Has Bonnaroo ever needed a song more than it needed "Sunday Bloody Sunday?"
A heart wrenching excoriation of the endless violence of The Troubles
, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was the centerpiece of 1983's War and the opening number for U2's first ever U.S. festival appearance. U2 played the anti-violence anthem in a world still reeling from the Manchester and London Bridge terror attacks (as well as even deadlier attacks in Kabul and other cities in the Middle East). "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is a maelstrom of sorrow… sorrow for all of Ireland's dead, sorrow for the young men and women who grew up knowing nothing but civil war and bloodshed. But as the song's chorus reminds us, we can build a world where those divisions don't exist. We can live in a world that is just… a world that is equitable. "We can be as one tonight." It's on us to make that world. Clearly the generations that came before us weren't up to the task.
U2's only real competition for Best Rock Band of the Last 30 Years
is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and last night's headlining set encapsulated how these earnest Dubliners have stuck around for so long. U2 made their way to the farm for the 30th anniversary tour of The Joshua Tree, and the setlist was a classic rock lover's dream. U2 followed up "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with their meditation on Polish Solidarity, "New Year's Day," and then their ode to Martin Luther King, "Pride (In the Name of Love)." They then proceeded to play the entirety of The Joshua Tree in order and followed that up with nearly 30 more minutes of other hits. To say that I'm still reeling from the set would be the understatement of the weekend.
U2 don't do nostalgia tours, and although the newest track they played yesterday evening was "Vertigo" from 2003's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, we want to stress that yesterday's performance transcended the nostalgia trap it could have fallen into. The world needs more rock bands like U2… bands that are unapologetically political and unapologetically sincere. And by stacking their Bonnaroo headlining performance with their most overtly political, sing-along anthems, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. ensured that tens of thousands of people left the What Stage filled with fire to do something… to change something. From "Bullet the Blue Sky" to "Red Hill Mining Town," U2 channeled punk and folk and gospel and classic rock and roll in the pursuit of music's most important gift. It can transform our hearts.
If one complaint can be lodged about the evening, it's that it's high time Bono realized his "both sides" bullshit can do more harm than good. Repeatedly throughout the evening, Bono implored the audience to love and work with folks even on the right. My polite response to that: "Piss off."
Bono is best buds with George W. Bush these days. They've done a lot of work together to combat the AIDS crisis in Africa, and that's admirable work. However, the pittance of the U.S.'s immense wealth that Bush redirected towards helping AIDS victims does not wash away the river of blood that flows through the Middle East because of his imperialist war-mongering. Theresa May and the British far right have formed a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP backed pro-unionist terrorist activity in Northern Ireland. As far as Sinn Fein is concerned, this new Tory government is a violation of the Good Friday Agreement that formally brought The Troubles to a close. So, Bono, do you think the British right honestly care about the Irish?
All that aside, it's hard to imagine a more generous concert from a band of U2's stature than the one we were gifted with last night. Here's to hoping that U2 never lose that fire.
Bonnaroo had a hell of a lot more to offer yesterday than just U2. The day was an absurdity of riches and one of the most enjoyable Fridays I've experienced in the five years I've been attending the festival.
The first set I caught of the day was Louisville psych folk act Twin Limb. Think Beach House meets Wye Oak and you'll start to get the picture. Spaced out guitars layered over a turbulent accordion (!), keyboard and drums anchored a young trio that only has room to grow. Serious talk though, I don't know if I've ever heard anyone make an accordion sound as dark and melodic as Twin Limb's vocalist did last night. They are a band a to watch.
Swedish soul pop firebrand Lèon kicked off the party at the What Stage. I have complicated feelings about Bonnaroo booking performers for the main stage that don't even have a proper LP to their name, but Lèon's talent is undeniable. She's got the titanic vocals of Adele with the playful edge of Amy Winehouse. "Sleep Deprived" has become one of my favorite pop songs of the year. We have no idea when we'll get an actual album from Lèon but it can't get here soon enough.
Car Seat Headrest finally won me over with a hellacious mix of post-hardcore, lo-fi pop, and just fundamentally sound rock songwriting. When Will Toledo's project first started gaining attention in 2015, lots of folks in the Baeble office were skeptical (myself included). The fact that he'd released a dozen records on Bandcamp was impressive but he never stood out for me from a sea of similar lo-fi, bedroom performers. I was wrong. The last set of that ilk to light as much of a fire underneath my ass was Cloud Nothings (in I think the exact same tent) in 2014. And when the band brought out a fan to play cowbell for one track, the This Tent erupted into a frenzy. "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" is going to be getting a lot of play on my drive home when this weekend is up.
African bad-ass and all-around queen Angelique Kidjo was on the Farm this year to perform her re-working of Talking Heads' Remain in Light. Few bands from the 1970s/1980s owed more to African music than Talking Heads. David Byrne was a vocal and notable fan of funk, world music, soul, and essentially every other genre of music traditionally associated with African-American music communities. It wasn't a coincidence that Bernie Worrell was an integral part of the band's heart for years.
Kidjo is one of the most energetic and charismatic frontwomen in music today. I'd seen her perform a very brief set at a David Lynch Foundation benefit concert at Carnegie Hall and was left wanting more. I'm glad I had the chance to get it. Whether it was "Burning Down the House" or a heavily reworked (but still killer) version of "Once in a Lifetime," Kidjo more than did justice to one of the best records by one of the best bands of the late 20th century. She gave a distinctly African spin on music that wouldn't exist if it weren't for the ingenuity of African men and women like her.
British electro-rockers The xx took the What Stage before U2 and although they've been one of my big blind spots for years now, their slick set and sexy synths (and guitars) are now the final reminder I need to finally jump on that bandwagon. If you have the chance to catch The xx live, you need to take it. It is a feast for the senses… visual, auditory. It's a good time that can't be passed up.
I wanted to catch Portugal. The Man and Big Gigantic's late night sets as well, but U2 didn't leave the What Stage until nearly 1 AM, and I'm just one of those people who gets very grumpy when I don't get enough sleep so the stoner rock and EDM bad boys will have to wait for another time. Today we've got Red Hot Chili Peppers, Future Islands, Chance the Rapper, the Front Bottoms and more.
It's gonna be another great day on the Farm.