It started with a full moon–a television hummed a strip of colorful lines across the screen. He walked onto the stage, his hair a flurried mess, his pants neatly pressed, suspenders suspending and shirt hanging on him the way E.L. James would describe. Jack White stole Bonnaroo. For me, at least, he was the biggest surprise of the entire festival. Yeah, Jack White, he’s a talented dude. Sure, I’d heard of The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, heard “Seven Nation Army”, but never did I expect a show like that. He began with “High Ball Stepper”, making it known that this was going to be a guitar heavy rock concert. The stage was lit blue, but besides that, there were no distracting graphics or blinding lights like other headliners (eh, Kanye). If you’ve never seen Jack White, he looks like Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands, minus the hardware of course. There’s a very genuine demeanor to his stage presence. He makes it known that he is there solely to entertain, to please and excite the crowd. He’d ask the crowd if we wanted him to keep playing, which, of course, we did. In between songs, he would thank the crowd, he would thank young musicians, and tell stories about his family and children. He was a very humbled performer which made him even more exciting to watch. And then there’s the music itself. My gosh, never have I ever heard a guitar played with such conviction. And he was backed by a pedal steel guitar and a theremin. Yes, a freaking theremin, because Jack White is that cool. Highlights included his performance of “Steady As She Goes” and his 10-minute, amazing, scream-sing worthy rendition of “Seven Nation Army”.
If you want a rave, that’s exactly what Skrillex will give you. Between the lasers and the lights, you’re instantly caught up in the moment. Of course, he starts the show with “The Countdown” and as the timer dials down, the anticipation rises, your excitement grows and then it finally hits–the beat drops. And from there, Skrillex does what Skrillex does best–he makes fun, danceable, rave-tastic music. Now, Skrillex played for about 3 hours, going way past the end of his set. But that in no way compares to the length of his SuperJam extravaganza. Yes, Skrillex played TWO sets throughout the weekend. Saturday night’s SuperJam featured Zedd, Big Gigantic and Chance the Rapper amongst others, starting at midnight and going until 6am. For those who stayed for the entirety of it, god bless. But Skrillex himself, definitely someone I recommend seeing and definitely someone I’d see again. Oh yeah, and he spins from atop his frickin’ spaceship.
How do you follow up Kanye West? I’ll tell you. You go and see the hottest English electronic duo to forget the nonsensical bullsh*t show you just spent 2 hours watching (I’ll discuss that later). Disclosure had the entire crowd dancing, smiling, and having fun. Kanye–take notes. First of all, their graphics were majorly cool. The backdrop featured their infamous outlined face lip-syncing the words to each of their songs. Their music is already upbeat, combining the perfect blend of funk and grooviness so you can’t help but dance. Their final song, of course, was their hit “Latch”. Sam Smith made a surprise appearance to end Disclosure’s set after playing earlier in the day. While it’s great to hear their songs and watch them play, it’s amazing when you get to see two of the summer’s newest artists collaborating on stage. Disclosure was amazing, pure and simple. Their set was memorable not because of the lights or graphics or the crazy costumes, but because it was fun.
Some have said that Sam Smith is the new Adele. Well, I think he tops her. Sam Smith has an incredible voice and sings with a passion conveyed through the honesty in his voice and his words that makes you want to cry. You can feel his pain, his joy, every facet of his emotion when he sings. It’s truly amazing. With performances of fan favorite “Stay With Me” and an acoustic, stripped version of “Latch”, his set converted everyone else within hearing distance into a fan. If the chilling, goosebump forming songs he just dropped on his new album are any indication, I think Smith has a long career ahead of him.
The Arctic Monkeys were in my top three performances of the weekend. They sound great live, with a classic 50s rock meets modern day vibe. They covered the majority of their 2013 album, AM, playing earlier hits “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor”. Lead singer Alex Turner is a modern day Elvis Presley without the bedazzled capes. I lost count of how many times he combed back his hair on stage because it was almost between every song. And my goodness, I’ve never seen so many people fan girl over a couple hip thrusts. I swear, Turner must think he lives in another era.
FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS
These guys are fun. The dynamic between the lead male and female vocalists really brings the show together. They were great at interacting with the crowd, coordinating dance moves, and telling funny stories. And if that wasn’t enough, their music makes you want to dance right along with them.
Most people thought these guys would be a one hit wonder. Although “Safe and Sound” is popular, no one really knows anything else by them. But they are truly amazing. They’re fun, very different, and they’ve got it together, from stage presence to outfit coordination. The duo, Ryan and Sebu, wore black jackets while the backing band wore opposing white jackets, all with “Capital Cities” written on the back. Ironically, the best part of their set was their insane trumpeter, who at one point jumped into the crowd and soloed while two security guards held him up above the crowd before they used a remix of their hit “Safe and Sound” to close the set.
Before I get started on his actual performance, let’s talk about Kanye’s history with Bonnaroo. In 2008, he headlined. Cool, right? Wrong. He showed up 2 hours late to his set and people were pissed. This year, he still had the nerve to show up late. Granted, it was ten minutes, but considering his past history, it wasn’t a good start to the show. He was the only headliner and the only What Stage performer who chose not to use the screens on the side of the stage. I was convinced for the first 45 minutes of his set that he wasn’t actually on the stage. I was pleased that he played both new and old songs, starting his show with “Black Skinhead” and performing hits like “Heartless” and “Good Life”, although he never really performed the entirety of any song. Kanye, rather, raps half his songs and then monologues for about half an hour. And this became the Bonnaroo mystery. “F**k the press!” was said about eighteen times but Kanye never explained his aggression towards “the press”. He muttered some things about being a rock star and hating the press but the majority of what he said was inaudible–I could only understand every third word. Kanye even ended his set fifteen minutes early. Ok Kanye, thanks for the show?
Am I surprised the Zedd ended up on this list? No, sadly. Of all the acts, aside from Kanye, Zedd was the most Top 40 and boy, did he remind you of it. He kept playing overproduced remixes of his charted songs and even worse remixes of pop songs. The screen behind him was on a constant rotation of trippy 3D Z’s (for Zedd) along with some weird graphics, all a bit much and rather distracting. His light show was just as predictable. I will give him this–he had a rough 9:15pm time slot, which is early for an EDM artist. It was also right before Jack White. Better luck next time, Zaslavski.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS
Of course, there are always some honorable mentions–those who played well but didn’t make my top performances.
Sir Elton, what can I say. He sat at his red piano in a glitzed-up, sparkly, Rocket Man jacket. There was nothing bad about Elton John’s performance, but it just wasn’t mind blowing. He played his song, he stood up, he bowed, he sat down. Repeat. It was too tedious for my taste but Elton John is freaking Elton John and I’ll always get to say that I saw him perform.
CAKE is CAKE. They were randomly thrown into the lineup, considering that their most recent album dropped back in 2011, but they certainly came to have a good time. I love shows where the entire crowd sings along and believe me, you could hear the na-na-na chants of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” across the field.
THE AVETT BROTHERS
These dudes look cool. One of them even had pigtails. Their set was solid and they were fun to listen to but you definitely had to be into that kind of music to truly enjoy them. Again, sometimes a rough timeslot can affect how one views their set. Overlapping Wiz Khalifa right before Elton John on the final day of the festival is a rough spot. However, I did enjoy their show (from what I saw of it). Very folky, but in a fun way.
This was my third time seeing Grouplove and they never fail to put on a great show. They are fun, make you dance, and I now know the lyrics to most of their songs. They did a great cover of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love”, which I’d first heard them play back in March at their 9:30 Club show, and they played “Let Me In”, their new track off of the The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack. But the reason why they’ve fallen to the Honorable Mentions list is simply because of their consistency. I’ve heard the same set three times, give or take a few songs. Although I’m looking forward to their next album, you start to wonder if they’re a one trick pony. However, if you haven’t seen them, they are in my top ten bands to see live. They’re energetic and I think a lot of their music sounds better live than recorded, which is reason enough in itself.
These new kids from New York had a surprisingly solid performance. They had a total of three sets throughout the weekend, their first being under one of the tents, while the others were smaller and more intimate performances. They were upbeat and interactive with the crowd. My one critique: Lead singer Matthew Iwanusa repeatedly asked the crowd to get drunk with him after their set. Yeah, it was five o’clock in Tennessee, but we got the point after the first six times he mentioned it. Otherwise, Caveman was very engaging and their set quickly turned me into a fan. These artists are solid performers and have great timing.
Check out these albums that just dropped in the weeks leading up to and following Bonnaroo.
- Jack White’s Lazaretto
- First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold
- Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour
- Andrew Bird’s Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…
- Die Antwoord’s Donker Mag