Bonnaroo Day 4
Broken Social Scene
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Despite the morning sun that woke me up much to early on Sunday, I couldn’t help but feel a bit gloomy. Bonnaroo was almost over and despite my initial skepticism about the festival, by day four I had become a full-on evangelist for the ‘Roo, willing to witness not only to the high quality of artists and performances on hand, but about how my greasy hair, lobster sunburn and sandal-induced blisters actually served as proof that I was doing it right. None of that ‘I’m-gonna-wash-my-face-every-morning-in-the-free-and-widely-available-faucets’ bullshit for me! Bonnaroo is meant to be dirty, and dirty it shall be!
Our first stop on Sunday was the smallish Sonic Stage, where we caught a set by Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet (I already wrote about their Saturday show here) before Toronto-based Broken Social Scene took the stage for half an hour of psychedelic power pop in front of a tightly packed audience. BSS played a longer show at a larger stage later in the afternoon, but it was interesting to see them adapt their notoriously complex orchestrations and raucous sound to the small space. The group is notable for using unconventional instruments in their recordings and live shows, though at the smaller set they stuck mostly to guitars, bass and drums. The band was joined onstage by Amy Millan, the lead vocalist of Stars, a Canadian group with close ties with BSS. Near the end of the set, the band led the audience in an impromptu new song: “Put down the bong and vote for Obama—you know that you wanna! Put down the bong and vote for Obama—you know that you gotta!” Support for the Democratic nominee was widespread at Bonnaroo, or Obamaroo, as many came to call it.
Next was Jakob Dylan, of Wallflowers fame, though at Bonnaroo he played with a backing band called The Gold Mountain Rebels. Dylan’s latest album, Seeing Things, is full of war imagery over uncomplicated blues-tinged rock. It’s near impossible to watch Dylan perform without comparing him to his dad. At the risk of controversy, I’m going to say that the younger Dylan’s voice is better suited to actually, you know, singing than his father’s is or ever has been. For what its worth, Jakob also seems much friendlier than his father was in his younger years (I’m basing this entirely on Don’t Look Back, the documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, during which he messed with reporters like it was his fucking job). Jakob played through most of the songs on Seeing Things with soul to spare and left the audience relaxed and grinning happily.
Right up until we actually walked up to the show, we couldn’t decide if we were going to attend Aimee Mann’s Bonnaroo set or not. Her latest album, @#%&*! Smilers, is solid and occasionally great (see: author and McSweeney’s czar Dave Eggers melancholy whistling solo on “Little Tornado”), but we were tired and not sure that Mann’s laid-back pop would keep us awake. This is the toll that Bonnaroo takes—choosing shows based on their ability to not put you to sleep. Turns out, we didn’t have to worry: Mann played an energetic set, switching regularly between familiar oldies and new songs. A cover of Elton John’s 1970 tearjerker “My Father’s Gun” showcased Mann’s vocal prowess and her ability to tease subtle emotions out of lyrics.
Last on our Bonnaroo itinerary was Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at the enormous What Stage, where they performed Plant-ified versions of traditional bluegrass tracks and tunes from Raising Sand, the album the duo released late last year. Plant and Krauss make an odd couple on stage. The former Led Zeppelin frontman waved his arms around while he wailed on tracks from Raising Sand, while Krauss wielded her fiddle in the background calmly, smiling to herself. The two complement each other well, despite their unlikely pairing—Plant is ultimately a down-home, swamp blues howler, while Krauss is known both for her ethereal vocal laments and straightforward bluegrass tunes. The Bonnaroo set showcased both of them at various times, and was only made better by roots rocker T Bone Burnett, who also produced Raising Sand. Festival-goers, most of whom had been standing in the hot sun in front of various stages for four days straight, seemed happy to relax on blankets in the grass and take in the scene.