In the last 24 hours, I have: slept for no more than three hours, talked to someone who I’m pretty sure was Best Coast about jump-starting Neil Young’s car, had a traumatizing, life-altering porta-a-potty experience, successfully managed to avoid seeing Mumford and Sons, consumed roughly 16 $1 grilled cheese sandwiches, watched a dude have a terrible MDMA experience, and heard an angry southern dude with a cool neck tattoo say “who fuckin’ doesn’t live in Brooklyn these days,” in the middle of rant that does not necessitate reprinting. Oh, and I saw a whole lot of music. Including:
–The Low Anthem, whose tasteful, boring alt-country literally put me to sleep. When I woke up I managed to finagle myself into an audience Q and A with…
–Zach Braff, which, stick with me for a moment here. So clearly Garden State is a melodramatic mess that requires us to believe that, somehow, two people can fall in love in under 72 hours. But, it is impossible to overestimate the subtle-yet-seismic importance of that film’s soundtrack. That Shins scene (“It’ll change your life”) helped grease the wheels of the meaningfulcore movement, and can be held responsible for any number of Billboard-charting, NPR-approved mini successes. The audience Q and A was mostly made up of 20-something girls telling Zach Braff they love him and/or that he changed their life, but thankfully one person asked something about the soundtrack. To which Zach Braff responded with something to the effect of: “I don’t know a lot about music, but I know a good song when I hear one.” Then he proceeded to tell us about how pumped he was to see Mumford and Sons. So.
–In a scheduling move at once smart and woefully misguided, last night’s major acts–the Black Keys, Buffalo Springfield, and Eminem–were all scheduled without competition. Smart because no tough decisions needed to be made (I’m still trying to decide between Beirut, the Strokes, Explosions in the Sky, and a Superjam with Dan Auerbach and Dr. John later this afternoon); woefully misguided because seeing a show will all the other 79,999 people at Bonnaroo–and trying, collectively, to get from one stage to the next without stepping in the charmingly nicknamed shit ravine–is no easy task.
There were so many people present for the Black Keys’ set that I didn’t even realize they were being introduced by Aziz Ansari. He came out as “Ken Bonnaroo,” founder of Bonnaroo, and went on to introduce the Black Eyes Peas. Then he said that the Black Eyes Peas died in a tragic hot air balloon accident, at which point The Black Keys came on stage and spent about an hour and a half maximalizing their notoriously minimal garage rock. For the entirety of their lean, Brothers-heavy set, Bonnaroo could have easily been 1968: their proudly analog jams make almost no concessions to the last thirty years of music, and, as most people in the audience were cell phone-less, there was nothing to remind you that in 2011 people mostly just film concerts.
The Black Keys are, of course, a twosome, but last night was undeniably guitarist Dan Auerbach’s show–if only because his guitar was mixed way higher than Patrick Carney’s drums. But if you couldn’t exactly hear the fury Carney was banging out, you could at least see it: he got progressively sweatier throughout the performance, until it looked like his shirt was going to dissolve.
–Buffalo Springfield felt, ironically, like more of a contemporary performance: it is impossible to look at a titan like Neil Young without realizing just how much time has passed since his heyday. And while I’d like to comment on how the decades have altered Young and his bandmates’ performance abilities, that is, unfortunately, impossible: as anyone who was more than 100 feet from the stage will tell you, that shit was inaudible. The poor sound, coupled with the rumbles of a thunderstorm that never fully materialized, rendered what I can only assume was a rousing rendition of “For What It’s Worth” impossible to hear. (One guy suggested we stop cheering for the songs until they turn the sound up, but really there’s no stopping the Bonnaroo crowd from cheering.) So really all I got out of the performance was the sight of Jumbotron’d old people looking extremely happy.
–No such problems plagued Eminem’s set, one of only a handful of performances he’s done since the mega-selling Recovery came out. A screen before his set informed us that “you are all here to witness Eminem’s Recovery,” and, last night, if really felt that way: ten turbulent years since “The Real Slim Shady” polarized a monoculture that Odd Future could never dream of having access to, Marshall Mathers finally seems comfortable in his own skin. The vague menace that surrounded songs like “Stan” a decade ago can now be appreciated, by Eminem and his absurdly receptive audience, as exactly what they are: great radio pop songs that genuinely define an era. (Eminen, it should be noted, was crotch-grabbing like it was 1999.)
The performance turned out to be more of a genuine “rock” show that, say, the Drums’ was. Eminem was performing with a full band, who reinvented every hit (and there were only hits) as a soaring metal ballad. These were abetted by a woman that I could not identify, who over the course of the evening played a number of the female voices in Eminem’s head (Dido, Rihanna).
Bonnaroo is (ostensibly) all about “good vibes,” and so one might think the perpetually furious Eminem an odd choice to headline the fest. They’d think wrong: he might’ve been asking the audience’s males to grab the breast of the woman to their left while flipping off the guy to their right, but everyone in attendance understood it was all in good fun. Eminem no longer has the capacity to shock, and really that’s for the best; with “Love the Way You Lie,” he soared instead.
–Once again, I could not physically make it to the late night show. But I’ll try to make up a recap of Girl Talk’s performance: songs were mixed up, and people danced.