2009 BONNAROO WRAP-UP

by neil, alex, & muggs

The weekend was a break from social convention, an immersion into music of the last 20 years, and a psychedelic adventure in Manchester, Tennessee.  An illustrious collection of Brooklyn indie rockers graced the Bonnaroo stages over the four day affair, with some surprise standouts. We’ve got band by band breakdowns of the most notable performances, as well as the craziest sh*t to go down inside the city of ‘Roo. We’re giving our ‘09 Best of Bonnaroo awards to St. Vincent, Grizzly Bear and Nine Inch Nails. And we’ll explain how Animal Collective, MGMT, and Yeasayer completely missed the mark.

Artist: St Vincent
Song: Marrow
Artist: Girl Talk
Song: Fun In The Sun

FRIDAY, DAY 1

ANIMAL COLLECTIVE:

Muggs: Their live show really lacks dynamics. I’m not sure why they choose to sound the way they do.

Alex: Sadly we missed The Dirty Projectors, so Animal Collective kicked off our ‘Roo experience. The first of five consecutive Brooklyn bands we’d see this day, Animal Collective was probably the most disappointing.

Neil: Always disappointed by their live shows. I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about them live. Brilliant innovative albums, awful, unbalanced, poorly replicated live shows. Such a bummer.

ST. VINCENT:

Muggs: These musicians can play. Annie Clark is a force on stage. She has a fierce command over her guitar.

Alex: Best show of the day. Fragile and beautiful Clark rages on stage.

Neil: She’s a princess from another land. My favorite show of the festival. Annie Clark manhandled the guitar. With feverish sturumpets from her strat, her whole set was well orchestrated, focused sound jammed, and her band was incredibly tight.  She created a truly signature guitar sound that is such a grungy dirty sound, it’s the most perfect juxtaposition to her frail porcelain beauty.  LOVED IT.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS:

Alex: Despite it being Nick Zinner’s birthday, the start of this set was pretty punchless with mediocre renditions of “Runaway,” “Cheated Hearts,” and “Dull Life” – But I still couldn’t justify walking away from Karen O. It’s Blitz! leads me to surmise that she’s in a quieter phase of life in 2009 and it shows in her live performances. She seemed to breathe the words to “Skeletons” for what I considered to be the highlight of the YYY set. Expect a ballad heavy tour and try not to judge so much.

GRIZZLY BEAR:

Muggs: Don’t know what to say about these guys that everyone else isn’t already saying. Their live sound is perfect.

Neil: I’ve seen them many times, and I’m constantly impressed. Their jams were solid and swelling, the mix with the vocals was perfect. Definitely one of the most memorable performances.

TV ON THE RADIO:

Muggs: The energy was there but the vocals just didn’t sound good. I’m not sold on their live sound.  The slower stuff sounded good, but the harder stuff like “Wolf Like Me” was weak.

Alex: Tunde puts on a classy performance. I enjoyed the TVOTR set even though there were sound glitches.

Neil: These guys can sure put together spectacular albums, but their live show lacks some sonic clarity. The lines aren’t as clean, the vocals never sound as crisp or full. The mix was off for their set, so that had something to do with it.

DAVID BYRNE:

Muggs: “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” was probably the most uplifting song of the weekend.

Alex: I only caught the final two songs but it proved to be the most magical moment of the night.

Neil: The white king dawning his white suit, shoes, and hair was surrounded by child ballerinas dressed in white. This was the only time I thought “yeah the drugs might not be fake” but it wasn’t the drugs at all, it was the transcendence that David Byrne embodies.

PHOENIX:

Muggs: So tight and so poppy, actually kinda loved this.

Alex: Their live version of “1901″ was awesome. Then after the concert, some creepy baritone announcer man started saying the lamest shit, culminating with “And remember, make your next party, a Phoenix party!” Very weird but hilarious to mock afterward.

PUBLIC ENEMY:

Muggs: One of the hypest crowds of the fest.

Alex: Sifting through their classics, they played with crazy energy for a very long time. Flavor Flav is utterly ridiculous, but he’s still got it as a hype man.

PHISH:

Neil: I couldn’t get anywhere close enough to appreciate what was going on. It was mayhem, but it was some truly fascinating people watching. I missed the boat, and I’m not all too disappointed.

SATURDAY, DAY 2

HEARTLESS BASTARDS:

Alex: I’m still struggling with this band’s reformation since the original drummer and guitarist were replaced last year. Erica Wennerstrom’s new material falls a little flat in comparison to her classic tracks off Stairs and Elevators and Into the Open. This band may have peaked three years ago but caught a lot of its buzz in the past year and half.  I find the mistimed praise, as well as the new album, disconcerting. So was this Roo performance.

BON IVER:

Muggs: Perfect sound as always. Great to see a huge crowd singing along to songs that were written when he was so alone in the middle of the woods.

Alex: Really good vibe at this set. You can have no complaints if you knew what you were in for.

Neil: This band manages to take incredibly chill folk music to a whole new level, yet at the same time can absolutely wail out a heavy jam. He gives his all to every song and even more to the crowd. It was the hottest of all the performances, drenched in sweat it didn’t matter at all, because the performance was the most passionate of the festival for me.

Artist: Bon Iver
Song: Skinny Love

OF MONTREAL:

Neil: All spectacle, no pay off. I’m so disappointed that they rarely sound good live.

WILCO:

Alex: Tweedy’s voice sounded ageless. The sound was incredibly clean on the main stage.

Neil: Wilco put on a really solid show. The jams were hard, and driving,  Tweedy was a cynical, yet a hilarious prick as usual. They really know how to put on a spectacular show, they are all dynamic and interesting performers.

THE MARS VOLTA:

Muggs: Their drummer is overplaying. He definitely has chops but needs to realize when to relax a bit. There are some quiet moments on deloused that he seems to ignore. I do love the looseness of their playing though.

Neil: They sounded like a wash. The new drummer, Thomas Pridgen, has amazing chops but it’s all fills, without taste, it’s just tricks. I couldn’t hear anything clearly. Their live show was so much more fun to watch when they were doing copious amounts of opiates.

[Editor's note: We're staying mum on Springstein]

YEASAYER:

Muggs: What the fuck happened to these guys?! It sounded like they were playing Simba’s welcome home party. A complete 180.

Alex: It sounded interesting for a minute but it was just way too cartoon-y overall. “Sunshine” sounded like a club remix and by the sixth song I realized that this wasn’t cool regardless of the chemicals in the air. The lead singer also looked like he was going in a Linkin Park direction which was also off-putting.

Neil: I was incredibly disappointed with what happened to Yeasayer. Their new electronic sound doesn’t work, the vocals were strained and forced, the drums that held the band together are no longer there. I was bummed, I really thought they were great at the MHOF last year.

NINE INCH NAILS:

Muggs: I’ve never seen a rock show like this. Biggest sound ever. Definitely sounded like a chainsaw factory. I wish I could think of a word dirty enough to describe how bad ass this was.

Alex: Let me help Muggs with the vulgarity, Trent Reznor fucked Bonnaroo in the mouth. This show was absolutely incredible and probably the overall most impressive of the festival. NIN should be the gold standard for all rock shows. Midset Reznor proclaimed: “This is actually the last show we’ll be doing in America… ever.” This brought some added importance to the rest of the concert which culminated with a moving rendition of “Hurt” which lifted every lighter in the field.

MGMT:

Muggs: Simply awful. extremely underwhelming. Vocals are terrible live. At the height of their encore they decided to start dicking around and attempt some silly circus jam. It sounded like babies were playing. I couldn’t see the stage so I’m not quite sure what was happening. But every one around me started to leave. They then played the title track off their upcoming album Congratulations, which was pretty lame. I’m not looking forward to it in 2010.

Alex: I had been quietly standing up for these dudes but after watching NIN, they came off like total pussies. They even ruined “Kids” which the whole crowd was willing to rock for. They seem like a lost cause on the live front. I see them becoming tiny bopper stars in the next three years.

SUNDAY, DAY 3:

ERYKAH BADU:

Muggs: Only saw a few tracks and left early because I wanted to catch Andrew Bird.  I kind of regret not staying, though bird was solid. Erykah’s band is tight as fuck though, they can groove.

Neil: Sassy, witty and a great performer, I really enjoyed it.

Artist: Erykah Badu
Song: The Healer

ANDREW BIRD:

Muggs: Solid, nothing spectacular as I’d hoped

Alex: This set was almost too elegant for the festival crowd. Bird is so talented a musician, he’ll never play the exact same version of a song twice. This live set featured shoebox of twists, most notably in “Opposite Day,” and the jam break in “Anonanimal” off of Noble Beast. But the set spanned multiple albums and highlighted his expansive song catalog.  As usual, his vocals, whistling and string play were beyond clean. But Bird has impeccable standards and took three attempts at the intro to “My Skin” even though it sounded sterling. I’ve seen him be more majestic, but I still greatly enjoyed this.

Neil: Perfect lullaby for a mud nap.

SNOOP DOG:

Muggs: The party as you’d expect. Basically played a greatest hits list.

Alex: Not a serious musical experience, but extremely fun nonetheless. Anything that gets tens of thousands of people to excessively dance and get high in a field is fine with me.

Neil: There were so many blunts a blaze that the entire field looked like it was on fire.

Conclusion: After $125 worth of fake doses, some laugh inducing 2CB, a couple bowls of DMT, chocolate mushrooms, and a whiskey filled Sunday, we called it quits and headed home. Everyone needs to experience this type of atmosphere at some point in their life. Here are some snap shots from the weekend that was:

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