Posted by: hankwillenbrink | June 24, 2009





We followed up Sollee’s lovely noon performance with one of my favorite acts of 03 -04.  Ted Leo’s been at this thing since 1991 and shows no signs of slowing down.  His set blitzed through the whole catalog ending with two tracks from the fantastic 2001 release The Tyranny of Distance:  “Timorous Me” and “Stove by a Whale.”  Leo gave birth to hyper-literate indie rock with lyrics that take multiple listens to peel through.  Couple this with Leo’s insatiable work ethic and you’ve got a punk rock institution.  He’s the closest thing indie rock has to Bruce Springsteen – relentless energy, non-stop touring, and a catalog of tunes touching on the disparity and inconsistencies in the American dream.  After a moment of tuning, Leo seemed flummoxed and turned to the audience, shrugging and said “good enough for punk rock.”  Well, Leo, you were good enough to us as well.


Undoubtedly my highlight of Bonnaroo.  Badu’s fame as a queen of hip-hop is well deserved.  She commanded her band with the sort of rigour that recalled James Brown, repeatedly yelling “stop” or “wait” the band would turn on a dime while she churned out invigorated tunes from her latest LP New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). Channeling her inner George Clinton, Badu’s performance was part confessional, part political, part space-age jam fest.  But, what stuck out more than anything else was her presence, her voice, her unwaivering dedication to hip-hop – bigger than religion, bigger than the government.  But it wasn’t just about Badu – her set dug deep into her catalog and dusted off the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and NWA.  Let’s be honest, there are a ton of white kids at Bonnaroo.  And our seats, the closest we had at the big stage, was evidence to how few folks attended.  Still, props to the Bonnaroo staff for bringing one of the most innovative, original acts of the past 15 years to play a demographic who are probably only familiar with her as the mother of Andre 3000 & Common’s children.  Her performance on Sunday, I’m sure made Badu step out from any shadow that those unfamilar with her work may have had.  Highlight of the highlight:  “Me” as a jazzy flute bumping confession complete with middle finger on “This is my last interview.”


At a festival, timing is everything.  A band that may have blown you away on your own pales in comparison to what you just saw.  In this case, walking out of Badu listening to that moment when the sound blends from Badu to Bird was an incredible experience.  However, after seeing the soul-funk analog space-stress rock the stage for an hour, Bird’s classical folk rock seemed underwhelming.  His stop-start of “Skin Is” was thankfully over shadowed by the soaring of “Fake Palindromes.”  Looking back on it, if this concert let me down, it had more to do with Badu’s excellence than Bird’s accumen.  And if anything, it made me appreciate the diversity of Bonnaroo’s lineup.


Oh Neko!  Goddman those Phish heads that made us freak out about the fact that we were blocked in and may not be able to leave.  Goddamn Snoop Dogg who “was 5 miles away and will get here when he gets here” which meant that he showed up during Case’s set and made the songs sound more like mashups than Case’s acutal writing.  Had it not been for these things, we would have stayed for the whole set!  What’s that?  You’re coming to Louisville.  Well, thanks for the amazing amuse bouche, we’ll be sure to pay better attention next time we see you.  Oh, and “Deep Red Bells”…unbelieveable.  Thanks for capping off the festival.

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