Thursday at Bonnaroo: The National for the win
Just outside the Bonnaroo grounds...
The first day of Bonnaroo is on the books. It was relatively short, but fairly eventful. We didn't hit the exit until nearly 5pm, and it took an additional two hours to go the five or so miles to the parking lot. Joy of joys. After finally allowing The Falconer's trusty Volvo to rest, we noticed a familiar face parking right next to us -- fellow Atlanta concert hound Kenny Crucial. Small world, eh?
After Kenny split for the That Stage, we took off for the comedy tent... only to arrive finding the line for Lewis Black stretching most of the way to Knoxville. Dammit. Rather than wait around to be disappointed, we wandered to survey the grounds and found they were pretty much identical to last year. Ho-hum. Given there didn't appear to be much new to see, we followed Kenny's lead and headed to That Stage. There we'd hear some new sounds and be wowed by a band that hadn't quite piqued our interest several weeks prior.
My first music of the festival was delivered the L.A. indie pop act The Little Ones. I probably only caught about half of their set, but they left me impressed. They were melodic and fun, and their brand of "social pop rock" (per MSNBC's Independent Study) really got the hippies and hipsters alike shakin' on the sand and earth dance floor. I'll be sure to keep an eye on these Golden State popsters in the future.
As an aside, I ran into Aziz Ansari and David Cross at their set. Um... awesome.
The Little Ones - Lovers Who Uncover
Following The Little Ones was a band I wasn't terribly familiar with, but opted to see in order to be poised for a choice spot once The National took the stage after their set. The act in question was the Sam Roberts Band.
I would like to offer a comprehensive review of the performance by Sam Roberts Band, but I'm afraid I don't know enough synonyms for either "cliché" or "milquetoast" to do so adequately. Hailing from Canada, the band clearly has a sizable following. Nearly everyone in the crowd around us was Canadian, and several of them waved that nation's flag during the set. Others wore Team Canada gear and threw around large red and white beach balls printed with crimson maple leafs. Unfortunately, I had a hard time understanding their enthusiasm.
The band seemed to me Just Another Generic Rock Band, even if their devoted fans danced and sang along with each tune. They did get my attention when they would stray into jammy territory, but even those moments seemed to retread Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd riffs enough to become distracting. I can easily see them being played over the PA in the Young Men's department at J.C. Penney, but I found them dull and derivative. This clearly is not a band up my alley. Your mileage may vary.
Following Sam Roberts Band and a lengthy delay due to technical difficulties was The National. I was eager to give them another go after the 'meh' set opening for Arcade Fire in May, and was not disappointed.
I managed to work my way to front row center for The National, and they put on a wonderful show. I left my taping gear behind but brought the ol' camera, so claiming a spot on the rail was advantageous indeed. Luckily The National put on one of the more interesting and dynamic shows I've seen recently. It's nice to have the bar for the festival set so high on its first evening.
In its ninety minute set The National performed about a dozen songs, with very little lull in intensity or passion. Vocalist Matt Berninger was clearly a reluctant frontman at times, but delivered the goods regardless. He shuffled about and sidestepped the lip of the stage, giving the audience a show. A time or two it looked as if he'd tumble right on top of the "safety" official stationed in front of him. The rest of the band was a lot of fun to watch as well; the violinist/keyboardist in particular nearly stole the show more than once. To be frank, I'd hardly recognize this as the same band who played at the Atlanta Civic Center six weeks prior.
Among the highlights for me were "Slow Show" and "Fake Empire" from their current release, Boxer, and "Secret Meeting" and "Mr. November" from their excellent 2005 album Alligator. From my vantage point it was difficult to gauge the crowd's general enthusiasm or size, but judging from the volume of cheering and crush of humanity I'd guess I wasn't the only impressed spectator. What a different experience it must have been from their show the previous night at The EARL, but I'm damn glad I didn't miss them on the big stage.
The National - Fake Empire
The National - Mr. November
One bonus event from The National's set -- I finally met Matt from You Ain't No Picasso, although only briefly. He was taking pics down front, so watch for those to show up on his dandy blog.