Day 3: Strokes tribute, Wonder and Weezer

Day 3 – June 12

The Postelles Rock The Sonic Stage

I went into Centeroo early this morning to get a good spot for The Postelles noon-time Sonic Stage set.  Luckily for me this New York quartet’s talent for playing a contemporary fusion of crude and powerful 1970s punk rock and mellifluous 1960s Motown was still somewhat concealed from the Roo-Fest masses.

The Postelles is a band on the rise and in a musical era where the weirder get work and many new musicians choose to occupy an electronic palette, with synths, turn tables, and computer generated drums and/or bass beats, this New York foursome has “stripped down” to an archetypal rock format, and in turn produced some of the catchiest garage-punk tunes I’ve heard in years.

“New York City is sort of the birth place of Punk Rock and growing up there, it was what we lived with and were exposed to,” said lead guitarist David Dargahi of the band’s sound, “as well as a lot of other 60’s rock and Motown music.”

“Our first show was at the old CBGB’s,” Dargahi continued, “so we were led in that direction from the beginning.”

I made it to the rail with ease standing no more than ten feet from the band’s fedora sporting guitar maestro who strums his six-string with a similar sound to that of Strokes axe-man Albert Hammond Jr. who helped produce The Postelles recently completed debut studio album.

“Albert’s an awesome guy and was a huge help,” said bassist John Speyer.  “He taught us how to use guitar tones and how to really record an album.”

The self-titled record contains 11 tracks and is due out on July 27th.

“We’re really excited about the album,” said Speyer.  “It’s the ultimate example of what we’ve been doing for the past two years and we’re really proud of it and all the work that went into making it.”

The most exciting time for a band is right before it blows up, and The Postelles exhibited that excitement running through a collection songs that included a super charged cover of The Ramones’ “Beat On The Brat,” two new cuts off the upcoming album and three tracks off the “White Night EP,” and they did it all within the 30-minute parameters of the performance.

All three of the songs on the EP are undeniably satisfying with catchy choruses and guitar play that sinks its hooks too deep within the listeners mind to be removed.  “Looking glass” is simplistic, poppy, garage rock excellence.  Daniel Balk’s intoxicating vocals on “Sleep On The Dance Floor” will have you pressing replay for a long time. “White Night” showcased several tempo changes spurred on by drum cues from Billy Cadden and the bass play of Speyer.

“ ’White Night’ is one of the first songs we ever wrote,” Cadden said.  “It was that song that really steered us in the direction we’re headed now.”

“It’s about us going out into New York City as 16 and 17 year olds,” said Dargahi who throws down a distortion laden solo on the track, “living a fast paced life and growing up really fast, and the song captures what that was like.”

“Stella” is a song that will be on the bands upcoming album and saying it was Strokes-esque is a legitimate claim.   However, these days, whenever a new band with a raw sound and a “less is more” dynamic hits the scene they undoubtedly will be compared to The Strokes.  The Postelles is another act that has not been able to escape that label, yet feels honored to have it.

“We grew up on The Strokes,” Dargahi said.  “I was 14 years old when “Is This It” came out and I was blown away.  We take it as compliment, maybe some people think it isn’t, be we do.”

“That’s the highest compliment we can get,” added Cadden.  “We love The Strokes.”

“I think it’s because we’re a straight forward rock band, and no matter what, you’re going to be compared to the other straight forward rock bands like The Strokes,” continued Dargahi.  “And there aren’t that many bands now that are straight up rock, a lot of bands use synths and other electronics, but we’ll take it.”

Today’s performance was a little more intimate than the opening night show.  The stage and audience was smaller and compared to video I saw of their first set, the band appeared more at ease this afternoon.  I’m not saying they have trouble playing to the larger crowds, I’m saying on the smaller Sonic Stage the guys seemed more in their element.

The tiny, fenced in compound’s dimensions resembled those of a New York City night club, a surrounding The Postelles are comfortable in, and the show had that feel.  They performed with an swagger and appeared to feed off the energy of specific faces rocking out in the crowd.  The majority of spectators appeared well versed in The Postelles’ music, a big difference from the opening evening.  Calling out to friends and dedicating songs to others, the band played loose and the musicians felt free to show off their personalities to the audience, both parties exchanging smiles after well struck drum beats and precisely performed guitar solos.  Daniel Balk even felt good enough to jump down off the stage, shake hands with us in the front row and even share his singing duties with surprised female turned vocalist.

This was the band’s second trip to the farm, The Postelles made their Bonnaroo debut in 2008, and have enough experience touring clubs and festivals to give an opinion on their preference.  I asked John Speyer about it and he gave me a genuine, although predictable, answer.

“I like it all,” said Speyer.  “That’s why I do this, I love playing music for everybody.  It’s all about the crowd.  If the crowd is receptive and into it, then I’m having a good time.”

After spending time with The Postelles, talking with them, and watching one of their shows, I can honestly say that this band is the epitome of everything that is great about music.  These guys are humble and hungry, they crank out awesome tunes, and they embrace where they come from and who supports them.  The Postelles have the potential to do big things.

Skanking In The Pit With Jimmy Cliff

I can’t dance in most settings.  In fact, I am extremely awkward dancing anywhere that skanking is not accepted as official dance currency.  However, somewhere around senior year of high school I developed the ability to have very little shame and made it my goal to skank at least once during any music event I attended.  I’ve skanked at Giant Stadium while Bruce Springsteen sang “Rosalita,” at The Arts Center during STP’s “Sex Type Thing,” and even as recently as an extensive session during Matt and Kim’s performance at the College.

Thankfully, Jimmy Cliff provided me with appropriate platform to do such a dance.  I was in my glory, King for an hour in the bloodshot eyes of the surrounding hippie/Rastas.

Cliff played an inspiring set that included such hits as “Blessed Love,” “Many Rivers To Cross,” and “I Can See Clearly Now,” to name a few of the fan favorites.

He spoke his views on the environment, the war, and entertained the crowd with various forms of Jamaican style dancing, it resembled the skank, that no 62-year old man should be able to do without spraining a hip.

Cliff even played a kick-ass Cat Stevens cover of “Wild World.”

This show was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I got to see it.

The Dead Weather Bring The Rain

On a day that was by far the muggiest since my arrival, The Dead Weather, with self-inflicted feedback emitting from Jack Lawrence’s bass amp, a howling single guitar note from Dean Fertita’s grandiose white six-string, the heart stopping thump bred from the loins of Jack White’s drum set, and banshee-like shrieks reverberating from somewhere deep inside Allison Mosshart, offered the rock and roll rain gods their opening salvo of noise as a ritualistic sacrifice.  “So it was played, so it shall be done,” this hypothetical deity seemed to say, answering the wishes of the crowd by casting a beautifully gray rain cloud over the field and dumping the chilled precipitation on us.  A faint sizzling could be heard when the first drops landed.

“Let it be known that we brought the rain,” White said from atop his drum throne before drilling the first notes of Pentagram’s “Forever My Queen,” the band’s official opening number, and it was a cover?

Photo by Chris Rotolo, The Dead Weather opened with “Hang You Up From The Heavens,” from its 2009 debut, "Horehound."

When The Dead Weather broke into “Hang You Up From The Heavens,” the first single off its 2009 debut “Horehound,” the transitions from sludgy to fast and whimpering to raucous literally blew me away.  The sound was so intense that it physically moved me backward. The Dead Weather is the most powerful live act I have ever seen.  Having been born in 1989, I never got to see Led Zeppelin but the comparison is evident. I can only imagine that the experience was similar.  Both bands play that  hard-rock with blues undertones with repetitive distorted guitar riffs, controlled chaos on the drums and howling feminine vocals.  What does it say about the state of music when a band so similar to the legendary Zeppelin still plays in a state of virtual anonymity?  Ask around, not enough people know who The Dead Weather are.

“Cut Like a Buffalo” was another highlight of the show.  The song has developed into a fan favorite and the audience erupted for it.

My personal favorite was the performance of “I’m Mad,” where Mosshart actually lost her mind on stage.  This song was written for her.  Mosshart may sing the songs, but she by no means acts as the band leader.  It’s a tough position to be in because White still controls too much star power.  He may have shoved himself behind a bulky drum kit, but all eyes still remain on him and his black fedora.  However, during this angry number she walks hard, strutting from wing to wing, cackling at the audience.  She leaps atop speakers and White’s drum platform, releasing her beautiful wailing vocals.  Her charismatic movements, long jet black hair swinging frantically in the wind, and shrieks of madness command your attention.  And you’ll give it.  Allison Mosshart is a rock goddess and should be treated as such.

I stayed for one more song, “Hustle and Cuss,” and it was time to leave.  Weezer was taking the Which Stage.

Weezer Opens With The Hits

I don’t know about you, but Weezer’s latest album bugged me a little bit. I’m all for a band expanding its musical horizons, but “Raditude” just was not Rivers and the crew.  The band is an imposter of itself if that is possible.  The album is good for what it is, a poppy, made for dance halls record, but it isn’t Weezer.  Thankfully, Weezer only sprinkled a few of the new tacks into their hit laden set.

Weezer opened with the crunchy guitar number “Hash Pipe” and the place exploded.  I thought this song was overplayed on the radio, I thought the joy it used to bring me had died, but the surrounding energy revived it and forced me to scream every word.

“Trouble Maker” followed that, piggy backed by “Undone (The Sweater Song).”  I love this song.  I don’t know what the world record is for largest sing along, but we had to come pretty close.

I couldn’t believe they played “Surf Wax America” next.  Do you want to know why this song is great?  Because it’s full-fledged rocking from start to finish.  I still stand that this track has one of the most rocking outros in the history of song.  The last 13 seconds are harder than the first three minutes.  “Oh,  I’m sorry, your personal rock quota wasn’t filled yet,  here’s a super charged ending for you to linger on,” the band seemed to say.

Next, Weezer ran through “Trippin Down The Freeway,” one of the more tolerable “Raditude” tracks.  I tuned out a little bit because it took way too long to set up.  Cuomo brought out some solo artist named Julia Nunes to assist the band on ukulele, but she tuned the damned thing wrong.  So she sang, and it wasn’t very good.

However, the show was revived when Brian Bell squeezed out the first few notes of “Perfect Situation.”  Cuomo climbed up atop Pat Wilson’s severely raised drum platform and belted out the vocals, emphatically notifying the audience that, contrary to their looks, these guys are rock stars.

“Dope Nose,” “Say It Ain’t So” and “Why Bother” in succession blew my mind.  Unfortunately we had to leave.  Rivers cued up “Can’t Stop Partying” and the consensus was that the band was going to begin playing “Raditude” songs, and nobody in my group wanted to hear that.

They wanted to see Jeff Beck.  I’m not the biggest fan, but, when is the next time I’m going to have such a convenient opportunity to see one of the greatest guitar players to ever pluck a six-string.

I later learned that Weezer played “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To,” My Name Is Jonas,” “Beverly Hills,” “Hot For Teacher,” “Kids,” “Poker Face,” “Island In The Sun” and “Buddy Holly” in a row.  It was a terrible miscalculation, but such is life.

Here Is What I Know About Jeff Beck…

The consensus is he is one of the greatest guitar players of all time, his inability to work with others is partly responsible for the creations of Led Zeppelin and Cream (thanks for being a dick), he likes to wear scarves on stage, he has a group, I don’t know any of its music, and I like Weezer better.

I watched Jeff Beck perform three musical pieces (What Beck plays are not songs because the word “song” implies singing, thus, they are musical pieces.  “YYZ” is not a song, but a wonderful musical composition.) each one a longer guitar solo than the last.  How conceited is that?  There is no singer, the other band mates are huddled off in a corner, Beck is center stage, and the spotlight never moves.

A Beck-type performance is not my cup of tea.

I recognized one of the pieces he played.  It was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  No, words, just Beck’s wailing, bluesy, guitar play.  It gets old, quick.

Stevie Wonder…Metal God?

As 8:30 hour neared Conan O’Brien returned to the What Stage to introduce one of the greatest performers in the history of music, the legend, Mr. Steveland Hardaway Judkins, better known as Stevie Wonder.

Conan ran awkwardly off stage to “go and get him (Wonder),” and did not return.  The audience feared the worst.  Had Stevie Wonder bought the farm (pun intended)?

NAY!  Wonder strolled on stage, opening his show with a nasty, face melting Roland AX-synth shoulder synthesizer solo (glorified key-tar) that sounded metal as shit.  I threw up my horns thinking Slash was taking the stage.

Wonder carried the synth solo into “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me,” his funky 1980 hit.  Next up was Wonder’s “Master Blaster” followed by his Motown hit “Uptight (Everyhing’s Alright)” which made the 60,000 people in attendance get up and groove.

After that, things got strange.  Wonder was Peyton Manning checking down his setlist at the line of scrimmage, confusing his band and the audience who received a long look at the original playlist that was posted on the jumbotron a few minutes earlier.

Not that we were going to argue when he began playing hit after hit.  “For Once In My Life,” “Higher Ground,” and “Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing,” all in a row, it was like a best of compilation.

Wonder followed with a cover of Parliament’s “Give Up The Funk,” and transitioned into “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” my favorite highlight of the performance.

Then it was sing along time.  Wonder led us through a call and answer session where he taught us how to sing because Wonder didn’t “want us screwing up his words.”  The men had their part, the women another, put it together and we were singing the instrumental part of “Living For the City.”

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” “Sir Duke,” and “Give Peace A Chance” surrounded our sing along.

Wonder closed with “My Cherie Amour,” “Do I Do,” and funkified, rocked out rendition of “Superstition.”  It was a performance of epic proportions.

Jay-Z Is The Greatest Living Musical Artist

The title is a bold statement indeed, but an undeniable truth.  Name another artist/group that has the ability to bring so many different people together in song.  The Beatles?  I saw a sea of Caucasians in the video of the fab four’s Shea Stadium concert, not much cultural diversity there.   Michael Jackson?  Maybe, but the amount of hatred and ill will his off-stage antics brought about overshadow his musical superiority.  Bono maybe?  But too many people despise his music.  Jay-Z appeals to everyone.  He is the epitome of the American dream, a rags to riches story played out in front of our eyes, one that anybody can get behind no matter what the color your skin may be.  The diversity of his fan base shown through tonight in the mass of patrons exiting the performance.

I witnessed a pair of inebriated good ol’ boys from Alabama embrace two African American men from Atlanta in celebration of what they just saw.  Women were kissing men, women kissed women, men kissed men.  I witnessed adults high fiving teenagers, there were cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria played out before my eyes.  But a Jay-Z party made it okay.  Laws of intolerance are non-existent inside the Bonnarooniverse.  The world can learn a lesson.

Jay-Z also takes home the award for Best Set.  During “Empire State of Mind” his composition of several giant computer screens morphed into a living, breathing, New York City Skyline, before transforming the audience perspective into that of a bird’s, flying in low above Times Square, The Empire State Building, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the rest of the big apple.  People walked the streets and traffic sped along Broadway.  The detail was mind boggling, as was Jay’s performance.

The Man spit nothing but the hits.  It’s amazing how many tracks you don’t realize are his work until you see him on stage owning them.

The guy turned out 29 songs so I won’t go through all of them.  Here is the setlist :(http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/jay-z/2010/bonnaroo-festival-manchester-tn-5bd427f0.html).

For as good as it was, there remained a feeling of disappointment.  With a chance for so many different collaborations, I can’t figure out why Jay-Z kept it a solo act.  Bonnaroo would have been the perfect setting to show what he and Jack White have been working on.  Why not perform as Jay-Zeezer for a couple of songs (look up the Black And Blue Album if you don’t understand this).  And when will he and Stevie Wonder be within 100 feet of one another again?

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