As I walked across the ruins of the What Stage early Sunday afternoon, I had no envy for the cleanup crew of Bonnaroo. Bottles of water, beer, and god knows what else lay scattered across the immense area, trampled upon, despite Bonnaroo’s valiant efforts to get the concertgoers to take care of their own waste. I never remembered, in 2009 or 2010, seeing so much waste anywhere in Bonnaroo the day after a big show. Even the Flaming Lips confetti extravaganza seemed much less of a shock. Perhaps Bonnaroo was trying to send a message to the 80,000 strong who seemed to care very little about the sustainability portions of Bonnaroo. The sight was frightening.
Equally dirty, grimy, but in a very different way wonderful was the first set I saw at the Sunday portion of Bonnaroo, Japandroids. Perhaps it is a curse I have, but I only manage to see the second half of any Japandroids set. My day started later than I anticipated, so I got there a half hour late. A similar thing happened to me a few months ago at South by Southwest, when I found myself wandering Austin looking for the venue. I showed up in time for “Heart Sweats”, and saw most of the end of their breakthrough album Post-Nothing. Thrown into that set, however, was a surprise performance of “Darkness at the Edge of Gastown” from their compilation of old EPs, No Singles. With a stronger, fuller repertoire, Japandroids were able to present their strongest material confidently, despite admitting that they are “so professional that we’re making up the setlist as we’re going along.” Unlike at South by Southwest, the band seemed to have cleaned themselves up appearance wise, with haircuts and shirts that look like they were made in at least the last decade. But the music was just as grimy, distorted, loud, and impressive as ever. Though I have now seen only a total of two half-sets, Japandroids seem to be one of the most consistent bands around.
Nothing seemed enticing until Regina Spektor an hour and a half later, so I went to get a good place for her show at Which Stage, baking in the hottest day of the entire weekend. All of her fans–female literature majors and horny hipster men alike–turned out early to see Regina up close and personal. Her minimalist show, performed with her on piano, guitar, chair, and vocals; a violinist, a cellist, and a drummer, pleased just about all of her fans with pitch-perfect renditions of songs ranging from Soviet Kitsch to Far. Perhaps the only disappointment, Regina did not put anything new into her live renditions, instead performing everything as recorded on the album. Regardless, her charm and incredible live voice made all that okay, because unlike many artists, she can actually make her live performance sound just like the album. She also performed a few unreleased songs–songs she’s been playing for years live like “Bobbing for Apples” and “Love, You’re a Whore.” The set seemed divided into two, between her more upbeat songs like “The Calculation” and “Dance Anthem of the 80’s” and her more soloistic ballads like “Après Moi” and “Samson.” The division may have been awkwardly unbalanced, but Regina’s personal charm and energy once again soared over what should have made a flaw.
I never quite realized how weak Sunday’s lineup was until I thoughout about what I would do after Regina Spektor’s set. Hardly anything interested me, so I decided to listen to Dropkick Murphys and Rise Against from afar. It was thoroughly uninteresting, and Rise Against seemed, for the four songs I heard, completely obsessed with their latest album, Appeal to Reason. I’m sure I don’t have to remind everyone how bad that album was, and how much better Revolutions Per Minute and Siren Songs of the Counterculture are. Not to mention that Tim McIlrath sounds terrible live. His voice is all whiny falsetto, completely devoid of the raspy aggression that powers him through his band’s best songs.
Not planning to see Dave Matthews Band, the band to close out my 2010 Bonnaroo would be blogosphere darlings Phoenix. Luckily, as their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix proved, this is a band worth believing in, and their live show proves no different. As Bonnaroo falls just before the summer solstice, Phoenix warmly welcomed in summer (as if the grueling heat hadn’t already) with a full-on dance party that only got better as the sun lowered in the sky. They played the entirety of their latest album, admitting to the crowd that they would be playing some songs that they do not regularly play live, warning against mistakes. Yet, if the band had not mentioned it, I would have never known. They played their set with the rambunctious energy of a fresh group ready to break into further indie pop stardom. In terms of popularity, this decade’s Death Cab for Cutie? They may well be on their way. Just look at that picture; look at that crowd.
Despite a weaker lineup than usual, Bonnaroo 2010 was a riveting success. Seeing at least one phenomenal group per day, and sometimes, seeing three excellent groups in the span of an evening (see: Friday), made the cost of travel (essentially nothing on a media pass) entirely worth it. Special thanks to Mat for allowing me a place to stay, Zoë and Madison for being awesome friends, Chris and Big Hassle Media for organizing the whole media pass, Sputnik, and the readers who actually make writing these 1000 word articles worth writing.
Photos by Kata Rokkar