For those that couldn’t make Bonnaroo and, in particular, headliner Jay-Z’s set, there was a YouTube stream of the main stage. But for those who made it, there must’ve been some electricity left in the air from the brief storm earlier, or Hov was really just that good.
Like Stevie Wonder, who went on a couple hours before him, Jay-Z marched out an inevitable hit parade, taking something like 70,000 attendees through his newer hits like “On to the Next One,” “Run This Town” and “D.O.A.”; to the club with “Big Pimpin’” and “Money in the Bank”; reminded them who they’re dealing with on “Interlude (My Name is Hov),” “Jigga What, Jigga Who”; took them to New York in “Empire State of Mind” featuring Roc Nation signee Bridget Kelly; the list goes on.
This festival isn’t exactly known for hip-hop, which left some Jay-Z lovers on YouTube and Twitter grumbling about white hippie kids and quipping, “What’s a Bonnaroo?” But regardless of the racial makeup of the crowd, it was in Full Active mode, throwing “diamonds” in the air, lighting up phones and glow sticks (glow sticks!) during “Young Forever,” and even helping Mr. All Black Everything sing to one special fan who, on the fly, was invited up on stage for her birthday.
[More thoughts after the jump...]
In fact, the veteran rapper sent a shout-out to dozens of fans from the stage, what they were wearing, including one lucky Green Man; Jack White, Barack Obama and the state of Tennessee got lip service too. He mentioned he couldn’t wait to tell his mom that “Stevie Wonder stuck around for my set” and sent out “Hard-Knock Life” to the late hip-hop icon Guru.
What was a disappointment to some –including me, I’ll admit – was the absence of any notable surprise guests. Coachella got Beyonce out in the desert when Jay-Z played there in April, and tonight had its fair share of songs that could have used a little love out in the country – Rihanna, Kanye, Alicia Keys, Mr Hudson, Swizz, Jeezy…? He even did “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and I hear the Edge has some open nights at the moment.
Too, in the official fest guide, he was down for a two-hour set, after a long pause post-Wonder; yet he left the stage at around 1 a.m., shy of that count by 30 minutes.
“I see what you up to… Y’all wanna keep going,” he smiled earlier in the set. Well, yeah.
It’s kinda hard to review a Stevie Wonder set because I don’t think this classic American singer does anything bad or even mediocre. Last I saw him, he played an open-air city fest in Montreal, sticking with the adult contemporary songs for an AC crowd. This was a party crowd and he brought as much party as he could with a 10+ member band.
At a couple different points, he stood up on his piano stool and lifted his arms, a gracious gesture and one that whirled a stomping audience into a smiling frenzy. As if there were some different reaction one could have at “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” or “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (sung through a talk box, no less).
Still, he got personal speaking on the warring in the Middle East, calling it “unacceptable,” and urging the crowd to buck against racism in the country, to buck party politics -- more specifically, the Tea Party. From there, he got delightfully mouthy, using the word bullsh*t at one point and singing “You'd best believe she hardly gets a f*cking penny” in “Living in the City.”
Wonder was able to laugh at himself, though, when an a capella note started awry, and poked fun and fans trying to sing along to “Higher Ground” when the right lyrics weren’t quite coming to mind on a communal level.
“Love, love, love!” he preached as he, the band, a troupe of multi-racial drummers and their nation’s drums and a miniature gospel choir went into an extended “A Time to Love.” It was a sort of bloated, “We Are the World” type moment, but it only worked out of Wonder’s earnestness. The man’s got a lot on his mind.
What I like about Rivers Cuomo is that he delivers Weezer’s campiest or sincerest songs with equal fervor, even if they don’t look or sound the same. I think deep down he knows what a stupid piece of music “Beverly Hills” is, which is why it’s so totally awesome and well-done when they play it live, and tracks like opener “Hash Pipe” and “Going Surfing” still mean something to him and his band, which gives it that authentic sheen as he climbs up the rafters of the stage and faces faces at his own guitar. It’s a grab bag of energy, and at this point in Weezer’s career, it’s all in good fun.
I was in seventh grade with the blue album came out, and I still get that juvenile flinch of joy when the Weez closes things out with “Buddy Holly”; hearing “Why Bother” live pretty much brings me back up to date with freshman year. But they transcend the nostalgia with newer gems like “Pork & Beans” and “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)” because those tracks are meaningful to somebody who’s going through awkward gym clothes and forget-what-my-parents-say periods right now, same as I did. It’s sweet, unironically.
“I Can’t Stop Partyin’” is still unironically bad. I can forgive that and forgave that because Cuomo was so compelling to watch, with self-aware banter and plenty of crowd-pointing, climbing on stuff, goofing off with the band. The “Poker Face”/”Kids” mash-up is still a thrill. He gives a lot.
I could watch Jack White try to open a jar of mayonnaise for an hour and I’d be entertained. I’m a huge admirer of him as a guitarist, songwriter, singer and, now, drummer.
But that’s watching Jack White. I didn’t really want to watch Dead Weather play for very long.
The quartet are obviously nasty, seasoned pros, and have a standup team of sound guys behind them. Alison Mosshart is a genuine article/animal, whether here or with the Kills. If I hear one of Dead Weather’s songs coming from a jukebox, or at a party, I’m generally like, oh, that’s Dead Weather, that’s a good song, good job.
But an hour and a half of it, live? I get it, but I didn’t need it, not of their particular kind of music. Generally speaking, I feel about the same about the two records, as the consistent barrage of grimey, garage-y psych rock gets a little too samey samey over time, tracks feeling indistinguishable except in their videos and whether Jack White or Alison Mosshart’s singing on it. The singles are wild (I’m still keen on “Cut Like a Buffalo” and “Hang You From the Heavens” shredded live), but I feel a little lost about the whole.
Mosshart on stage looked the part of a cocaine user, not quite sure what going on with the whole putting her hand to her upper lip thing. The mascara slithered down in the dead air, bad weather. Jack White looked mostly dead, which is how we like him.
The Avett Brothers continued to prove how their slow, long road to major label signing and decent record sales worked: they kill live, even without a drummer on every song, when they’re giddy-sloppy and beautiful, gorgeous Scott Avett won’t cut his hair (do you think it’s gonna make any change?). They hop at the same time, feature a bassist and cellist that’ll spin their stuff around, can stack harmonies to save souls and lovingly touch and tickle in alternating tunes -- see “January Wedding,” then “a song about killing your girlfriend’s boyfriend,” “I Killed Sally’s Lover.”
Drummer Aaron Harris looks like he’s walking in the park as he plays Isis’ grinding post-metal, the most serene element of the band. Aaron Turner sweated so much, it looked like his matte black guitar was bleedin. The band barely even acknowledged the crowd, but we most certainly engaged with them: “We’ll miss you” was shouted almost constantly between songs, as this summer marks their last tour together.
Langhorne Slim, why aren’t we married yet?