that was done, and by that make no mistake, I mean the burrito, not the
music, James and I headed up towards the front area of the What Stage
field. In a short while, a band called Kings of Leon were set to kick
off the performances on that gigantic stage. A while back, I used to date
a girl, sort of, that left me to date one of the guys in the band
that's not exactly how it went, but it's more interesting than the truth
so let's just roll with it
anyway, out of something like morbid curiosity
I wanted to check them out
plus, I had heard that their straight
forward rock n roll, was really good live. Their studio albums sure sound
like they'd lend themselves to great performances.
Now, being from Nashville, the band were something like hometown heroes, but sorry there was no way in hell they were popular enough to pull off performing on that monstrosity of a stage. There were thousands of people watching them play, and the place looked like a wasteland. The front area I'll explain this in more detail later on when it's more relevant which usually had one to two hour waiting periods associated with it, was wide open and we just walked right in and up to about twenty feet from the band.
It reminded me of the train wreck that most opening acts for The Rolling Stones turn out to be. I don't care how good a band is if you're a band that usually plays 5,000 person venues, and all of a sudden, you're facing a more or less empty 80,000 person venue, your show's gonna suffer. It affects the band psychologically, and at the same time it affects the audience who are all standing around wondering if being there when so many others clearly didn't think it was worth it makes them a loser.
I actually felt bad for the band I found myself thinking, if you put these guys in one of the tents (which they've done in the past) they would kill (which I hear they have in the past). But that was the What Stage huge, impersonal, and more or less, a vibe killer. I decided right then that I would avoid it as much as I could for the remainder of the weekend and aside from the headliners, I really only went back once.
Anyway, Kings Of Leon were doing the best they could, and it really did sound good even though it was missing that spark, connection, energy, whatever that makes a show magic. Then it started to rain then we left.
Adding insult to injury, I heard that sometime after we split, the power went out on Kings of Leon mid-song damn .when it rains it pours huh I'll give em another chance next time they roll through NYC they seemed like they'd be well worth it under better circumstances.
So now we'd seen bits and pieces of five different acts so far on day two. It was just after four, and it was time to head over to That Tent for one of the sets I was personally looking forward to the most, The Nightwatchman.
For those of you that don't know, The Nightwatchman is Tom Morello. Tom Morello, was and I guess once again IS, the guitar player from Rage Against The Machine. Rage Against the Machine, was hands down fuck Pearl Jam, Nirvana and whoever else you're thinking of the best band of the nineties that were big enough to sell out arenas across the country. There were a handful of bands I liked more on a club level but when it comes to huge successful bands, Rage was at the top of the mountain.
They broke up seven or eight years ago, but they're back on the road for the first time since the Clinton administration, this summer two dates in New York in late July I'll be at both.
Anyway, The Nightwatchman, is Tom's side project, and in stark contrast to Rage's 'knock the walls down, then pound the rubble into dust' heaviness, and Tom's innovative, borderline genius electric guitar playing The Nightwatchman, is just Tom, a harmonica, and an acoustic guitar. Think of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album this was like that Springsteen Against the Machine if you will .he even did that weird hoot thing that Bruce likes to do between verses.
Now talk about playing the right sized venue when Tom came out the place was PACKED, and the crown was on fire people were so excited that at one point they started cheering and chanting the name of his roadie! "PETE PETE PETE PETE!"
"Good afternoon Bonnaroo. I'm the Nightwatchman, and this is a one man revolution!"
After opening the set with the title cut from his new CD, "One Man Revolution" Tom announced that the next song was "for all of you people who work for a living this song right here is a freedom song this song right here my friends is a fighting song this song that I'm gonna play for you right now brothers and sisters is a union song!"
As he sang "Union Song" I discovered that it wasn't really Springsteen that he was imitating it was the guy Springsteen was imitating that he was imitating I jotted a quick note "He's trying to be Woody Guthrie for 2007"
If that sounds derogatory, or like a complaint, you couldn't be reading me more wrong. Guthrie, who was a folksinger in the forties and fifties, kinda has a permanent position at the top of the folksinger hierarchy even above Dylan. I mean shit, before he wrote song one, a young Dylan, still Robert Zimmerman at the time, was roaming around Minnesota playing pizza places like the Purple Onion in St. Paul, and was known as "a Woody Guthrie Jukebox" and then, one of the only original tunes on his first album which was mostly covers, was called "Song For Woody", and it was set to Guthrie's music! So no, idolizing, or trying to be Woody Guthrie is in no way looked down upon in the book of Mike it was the path my favorite musician of all time took .and it was really cool to see another favorite taking a blowin down that road.
The next song stayed on that path but swerved a little when Tom announced that they were filming a video for it and he'd be playing it twice I'm pretty sure Woody, Bob or Bruce never did that .but hey, this is the 21st century, and folksingers need money too! The song was called "Alone Without You" and is featured in the new Michael Moore movie. I'm sure if you ever see the video, I'll be in it but then, you probably have just as much chance of catching a Woody Guthrie video the way MTV is these days, so don't hold your breath.
We got back on track quickly, and Tom got political imagine that.
"I just got back from the G-8 protest in Germany. I was the only American artist there representing the millions and millions of us back here that are sick of the George W. Bush administration and are sick of the G-8 where eight rich leaders of the eight richest countries in the world get together and decide how the world's gonna be structured without asking any of us about it!"
It seemed like run of the mill anti-Bush stuff and I tried not to roll my eyes. I don't want to hear this stuff from anyone but especially not from a guy that got famous playing in a band that was incredibly vocal about how much they disliked the U.S. government's policies .from 1992-1999...when that war monger Bill Clinton (U.S. troops invaded and killed folks in twice as many countries under Bill than we have under George look it up) was in office.
But then he added something kinda interesting...kinda, well actually in line with how I feel which is something that doesn't really happen too often, and virtually never happens when someone from the far far ultra left is speaking.
"I'm gonna tell you this right now. None of that's gonna change by voting this way or voting that way. I think it's fine and good to vote, but the way the world changes is when you and I, people who's names are not heard in history books, stand up for their rights where they live, where they work and where they go to school."
Right-fucking-on Tom. Way to say something political that isn't simultaneously stupid a specialty of most pop stars today. It's statements like that that make me like you even if I disagree with you.
Tom went on to say that The Nightwatchman's mission god I wish he wouldn't refer to himself as his alter ego, and what's more wouldn't do that in the third person I want desperately for this intense meaningful music to not be corny, and that doesn't help .regardless The Nightwatchman's mission is to one city at a time liberate territory, and that this was now the "People's Republic of Bonnaroo" and the whole not being corny thing went right out the fucking window.
He recovered quickly with a great tune called "Flesh Shapes The Day" and then he announced that after his set he'd be heading over to the little record store next to the Sonic Stage, and would be signing "a bunch of shit". He added "This is great, but it's a little impersonal. I'd like to meet you guys face to face, and shake your hands." I was super excited the guy's been one of my favorite musicians for like fifteen years I couldn't wait to get a picture with him. I looked at James, and didn't have to say a word .he just nodded and smiled.
The next tune was possibly the highlight of the set there were a couple other gems coming up that are also in contention but this was great on it's own merit the other's had gimmicks it was a great sing along style folk song called "The Road I Must Travel".
Next, Tom teased the crowd a little by announcing that the next song was dedicated to those of us that knew him from his previous bands. People started going crazy. Then he said, "whoa, don't get too excited, it does not go like this " and played the opening to Rage Against the Machine's "Bombtrack" INSANITY and then he stopped and said "I said it does NOT go like that!" and laughed .dick.
Three songs later, he really did play Rage's "Guerilla Radio". as a crazy blues folk number with slowed down lyrics that really let you hear that great line, "War for Gore or the son of a drug lord none of the above fuck it, cut the cord!"..the song was originally released during the opening phases of the 2000 election...brilliant. This version was fantastic though, I'm getting goosebumps thinking about the incomparable Zack De La Rocha singing it for real in a couple weeks!
Tom, sorry, The Nightwatchman announced that the next song would be his last and too my pleasure (I love being right) but not my surprise, he announced it as follows
"This is a song by a great American rebel, a great American song writer. I'd like to play a song for you know by Woody Guthrie."
Ha-ha .I know my shit! At some point in the set, I noticed that Tom even had a handwritten slogan on his guitar just like Woody used to .though Tom's "Whatever It Takes!" was no where near as cool and classic as Guthrie's "This Machine Kills Fascists!"
The song Tom chose, was one that you probably know even if you've never heard of Woody Guthrie it's one you learn in elementary school. Before he played the song, Tom explained that it was originally meant to be an angry song, and was written in protest of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" which Woody felt missed the point of America. He also talked about how the song has historically been edited and censored to "protect" the children from its true meaning. I knew all this already, but it was cool to see that the guy knew what he was talking about and maybe one or two people standing there watching him (without notebooks) would remember all this, and when they got back home would go out and pick up a Woody Guthrie CD and that would be a beautiful thing
One final rant before playing the tune went like this "Somebody said to me backstage, 'well you know, your doing this Nightwatchman stuff and it's kinda like preaching to the converted' and I'm like, you know what, the converted need a kick in the ass! We've let it go on for too long and it's time for us to rise up and make the world we want to see. This is a reminder, that This Land, is Your Land." Right into the song
The screamed, improvised final line of the song was "Never give up, and never give in. Nobody wins unless we all win!" Fucking awesome.
Before the encore there actually was no break, he just did one more tune Tom told us that this was absolutely the best audience he had ever played in front of .a direct quote was "Tennessee who knew?" He added, he couldn't wait to meet us. I couldn't wait to meet him, so James and I took off for the store where he'd be signing.
Wouldn't you know it .Tom Morello turned out to be a rule crazy capitalist asshole or even worse, a guy who let rule crazy capitalist assholes tell him what to do!
When James and I got over to the store, I was given a red wrist band, and James was told that my wristband was the final wristband. Then I was told that people with blue wristbands would be going first, and that if there was time the red wristbands could go. We learned the Tom was only staying for EXACTLY thirty minutes, and that he would NOT take a photo with anyone, would NOT sign anything but his CD and here's the kicker WOULD NOT MEET ANYONE UNLESS THEY BOUGHT THE CD. I truthfully told the guy that told us this, that I already had the CD, and he said with a smirk, "Guess you'll be buying a second copy then."
After the previous hour and change about unity, brothers and sisters, hand shaking, and freedom "I can't wait to meet you" this was kind of a let down.
When Tom was signing, I walked up to the barricade, and before any security guards could tackle me, I shouted over "Way too many rules Tom! Way too many rules." I ripped off my red bracelet, tossed it on the ground and walked away people started clapping!
The only plus that came out of the signing fiasco was that while it was going down, we got to see fifteen funky minutes of the dance happy band, Brazilian Girls on the Sonic stage while everything unfolded.
Actually, when I think about it, there was a second plus to the fiasco. I'm really okay with knowing that Tom's full of shit. It makes me feel one hundred percent better about the fact that I don't agree with a bunch of the stuff he spouts off about in his music. Now I know that good intentions aside, he just wants my money like everyone else, and that means I'm allowed to treat him as entertainment instead of some kind of teacher/guru in other words fuck what he's saying I don't kill myself when Ozzy sings about suicide, and I don't have to feel bad about leaning to the right when Rage Against the Machine tells me how evil that is. Works for me. So go ahead Tom, put out a new Rage album after all, this $20 is your $20, this $20 is my $20...this $20 was made for you and me.
At any rate, we walked away from Tom with a decent amount of the great vibe we'd picked up at his set, laying crumpled at his feet up with my unused meet and great bracelet. As you can see, I've come to terms with it, but at the time it was kind of a bummer as it turned out, it was the perfect time to need a little uplifting
We had a few options of what to see next The Roots seemed promising, but since they were on the monster stage, and in my experience it's very rare that live hip-hop equals good hip-hop (it can be done, it's just more the exception than the rule) we decided to pass on them. Lily Allen, the English female rapper had some novelty appeal, but come on if I was skipping hip-hop greatness because I had no faith in its ability to translate into a moving live experience, I damn sure wasn't going to go see the flavor of the month instead. No, the frontrunner for us was a band called The Black Keys. They're actually a duo, drums and guitar, much like The White Stripes, and play similar hard driving bluesy rock. I have no doubt that they would be an EXCELLENT live band.
But there was something nagging me something in the back of my mind that said, while The Black Keys were more or less a sure thing, I should roll the dice on a fourth option that we had something that could go either way but just seemed to be calling me I tossed the idea to James, and he said, "After what you brought me to last night, I'm following you no matter what you say you're going to!" With that we set out for the Which Stage.
As we walked over there, stopping quickly to walk through the fountain and cool off a little, I explained to James what we were going to. "Well he sings in English, but also in Spanish and French, and I think some other languages and the music is kinda well it's just all over the place it's like Latin reggae punk with hip-hop mixed in and all wrapped in this wild up-beat world music fusion style rock n roll I think it could be really good."
"What's this called again?"
"The guy's name is Manu Chao."
Now some of you, I don't know who, but some of you, are reading this, and are now smiling, and nodding your heads at the text. The ones doing that, are the ones familiar with Manu Chao's work. If you've experienced it, it's pretty much impossible not to smile when you think of it.
Some additional info you new folks should know about Manu is that he started out in a band called Mano Negra which played music similar to what I described above and became absolutely HUGE all over the world except here .think of it as soccer (that's football to you Manu Chao fans ), but music. Seriously, Manu Chao, through his various bands, is one of the top selling artists in the world and he rarely tours the U.S cause nobody here gives a shit .and that makes me feel more shameful to be an American than anything Tom Morello said all day.
When we got to the Which Stage, there was a decent crowd gathering, but we were able to make our way up to the front with a perfect combination of slithering, gentle pushing and constant "excuse me's". We waited there for about twenty minutes for the show to start, during which time, I was still seething over Morello being a dick, was nervous that I'd made a mistake by skipping The Black Keys, and had already dried out from my fountain walk, and was sweating again because it was about a billion degrees at that point, and the Which Stage offers no shade. It was kind of more or less a totally miserable moment. Then .
Holy fuck people! I defy ANYONE to see Manu Chao and stay miserable through it! I don't care if your dog's got cancer five minutes with Manu and that motherfucker will have you dancing. I WAS DANCING FOR TWO HOURS STRAIGHT! I don't dance I'm a six foot tall, slightly overweight, white dude with no rhythm whatsoever but I couldn't stop moving even if I wanted to! James, also not a dancer, stood next to me and danced his balls off!!! It was like the band sent out this explosion of energy and hypnotized the entire crowd .and when Manu had us all under his spell, he only issued one command PARTY!
James and I were singing along at the top of our lungs I don't know what the fuck we were saying we were singing in languages that WE DON'T SPEAK! The whole thing was just a two hour frenzy of screaming, and dancing, and singing, and fist pumping, and laughing, and more dancing, and smiling and chanting, and ahhhhhhhh .it was just absolutely fucking amazing!
I can't tell you the name of a single song they played I didn't know any of them. One of them was about Tijuana, and he changed it to be about Bonnaroo I think.
I can't tell you much of what was said between songs I didn't understand most of it. Some statement was made addressed to "Mr. White House" about how the only way to stop violence was not with violence, but with food, jobs, and mainly, education for everyone. Sounds about right
I don't know who any of the other guys in the band are. Who was that percussionist? He looked like he was going to beat that bongo until he burst into flames!
All I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty, is that when all was said and done, a few days later James and I both agreed, that Manu Chao Radio Bemba Sound System that's the full name of the band .was hands down the best set we saw at Bonnaroo .and one of the best sets I've ever seen in my life.
When it was over, we were exhausted what we needed was a nice shower and a quick nap what we got was Tool.
Immediately after Manu left the stage, and we finished cheering, more like howling, for him we started towards the What Stage where Tool was going to be performing very shortly. The spot we ended up in was about a hundred feet from the stage, which considering at least one dude had been waiting for twelve hours already, wasn't that bad.
The What Stage, which I had been calling the "charmless wonder" all day, gained some luster when you saw it with an appropriately sized crowd in front of it. The sea of people in front of the stage, which literally looked like it had waves going through it, was pretty impressive. It also helped that the band coming on had a show designed to be gigantic which meshed well with the stage's um giganticness .SORT OF I'll explain shortly.
Well, no, I'll explain now. Tool, the show, was built to be gigantic. Tool, the band, was not. We were about one hundred feet away as I mentioned which really was pretty close relatively speaking when you considered the size of the field .and when the band came on and ripped into "Jambi" the smoke and the lights and the six massive video screens all kicked in, and it was an awesome spectacle .an awesome stage show but .there were really no lights on the band, especially on Maynard, the singer and we couldn't really see them I figured eventually, the video screens would stop showing creepy animations, and start showing a live feed of the band but this never happened. So unless you were REALLY close like lined up at 9 am close you didn't really get to see to much of Tool what you got the see was the big weird laser, smoke and lights animation thing that Tool created .while they played on a small under-lit, at times totally unlit, section of the stage.
I didn't really get it. I wrote in my notebook "Great light show but we could really just be watching this thing set to a Tool CD it's like the band's not here. If this is their show they could franchise it and have it going in five cities at once anyone could be on that stage!"
Don't get me wrong, it sounded awesome I got a bootleg of it and have listened to it almost everyday since I got it and it looked awesome too but there was just some kind of disconnect between the show and the performance .I guess what I'm getting at was that it didn't feel like we were watching a concert mainly because we couldn't see any musicians .but also because the show seemed very sterile. Since we couldn't see the band, and were just sitting there watching a video/light show that looks the same in every city as long as it's assembled correctly and someone pushes the on button there was no connection with the band, and therefore no emotion to be felt. It really was like listening to a CD and I've been getting more enjoyment out of the copy I got, than I did at the show.
I suppose, it was the exact opposite of the show Manu Chao put on. In his show he took the audience under his wing and made them, and their energy, part of the show with Tool, it felt like they were pissed off that we showed up. The one moment I remember when Maynard spoke to the crowd he teased everyone about how he had a shower and air conditioning! I know it was supposed to come off as cool rock-star obnoxious but to me it came off as just plain old asshole obnoxious.
Oh and Memo to Tool: You don't have to make such a fuss about photographers there are no lights on you therefore no one can take your picture!
Cept me of course I got deep in the crowd where I was sure there'd be no security, and fired away it literally took over 100 shots to get one good shot of Maynard with enough light on him that he appeared to be more than just a shadow. I don't think I can use it for anything without them suing me there were signs posted all around that said no photos but I don't want to use it for anything it was the principle of it and I got my shot so fuck off rock star. Besides, the picture of the poster sized sign saying not to take pictures is a more interesting shot anyway and that one I CAN use.
Musically, I can't stress enough how great Tool were. About half the set came from their most recent album, last summer's 10,000 Days tunes like "The Pot" "Wings For Marie" and a killer "Vicarious". The rest was made up of a great batch of older songs like "Aenima" "Schism" and the two highlights a long ass version of "Lateralus" that featured none other than THE NIGHTWATCHMAN oh .wait now he's Tom Morello again now and "Stinkfist" which featured a scream somewhere in the middle coming out of Maynard, that I thought might shatter my soul .it was intense gives me chills when I replay it.
If you added "Sober" and "Prison Sex" neither of which they actually played, the set would have had every single Tool song I wanted to hear .nonetheless, as it stood great song selection.
Somewhere near the end, the light show reached it's pinnacle when laser beams shot out from the stage and lit up the whole sky it looked insane very cool.
Shortly after that, I was off to the land of late night
One last thought on Tool after reading back what I just wrote I realized that I liked the way it looked, and I loved the way it sounded but for some reason, I didn't like it. It strikes me that there is a possibility that I was just .hmmmm . exhausted and cranky and had I had a shower and air conditioning perhaps the whole thing would have clicked together in my head, and I'd have no complaints. I strongly suspect that this was the case why don't you try watching 15 bands in 26 hours on three hours sleep in 95 degree weather let's see where your head is at at that point which by the way was only the half way point!
Okay, what's next?
What's next was something really interesting and unique actually one of a kind. Every year, late night Bonnaroo offers something called Superjam which is not a real band but rather various musicians from various bands getting together and just going for it.
At Bonnaroo 2006, it was The Benevento/Russo Duo along with Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon from Phish. This foursome actually ended up doing a tour together as G.R.A.B. (The first initial of each guy's last name) after they united for Superjam.
For weeks before Bonnaroo, there was rampant speculation over who would play during the ominous blank spot on the schedule. There were three groups that people's theories fell into. First, some people said that Superjam was no more, and the open spot was going to be an additional band people of that mindset all seemed to have their own favorite band, not on the line-up, that they were sure would take that last spot My Morning Jacket, and The Mars Volta seemed to be getting more of this kind of buzz than most.
The second group of people seemed to think that the empty spot would be Superjam, and the participants would be various people already playing on other stages throughout the weekend. Lots of people wanted more Tom Morello, Warren Haynes, Jack White, and various others.
The third group was also sure it would be Superjam, but that the participants would be people not performing elsewhere at Bonnaroo with Robert Randolph and Les Claypool leading the way.
My plan for Friday late night, was to head over to the mystery spot see what it was, and then decide if I wanted to stay, or go watch The String Cheese Incident a true jamband, that I like very much who have announced that they're splitting up after their tour this summer.
But that was before the promoters, in an unprecedented move, announced that the empty spot was in fact going to be Superjam, and then told us who it would feature. As it turned out, people subscribing to theories two and three above, were both right. Superjam was to be a trio, with two members from bands already announced to be at Bonnaroo, and one member coming in just for this set.
The two we knew about were Ben Harper on guitar and vocals, and ?uestlove from The Roots on drums. Now, right away, this is already interesting. While The Roots are a hip-hop group, I've seen ?uestlove play drums before in rock/funk settings and the guy is no joke meanwhile Ben who I had never seen before was supposed to play a mean lap steal guitar so far so go.
The third member of the trio was what made the set one that for me, couldn't be missed. On bass, John Paul Jones .of Led Zeppelin.
With that announcement, the traffic on the Bonnaroo bulletin board went ballistic, and my plans to possibly catch String Cheese went bye-bye.
The show was going to take place from midnight til three at The Other Tent a venue we hadn't been to yet. So while Tool was doing their encore around eleven, I slipped out, grabbed another veggie burrito, and headed to the tent which was diagonally as far from the main stage as could be great.
When I got there, I discovered that The Other Tent was significantly smaller than ummm the other tents, and found that it was already pretty much full, an hour before the show was supposed to start. I guess a lot of the people that were not happy with Tool having a headlining slot, just hung out over there the whole time. There was no way in to the general population anywhere near the stage but who needs gen pop when you've got the magic purple wristband? James and I went backstage, which was blissfully empty and wound up in the front row of the backstage viewing area insert a Borat style NICE here.
A short while later, it was go time the air was electric. You could see people everywhere standing on their tip-toes trying desperately to hide the pained looks on their faces that gave away the fact that they were, each and every one, afraid they might wake up before this thing happened.
But to everyone's elation, just round midnight, the guys took the stage. For the opening number only, John Paul Jones and Ben Harper were BOTH playing lap steal guitars, while Ben's regular bassist Michael Ward handled the low end.
After a few minutes spent just tuning their instruments, which actually sounded like it could have been some kind of experimental free jazz song in its own right, ?uestlove hit a familiar drum roll and they began playing "When The Levee Breaks"
The audience erupted! I was surprised to see that many people responding to a song originally recorded in 1929 by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy what oh, Zeppelin re-recorded it in 1970 and took credit for writing it ohhhhh. Hey by the way, did I tell you about the new song I'm writing called "Stairway to Heaven"? It's gonna be trippppy.
Ahh, I'm just bustin balls. The song sounded fantastic. Harper's vocal was a little shaky but that seems to be his thing people eat it up. On the other hand, his guitar playing was stellar. Now I can weigh the pros and cons of Ben Harper all night, but I'll skip all that and come to my conclusion the answer to the question I found scribbled in my notebook next to a squiggly rendition of ?uestlove behind his kit "Superjam: Was Ben necessary?"
The answer is, no he wasn't. ?uestlove and John Paul Jones kept locking into each other in grooves so tight I barley even notice Ben Harper squealing in the back ground. They could have easily came out, just the two of them, and put on a killer show like a few years ago when I saw ?uestlove and Kellar Wiliams jam together they created an interesting, full sound that didn't need any further accompaniment. JPJ and ?uestlove could have done something like that easily.
Going even further lets suppose you INSIST that we need a guitarist for this set was Ben Harper the best guy for the job? Again nope. Tom Morello, Rodrigo or Gabriela, the guy from the Black Keys, or about a dozen other guys already at Bonnaroo would have been a stronger choice. You want guitar and vocals are you honestly going to tell me that Ben Harper is the better choice over Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes you know you can't do that with a straight face if you can, cancel our poker game.
Point is, Ben was the weak link, and in my totally honest opinion, he held the show back to a level I'd feel ok with calling "very good" where as if you put the right guy in there, it could have been on a level like "mind bending-ly amazing."
Now, on a non-musical level, I found out later that Ben was in fact very necessary for this to go down because when John Paul Jones came up with the idea, Ben Harper was the guy HE called and asked to make it happen .so in his role as a facilitator, he was essential.
Just to make sure you got me here Harper was fine in a supplemental role which is how I took to watching the set...he wasn't the star, he was a sideman. John and ?uest were the Mick and Keith of this deal Ben was that guy with the weird hair that plays the maracas.
Anyway, after about twelve minutes of "Levee" the guys stopped for a quick second switched the instrumentation around a little which means gave John Paul a bass and sent Ben's guy packin .and then dove into what would turn out to be a twenty five minute jam that moved through two Zeppelin tunes "Good Times Bad Times" and "Ramble On" (no vocal) and ended with Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Hollar)" with a few Meters teases sprinkled throughout.
Then came the highlight of the whole set, a version of "Dazed and Confused" that clocked in at well over a half an hour with a dash of "Immigrant Song" thrown in somewhere in the middle.
It was great and then they left after really just three extended jams that only last a total of about an hour.
Ummm this was scheduled for three hours wasn't it? I checked my schedule just to be sure .yep 12:00-3:00.
James looked at me as it to say "What the fuck?"
"I guess they're doing two sets." I said.
But nope three minutes later they were back on the stage along with Kirk Douglas from The Roots on vocals and guitar and twenty minutes of Stevie Wonder, Buddy Miles and Isley Brothers songs after that, the show was over.
It was great just to see John Paul Jones in the flesh, and even better to hear him absolutely tear it up but I'd be lying if I didn't say that all in all, the Superjam didn't feel exactly super and there wasn't all that much jamming .I think "Moderate Group Of Extended Versions" would be a more appropriate title.
Eh, what can you do it was just about two in the morning maybe the early finish would let us get some sleep .well, at least one of us. You see as we were walking out, our path took us right past the Which Stage, where String Cheese was literally only just starting their second set.
"Let's hang out here for a while and check them out a bit." I said to James.
"I'm exhausted." he replied.
"Okay, we'll stay back here so we can leave whenever we want. Just sit down for a few minutes and let me hear a song or two."
"Fine." he said, and sat down without taking another step.
Less than one song later, James was out cold .sleeping while sitting upright. I snapped a picture, but didn't wake him up.
I watched about an hour of String Cheese which included a guest spot from the multi-talented Keller Williams who from a half a mile away where we were standing, I thought was Jack Black at first. Keller sat in on the Bee Gees' "Stayin Alive" as well as on one of my favorite original SCI tunes, "Best Feeling".
I wanted to watch the whole rest of the set, but eventually, I was so tired that I thought I might actually trump James' upright sleeping feat, by falling asleep standing up! So I woke him up, and we headed back to camp which this time we found pretty easily.
James was asleep in a second. I stayed up for a minute to update the what we saw/what we missed file which now looked like this
After two days we'd seen full or partial sets by the seventeen acts I've told you about. Not including bands we'd seen once that played more than once, or double counting bands that we missed on more than one occasion, I counted a total of 54 sets we'd missed so far. After some quick math I figured we were 17 for 71 which means we were seeing roughly 25% of what was out there not bad considering how much of it there was not bad at all.
Plus most of the stuff we missed was stuff I wasn't really looking to see I heard Lily Allen drank an entire bottle of Jagermiester on stage, got sloppy, and then got arrested that probably would have been worth seeing and that Paulo Nutini guy sure is catchy when he sings about his shoes so it's a shame we missed that but all in all, I was really happy with our choices so far.
I lay there listening to music off in the distance I think it was DJ Shadow and tried to come up with a rough schedule for day three but within minutes, I passed out with only one name on my list Gogol Bordello.
FIRE!!! Aww fuck, I'm still in Tennessee .morning all, welcome to day three.
After reading that back, maybe I should re-write this entire thing as a long ass narrative poem think of it Rhyme of the Twenty-Something Roo'er. Eh maybe not.
Anyway, it was a little after eight when I woke up in the tent sauna which meant I'd got almost a full four and a half hours sleep that night brilliant it was at that moment when I was laying there covered in sweat and irritation, that I decided if I ever go back to Bonnaroo, I was getting an RV.
I didn't want the RV for the obvious reasons not for the shower, the shitter, or the a/c though all of those would be huge, highly welcomed improvements but no I was getting the RV for the sleep. I was getting the RV so that from 8 am til noon when I had no reason to be up since nothing was happening I wouldn't be up! It was impossible to sleep in that fucking tent with the sun blaring through it I was surprised I didn't wake up sun burned.
Nope not next time, I thought. next time, I was getting me some walls. Walls that over three nights would give me an extra 12 hours of sleep which sad as it is, would be more than a fifty percent bump. You have no idea what an endurance test Bonnaroo is and doubling your sleep without decreasing the amount of stuff you see that would be like a miracle and in 2008, you can just call me Annie Sullivan!
What too obscure? She taught Helen Keller they made a movie about her it was called The Miracle Worker .sorry it seemed witty in my head.
Anyway, regardless of my frustration of not being able to sleep when it was so clearly sleepy time, I was excited. Day three, to me, was on paper the best looking day of Bonnaroo 07. It featured more bands that I wanted to see than any other both during the day, and late night .which meant another long day sigh .I knew sleep was out of the question, but I managed to lay on the air mattress for another hour or so in a lame effort to conserve energy.
Finally, just after nine, without moving a muscle, James said, "So are you making breakfast or am I?" I told him it was his turn but after a few minutes of hearing him struggle to get the grill set up, I just got up and did it. We had sausages again and again I say mmmm sausage.
"So what are we seeing today?" James asked.
"Well Gogol Bordello's on at two."
You see a few years ago, a group of us including myself, James, his brother Charlie and our friend John, had gone to see an Irish folk-punk band called Flogging Molly in Atlantic City, New Jersey. We had no idea that the opening act that night was this band, Gogol Bordello who none of us had heard, though coincidentally, someone had just given me one of their CDs but I hadn't gotten around to yet. Anyway, James, who was traveling in alone, from a different direction, arrived late and for the rest of the night, and subsequent two years, he had to hear about how amazing this insane band he'd missed was.
Flogging was great that night too but it was the combination of seeing them together on the same show that made that concert easily one of my all time top-ten. I couldn't wait to see Gogol again James couldn't wait to never have to hear about how he'd missed the craziest band ever.
As it turned out, James not only ditched the ridicule, he gained some bragging rights because when John and Charlie asked me about Gogol's Bonnaroo performance all I could say was "remember how crazy and great they were in AC double it!"
But I'm getting ahead of myself James and I were still eating sausages and figuring out what we wanted to see. We agreed on the early part of the day, had different strategies for the middle and agreed again for late night so we decided to bring our cell phones with us and split up from around five until around eleven .that worked about as smoothly as you'd expect after reading this far but again, ahead of myself.
For the first performance of the day, there wasn't any option that we felt really strong about, so we decided to go see a band called Dr. Dog, that neither of us knew anything about. We picked them solely because Gogol was coming on the same stage right after them and watching Dr. Dog would get us a better spot .see careful planning and thought goes into this shit it's not just all beers and happy accidents.
What I remember about Dr. Dog is two fold one, I liked them enough to make a note that I should get one of their albums and investigate further two the singer sweat a lot .odd thing to remember but there you have it an image of this guy standing in a shirt that looked like it had just been dunked in a river is all that pops up on my internal screen when I call up their performance. I wish I had more for you, but a sweaty guy and a vague notion that the music was good are all that's left in the tank.
Again, you have to understand HOT seven hours of sleep vs. forty one hours on our feet REALLY HOT no showers, no real beds, your feet feel like someone's stabbing one after they just put a bullet in the other and there's no place to sit down .CRAZY HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE DOWN HERE HOT Bonnaroo really takes a toll it gets harder and harder to give a shit about anything you don't honestly give a shit about and sorry Dr. Dog, you fall into that category. Though don't feel bad other folks got the same reaction from me later in the weekend only more intense, when I'd reached a new stage of discomfort and irritation known only as "Day Four Hostile".
But back to day three HOT HOT HOT day three was so fucking hot that believe it or not during Gogol Bordello part of my camera (the rubber grip) actually melted right off the fucking camera body .do you get it yet? HOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!! And of course .of course with all this heat when Gogol Bordello hit the stage, all anyone, myself included, could do was jump around like a complete fucking maniac.
Trying to explain, I mean really explain, not just reiterate what happened, what the Gogol Bordello experience is like to someone that's never seen or heard them, is like trying to explain a whale to a cactus there's a disconnect there that's really hard to overcome. I guess the best place to start, is with the music.
Gogol Bordello plays their own brand of punk rock, that to my knowledge even in a world as derivative and unoriginal as ours no one has even attempted to imitate yet they call this music, Gypsy Punk.
They're like the Ramones, with and accordion and an old guy playing a fiddle and two Asian women, one of whom I hear is actually Scottish in costume playing cymbals and a bass drum respectively when they're not playing washboards with the claw hands built into their cat suits and a black guy on bass that just looks like the coolest cat on earth with a look on his face that says 'of course I'm in this crazy ass band this band is bad!' meaning of course the best fucking band in the world.
Sounds wild huh? And I haven't even touched on Eugene yet. Eugene Hutz, is the greatest front man alive today. Period.
He hits the stage like a fucking tornado! He's a gold toothed, guy with a gigantic mustache, wearing neon striped spandex, a bandana, and various wristbands, scarfs, and accessories he's completely surrounded by insanity yet he grabs and keeps your focus for as long as he wants it. He is an absolute master of stage presence and just when you think he's reached his peak, he cranks the insanity up not one more notch, but two. Boundless enthusiasm and energy I can't stress that enough hold on to your balls .it's time to now read this next word with a heavy Ukrainian accent .PARTY!
"Hello we're Gogol Bordello your new friends!" and insanity ensues.
I think the set opened with "Ultimate" which is the first track on Gogol's new CD Super Taranta and has this great line "There were never any good old days, they are today, they are tomorrow " Fantastic.
After that it was just mayhem I know they played "Not A Crime" and Eugene threw a bucket over his mic stand and started beating the hell out of it .I know they played "Start Wearing Purple" and right when the band kicks in he head butted the mic stand and knocked it off the stage I know they played "Sally" . and I think they played "Think Locally Fuck Globally" I was honestly a little too busy bopping around, taking pictures, sweating my balls off, and wiping melted camera rubber onto my shirt to jot down the set list and for the life of me, I can't seem to find it online. Another thing, not online who was that guy that came out and sang a few songs with them? I have no clue
All I'm sure of is that when the band had the entire crowd gasping for air and feeling like the show couldn't get any wilder, any better, any more memorable as I warned you he would, Eugene topped it all.
As Gogol's set drew to a close, Elizabeth was on stage with her cymbals, and Pamala was out there beating the hell out of her giant strap on bass drum. All of a sudden, Pam unhooks the straps holding the drum to her chest, and tosses it into the crowd a few seconds later Eugene dives in after it and all of a sudden begins to climb ON TO IT and he's got his microphone with him! After a few seconds of work, now Eugene is up right, singing, while standing on a bass drum that's being passed over the heads of the audience it was absolutely insane I'm sure somewhere, Iggy Pop is proud to see his legacy of lunacy lives on and is at the same time is jealous as hell that he never thought of this!
After a few minutes Eugene made it back to the stage, and they wrapped up the set. They left the audience screaming for more.