Written by: Matt Wardlaw
Today's post had the original title of The Chair That Saved The Trip. I had my initial moment of chair lacking regret on Thursday night at the B-52's show, and the feeling intensified when I got to Bonnaroo on Friday afternoon and saw tons of people relaxing in folding chairs while I was baking in the sun.
"Wuss" is what you're thinking or even saying out loud right now. Stop that. Don't be cruel. That's my job.
A morning trip to the local Wal-Mart resulted in the best 10 dollar purchase I've made to date, and the chair was mine.
We had an easier trip in to the Bonnaroo grounds yesterday that was happily void of any drug task force car searches (for us anyway,) and we got to wave to our friend selling the bananas. With chair strapped to my back like Rambo (okay, not even close) I made my way into Bonnaroo with my trusty rock and roll road warriors Brian and Adam by my side.
And then as before, I ditched those guys and thought that once again the lineup at That Tent was a good place to be for the afternoon. I made the effort for today to step out of my usual comfort zone and skip seeing bands that I've already seen (and bands that I LOVE) in favor of checking out artists that I had never seen.
This means that Govt. Mule and Wilco were not on today's agenda.
In their place, a wide variety of music from Allen Toussaint, Raphael Saadiq, Jenny Lewis, and Elvis Costello performing a special solo set.
Seeing a legend like Toussaint to start off the day was musically educational food for my music loving brain. Like a big ol' plate of gumbo, I ate it up, and that's one of the best things about Bonnaroo, is that you have the opportunity to feed your head all weekend long with both music and cultural experiences that are limitless in oppportunity.
I had been looking forward to seeing Raphael Saddiq, an artist with a body of work that would make quite a few of his peers jealous. Many of you probably heard Saddiq for the first time (without even knowing it) as a member of 80s/90s R&B soulsters Tony! Toni! Tone!, a project that registered a number of hits, including "Little Walter" and "Feels Good" which came across my radio many times while growing up. After a brief detour with the Lucy Pearl project, Saddiq moved into producing, and has worked with a number of artists from Whitney Houston to the Bee Gees.
Saddiq is currently enjoying just being an artist, playing the music that he loves, and gave back to the crowd at Bonnaroo, commenting that "my last record was not a radio record. Truth be told, I made all of my records for me. I was fortunate enough to have you enjoy those records. Thanks for that." The statement felt as real and honest as Saddiq's performance, which got the Bonnaroo crowd jamming from the moment he hit the stage. Yet another artist that I had to add to my list of folks that I need to pick up music from.
Next up was Jenny Lewis, an artist that I've gotten a ton of education about thanks to Jose and Kelly at Sensory Overload who have schooled me nicely regarding Lewis's work both solo and with indie rock darlings Rilo Kiley. Performing a solo set at Bonnaroo, Lewis turned out a set that was one of my easy favorites for the weekend. She's got such a charming voice that will suck you right in, and I think she's got a lot of musical similarity to what I want to love about Neko Case, but unlike Case, she's got better songs.
Now for the hard choice of the day, that was in reality, the easiest - choosing Elvis Costello over Wilco. Costello, like David Byrne, was on my list of legends that I hadn't seen yet, but I've always been a fan. Having seen Wilco three times last year, I figured that I would survive missing them at Bonnaroo to check out Elvis Costello. I knew that there was the possibility that Costello could drop an oddball setlist, but I also knew that the chances were good that he would play it safe for the Bonnaroo crowd. And really, he did a little bit of both, mixing newer tracks (including a brand new unreleased track) with favorites ("Watching The Detectives," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," Radio, Radio") and after joining Lewis during her set for "Carpetbaggers," Lewis returned the favor joining Costello mid-set for a number of tracks. Joined by a band for the last few songs of the set, Costello, Lewis, and Toussaint wrapped up with an all-star run-through of "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding."
Costello's Bonnaroo set wasn't a complete replacement for the 90's Nautica Stage date in Cleveland that I still kick myself for missing, but it was a lot of fun.
With Costello's set wrapping up, we made our way over to the main stage for the headlining set from some guy named Bruce Springsteen that I think I might have mentioned once or twice here on the blog. He was playing with this young group of hipsters that call themselves The E. Street Band, and they actually could play their instruments pretty well.
Who am I kidding, you know how big of a Bruce fan I am. You know that of the very impressive Bonnaroo lineup, Bruce was definitely front and center on my dance card of stuff that I couldn't wait to check out. With the insanity of the current tour, sign requests, and general setlist tomfoolery, I was interested to see how Bruce would play at Bonnaroo. Would the crowd be a Bruce crowd? I very quickly got my answer, as I started to hear plenty of "Bruuuuuces" from the surrounding crowd, and the first crowd request/sign of the night was right behind me.
A group of 11 music fans had made their way from Boston, driving nearly 20 hours straight through to get to Bonnaroo. Armed with the sign above, they were ready and waiting for Springsteen's set, and I had to know - "did you guys come for Bruce?" "Nah, man - we came for EVERYTHING." With eyes that were definitely more than a bit "baked," I had to dig a little bit deeper with these guys, and came to find out that one guy had seen Springsteen one time, another in the bunch had seen Bruce five times, and I stopped the quizzing right there - Springsteen rookies, these guys were not. Another lesson to show that you can't judge a book by its stoned out cover. Good guys, fun to hang with during the show.
Here's another example of why you shouldn't judge: Two shirtless jock a-hole types come up beside me, of the type usually accompanied by mass amounts of sweat dripping on you as they go past, or rub against you in their travels. Thankfully, it's cooled off enough that the sweat was left behind several stages and bands ago. The one has clearly had a little bit more to drink than he should have, and is negotiating hard that they should move up even closer. The more level-headed of the two notes that really, "I think we've done about as well as we're going to do - we're pretty close."
"Dude, we can just push our way through to the front!"
"But dude, that would be a total dick move!"
I have to smile at the guy when he says that, and he gives me a smiling yet frustrated look. As a bonus, these guys haven't stepped in front of me to block my view for the entire show. These guys are alright with me.
As for me, I've managed to grab a pretty good spot in the center of the action, just slightly behind the pit area. I'm happy. I've achieved my goal of actually being able to "see" Bruce Springsteen at Bonnaroo.
We're about a half hour away from the scheduled show time, and as it happens, Bruce will take the stage at about 9:26pm tonight, nearly reaching his usual "stroll on stage a half hour late" start time at a normal show. It's The Boss, and we'll wait for the Boss.
photo courtesy of Metromix Louisville
"Badlands" is the opener - pretty standard stuff, but I like it....into "No Surrender" - YES! Is there anybody a-live at the Bonnaroo! Now THIS is why I came to Bonnaroo - Bruce never fails to nail me early with a certain song - "No Surrender" is tonight's track that is one for me personally that whenever I hear it, it always takes me back to 1984 where I am a kid discovering Springsteen's music for the first time.
"My Lucky Day" is up next, off of Working On A Dream, and actually has evolved positively in the live setting. Working On A Dream is my least favorite of the Springsteen catalog to date, and while there are moments on the album, "My Lucky Day" hasn't been one of them. I really enjoyed this one.
Now, comes the first ballsy move of the night from Springsteen: An audible for "Outlaw Pete," which I would see later on the printed setlist, but Springsteen must have been feeling confident, because he moved it up from its scheduled slot. I now know what I'll be doing for the next 8+ minutes, and it sounds fine. I'm seeing some interesting sign requests in the crowd - "Light of Day," "NYC Serenade," "Quarter to Three," but I am feeling bad for the person that made the sign for "Working On A Dream." Pretty sure you didn't need to make a sign for that one, but thanks for the support!
In fact, that "request" is fulfilled thanks to the setlist a couple of songs later, after an easy winner, "Out In The Street."
Finally got a chance to hear the emotional trio of "Seeds," "Johnny 99," and "Youngstown." All three are just as powerful as you've been hearing from reviews on the tour, particularly "Seeds," which knocked me on my ass. The only time I've heard this one prior to tonight is via many spins of my beloved Live 1975-1985 box set. Never live. It's pretty cool that all Springsteen fans are getting a chance to hear "Seeds" on this tour, I just wish that it was a random setlist pick, and not a necessary statement of these current hard economic conditions.
We've now reached the "sign request" portion of the show, and the band is running through an extended instrumental lead-in for "Raise Your Hand" as Springsteen collects signs from the audience - the most entertaining sign of the night that I see is "It's Hard To Be A Saint at The Bonnaroo!"
A lifesize "Santa Claus" sign prompts a bit of mock protest from Springsteen, "It is two hundred and fif-ty-nine days until Christmas....is everybody being good out there? You're not takin' the brown acid!" I thought that this was my first "Santa," but my friend Tony very quickly reminded me that we got "Santa" at the December 2002 date in Columbus. Oh yeah. I must have been taking the brown acid that night.
Two more sign requests come one after another in the form of "Growin Up," "I saw it in there somewhere," Springsteen quips, and "Thunder Road."
A few songs later, I was surprised to see Jay Weinberg behind the kit - because I thought that he was on tour with his band for the next two weeks. While I thought that he was in Cleveland on Saturday night playing a show at a venue that is a short distance from my house, he's actually there on Sunday night, which leaves him free to rock it up with Bruce and the boys on a Saturday night at Bonnaroo in front of 80 thousand people.
And he makes it look so damn easy.
I was glad to get a chance to see him play, and I wasn't disappointed by what I saw. The kid is a monster behind the kit, and brings an audible difference to the band's sound with his playing. I feel like it took him a couple of songs to settle in with "Radio Nowhere" and "Lonesome Day," but from that point, he was on the money. As it was, Weinberg was driving the bus for the most intensely rockin' version of "Lonesome Day" I've ever heard. It's very inspiring to watch how much the band visually seems to enjoy playing with Jay, and he looks like he is on top of the world.
Overall, this wasn't the best Springsteen show I've ever seen - "Santa" was a definite nugget, and there were a lot of the "Springsteen fan favorites" that I enjoy hearing - "Thunder Road," "Growin' Up," etc; all in one show, but there weren't really a lot of jawdropping moments like "Kitty's Back," "Incident," "Lost In The Flood," etc. And maybe I'm a bit greedy, having seen two out of those three during what was allegedly a disappointing show in Cincinnati last year.
It was a smart show, and probably the kind that Springsteen needed to play at Bonnaroo, but it left me wanting/needing to catch another show on this tour. Which probably would have been on my agenda anyway. It was a fun show - I heard a lot of my Springsteen favorites, and also got the longest show I've seen personally, clocking in at nearly three hours. YES!
I was surprised by the lack of special guests - I felt sure that Alejandro Escovedo (who played earlier that day) would be an automatic, or perhaps Elvis Costello, but we did get one special guest - Robert Smigel and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog who made a couple of brief vocal appearances during Springsteen's set, adding "vocals" to "Waitin' On A Sunny Day," and "American Land."
Nice to see Nils Lofgren moving around just like the old Nils did after a double hip replacement - he was all smiles, all night long. And Clarence Clemons looked and sounded better than I've seen him in a long time.
And there it was, Springsteen had played his first performance at Bonnaroo, and I began to make my way back through the sea of people to meet up with Brian and Adam for Nine Inch Nails to close out the night - a task that took me nearly 30 minutes to accomplish, working my way from the main stage back to the Which Stage where NIN would be performing.
I'm completely cashed out at this point, and grabbed my chair back from Adam and Brian who had it for safe keeping, and watched the NIN set from a distance. We caught NIN at a good point, just having wrapped up the NIN/JA tour a few days earlier, fully primed and ready to show the Bonnaroo crowd how it was done.
There's no question that they should have been on the main stage, instead of the Which Stage, which was considerably smaller, but they made good use of their allotted time with a mega-crowd pleaser of a setlist featuring stuff like rarities "I'm Afraid of Americans," (recorded by David Bowie originally,) and "Burn" back to back, and also Broken album track "Gave Up," just to name a few. And late in the set, a special guest appearance by the members of Dillinger Escape Plan for "Wish." The two bands performed the track together previously earlier this year in Perth:
Cashed out, three weary music lovers left Bonnaroo and headed back to the hotel to rest up for one more day on the farm....more