The 80,000 that multiply the population of Manchester, Tennessee by eight for four days descended upon the isolated farm slowly on Thursday, as an inconvenient, inefficient will call line miles away from the festival, plus a reportedly day-long traffic jam caused massive delays. Through various means, I managed to get to the farm at about noon, four hours before any of the music began, and established my bearings in Centeroo, the area where the main attractions of the festival took place. The festival consists of five main music areas, broken into two stages (What Stage and Which Stage) and three tents (This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent), and assorted other stages such as the Troo Music Lounge, where lower-profile groups would play, and the Sonic Stage, where groups would perform short, stripped-down sets.
Fanfarlo kicked off my Bonnaroo at The Other Tent on Thursday. Their 2009 album, Reservoir, was highly promoted by Sigur Ros and even had Jonsi’s little sister, Sigurros, on the cover. It seemed that most of the crowd had not heard of Fanfarlo, simply stopping by to hear some music before the real festivities began. Dainty indie pop with a touch of multi-instrumental fare (trumpet, violin, etc.) impressed much of the crowd, and the band’s excited, chipper nature proved a great start to the festival, leaving everyone happy and ready to get the four days started. For those familiar with their music, the live show saw them playing with song structures to emphasize high points and make a more cohesive set. Disappointingly, they did not play “Ghosts”, the catchiest and best song on their debut.
Following Fanfarlo, I moved to one of my most anticipated sets of the festival, up-and-coming Local Natives from Los Angeles. Their album, Gorilla Manor, is already a highlight of 2010 with a Los Angeles take on the Brooklyn music scene producing the seemingly endless strain of Grizzly Bear imitations. With a delicate sense of harmony and strong riffs, the group performed all songs off of their debut album, and the set followed the highs and lows of their album. The album’s best songs–”Airplanes”, “Sun Hands”, “World News”, positively rocked the crowd, while lower moments like “Shapeshifter” plodded along. Yet, the show demonstrated the group’s definite staying power, as a huge crowd attended the show and sang along to all of the band’s catchy, memorable melodies. The band seemed impressed and surprised by the size of the welcoming crowd, asking, “It’s Thursday, what are you all doing here?”
The night continued with two sets at This Tent, The Dodos and Mayer Hawthorne & The County. The Dodos performed five songs off of Visiter, two songs off of Time to Die, an interesting combination of a setlist, but definitely for the best as Visiter is a stronger album. They also performed a new song for the crowd, which shows the trio performing the same vein of indie rock as their previous two albums. Mayer Hawthorne brought the fire just as he did when I saw him at South by Southwest, a riveting set of revivalist soul music that makes as good of an attempt at recreating the Motown sound as Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings do every time they lay down a track. Hawthorne’s charisma won over the ground easily, especially during his obscure remix of Snoop Dogg’s “Gangsta Love,” which replaces The Dream’s chorus with awesome, soulful harmonies and funky Rhodes piano. He also had time to question the festival’s lineup, a topic in discussion throughout the weekend, asking where all the hip-hop was. Hawthorne’s set was extremely similar to his set at South by Southwest, however, with planned segues from song to song. He is definitely a rehearsed act, more rehearsed than others, but the extra preparation pays off and gives the impression of a talented act, better live than on record.
While three sets closed off the night, including Wale and Lotus, it was clear for just about everyone at Bonnaroo that the night really led up to The xx. That Tent was overflowing with people eager to see the hottest buzz band of 2009 perform their first set at Bonnaroo. While they strongly asserted their minimalist take on art with a low volume, low-profile set, and low-profile black and white light show, the music did not translate to such a huge, outdoor crowd. The simple guitar lines and repetitive electronic drums fell flat as they echoed back across the farm again and again. It seemed quiet, timid. I would love to see the xx in a more intimate, smaller space, but not at a large outdoor festival. Or maybe I just don’t like The xx, because the crowd asked for an encore and got it, with the group finishing with “Stars.”
Thursdays at Bonnaroo are normally seen as a less important, throwaway day for bands no one really cares about. Bonnaroo’s lineup for 2010 proved the festival’s motivation to make Thursday as important of a day as the next three while still promoting newer groups, giving shorter set times to groups who cannot handle the full ninety minutes that higher profile acts receive. Despite the difficulties in getting to the festival on Thursday, the crowd demonstrated excitement and high energy even on this day that many people consider missing. In retrospect, Thursday may have been the second-best day of the festival, despite only beginning at 4 in the afternoon and ending at 1.
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