Before I get started again here, I'd just like to say that Bonnaroo is not an event designed for people who can't live without things like sleep, or showers, or bathrooms that have not been used by 80,000 people who haven't slept or showered since at least last Tuesday. I went to bed shortly after Lil' Wayne ended at 3 a.m., and woke up right with the sun at 7 a.m. It's sort of incredible, and sort of makes you want to build a shrine to whoever invented air conditioning. Here, I'll try to describe what I've seen.
First and foremost, I saw at least three indie rock bands that are more popular than anyone on SST slugging it out in a van in the '80s could've ever imagined. But, then again, The Decemberists ain't exactly Black Flag. In fact--on songs from their recently released, back-to-basics King is Dead--they sounded closer to traditional Bonnaroo fare like Old Crow Medicine Show than like anything you'd hear on Hype Machine.
Colin Meloy, using his number one money wisely with a stylish blazer and pink shirt, seemed just as surprised as I was to see half-naked hippie chicks swaying to "July, July" like it was hour two of a Phish concert. "Eat your heart out, Bela Fleck," Meloy joked after dropping his pick. (This was part of a longer, actually sort of hilarious bit about challenging Bela Fleck to a pick off.)
My Morning Jacket, who followed The Decemberists on the main stage, are another band that have come a long way from their humble indie rock beginnings. Their most recent album gave them their first Billboard Top Five, and last night was their first time performing on Bonnaroo's main stage.
There's a reason these guys keep getting invited back. For one thing, they have a foot in each of Bonnaroo's major camps--jam bands and indie rockers. (Although according to my jam band friend who had never heard My Morning Jacket before, they sound a lot like Deerhunter. Not a compliment, in his book.) And then there's the fact that these guys put on an incredible show. This wasn't exactly the four-hour, star-studded set of Bonnaroo '08, but MMJ gamely ran through selections from most of their LPs. Like Meloy, Jim James seemed both surprised and grateful: "This is surreal," he said, while seemingly bringing the sun down with his soaring voice.
And then, the important question: Who is Arcade Fire? The answer, it would seem, is one of Generation Y's defining acts, the sort of band your children will be totally impressed you saw back in the day. Arcade Fire shows have become less manic as their music has become more subdued, but their act is still one of the most exciting around--if only because of the audience, who clung on to every word that the frontman of the most popular rock band in America preached.
Against a backdrop of open road imagery, a sweaty, perpetually-fascistic looking Win Butler told 80,000 kids from The Suburbs exactly what they wanted to hear: that their hometowns are stifling their innate beauty, that the businessmen are out to destroy their inner-lights with the Weapons of Commercialism, that "We Used to Wait." If I was a little less cynical, I'd say that Arcade Fire's performance--and its concurrent communal energy-- helped a bunch of people transcend the monotony of the prosaic, everyday lifestyle Win Butler is an outspoken detractor of; as it is, I'll just say that "City With No Children" is right up there with the best of Funeral.
The band "ended" their set with "Rebellion (Lies)"; I put ended in quotation marks because nobody was buying that they'd finish without playing "Wake Up." Arcade Fire might be "constantly evolving artists," and all, but even they must understand that Funeral will always be the one that people want to hear. Butler told the audience that they wrote the song thinking they'd play it for 20 people. Those opening "whoa-ohs" sound a lot better when played for (and sung by) 80,000.
And now, some other notes:
--Booking Matt and Kim for a major music festival is almost too easy of a move: there was no way that when Matt got out there, beaming his million-mile smile, the crowd would not go insane. Matt and Kim are an interesting case: their profile has risen considerably in the last few years, but most of their material has been met, at least critically, with a shrug. It goes without saying that there was absolutely no shrugging during Matt and Kim's set. What there was, instead: an improptu, in-crowd booty dance from Kim, a rousing cover of "Just a Friend," an interpolation of Ludacris into the middle of a regular Matt and Kim song, and a command from Kim to "let the titties fly." Which, much to her credit, they did.
--I would absolutely love to tell you guys all about Lil' Wayne's 1 a.m. show last night, but unfortunately, after 12 hours of standing in the sun, the only thing I was really qualified to do was stare numbly into the middle distance and try hard not to faint. Let at least this be known, though: that dude could not be happier to be out of jail.