A tremendously busy schedule, an unforgiving sun, and those tightly packed crowds that make it almost impossible to breathe, let alone move? Welcome to Bonnaroo, a festival for the true music lover who isn’t afraid to endure a little heat, claustrophobia or dirt to witness the bands that he or she has played over and over on car stereos and iPods for the past year(s) leading up to the event. For those willing, the payoff is simply unlike any other summer music festival in the United States. ResonantPassage was there to cover the site’s favorite artists…
The first artist seen by ResonantPassage was the always-intriguing Danny Brown. The Detroit rapper blistered through a hit-heavy set from his XXX mixtape, all while sporting that signature hairdo. The throngs at Bonnaroo seemed well aware of his talent and musical output, as the artist drew a considerable crowd that knew almost every word. Thus, the debate about whether Brown’s buzz and prominence would continue in 2012 was answered with an exclamation point on this night.
Indie music has no shortage of male-female duos, but these New Yorkers set themselves apart with their dark, ambient energy and pulsating rhythms. Most importantly, Phantogram is simply catchy, which may explain the overflowing crowd that pushed and shoved their way to catch a glimpse of the duo. These two made a big sound, and the undeniable highlights of the set were most certainly “Running From the Cops” and “When I’m Small.”
The electronic artist acted mostly as a DJ for the night, winding together popular hip-hop with bass drops and a little electronic finesse. It may not have been a game changing set, but Mimosa kept the crowd entertained for the duration of the set.
Though missing St. Vincent’s set was a bit of a disappointment, it was a worthy sacrifice to gain a good position for the headliners of Friday night. Radiohead will go down as legends, and this set proved why the talent of Thom Yorke, the Greenwood brothers, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway is absolutely unrivaled. Without churning out each and every one of their hits, Radiohead still utterly captivated its audience. The band established the mood with the electronic, frenetic “Bloom” and maintained that very aura and atmosphere for much of the remaining show. It worked. As the blistering duel guitar solos of “Paranoid Android” ripped through the Manchester landscape, the thousands of festivalgoers could not help but leave in awe of the rock band that they just heard.
After witnessing the spectacle of Radiohead, it was time to swiftly shift gears into adrenaline-pumping ridiculousness. One can scoff all he or she wants at bass music, dubstep or electronica, but try and listen to “Original Don” and not jump along with the hordes of eager listeners. Switch and Diplo know how to ignite a crowd, even to the behest of Bonnaroo security.
Maybe it was a bit foolish to expect anything less at a late-night festival slot, but there was a slight disappointment regarding Flying Lotus’ set. Though expecting a sort of experimentational jazz sound present on his records, the audience was given a DJ set of melded hip-hop songs. Regardless, Lotus is a skilled technician, and put on an impressive DJ set that got the crowd moving.
The elusive, mysterious frontman of Tool and A Perfect Circle brought his solo project to Bonnaroo this year. With a release in 2011 that aptly solidified the group as an entity to be reckoned with in the rock world, ResonantPassage was ecstatic to see Puscifer in a live setting. Though Keenan tends to remain out of the spotlight and in the background with his other bands, Puscifer allows his fans to see him front and center, more interactive than he has ever been. Battling technical difficulties throughout, Puscifer still managed to put on a searing, intense and proficient show. The songs, especially those from the band’s sophomore release, translated very well to a live setting. Highlights included “Toma,” “Telling Ghosts” and “Potions (Deliverance Mix).”
Red Hot Chili Peppers
This Hall of Fame band possessed possibly the greatest musician at Bonnaroo, and he went by the name Flea. For those that have listened to a Chili Peppers record, his skill is already glaringly apparent. Yet it simply does not prepare the listener for his presence and sound during a live performance. The band may have played a hit-heavy set, but its true colors as a jam band steeped in funk and classic rock n’ roll were revealed this Saturday night. It gave even the most commercial hits a raw edge that only furthered this fan’s respect for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the group’s preternatural bassist.
Gary Clark, Jr.
Speaking of otherworldly talent, the overcast Sunday kicked off with the guitar notes of rising star Gary Clark, Jr. At once effervescent, soulful and psychedelic, there seems to be no limit to the dexterity and ability of the 28 year old Texan. While watching his set, there was that inherent feeling that something special was being witnessed, as if the future star of rock n’ roll was finally entering the spotlight he was born to be in.
In between the short bursts that are their songs, these Atlanta punks wittingly took time to remind the audience about what the “first electronic music” really was, with the slightest hint of disdain in their voices. A foil to the computer-generated, perfect beats of the electronic music nowadays, Black Lips proceeded to play an endearingly sloppy, passionate show that turned out to be one of the most entertaining performances of this Bonnaroo. It was proof that, despite the beat-obsessed phase sweeping the music scene of late, sometimes there is still nothing more cathartic than hearing a distorted guitar riff blast through the speakers. Thank you, Black Lips.
The War on Drugs
Upon leaving the tent that hosted a stirring performance by Adam Granduciel and company, one could not help but feel that The War on Drugs may be the most underrated band to play at Bonnaroo in 2012. The guitar was Granduciel’s brush, and the artist painted a mesmerizing portrait with each inspiring guitar solo. The War on Drugs’ Slave Ambient, released last year, has subsequently become a favorite for this writer. Yet the recordings simply do not do Granduciel or the rest of this band justice. “Baby Missiles” and “I Was There” were the definitive highlights of this performance.
Kurt Vile and the Violators
From one great set to another, Kurt Vile lived up to his reputation as an exceptional performer. With expectations of a slower, acoustic-driven set, it was quite a surprise to see and hear Vile pummel his electric guitar into submission for a majority of his performance. To witness the singer-songwriter unhinged and fully embracing the punk energy of his songs was a spectacle that shed a different light on Vile. “Freak Train” in particular benefited greatly from this approach, as its defiant anger became a monster, a frenzied whir of uninhibited frustration. Still, “Baby’s Arms” stole the show when all was said and done.