We’ve made it through the first two days of ‘Roo. The full recap (as well as some interviews and bonus content) is coming once the fest conlcudes but, for now, here’s a quick rundown on what we’ve seen so far. [Updated to include my crappy camera phone pics and artist preview links- we’ll have some shots from our photographer coming with Matt’s recap.]
This is just Philip weighing in, but some thoughts from Matt and Jessika are coming soon:
Day 1 (Thursday):
The drive to ‘Roo was the easiest time I’ve ever had getting in. Granted, I took the secret back roads route the press coordinator supplied, so I cheated a bit. Still, I made it in in time to catch just about everyone on my Thursday agenda. I’ll get more in depth later, but here’s the quick and dirty:
I made a point to catch a few songs from Milo Greene. Admittedly, I didn’t know much beyond the couple of singles I’d heard, but they were solid performers and a fantastic kickoff to this year’s fest.
twenty | one | pilots are a band that have long been on my radar, but that I had never gotten a chance see. I knew they were getting a lot of buzz, but the size of their crowd, especially for an afternoon set on day, was insane. The energy was insane too– the singer was diving off of pianos, climbing lighting scaffolding, and more!
I always love catching the smaller bands, which is why I focused so much energy on individually spotlighting them in the months leading up to Bonnaroo. On an On are a band I wasn’t familiar with before writing about them, but one that struck me and stood out in my memory. I found myself watching them on the tiniest stage with a small, but enthusiastic, crowd and they were pretty stellar. Give this band a listen!
On an On
Ariel Pink has had a pretty hit or miss track record with “solo” performances and, since he was billed sans Haunted Graffiti this time around, I checked him out with lowered expectations. He played well (and had a full backing band – not sure if it was THG or not), and he’s good at what he does, but seemed kind of grumpy and didn’t have much of a crowd. Is chillwave dead? Probably.
I caught the end of HAIM, another band I wasn’t familiar with beyond a few tracks, and was really impressed. They’re really lively and had a super enthusiastic crowd dancing the whole time.
Walk the Moon have been riding the success of “Tightrope,” and it’s turned the indie rockers into a pretty solid festival force to be reckoned with. The Ohio group only recently catapulted to mainstream success, but worked the stage like they’ve been doing this for years.
The first time I saw Purity Ring, a couple of years ago, the duo had yet to release an album, and only had a limited performance history. They were a bit disappointing. Clearly a few years and a healthy amount of touring has paid off. I’m a huge fan of their music, and, finally, I felt their performance matched it in quality. The confidence, energy, and ability to tweak the songs just enough to keep them sounding fresh paid off in a big way. Absolutely one of my favorite bands of the day!
As much as I love Japandroids, I was a bit let down by their set. Not because it was bad- it was actually pretty amazing. It was because I caught the group at Exit/In back in November and the intensity of their performance style just doesn’t translate on a gigantic stage the way it connects in a small club. Great band, but catch them on a solo tour rather than a fest if you have the option!
Apparently the entirety of Bonnaroo has boarded the alt-j train. I shouldn’t be surprised- the group sold out Cannery Ballroom not long ago at lighting speed. I’m a big fan of alt-j’s music, but I felt like the energy wasn’t all there. Maybe it was just the 11:30 crash of a long day and the fact that I was all the way in the back, but for a band so great and with so much hype, I just expected more.
I ditched alt-j a bit early to catch the last couple of songs from Maps & Atlases. I’d only ever seen the group in basements and dive clubs, so seeing them at a festival felt weird. The great sound quality at ‘Roo really let their incredible, mathy indie sound shine and showcased their chops. Also, props on the “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” cover.
Maps & Atlases
Killer Mike was not only my most-anticipated Thursday act, but also ended up being my favorite. I was pretty bummed when the rapper’s opening spot for Big Boi in Nashville was abruptly cancelled but, thankfully, his Bonnaroo debut made up for it. The ATL rhyme-smith ripped through a solid set- mostly pulling from last year’s critically acclaimed R.A.P. Music. He’s an old school, no frills, real deal MC and he’s one of the dopest artists in hip hop. With a ton of great rappers present at ‘Roo, Mike really set the bar high.
I was seriously dragging by the start of The Vaccines‘ 1AM set, but I’m a big fan and made a point to catch a bit of it. Their over-the-top energy and driving, rock and roll sound was almost enough to wake me back up. These guys are seriously solid performers and were a great contrast to some of the more trendy, indie acts on this year’s lineup.
Day 2 (Friday):
Feeling the effects of Thursday, I made a point to get an early start just for my homies (and friends of the site) Alanna Royale. Of the many, many stellar Alanna sets I’ve had the pleasure of catching, this might just have been the best. It’s amazing to see so many talented locals representing, and Alanna did Nashville proud. It was really impressive to see such a solid and enthusiastic turnout so early as well! Now taking bets on how long it takes Alanna to make it to the main stage.
British pop singer Charli XCX is an artist I’ve had my eye on for awhile. She was instrumental in the success of Icona Pop and she’s doing the electronic pop thing in a way that appeals to fans of the EDM scene, but retains enough pop song structure to appeal to broader mainstream radio. She turned out to be a really incredible and fun performer to boot, refreshingly backed by a band and not just a DJ or track. She also covered the Backstreet Boys, so there’s that.
After Charli, I did a bit of afternoon stage hopping. I wandered to Of Monsters and Men just in time for their performance of breakout single “Little Talks”- just enough to tide me over. They’re great, and I’d love to see them in an environment where I can actually better see and here the specifics of their performance. After OM&M I watched a bit of Passion Pit (er, rather, napped in the shade across from Passion Pit). The indie group has become a main stage act in an impressively short amount of time and their performance proved why; they sounded amazing!
Foals might have won the day in hype. Of the many similar indie acts of the bill, they’ve been my favorite so far. I was kind of shocked at how gigantic their crowd was, but good for them! They also seemed to be one of the bands most talked about, Instagram’d, and tweeted. Another case where I only know a few of their songs well, but, after this, I’m sure I’ll find myself spinning them a lot more often.
More wandering brought me to a bit of Grizzly Bear. They’re a great band and I’m a fan, but I’ve seen them at several festivals and didn’t prioritize checking out much of their set. I ended up catching a bit of von Grey, a young Atlanta folk group made up of four sisters who seem to be poised to explode. Their performance skill is unreal, full of harmonies and pop sensibilities. Bonnaroo’s smallest stages are the most-often overlooked, but truly do host some of the fest’s best talent.
I’m sure Jessika will have much more to say about Wilco, but the legendary Chicago rockers certainly didn’t disappoint. The block of their performance I caught was more or less like a greatest hits performance, and I loved it! Calexico joined the group for a couple of songs as well, which was great since I didn’t get a chance to catch their set earlier.
It’s always a tough decision at fests whether to stay put and get a better spot for the big headliner (McCartney), or to bounce between stages to catch everyone you’re excited for (Wu-Tang). I took a gamble on the latter, and, in transit caught a bit of LA hip hop dup Cloney. I was curious to see how the mysterious group, which performs in suits and George Clooney masks, would come across live. They were pretty great, very Beastie Boys-esque in delivery! In fact, they were so technically sound that I found myself questioning whether or not the gimmick was really necessary.
Bonnaroo was the third time I’ve properly caught the Wu-Tang Clan and was, perhaps, their most over-the-top throwback set yet. They blasted through all of the usual tracks from 36 Chambers and gave the whole Clan (plus some additional guests and posse) opportunities to shine. As much as I wanted to see them bring the entire ruckus, I made the decision to ditch a little early to claim my spot for Paul McCartney.
It should come as no surprise, but Paul McCartney was hands down the best thing about Friday night, all of Bonnaroo (I’m calling it now), and, possibly, my entire life. The former Beatle is inarguably one of the most gifted songwriters to have ever lived, and still, after all these years, one of the most talented performers in the world. His voice is still incredible, almost identical to how it sounded decades ago, and his energy and humor is entirely intact. His performance lasted nearly three hours, and included just about every Paul-penned Beatles track, Wings song, and solo McCartney song you could imagine. Nearing the end of the set, the singer busted out the pyrotechnics for “Live and Let Die,” which transitioned into all-around fireworks and confetti canons by the very end. I’ll write about the singer’s set in-depth in the coming days, but it was truly spectacular; likely to go down in Bonnaroo history.
McCartney ran long and getting 50,000+ people out of one spot is not a quick task, but I still managed to get out in time to float to some late-night sets. I wanted to see more of The xx, but settled for just a few songs instead of fighting through their massive crowd. What I heard of their set seemed like they opted to perform more of their downtempo, brooding tracks instead of their dancier ones. Also, they had giant lasers that they shot into the sky like canons, visible through all of ‘Roo.
In transit to the Hip Hop Superjam, I made two pit stops. First, I just couldn’t resist the spectacle of ZZ Top. They seem so oddly of place, but fit so strangely well at ‘Roo. They were fun, but after a long day (and the insanity of McCartney), I was pretty wiped out. Next, I made it to the New Music On Tap Lounge just in time for Luxury Liners. Another band that piqued my interest during pre-fest previews, I was a bit surprised to see him DJing rather than playing. He finished the set on guitar, however, and sounded great. I’ll definitely be making a point to catch a full set in the future.
Next to McCartney, my most anticipated Friday performance was the Hip Hop Superjam and It. Was. Awesome. Though the lack of Earl Sweatshirt (who was also slated to perform earlier in the day, but cancelled entirely) was disappointing, the strong Wu Tang presence made it worthwhile. I’ll report back with a full list of guests (I only caught about a third of it), but between the RZA, Schoolboy Q, and Method Man and Red Man, this Bonnaroo first was incredible enough to hopefully become a recurring event in the future.
Hip Hop Superjam
We’re all stoked for the last two days. In addition to the great performances, we’ve had a chance to see some great press-only sets from Jack Johnson (the last minute headliner replacement after Mumford & Sons’ abrupt cancellation) and Portugal. The Man. More cohesive, in-depth coverage coming up this week. If you’re at ‘Roo as well, have fun and stay hydrated!
Portugal. The Man