10. Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers
Nicki Bluhm was kickass. She’s got an old school country/southern rock vibe with plenty of heart and soul. Many of her lyrical themes take their cues from this era – a lot of “my man ain’t no good” vibes. It’s been done many times, but Nicki presents it with so much passion and authenticity that she will make you believe in it all over again. She’s got an incredible set of pipes and a kickass guitarist to boot.
9. Of Monsters & Men
Another of my must sees, and they proved my reasoning to be solid. I love their onstage demeanor, so carefree, laid back, and humble. The setlist was a bit by the numbers, but with only one album that’s to be expected. They were really good at interacting with the crowd; once or twice Nanna or the other guitarist would walk out on a platform jutting into the crowd and everyone would just soak it all in. One unexpected moment came when they did a cover of “Skeletons” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The original is really electo/new wavey, but OMAM folked it out, added in their harmony arrangements and really made it their own.
Alt-J has been a tough nut for me to crack. I couldn’t get into the
album much from what I listened to it and had considered skipping the
set entirely, but decided to give them one more shot to change my mind
live. I was up pretty close to the front, which seems to be a great
accomplishment as this show was totally fucking packed from what I’m
told. That said, I certainly have obtained a new appreciation for the
band. It’s tough to think of any band to directly compare them to.
people have said there’s not much energy which is true, but this set
was really sort of hypnotic in a way. The drummer is really talented; he
moves around the kit with some really spastic, offbeat patterns I don’t
hear often. And songs like “Tesselate,” along with most of their set
really, just have this really chilled out vibe like you’re drifting
through space and becoming one with the stars or something. Still don’t
think this band is a good as most people try to make them out as, but
I’ve gained a new willingness to open up to them.
7. Tom Petty
Making my way toward the What Stage for this one was bittersweet,
knowing it was the final act but also getting excited for the
awesomeness of Petty. After all I had seen and experienced over the past
four days, I couldn't think of a more fitting way to wrap it all up
than a Tom Petty concert. I hope they continue to stick with the
classic/vintage rocker act for the closing spot in coming years. I
couldn't imagine some shitty jam band closing it out.
I was on the field for the first 45 minutes or so of his set. The plan
was to meet up with the rest of my group and we would sit on top of our
cars and watch the end of the show, since our campgrounds were so close
to the What Stage field. The weather ruined those plans, though it was
pretty gratifying singing "Free Falling" in the rain with tens of
thousands of other people. I really liked his demeanor and manner of
speaking on stage. "I predict we're going to have an incredible time
tonight," he declared, before announcing, "I don't have anywhere to be
I didn't know many of the songs he played
while I was out there, but I liked "Tweeter and the Monkey Man," a song
he did with the Traveling Wilburys about a guy trying to escape from an
undercover cop. It provided a nice flavoring for the evening. I headed
back to camp and heard his final songs, "You Wreck Me" and "American
Girl" as I was making a call home.
6. Animal Collective
I don’t buy it when people say you need to be on drugs for this set; this set is
drugs. You can be straight sober and still feel in a slightly
different state of mind when these guys play. They had some big pointy
acid colored blowup balloons that filled half the stage, along with
blowup teeth balloons protruding from gums. The well water ran out
before Wilco so I arrived in a state of increasing dehydration but
otherwise stone sober.
As they said before the release of Centipede Hz,
the set was structured a continual running stream of music. In between
songs they would keep playing/jamming/dicking around, so it was like
listening to a late night radio broadcast and there would be a bunch of
fuzz for awhile and then suddenly you would hear something familiar and
get back into it. I give them props for the idea, but it tends to make
their set feel disheveled and unorganized at times. There are sections
where nothing much is going on for awhile, but the set was scheduled for
two hours and I’m guessing is longer than they normally play, so that
might have had something to do with it.
As a tribute to the
band in front of me, I’m trying my best to imagine I’m on hallucinogens,
a task which is made complicated seeing as I’ve never done them. I find
myself staring at images projected onto one of the teeth. It’s flipping
back and forth between a yellow alarm clock waving his arm and a big
pile of purple jello oozing around. Avey gazes into the lights and seems
to get lost for a moment, then stares blankly at the crowd and then
goes back to what he’s doing on his keyboard. He seemed a bit out of it
for most of the show, but was still able to perform well.
was great, “Purple Bottle” was very catchy and fantastic, and “What
Would I Want? Sky” was a great surprise. From Merriweather and Centipede
Hz we got pretty much the usual. Avey was all herky jerky when he got
up to sing “Peacebone,” but it totally rocked. Deakin also had some
great moments; he did Monkey Riches and a couple other songs that
frankly I don’t know what they were. The set was a bit long and I got
bored at some points, but after the fact all I really tend to remember
is the awesome.
5. Weird Al
I was utterly conflicted over whether to catch this set or the Superjam.
The Superjam felt like the set that I should see, but Weird Al was the
set I wanted to see. I headed over shortly after PHJB to get a good
spot, and waited at least an hour before At this point that my feet were
horribly hurting, to the point I was getting seriously irritated. The
long wait was not helping, but did prove to be worth it. He got off to a
great start by busting out the accordion for a medley parodying current
pop songs. Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga, and even Ke$ha found themselves
victims of his satirical barbs.
His costume changes were excellent, and
an easy highlight of the night. He dazzled in his half red, half white
maple leaf jacket for "Canadian Idiot," while donning a thick black
rimmed hat and fake beard for "Amish Paradise." But he went all out in
his blonde mop and early 90s grunge getup for "Smells Like Nirvana." He
even brought out the cheerleaders. The videos that played during his
costume changes were also a riot, taking aim at everyone from Edward
Cullen, Megan Fox, and Johnny Cash documentaries. But he was equally
engaging while preforming deep album tracks without the help of any
visual aid. He captured the crowd's attention with his humorous rendtion
of the Spiderman saga on "Ode to a Superhero," while describing the joy
(and horror) of selling products online on "eBay." Al undoubtedly
endeared himself to the crowd and proved to be one of the best
performers on the farm this year.
4. David Byrne & St. Vincent
Spectacular! Very funky, jazzy, and brassy sound presented by two of
the more oddball personalities in popular music these days. Coming into
this I knew virtually nothing about the material from either artist, but
now I will certainly be on the lookout to hear more. It was a delight
to see how well they interacted with one another, excitedly exchanging
hand gestures and fist pump. And their themes were always delightfully
wacky. Byrne did a song about how he used to think that TV was a good
thing, but then realized it wasn't.
Annie was even
more about there, doing a song about bone connecting to the marrow and
weird stuff like that. They even let their band step into the spotlight,
doing a song where the entire backing band formed a single file line
and each came up to the microphone in turn and sang a single line. It
was phenomenal, and everyone looked like they were having a wonderful
3. Preservation Hall Jazz Band
To continue Saturday's theme of mistakes, I missed the beginning of this set. I was busy eating a veggie burrito with sweet potatoes and various kinds of foliage. This set was fantastic though; the band members were dressed up in finely pressed suits, ties, and vests, overpowering you with the sheer sound of brass. Trumpets, trombones, horns, and blaring tubas led the charge; I'm pretty sure there was even a clarinet or two. They majored in traditional New Orleans jazz, the type made famous by Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. But almost as engaging as the performers was the crowd itself. All around there were guys dressed as cool cats from the 20s, losing themselves to dance.
Right in front of me was a couple dressed up in white swan feathers, covered in all sorts of white material and fabric along with plenty of beads and colorful stuff. Suddenly, there were squeals and everybody started pushing closer to the stage. The man himself Jim James was making a guest appearance. I hadn't planned on catching either of his scheduled performances, but now it's easy to see Bonnaroo wouldn't have been complete without seeing him in some capacity. They did a mournful dirge called "St. James Infirmary" that blew my mind; it's about a guy who searches for his love and then finds out she's dead. If they haven't already, I demand that they record it so I can download it on MP3 and play it endlessly.
It's a safe bet that Bjork made loads of new fans with this set.
Throughout her career she's always been a fringe artist, but a very well
respected one who know what she's doing. The first part of the set felt
more akin to performance art than a music concert. She comes out backed
by about 10 or 15 choir girls clad in blue and gold outfits. With their
extravagant dress, they look like a retinue that Bjork purchased from a
caravan off The Silk Road or something. As for Bjork herself, her face
and head are covered in long white pointy ice spikes, while the bottom
half out her outfit is like a dress made out of weird squids squished
together. The setlist was more balanced than what she's been doing
lately; most of her shows since 2011 focused on playing most if not all
of her latest album, Biophillia, but she got most of those songs
out of the way early. During "Crystalline," her drummer beat on a
strange dark black semicircle shaped pad that he sat between his knees,
and it sounded like a marimba when he hit it. Along the way we got most
of the classics from her back catalog, including the silky synths of
"Hunter" and "Joga," followed by curt little thank yous following every
song. Otherwise, she wasn't very vocal. Occasionally she'd come over
toward my side of the stage and attempt a little funky dance, but stayed
focused on her game.
As the sun began to set, she
approached the mic and announced, "It's getting darker." Then shit got
real. The beats, which had generally been elegant and reserved suddenly
became abrasive and visceral. These are my favorite kind of beats,
because it's so easy to totally lose yourself while dancing to them. The
choir girls, meanwhile, who had been pretty restrained, cut loose in
some amped up dancing as well. It was also refreshing to see a wholly
different side of Bjork. She moved into a stunning rendition of
"Hyperballad," which was a great surprise because I figured we would get
either "Isobel" or "Possibly Maybe" as our Post contribution. At
the end she did an awesome raging extended jam session which I later
learned was "Freak" by LFO merged into the end of "Hyperballad." The
next cut, "Pluto," is easily one of the most visceral songs in her
catalog. I was curious to see how well she could pull off the ultra
high pitched screams near the end of the song. She couldn't quite get up
there, but compensated by slamming the mic stand down and bolting off
She closed the main set with fist pumping
anthem "Declare Independence" before ending with the frantic "Nattura"
as her encore song. Flames lit up the back of the stage, bringing back
memories of the devastating pyro show that closed out Paul's set the
night before. Although Bjork couldn't come close to topping him in that
department, it still resonated powerfully as a finisher to an experience
that was no less unique.
1. Paul McCartney
10/10… what else? It was been supremely satisfying to witness the
mass reaction to this set, both in person and with regard to what’s been
posted online in the following week. There’s not much that tops seeing
everyone react like hysterical squealing fangirls, which was more or
less my reaction when I first saw Paul in the fall of 2010. Naturally, I
don’t feel like anything can compare to my first time seeing McCartney –
not even this set – but there are more than a few merits to this show
that more than justify the hearty applause it’s gotten.
a ton has changed from the show he played at Bridgestone Arena in 2010.
This time around I found myself much quicker to pick up on the stories
he tells. He’s talking about writing a song to give hope to the civil
rights fighters – it’s time for “Blackbird.” Now he’s talking about a
guitar he wrote a song on a long time ago – here comes “Paperback
Writer.” Oh, now it’s the first verse of “Live and Let Die”? Oh snap,
grab your camera – and try not to have your face melted if you’re up
close. But knowing how the story ends beforehand doesn’t take an ounce
of enjoyment away. A Paul concert is like watching your favorite
classic film. You can watch it over and over and rewind it and play it
again and it never gets old. These are top notch performances of some of
the best songs ever written, and done so by a man who knows a thing or
two about showmanship.
There were, of course, many great
moments worth going over here as well. “Lovely Rita,” “Being for the
Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and “Your Mother Should Know” are all great
mid/late period Beatles tunes that haven’t seen the light of day in some
time. Also impeccable were his accents of Russian government officials
that he met when he played a concert there, which served as the lead in
to his free Pussy Riot declaration. And to cap it all off, a fan threw a
plush walrus on stage, which Paul took and put on top of his piano
while he played “Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/The End.” It provided
a fitting finale for Bonnaroo’s definitive set.