Bonnaroo Day 2

Day 2 – June 11

That Was Awkward

This is the tale of the most embarrassing question I have ever had to ask…ever. I was up early this morning, running on three and a half hours of sleep.  Not by choice, but once that Tennessee sunshine pops its gaseous, incandescent head above the tree line the thermometer shoots up from “bearable” to “you need to put sunscreen on your balls, because they will burn off.”

Sitting in my big purple mini-van, I decided to prep for my noon-time interview in the press tent with the Dropkick Murphys – The band’s manager Mikey got me in without creds – The vehicle is my sorry excuse for an office this weekend.  It has little air circulation so the stench of body odor, cigarettes, and Italian subs still linger.  There is no wi-fi either.  The conditions are not ideal, but, it will make for one hell of a story when I’m a famous staff writer for SPIN. Anyway, I had written a thoughtful outline of questions for the Murphys and was now studying up, second guessing every single one. “What are some of your influences?”  That’s childish!  “What is the secret to your longevity?”  They make great fucking music! Ken Casey will bust a Yuengling bottle over my face if I ask that.  Abnormal objections from an abnormal writer.

When I was confident enough that I wouldn’t throw up all over Al Barr’s boots I dressed the part, an unbuttoned collard short sleeve over my black, Streetlight Manifesto, cloak and dagger t-shirt – I hoped the shirt would buy me some street cred with these punk rock legends – geared up, and began the two mile trek from camp to Centeroo. I reached the entrance to the press compound and like a military garrison it was protected by a pair of tazer wielding sentinels in dark aviator sun glasses, just waiting to sink their electric spewing hooks into some “Yank” northerner. I was an hour early, so I hung out for a bit and it was here that I met a man from Louisiana.  He was a real Picasso of the aerosol can and told me the piece he was spraying was a response to the gulf coast oil spill. “I live inland,” he said. “so I haven’t seen it, but you can smell the oil.  It’s real bad down there.”

Photo by Chris Rotolo, Louisiana spray painter adds to creation, legal or not

I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask.  “If your such an advocate for preserving the environment, how do you justify the pile of aerosol cans behind you?” He didn’t answer me, just flipped his gas mask down and took a step forward when I delivered my final inquiry. “Are you allowed to spray paint at Bonnaroo [there are wooden walls in Centeroo and many patrons paint them] do they give you permission?” “It’s either illegal or I’m getting paid,” he said.  “There’s no such thing as permission.”

THIS WAS NOT THE AWKWARD CONVERSATION…IT GETS BETTER…KEEP READING!!!

The phone rings and Mikey is on the other end, the band is ready, and he comes to get me.  Dressed in a Chicago Bulls Jordan jersey, tight black pants, and Beatle boots, he led me into the compound and up to four members of Dropkick Murphys, or so I thought. Mikey gave me two of them and we went back into the compound to grab some shade and talk.  That nervous excitement came over me, I was chatting with members of the Murphys en route to my first official Bonnaroo interview.  I don’t know what I was saying, what they were saying, I didn’t even catch their names yet, but I knew this was something special. We found a table under a tree, I fiddled with my tape recorder, and we got into it.

Q: A lot of Celtic acts choose folk music as their genre of choice, why punk rock?

“Punk rock is what we grew up with as well as Motown, and other 60’s rock…”

“Really,” I thought to myself, “Motown and 60’s rock?  I’ve yet to hear that type of influence in your music.”

“Being from New York, Punk Rock is sort of the direction we were led in,” he continued, “In fact, one of our first shows was at the old CBGB’s…” (We are losing cabin pressure) Did he just say the band was from New York?  What the hell is going on here?  It had to be asked before this madness went on any longer.

Q: Fellas, let me ask you this.  Do you know the Dropkick Murphys?

“Oh yeah, definitely.” (The left wing has just caught fire)

Q: But you’re not actually in that band are you? “Nope.”

(MAYDAY!!! We’re in a tailspin and going down!)

Q: Well, holy fucking Moses, if you don’t mind me asking, who am I talking to right now?

“We’re David and Billy from The Postelles.” (This plane has crashed…end of transmission) I had gotten the e-mails mixed up.  Kristen handles the press for The Postelles and Kristene for the Murphys.  An “e” screwed me over.  It wasn’t a total loss though.  I planned on talking to these guys anyway.  I love their “White Night EP.”  It’s very Strokes-esque.  You can pick up the single White Night for free on the band’s Myspace page. For more on the Postelles stay tuned.  I’m going to catch their noon show tomorrow and follow up with them afterward.  Now it’s time to see a person about press pass.

I Met Wayne Coyne Of Flaming Lips

I got to shake his hand and everything.  No time for an interview though.  The people from FUSE shoved me out of the way and Coyne into a hut to answer questions for them.  What the hell FUSE?

Damian Marley & Nas – Welcome To Jamrock:

Damian Marley and Nas, a reggae star and a rap legend sharing a stage.  Is the combination of these bedfellows too strange for success?  The two artists answered that question with a resounding no. The duo sandwiched a few solo numbers a piece between a slew of duets off their May 18 release “Distant Relatives.” The single “As We Enter” is the cream of this album and of their performance.  It’s an upbeat song announcing Nasty Nas and Jr. Gong’s presence with the authority of a pot smoking, gun toting, gangster-revolutionary.  Like quick talking stock brokers these self proclaimed “Rhythm Piranhas” trade lines back and forth at a lightning fast pace.  This song is rap and reggae at its finest, harmoniously fusing the two genres together, it is Jamrock.

NOTE: Jamrock is not a musical genre – although it should be – it is slang terminology for Jamaica.  It also refers to a person’s joyous state of mind.  “As We Enter” put me in joyous state of mind, thus, it is Jamrock. “Nah Mean” was also a highlight of the performance, showcasing both artists ability to rap, but especially Nas’ fire spitting capabilities.  A noticeably slower jam than “As We Enter,” the beat is still heavy and got the audience bouncing and swatting the air like a massive game of whack-a-mole. Unlike many other reggae acts, Damian tends to rap over his beats rather than provide the soothing, syrupy, vocals of the his late great father.  The revolutionary heat is still there, good will and love for one another is still being preached, the only difference is Nas at his right hand.  The two are perfect for one another and I hope they combine to make more music.

HEY!!! CONAN O’BRIEN IS HERE!!! “Are you ready to rock?” O’Brien asked the crowd that patiently awaited Tenacious D.  “Are you ready to laugh?.. Do you want to rock and laugh but first urinate?” “I was asked to come host a lot of festivals and I said no,” he continued.  “I was asked to host Coachella.  I said no!  I said, it’s not humid enough.  They asked me to host Lollapalooza, I said no!  It sounds like a goddamn candy…” “I want to introduce an incredible act ladies and gentlemen,” O’Brien said in closing.  “There’s an old rule in show business that you should never set the bar too high for an act.  But the act you’re about to see is going to CHANGE YOUR LIVES!  This will be the greatest performance in the history of entertainment.  I’ve known these guys (The D) a long time, they’re brilliant, they’re hysterical, they’re important figures in history!  Ladies and gentleman, give it up for TENACIOUS D!!!” Conan proceeded to kneel down and take the inevitable humping he had coming to him like a man, Jack Black from the front and Kyle Gass from behind.  The perfect introduction.

Climb Upon Your Faithful Steed, It’s Tenacious D Time:

People toss around the phrase “emotional roller coaster” a bit too loosely these days.  “Avatar was an emotional roller coaster,” or “My child’s birth was a real emotional roller coaster.”  Bullshit!  I’ve been on a rolling coaster of death that toyed with my emotions, tugging my every heart string, frying my every brain cell, mentally and physically taking me to the brink and back again.  In short, I have The D to thank for this. Surrounded by 50,000 viewers I witnessed the very real, very human drama play out before my eyes.  I saw a pair of musicians rise out of wreckage and ash “like a phoenix” fortifying a bond stronger than the greatest wall and bigger than the sun.  Then the phone rang. It was Jack Black’s lawyer.  $25 million would be placed into JB’s account for “The Pick Of Destiny 2.”  The catch you ask?  Kyle’s out, Kevin James’ is in…done deal. I witnessed that insurmountable, unbreakable, unsinkable bond have a hole the size of Texas punched into its side sinking it like the Titanic.  Kyle Gass, heartbroken and betrayed, pulled down his black gym shorts revealing his bulbous white ass and pointed it in the direction of his former partner in crime.  Black made one final attempt to convince his brother to stay, but it was met by the flip of Gass’ middle-finger.  It spoke louder than any statement could have. The remorseful Black did what the remorseful do when words alone cannot express their feelings.  He broke into song with “Dude I Totally Miss You.”  His message was heard as Gass emerged from the wings still unsure of his position in the Tenacious D universe.  With a resounding “Fuck Kevin James!” that crashed like a tsunami wave over the rocking and churning sea of Tenacious D-ciples, Gass’ place in their world of two was realized again. Back together again, the D-namic duo christened their new relationship with a song conveniently written for the occasion entitled “Kyle Quit The Band.”  It told of the reformation and their plans to kick ass, smoke hash, make cash, and throw a bash in which everyone was invited.  All I can say is they are men of their words. Suddenly and without warning the sound of crunching gears and pounding machinery filled the field of patrons, overtaking the sweet grooves of The D.  Finally the beast showed itself.  Slowly trudging out of the shadows came the destroyer of less awesome music genres, a crudely constructed robot built to rid this world of poppy solo acts, smooth jazz, and country music.  They call it…The Metal.  A badass creature indeed, it was still no match for Tenacious D who vanquished the industrial devil away from Bonnaroo, Jack Black delivering the final blow, a swift flying dropkick to its carborator. If there is one thing Tenacious D taught us tonight it is that you cannot kill The Metal.  In fact, the band wrote a song about The Metal’s immortality called “The Metal,” in which no explanation is provided for indestructibility.  The D played it in celebration of its victory and all I can tell you is what the band told me. “The Metal will live on,” sang Black.  “Punk rock tried to kill The Metal but they failed as they were smite to the ground.  New wave tried to kill The Metal but they failed as they were stricken down to the ground.  Grunge tried kill The Metal but they too failed as they were thrown to the ground.  No one can destroy The Metal…” Black and Gass had fought The Metal and survived.  They’d fought each other and overcome it.  But how could they possibly defeat Satan himself?

Photo by Chris Rotolo, Jack Black rocks out with Tenacious D.

It’s 2:30 A.M.  Do You Know Where LCD Soundsystem Is? You read correctly, Lucipher had taken over the stage.  Summoned by The D’s own disbelief, The Devil showed up to set the record straight.  There is a Hell and it’s filled with awesome metal music.  Satan was there to claim the souls of the non-believers, but he wasn’t going to leave with more than a boot up his ass if Tenacious D had anything to say about.  Thus, a rock-off was held.  With the aid of John Spiker on bass and John Konesky – a.k.a. John Bartholomew Shredman- on the electric axe, Tenacious D played the greatest song in the world and sent the evilest demon of them all straight back to the underworld.  The band followed up that performance with Tribute, an ode to the greatest song in the world. Tenacious D had saved themselves, saved us twice, and even dry humped Coco.  They had done enough, and it was time for them to go.

Kings of Leon and Bonnaroo

I would love to see some statistics on this because I believe Kings of Leon has drawn what will prove to be the largest crowd of the weekend.  There had to be at least 75,000 people watching this performance.  Viewers were backed up all the way to the famous Bonnaroo arch that acts the entrance to Centeroo.  There wasn’t a spot worth standing in front of the stage so I headed back to the press tent to at least find a comfortable spot to listen. I heard three songs and they are as follows:  “Where is My Mind,” a Pixies cover that sounded very close to its original form, “Sex On Fire,” and my favorite Kings’ song “Notion.” I left after this set of songs because I knew it wasn’t going get any better for me.  I heard the band cover my favorite Pixies track, play the song that made the Followill foursome world famous, and my favorite song in their catalogue.  I had heard all I needed to hear. Here’s the skinny:  Caleb Followill has the best voice in rock music right now.  The man has a set of pipes on him unlike anyone else in the business.  A far as bands go, Kings of Leon is not King of the hill just yet, but its singer is atop the heap. Also, save for a breakup, Kings of Leon will remain one the biggest arena rock bands in the world for a long time.  They are right up there with Bruce and the gang and U2.  This band’s sound is huge and everybody loves them.  Hipsters like the Kings because the band’s early stuff, like “Joe’s Head,” and “Taper Jean Girl,” is raw, it rocks out, and they still play those songs live.  And collegiate Joe Bros and their girlfriends love Kings of Leon because “Sex  On Fire” and “Use Somebody” are hits being played all over the radio waves.  Don’t be hating hipster elite.  Admit it, those songs are great. This is Southern Rock done right.

The Greatest Live Performance I Have Ever Seen – Flaming Lips:

“Is everybody ready to go crazy a little bit?” said Wayne Coyne, the leader of Flaming Lips.  “This is the first night of the festival so there’s no excuse for you not to have energy, and enthusiasm, and love!”

Coyne was absolutely correct, and we didn’t disappoint nor did the musical collective on stage composed of Flaming Lips and Dennis Coyne’s band Star Death and White Dwarfs.  Dennis Coyne is Wayne’s nephew.  He and the rest of the members of Star Death and White Dwarfs are full time roadies for Flaming Lips. Regardless, what we gave them in energy they gave right back to us in production value.  Let me attempt to put this as clearly as possible.  What happened on this night was not a show.  Classifying it as a concert would be unfair.  And it was much more than simply a performance.  Pardon my language, but for lack of better adjectives I can only describe what took place justly by calling it a FUCKING PRODUCTION. The only thing missing was a parade of elephants. The Lips and company had two-hours to play.  They broke it up into halves.  The first hour was all their hits and during the second half, for only the second time in the band’s history, Flaming Lips performed Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.  Tonight I witnessed something special and I will never truly be able to explain it well enough to you.  You had to be there.  For this I apologize.  But it won’t keep me from trying.  Drink it in readers. I you will, picture a giant projector screen in the shape of an arch.  It runs the length of a stage cloaked in fog and currently displays a blue, nude, female with orange hair frantically racing toward the audience, seemingly getting nowhere fast, ominous tones being played over this one-woman track meet. Finally she starts creeping closer and closer.  She is huge now.  Most of her body is no longer on the screen.  It’s just a torso and little lower now and she is still gaining ground.  The mystery woman comes closer and closer until only her vagina is left on the screen.  It glows piecing rainbow colors now.  The screen is so bright I can barely stand to look.  Suddenly, a door inside this digital birth canal bursts open and out walks the band one by one.  They walk to their instruments, Coyne gets into a giant blowup hamster ball and literally rolls into the audience while the band rolls into “The Fear,” a spacey noise rock jam that does just as the title implies, freaking out the girl behind me that confidently stated only a few minutes ago that she “dropped six and a half tabs [of acid] prior to this” and she “feels fine.” It’s during the third song where shit goes wild.  The Lips play the first few notes of their biggest hit, She Don’t Use Jelly,  and the audience erupts.  When Coyne starts into the first chorus he calls for the largest confetti explosion I have ever seen.  Picture the worst blizzard you have ever had the displeasure of driving through.  Now pretend your wipers are frozen to the windshield and the snow is blinding.  This mass of confetti was worse than that.  I’m talking 2.73 percent visibility. But Coyne was far from finished with his shenanigans.  He calls for the roadies to start chucking giant balloons into the crowd for us to play with. “I’m pissed dude,” I overhear a shirtless male standing next to me say to his friend.  “I don’t have any drugs in me for this.” “I saw The Lips three days ago with no drugs,” replied his friend. “Believe me, you’ll be fine.” The guy was right.  I’ve never done a hallucinogenic drug in my life, and I was tripping balls.  I didn’t know if what I was seeing was happening or not, my depth perception had floated away with the last balloon that passed overhead, it was pandemonium, and I loved every second of it. If your mind has not yet blown, try to imagine the confetti explosions, the naked blue and pink women racing around in the background, the giant balloons, Wayne Coyne firing more confetti into the audience out of a hand cannon, and fresh layers of fog pumped onto the stage.   All of this took place for several other songs including The Yeah Yeah Song, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1, Pompeii Am Gotterdamerrung, and the closing number of the first half Do You Realize.  It was absolute madness.  And one of the trippiest albums ever constructed by man had yet to be played. The Lips came back out on stage and ran through Speak To Me/Breathe and On The Run before pausing.  Wayne Coyne had something to say before the band took on the Pink Floyd classic “Time.” “What time is it Bonnaroo,” asked Coyne.  “I propose that at this time, a year from now, that everybody here has made it so that marijuana is legal in America…[pause for audience applause]…Everybody has talked about it, everybody has dreamed about it.  I’d say if we really mean it, everybody is going to come back here a year from now and marijuana is going to be made legal in America because we’ve all made it possible.” At this point in the story I realize I have been focusing on all the lights, confetti, and balloons, and have not given enough credit to the musicians for their playing ability.  This is the band’s 27th year in business so the playing is tight.  However, the thing about Flaming Lips music is that it “is” about all the bells and whistles.  The actual music is almost secondary.  It’s one of those situations where if you don’t notice the music, then The Lips and Company have done their job.  And just for the record, Pink Floyd’s “Time” is a very bluesy, barroom-type jam that The Lips played to perfection. When The Lips started into Money, Coyne again started chucking balloons into the audience.  This time however, the difference was “money.”  Coyne had these balloons filled with cash before hurling them into the gathered mass.  Just a band giving back to its fans I suppose. I can only describe what I saw in detail for so long.  I can however describe how I felt and in a word, mesmerized.  I have never been mesmerized before.  I have never stared at something and gotten lost in it for a long period of time.  Sure I’ve day dreamed before, everyone has, but for two hours on a Friday night in Manchester, Tennessee I was in complete awe of what was playing out before me.  I imagine that type of wonder can only occur when a person experiences something for the first time that is so grandiose they never believed anything like it was possible.  That explains my reaction.

In closing Coyne said something that stuck with me.  I can’t quite remember the exact quote but it meant a lot to me and went along the lines of:  When you look back on this show and your time here at Bonnaroo, don’t look at in terms of what bands you saw or how many bands you saw.  Look at it in terms of who you were with for the experience.  It’s the people you surround yourself with in life and the experiences you share with them that make it all worth it. Without your friends, without people who care about you, you’ll miss out on a lot of the fun this life has to offer.

“Let them know you realize that life goes fast.  It’s hard to make the good things last. You realize the sun doesn’t go down? It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”-Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize”

Yes I do.  James Murphy and crew were in This Tent and so was I.  It was hovering around 90 degrees outside and the massive amounts of body heat inside cranked up the temperature to at least 270. I sacrificed my well being to witness LCD Soundsystem on its final tour before the group is disbanded so the front man Murphy can reinvent himself musically. I suppose it is time for the Princeton Junction, NJ native to move on.  It’s definitely a bit creepy for forty-year old to be making music about picking up drunk girls that are half his age as is described in the aptly titled track Drunk Girls off LCD’s May release and final studio album, “This Is Happening.”  The song is so damn catchy though.  I thank him for treating me to it this morning, it was a great performance. I hung around in anticipation for one final song, Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.  This is my favorite LCD Soundsystem song and as soon as it was played I was gone.  One can only handle so much Dance-Punk music that late in the game, or early in the game, however you may view 3 a.m. You will be missed LCD Soundsystem.  I hope your future endeavors don’t depress you as much as your success with LCD Mr. Murphy.