Take five minutes after you read this and find a high-quality video of Alabama band St. Paul & the Broken Bones live. If you like James Brown or Otis Redding, you're welcome. I'm about to introduce one of your new favorite acts. If Justin Vernon was the best voice of Bonnaroo 2012 and the many members of Milo Greene
took that award last year, St. Paul frontman Paul Janeway is winning hands down this year, even edging out British crooner Sam Smith. Though I saw one set better than St. Paul & the Broken Bones yesterday, I don't think I'll ever be so wowed by a small, unknown band again this weekend.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
Let's circle back momentarily. In the days leading up to this year's Bonnaroo, the forecast called for rain pretty much every day. And not just rain but thunderstorms. And let's erect our Festivus Pole (after my airing of the grievances againts Kanye's set
) that the rain and lightning have decided to pass us on by. Ignoring the utter shit show that Kanye's headlining set became, Bonnaroo's Friday acts were a delightful mix of incredibly diverse performers who were all happy to be there and ready to take the festival to the next level. Unfortunately, the fans this year are leaning even more heavily on the bro territory than usual, and my ability to put up with Molly heads rolling face by noon is wearing thin.
Even for Sam Smith, bros and teenyboppers were pushing and squeezing their way through the crowds because that extra ten feet to the stage will make your viewing experience that much better. I lost track of the number of sets that I caught where I was smashed between so many people that I was constantly elbowing neighbors as I was tossed around like the anorexic glass bottle in the sea that I'd become. As I was watching Vampire Weekend's killer set, there was a girl standing next to me, and my elbow and her right breast became far too intimately acquainted. And we're talking skin-to-skin contact, and if you don't like your most intimate body parts being violated by everyone around you (or if you're a guy, and you don't want to violate everyone else with your special purpose
), Bonnaroo is going to give you an anxiety attack.
And, of course, yesterday became the day of major health emergencies. The Molly heads who didn't pack enough water (because the MDMA has utterly wrecked their brains. I'm not against drugs. I am against doing Molly in crazy heat and not keeping properly hydrated) were dropping like flies in the heat. I'm nervously anticipating the news of the first death from over-dosing and exposure. My little sister was at the Vampire Weekend set and right next to the pit, but when the show was finally over, the people around her wouldn't let her leave. She warned them that if they didn't let her out, she was going to have an anxiety attack. They laughed and told her she was just going to have one cause there was nowhere to go. And then, her anxiety got so bad that she fainted and had to be crowd-surfed to the medical team. She's alright, but Bonnaroo's past atmosphere of helping your fellow man is slowly being eroded by a culture of "how many drugs can I take and how close can I get to the stage and fuck anyone who stands in my way." And it's a shame.
Yesterday wasn't all negatives. As I said, Vampire Weekend crushed their set. Ezra Koenig showed up in a white yacht club t-shirt, camo cargo shorts, and Tom Cruise Ray-Bans, but the crowd ate up every second of his self-aware silliness. And the songs from Modern Vampires of the City
were going over as well as the established hits. "Unbelievers" in particular stole the night. And at no point during Vampire Weekends 90-minute set did the energy from Ezra and crew as well as the crowd abate. Honestly, I would have been much happier had Vampire Weekend just been Friday's headliners. They showed up and brought with them the great vibes that Bonnaroo is all about.
New Zealand synth-poppers The Naked and Famous
also put on a show-stealing set. Vampire Weekend brought a specific, goofy energy. The Naked and Famous simply rocked out. Frontwoman Alisa Xayalith seduced the crowd with her magnetic presence and icily cool voice, and when the band brought out "Punching in a Dream" for the second song, it established the tone for the rest of the set. Although the real star of the set may very well have been guitarist Thom Power who brought a stylish New Wave feel to the proceedings.
The Naked and Famous
tranquil guitar folk may not have matched the energy or excitement of many of the other bands I caught yesterday but he certainly showed off his technical prowess and emotive voice. I'm unsure if he won over any new fans, but for people that loved Every Kingdom
(and how can you not if you've heard it), it was a fun set at the Which Stage.
Today has potential to redeem the disaster with Kanye West. Jack White has been on a tear as of late, and the new Lazaretto
material could go over very well with this Tennesse crowd. Australia synth-poppers Cut Copy will also be around, and Damon Albarn has a highly-anticipated mainstage act coming up. Let's hope he pulls out some Blur and Gorillaz too.
Read Don "Duck Sauce" Saas' Day 1 Bonnaroo Diary and check out his rant about Kanye's 40-minute rant.