Red Hot Chili Peppers
should have retired the first time John Frusciante left the band, and Chance the Rapper
should have headlined Bonnaroo. If you want a one sentence breakdown of Saturday on the Farm, that was the day in a nutshell. Chance drew an enormous, rapturous crowd of young and old and gave the audience one of those spiritual, once-in-a-lifetime Bonnaroo experiences you can't get anywhere else. Anthony Kiedis phoned in decades old tracks and was a carnival mirror image of arrested cock rock development. Bonnaroo played things very safe with booking the Peppers, and the result was one of the least inspired headlining performances in the festival's history. Thank God Lil Chano had already made it a legendary evening.
In a much needed explosion of beauty and vulnerability, Chance the Rapper and Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands put on sets so ebullient and full of the best of life that I remembered just how much love there is in the world.
When folks talk about Chance the Rapper, the word that gets thrown around the most is "positive," and it can be a racist reduction of his talents and appeal as a performer. What folks perceive as "positivity" in Chance is fearless confidence. Chance is a political rapper. Chance is an intimate rapper. Chance is a deeply spiritual artist… maybe the most unapologetically spiritual pop star in decades. Chance puts his emotional and existential vulnerabilities on full display in every bar of every rhyme and every note of every chorus. Chance is the only rightful heir to Kendrick's
throne because at every turn, Chance is unapologetically himself: warm, black, hopeful, passionate, young, and full of love.
I was in the heart of the crowd for Chance's set and I can't remember the last time an atmosphere of excitement and unvarnished emotion swept through me and tens of thousands of other people with such intensity. Not during U2. Not Paul McCartney or Elton John. It didn't matter if you were young, not quite young but not quite old, or genuinely old. Chance found your heart.
I started crying during "Sunday Candy" and didn't stop for the rest of the set. I was overwhelmed with the happy realization that all of the young people in the crowd who love Chance as passionately as they do are going to be the ones running this country some day. And they're running on love. They're running on joy. They're running on compassion and empathy. I've been in a funk since Donald Trump's inauguration. Chance and his crowd gave me hope. There's more of us than there are of them. Our time will come.
' preceding set at the What Stage was only slightly less revelatory. This statement may irk some folks in the LGBT community, but there's more to queerness than just who you want to sleep with. There is an effervescent, triumphant queerness in everything he does.
Samuel T. Herring isn't interested in being anyone other than his gloriously weird and raw self. When Future Islands became overnight sensations thanks to their Letterman performance, we all fell in love with them not simply because "Seasons (Waiting On You)" is one of the best songs of the decade (although it is). We found ourselves enraptured with Samuel T. Herring because (like Chance) he destroys all of the barriers between himself and his audience. 33 year old men don't generally dance with the shameless, youthful abandon of Herring. And shameless is the proper word for how Herring performs. Men are taught to be ashamed of their bodies… to be ashamed of their bodies' capacity for elegance and sensuality and intimate exhibition.
If masculinity is a performance (gender is pretty much always a performance because it's something we're taught to perform), Samuel T. Herring embraces its inherent theatre. He pounds his chest like he has a demon he must scare out of him. He shakes his ass because there's a sinuous sexuality to their tunes. He flings himself across the stage with wild abandon because he feels his music as much as the audience does.
I've seen too many bands that are a decade younger than Future Islands that seem like they hate their music and being on stage. And I'm sure it's an anxiety thing (or it's overly cool hipster masculine posturing). But to see two performers in Chance and Future Islands that love themselves, their tunes, and their fans so much was an extraordinary reminder of why I fell in love with music in the first place.
It is also contrasted almost perfectly with the performance from the Chili Peppers. There's no denying that Flea is one of the best bass guitar players in rock and Chad Smith is the complement on percussion Flea needs. One of the band's many former guitarists, John Frusciante, is also a legit rock hero. Anthony Kiedis knows his way around a pop hook and when he's singing about his past heroin addiction, he opens himself up in powerful ways. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers have not grown past adolescence and it's painful watching men as old as them think they can get away with being the same dudes who used to wear socks on their cocks on stage. Anthony Kiedis's aesthetic for the last six years can best be described as Sex Offender With a History of Meth Abuse and, y'all, folks have to grow up at some point and the Chili Peppers refuse to.
The performance was musically tight and still fun anytime Kiedis wasn't singing the band's newer material. I can listen to Flea and Chad Smith jam for hours, and although Josh Klinghoffer is no Frusciante, there's no denying the kid can shred. His highly technical guitar playing lacks the melodic soul of Frusciante's best work for the band, but he and Flea know how to lay down aggressively dissonant riffs and how to feed off each other on stage. But after an hour and hearing "Snow (Hey Oh)" and "Scar Tissue" (which they hadn't done the last time I saw the band at Bonnaroo), I decided enough was enough and headed back to my tent. I'd seen enough.
I caught other sets during the day and I wish I had space to say more about them because they all won me over. Sibling folk trio Joseph
played an intimate set in the press trailer and their gorgeous vocal harmonies need to be in your life. Richmond folk rocker Lucy Dacus
kicked off the That Tent and her stunning voice and deceptively tight grooves were a delight. And LA rockers Deap Vally kicked all of the ass at the That Tent as well. If Joan Jett and the Black Keys had a love child that was obsessed with the Japandroids, it still wouldn't sound as good as the femme rock bad asses.
We've still got plenty of Bonnaroo ahead of us. Lorde
and The Weeknd
are the evening's big draws, and we can't imagine a better way to bring this weekend to a close (pun very much intended).