Bonnaroo: Day 1

Having just returned from Bonnaroo — the annual 4-day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee — I felt it appropriate to give a review that went beyond bashing Kanye and praising all else. So over the next four days, I’m giving an artist-by-artist roundup of the shows I saw while surrounded by an amalgam of good people, better drugs and the best music lineup of the summer. We start today with Thursday — traditionally Bonnaroo’s weakest day, but that’s like being the slowest guy in Kenya.

THURSDAY, JUNE 12

MGMT
8:30-9:30pm, This Tent

Currently reeling off the success of their first hit single, “Time to Pretend,” MGMT is having somewhat of a banner year. You’ve heard the song in MTV shows and in promos for the Kevin Spacey flick 21, and the band is playing multiple summerfests behind last year’s excellent Oracular Spectacular. (Also, the jury’s still out: is it pronounced MGMT or “management”?) That said, their style of electro-funk is better suited for intimate clubs than outdoor tents, and their irony-drenched lyrics were drowned in repetitive synth riffs throughout the set. I was also waiting in line to piss during the show’s finale, so that didn’t help either.

Battles
10:00-11:00pm, This Tent

After MGMT, we decided to see Battles based on a recommendation from our Bonnaroo neighbors; it turned out to be an interesting decision. Somewhat of an indie prog supergroup, Battles’ most famous member is drummer John Stanier — former skinsman for 90s’ hard rock outfit Helmet, of whom I’m a huge fan. Stanier did not disappoint throughout the set, continuing to bash the highest cymbal in rock & roll (see left). But Battles had amp problems with their bassist, and singer Tyondai Braxton’s tendency to sing in a chipmunk falsetto made almost every lyric indecipherable. Their ’07 CD Mirrored, however, sounds great in headphones.

Dark Star Orchestra
11:45-1:45, The Other Tent

Exhaustion from a 9-hour drive complicated my enjoyment of Dark Star Orchestra, the legendary Grateful Dead cover band. They sure sounded great, but we ended up only staying for 45 minutes of a 2-hour set. Good thing, too: missing even a minute of the festival-best Friday lineup would have been a huge mistake.

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