The mid-90 degree heat became somewhat of a deterrent yesterday as there was little escaping it. The energy drain caused me to get a late start and thus I am sending day 3 now. Being that it was “Africa hot”, it kept me away from the Norah Jones set I ultimately felt she a bit mellow for the 2nd stage in the middle of the day…sorry Norah I’ll catch you next time. The late afternoon and nite provided a rain shower and a break from feeling like the equator had moved to run thru Tennessee and some great music was heard.
I might as well start with the best. Stevie Wonder failed to disappoint. The BEAUTIFUL thing about this two-hour show was that there was no…”well we know you wanna hear the old hits but here’s a few new songs off our latest disc” crap. It is no surprise that Stevie has enough hits to fill a two hour show and he gave us most all of them. His voice is still simply stunning with time not touching incredible range and the man does not know how to sing a note out of tune. Starting with his Motown years’ hits and going thru most others of the 70s and 80s, Stevie proved why he is one of the architects or true R and B and he doesn’t want us forgetting it. The people from the Greenwich time keepers called and asked if they could use the act’s groove to set the world clock by. A MASSIVE stage show was just icing to what was already amazing. There was the obligatory political statement or two but they were surrounded by Stevie’s voice and music so no matter what Stevie said followed by…”are you with me”, all 70,000 in attendance just yelled “YEAH!”… We’ll agree to whatever you say Stevie… just play Higher Ground one moe’ time!
Those boys from N. Carolina The Avett Bros. were at it again here at Bonnaroo and they tore it up just as they did at Coachella. This mix of alt rock, mountain music and roots country is just not like anything else. It’s pretty simple really…they sing great, they play great, it’s a hi-energy stage show and the music is a totally original mix of styles, so what’s not to like. If you haven’t already, dig their latest Rick Rubin produced disc where Rubin works his magic by doing very little except to get out of the way and let the boys do their thing.
If there are guitar gods then Jeff Beck is certainly one of them. This set had the feeling of a great 70s rock concert and one got a sense of what fans 40 years ago must have felt… that they were witnessing something truly special when they saw Jeff Beck for the first time. This set leaned more to the rock side and less to his jazz fusion proclivity and was simply wowing. “It’s not rock and roll but I’m gonna play it anyway” said Beck in his cool British accent and proceeded to render a beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow that only few artists such as he could have pulled off.
If you are looking for an alt/singer/songwriter chic with a Pacific Northwest vibe then check out Brandi Carlisle as she proves to be MUCH more for 2 basic reasons…1) she has an excellent voice with great range and power at her disposal (a sweet mix of Eva Cassidy and K.D. Lang)…2) this woman has “balls”. Not afraid to be energetic as opposed to the stoicism of many of her “sisters”, Ms. Carlisle roamed the stage with Melissa Etheridge style energy and refused to let the crowd not play an active role in the show. At one point she teaches the crowd of 2,000, 3 separate parts and all harmonized along while she sang. A powerful new artist with an excellent new disc available. The next Jewel or Sarah McLaughlin?…who knows but she is certainly of that caliber and worth your time to check it out.
BAND TO WATCH ALERT- A friend told me I would be an idiot to miss Mumford and Sons and I certainly would have felt like one if I had. On first listen, one would swear we were hearing a new Nashville act…maybe a better version of Racal Flatts or the sons of The Gatlin Bros. but these 4 boys are from England. They have a somewhat Celtic sound and similar to the Pogues, almost a post-punk drive and acheive all of this on mostly acoustic instruments. The lush harmonies are on par with CSNY and The Eagles and the whole set was absolutely riveting. I could go on and on but I will stop by saying this is the first disc I will buy of all the artists I have heard here.
Jack White and The Dead Weather ROCK! It’s hard driving, it’s in your face, it’s great playing and singing and if you like the rock music (and you know you do), there is nothing more to say than get both discs…NOW!!!…and do whatever you have to do to see them live. A top act of the festival. Some friends of mine and I once debated the impact Jack White would have on music. Now having brought us The White Stripes, The Racontuers and 2 discs from The Dead Weather, this Detroit native now transplanted Nashvagan is starting to make his impact plain.
Although a short set and with the heat like that of his native Senegal bearing down, world music star Babba Maal brought the beat. His piercing, wailing voice is a sound that is handed down and taught from generation to generation. (See West-African Griot singers in Wikipedia for more on the tradition). As with many African artists, we hear the roots of what we now know as Reggae and Afro-Cuban or Afro-Caribbean music. Check out his disc Nomad Soul to hear one of West Africa and world music’s most important singers.
What Eletronica act can boast a United Nations array of singers, a live bass player, a live horn section and a live sitar player all working around two amazing mix-master/synthisists? The DC collective known as Thievery Corporation that’s who. These uber danceable beats are turned into actual songs that take you on an ever grooving world tour of Brazil, Spain and India. It all comes together to be one of the most interesting acts around. This pulsating, danceable rhythmic force initially gets you going as would any other DJ or Electronica act but the more you listen and watch the more you realize how original and special is the artistry of The Thievery Corporation.
Day 4 and a wrap-up SOMETIME in the next 48 hours.