of the most surprisingly fun acts of the weekend.

After an hour break, during which the rain picked up and gradually dropped off, singer-songwriter Justin Vernon took the stage with his band, Bon Iver. Vernon, who with his scraggly beard and thinning hairline looks more like a part-time minor league hockey player than a folk-rock star, exercised his versatile voice on tracks like “Skinny Love” and “Michicant.” The crowd responded with wild praise after each song, and during “The Wolves (Act I and II),” Vernon asked the crowd to sing along with the line, “What might’ve been lost,” to which everyone enthusiastically complied. Bon Iver’s extensive live band, necessary to recreate the sounds from his LPs, hit each note and provided harmonies that would have made the Beach Boys proud.

An interesting facet, I thought, of both the Beach Boys’ performance and Bon Iver’s was that Trey Anastasio, the guitarist of that night’s headliner, Phish, could be seen watching on the side of the stage, captivated with both acts. The Beach Boys’ Al Jardine also stayed on stage for Bon Iver’s show, and both he and Anastasio clapped heartily when Vernon and his band finished. It was a transcendent moment to see such influential performers like Jardine and Anastasio become entrapped in the music of a relatively new group like Bon Iver. Sometimes we forget that musicians are fans of music too, and something like that, which more often occurs at a festival than at a regular concert, reminds us these guys are just people like us.

Following Bon Iver, my friends left the front section of the general admission area to which we had slowly progressed over the course of the afternoon. I was tired, hungry and really could have used a Port-a-john, but at this point I figured I had come this far, and with only an hour left until Phish began, I would hold firm in my spot. An over-excited group of high school girls fawning over a guy named Chad and two guys trying to sneak into the VIP area would not, and did not, deter me.

Finally, the time came, and Phish walked onstage to great acclaim. The flexible jam band, which has been to Bonnaroo twice since their reunion in 2009, immediately launched into funk-influenced rock with an accompanying, highly reactive light show. A notable point came when Trey Anastasio invited country legend Kenny Rogers, who had performed earlier in the day, to sing his standard “The Gambler” with Phish. The band challenged itself on extended jams like “Tweezer” and a cover of TV On The Radio’s “Golden Age,” with which it began its second set. A cover of “2001” and the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” whipped the crowd into an excited frenzy, as did the live staple “Harry Hood,” which features sections in differing time signatures. After a final encore featuring “Julius” and a reprise of “Tweezer,” Phish, and the 2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, had finished.

Riding away from the campground and into the Appalachians, we had time to collect our thoughts. We ruminated mostly on Phish, being the last act, but eventually stepped back and surveyed the weekend as a whole. Even having been to Bonnaroo once before, this was an entirely new and completely different experience from the last. Even what you are reading now only acts as the tip of the Bonnaroo iceberg. A period of rest would be required to readjust to mainstream society, and merely a short, seven-hour drive separated me from one of the most gratifying showers of my life. Following the festival in 2010, I said I would never go back to Bonnaroo because I would not need to do so. Now, it seems unlikely that I will return, but I cannot deal in absolutes. It may very well be the case that a few of my friends coerce me once again into the backseat of a hatchback for a road trip to madness. Even with its faults and the sporadic weather, Bonnaroo continues to be one of America’s premier music festivals, and it is my belief that everyone, at least once in his or her life, should take a few days off and go camping in the middle of June. I know a lovely farm in Tennessee that would be more than happy to host.

2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival review – Part I

There is a moment of realization, an epiphany of sorts, which occurs to every person who turns off I-24 in Manchester, Tennessee, to enter a 700-acre farm in the heat of the summer. Maybe you have traveled seven hours in the back of a Hyundai hatchback with inadequate space for a young child, much less a college student and a week’s worth of camping supplies. Maybe you packed enough to sustain yourself on the back of a motorcycle and rode from California, with a breakdown in Texas being the only true hindrance. Maybe you had it worse than that. No matter the circumstances, at some point between the security check and the parking of the car, the moment comes: “I am at Bonnaroo. This is it.”

The 2012 version of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, held annually in a city of 10,000 people, was sure to elicit that kind of response from all of the estimated 80,000-100,000 attendees. The headliners were sure to be killer, and the rest of the acts appeared set to impress as well. Best of all, perhaps, was the fact that, unlike during my previous trip to Bonnaroo in 2010, the temperature was not going to approach triple digits. So confident had I been in the prospect of extreme heat, in fact, that I did not bother packing anything with long sleeves and only had a light fleece blanket for the nights, which ended up dipping to the 50s and woke me up, almost on the dot, at 5 o’clock every morning. That was a lesson in preparation and assumptions, courtesy of Mother Nature.

Having fulfilled my volunteer obligation on Thursday, the first show my friends and I went to see was K. Flay. The spoken-word introduction to the first song by the female rapper was entertaining, but after a few minutes we decided to move on to The Dirty Guv’nahs, who were far more appealing to our musical sensibilities. Their brand of southern rock may have conjured images of the Allman Brothers Band post-Duane, and they excited the crowd with several displays of intricate guitar work before concluding with a cover of “Hey Jude” that borrowed more from Wilson Pickett’s cover than from the Beatles’ original. Rousing in either case, of course.

Kendrick Lamar was the next show on our agenda, and the young rapper delivered a high-energy set that acted as an excellent set piece for the rest of the weekend. The show not to be missed on Thursday night, however, was Alabama Shakes. Brittany Howard’s vocals pulsated throughout This Tent, getting the crowd bobbing to a string of songs that included the single “Hold On” and the namesake of their debut effort, “Boys & Girls.” The group, which sounds eerily like Janis Joplin ditched the Holding Company for the Bar-Kays, rocked the crowd until after midnight before closing with “Heavy Chevy.” Desperate to catch up on as much sleep as possible, we returned to our campsite with the same vigor with which a restaurant patron goes to the restroom following the appetizer. Our palates were whet, and we thought we were ready for what was to come.

What came, of course, was the aforementioned near-frostbite at 5 in the morning followed almost immediately by full-on greenhouse effect inside our tent which caused the abandonment of blankets and superfluous layers of clothing. Unable to sleep past nine in the morning, much time surrendered itself to endless Frisbee tossing and vain attempts to light charcoal. When we finally ventured to Centeroo, the main concert area, the first full show we took in was that of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, whose soulful timbres brought listeners back to the 1960s. The band, a seamless extension from Alabama Shakes the previous night, was extremely tight and carried a feel-good atmosphere with them throughout their performance.

Next on What Stage was the punk-grass outfit the Avett Brothers. The group, hailing from Concord, North Carolina, and led by brothers Seth and Scott Avett, has built a reputation on their blistering live shows, and this was no different. They sent the audience into a sing along-induced frenzy with live staples such as “Will You Return?,” “Paranoia in Bb Major” and “Laundry Room.” The Avetts also included two covers in a tribute to the recently-deceased Doc Watson, “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” and “Down in the Valley to Pray,” before closing with the seemingly million-beats-per-minute “Talk on Indolence.”

Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, delivered an excellent set in That Tent which included the baroque-dancepop hit “Cruel” and “Cheerleader.” The most highly-anticipated show of the night for most, however, came when Radiohead walked onto What Stage at 10 p.m. and blazed their way through “Kid A,” “The Daily Mail” and “Karma Police” before engaging in two encores, the last of which included “Reckoner,” which Thom Yorke dedicated to the next night’s headliner, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “Paranoid Android.” The video screens surrounding What Stage, which typically focused on one entire performer or a section of a group, instead showed extremely zoomed-in shots of, for instance, Johnny Greenwood’s guitar or Thom Yorke’s mouth. This disregard to help the audience in the far reaches of Centeroo to see anything seemed like such a Radiohead move, however, that we were not even angry. How could we be? The group met our expectations and then some, and their live presence was big enough to fill all of Coffee County and beyond.

A quick stop by The Word, which featured Robert Randolph and the North Mississippi Allstars, yielded much enjoyment, and though most of the audience was older than the stereotypical Bonnaroo attendee, there was a place for everyone at Randolph’s dinner for the soul. His virtuosity on lap-steel guitar was in full effect, and seasoned keyboard player John Medeski complemented the gospel-influenced song structures that seemed to serve exclusively as frames inside which to jam extensively.

Black Star
, the hip-hop brainchild of Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), raised the proverbial roof off That Tent with a set list that incorporated songs from both Black Star albums to date. The collaboration played to each MC’s strong points, as the Kweli’s ebb balanced nicely with Bey’s flow, as has often been the case in the last fifteen years.

Following Black Star was the final performance of my night, that of experimental Los Angeles DJ Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus. Alice Coltrane’s great-nephew shaped his way through selections from Cosmagramma, including a powerful take on “Zodiac Shit” which mesmerized the crowd and gave the hearts of everyone nearby palpitations. Ellison’s perhaps surprising stage presence was on display as well, in one instance playing through an entire verse and chorus of the Jackson 5’s seminal Motown hit “I Want You Back,” with which everyone sang along before he spun it into a separate web altogether, and, on a different occasion, pausing mid-track with a simple request: “Whisky…I need whisky…”

Two days gone, and I already felt like I had journeyed a thousand miles. I certainly looked that way as well, with mud and dust coverage reaching a peak on my legs and no proper means to shave. There were a few issues with the event up to that point as well: first, the scanning wristband system which Bonnaroo has only recently employed seemed to have caused tremendous delays in the lines going into Centeroo, so we had to adapt to that if we were going to arrive on time to desired shows. Second, a common problem with any reasonably-sized festival is concurrent sets of acts one desires to see. Third, we were wholly confused with stage and tent names. It did not seem as though we would be able to ask where an act was performing without getting a question in return. Finally, we were running low on Pop-Tarts, and we had forgotten bag clips to close our bulk Frosted Flakes. Somehow we would have to navigate our way through these crises because there were two full days of music ahead, and because we would not get adequate sleep to deal with it in an appropriate fashion, we knew better than to worry and instead enjoyed the comfort of our dirty, dewy mattress pads.