Bonnaroo 2008: The Wrap-Up

What can I say? This year’s Bonnaroo was amazing, but packing in over 30 sets into my weekend took a toll on my body. My feet are recovering from nearly 14 hrs of standing every day, but my mind desires to return immediately. Seeing bands like Battles, Vampire Weekend, Sigur Ros, The Swell Season, Two Gallants, My Morning Jacket, and Kanye West all in one weekend was something else. I have compiled a list of my favorite performances and photos from the 4 day festival.

Top 10 Favorite Performances:
1. Battles, Thursday June 12th, This Tent

Battles do something for me when they perform, that almost no other band currently performing can. When John Stanier pounds his bad ass yellow drum kit, something happens to my body, I actually dance. I am usually not one to dance, and generally avoid doing it at all costs. The musical journey of a battles performance is organized chaos. It will take you places no other music can. Despite some minor sound issues, this show blew me away.

2. My Morning Jacket, Friday Night, Which Stage 12am-4am

How can four hours of music not get boring? When My Morning Jacket is the band performing. This was just down right epic. Playing almost every highlight from their catalogue (including a powerful “One Big Holiday” with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett Sitting in) and some rather strange covers (including Bobby Womack’s “110th Street”), My Morning Jacket put many live performances I have seen to shame. The rain poured down, but it didn’t phase them, in fact I think Jim James loved performing even more for that. It was a performance of epic proportions, equipped with rain storm that seemed to get heavier when the band was at its heaviest.

3. Against Me!, Saturday, That Tent

Against Me! rocks the house, or tent, whenever they perform. The crowd immediately transforms into a battle zone of a mosh pit and things get out of hand, in a good way. The thing that is special about Against Me! is just how the music is crafted and performed. It is poppy punk, but not in the Green Day sense. The music remains hardcore, while incorporating elements of pop (melody), folk, and more. It doesn’t come across as corny, but more as straight up hard. The band appears to be having the time of their life every time I have seen them, and that is something that many bands lack. They enjoy performing and its easy to see that, and the crowd enjoys seeing them just as much.

4. MGMT, Thursday, This Tent

Before this performance, I expected something completely different. I had read that the band was mainly two members, so I was expecting heavy synth, drum machines, etc. What I got was a five piece band playing synth and electronica infused rock music, breaking into killer psychedelic jams that put me in a trance. The jams were dark, tight, and heavy. Quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised.

5. Vampire Weekend, Thursday, This Tent

I did not expect Vampire Weekend to perform their songs as well as they sounded on record, but they exceeded my expectations. The sound was full. The band looked excited to be playing. Everything was in check. The mid song banter was also very funny. It was the perfect ending to Bonnaroo’s first night.

6. The Swell Season, Friday, This Tent

Wow. So much energy. So much power. So much Joy. These guys just love performing. Frontman, Glen Hansard, puts everything into his voice and playing, something few performers these days do. The band’s glances and smiling at one another break down that superficial barrier that separates the performer from the audience, something Kanye West needs to take note of (see review later). During their Oscar winning song “Falling Slowly” Hansard stopped mid song to investigate a “noise” that he thought the band was making, which turned out to be music coming from another stage. Clearly embarrassed upon realizing this, the band continued and the song remained beautiful. There is something about a band so modest, when their music is so great, that makes a performance extraordinary. The band performed wonderfully without a trace of nervousness or cockiness.

7. The Avett Brothers, Saturday, The Other Tent

How can bluegrass be HARD? Ask the Avett Brothers. The performance teetered between styles, the emotive vocals atop hard hitting drums and powerful strings creating an unparalleled sound. These guys rock hard and explode, but the music remains bluegrass and folk. They take elegant and lush bluegrass sounds and tear them to shreds, sounding beautiful in its own way. Harmonies + screaming = amazing.

8. Sigur Ros, Saturday, That Tent

No comment.

9. Kanye West, Saturday, Sunrise, What Stage

As Chris Rock stated during his performance, things called “Kanye injections” exist in this world. These proverbial “injections” turn you into the ultimate ego maniac, and cause you to do things like make people wait two hours to see you perform so that your performance coincides with no others. These “injections” make you hide a 70 piece band underneath you, so that you are the only one in the spotlight. They make you perform as the sun rises at bonnaroo. They deterr you from saying one thing to the audience, including “Bonnaroo!” “Thank you” or “Sorry I AM TWO HOURS LATE.” Mr. West ‘crash landed’ (part of his little skit) on Planet Roo nearly two hours late without a hint of apology. He personified his line from “Stronger”: “You should be honored by my lateness/ that I would even show up to this fake shit.” All of this taken into account, I will never forget Kanye West’s Bonnaroo performance. As the sun rose behind the surprisingly small crowd, all I could think was “This is EPIC.” Of course, people were pissed. He made them wait, he didn’t say anything to the crowd, etc. Kanye West knows what he is doing. He knows he is perpetuating the idea that he is a giant douche bag, but he doesn’t care.

10. Iron and Wine, Saturday, This Tent

Sam Beam can do many things and his soothing voice brings many to tears. I must say he outdid himself at Bonnaroo. I was honestly just expecting him to come out and play his songs exactly like on record and leave, but was thrown off guard. Instead of just playing his songs, he transforms them into jams, almost entirely transforming the tunes. His eclectic songs from the new record warrant a huge band, with which he turns them into lengthy jams. Songs like “Boy With A Coin” were slowed down and freed up. I had never realized how great of a guitar player Beam was either. And it wasn’t until his tear jerking and powerful encore performance of “Trapeze Swinger” that he even picked up an acoustic guitar, to which I actually said, “finally” under my breath. I did not know what to make of the performance at first, as I sort of wanted to just hear my favorite Iron and Wine songs verbatim, but upon reflection, Sam Beam created an organic sound for us. It is clear that he is trying to make each performance he does something entirely new.

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About Drew Litowitz

Sound advice.
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