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 continue today with Saturday — which featured music festival staple Jack Johnson, premier headliner Pearl Jam and some douche named Kanye.
1:00-2:15pm, The Other Tent
On record, Donavon Frankenreiter is a dead-ringer for Jack Johnson; on stage, he’s more individual and satisfactory. I don’t remember much material from his set, but he provided a nice acoustic opening after Friday night’s near-seven hours of unapologetic rock (Metallica and then My Morning Jacket).
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
2:00-3:15pm, Which Stage
You may not have heard of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, but you’ve definitely heard them: they’re the backing band on Amy Winehouse’s ’07 smash “Rehab.” And while Winehouse is in no shape to perform, Sharon Jones sure is: wearing what she called her “Tina Turner dress,” the pint-sized funk diva rolled through two albums of classics during her hourlong show. Better yet, all of Jones’ songs were ingrained with infectious and immediate grooves, making her set one of the more danceable of Bonnaroo ’08.
2:15-3:30pm, That Tent
Having already seen Against Me! open for Foo Fighters in February, I was accustomed to their impressive on-stage energy — but they took most of the Bonnaroo audience by surprise with an electrifying show. That said, they rocked harder than they did long, barely making it to 3:00 with a set that should have rolled until half past. But that doesn’t take away from rousing renditions of crowd-pleasers like “Americans Abroad,” “Stop!” and “Thrash Unreal.”
6:15-7:45pm, Which Stage
Ben Folds was one of the bigger letdowns of Bonnaroo ’08, but I had already been warned that his voice doesn’t hold up in concert. Neither, evidently, does his dignity: Folds started late, ended early and forever retired his live take on Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” — the lone highlight from his show. Radio hits like “Landed” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” were hard to recognize, and Folds ignored “Brick” along with the entirety of his back catalogue with the Ben Folds Five. Just disappointing.
8:00-9:30pm, What Stage
I was least excited for Jack Johnson out of the ’08 Bonnaroo headliners, but the man responsible for more similar-sounding radio hits than Nickelback kept me standing for all ninety minutes of his pre-Pearl Jam show. He even brought out Eddie Vedder midway through to duet on “Constellations,” a nice torch song in between folksy takes on “Flake,” “Bubble Toes” (dedicated to his wife), “Sitting, Waiting Wishing” and set-closer “If I Had Eyes.” My only regret? That he didn’t play an encore.
10:15-12:15am, What Stage
Between a well-documented feud with Ticketmaster and a Denmark trampling incident that left nine dead, Pearl Jam has good reason not to play huge festivals like Bonnaroo. But for our sake, they took to the main stage Saturday night and played for nearly three hours. I went crazy for anything from PJ’s early-nineties catalogue: “Why Go,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” “Elderly Woman…,” “Daughter” and “Animal” were all fantastic. But the penultimate moment came during the singalong chorus of “Betterman,” when Eddie Vedder took a moment to look out upon the Bonnaroo faithful, seeing almost 60,000 waving lighters and calling it “beautiful.” Outside of that, newer material like “Life Wasted” and an electrifying take on The Who’s “Reign O’er Me” rocked the hardest, and a duo of closing songs (“Alive” and “All Along the Watchtower”) made up for missed classics like “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Jeremy.”
1:30-2:15am, The Other Tent
A lot of critics gave M.I.A. top honors for rap acts at Bonnaroo ’08, by my title goes to Lupe — who rocked a full hour alongside a sea of cronies on the festival’s smallest stage. New songs like “Paris, Tokyo” didn’t quite fill out The Other Tent like they did the United Center in Chicago, but the show-ending one-two punch of “Daydreamin'” and “Superstar” — the latter accompanied by Matthew Santos himself — was more than enough to get a full crowd on its feet.
Long-Ass Gap Waiting for an Inevitably Underwhelming Kanye
When we got to Bonnaroo on Thursday, countless flyers were posted for 2008’s “big” announcement: Kanye West, originally scheduled to coincide with Jack Johnson’s Saturday evening set, had been moved to an unheralded late-night spot at 2:45 on Saturday night/Sunday morning. This meant that the entirety of Bonnaroo could enjoy his critically-acclaimed Glow in the Dark show, which I had already seen in Chicago. Instead, Kanye let us stare at a sign (see below) for two hours, offering no explanation for the delay and eventually changing the monitor from hopeful (“Kanye West set moved to 3:15 am”) to ambiguously bleak (“Kanye West Up Next!”). The good news? His eventual light show wasn’t interrupted by any other musical act at Bonnaroo. The bad news? It was interrupted by, umm, the fucking rising sun.
4:30-5:30am, What Stage
Kanye West has a lyric from “Stronger” that takes on a new life in the context of Bonnaroo 2008: “You should be honored by my lateness,” he raps, “That I would even show up for this fake shit.” And to keep in the arena of Kanye lines, I might have gone nuts or even ape shit if ‘Ye hadn’t come on two hours late. Hell, I might have gone wild even at 5 in the morning — but he put on an abbreviated version of his Glow in the Dark tour and never once addressed the Bonnaroo crowd. The Glow in the Dark show, you see, is a bunch of Kanye songs matched to a plotline about him losing his way in outer space; in the Bonnaroo version, he never makes it home. (West ended with “Stronger” instead of “Homecoming.”) And when I saw him in Chicago, he addressed the crowd multiple times with jokes and asides and other commentary to make him seem human. In Tennessee, he didn’t even mutter the word “Bonnaroo.” ‘Roo attendees responded by covering portapotties with anti-Kanye graffiti, and their ever-symbolic message was clear: Kanye is shit.