Exceptional Bonnaroo and Laura Marling Returns
There were three shows at Bonnaroo this year which really stood above the others: Glass Animals on Thursday night, Ben Folds and yMusic on Friday night and Belle and Sebastian at sunset on Saturday. The essential characteristics of Bonnaroo are the space and freedom necessary for bands and fans to settle into focusing solely on the music. In this space, there is a tendency toward collaboration and experimentation. Small bands become large in the moment and large bands are able to break from their accustomed mold.
Thursday evening when Glass Animals took the stage at The Other Tent, there was no question that they had stepped into a moment bigger than themselves. Bonnaroo insists in keeping the larger Which Stage dark on Thursday night and then booking a very popular rising act in a tent toward the end of the evening. Invariably, this leads to a couple of acts being completely overwhelmed by crowds. This year, Glass Animals had the distinction of drawing that extreme Thursday crowd. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dave Bayley and Joe Seward about thirty minutes after their arrival at the farm. We talked a bit about their extensive festival schedule this summer and I asked them about the difference between large festival sets and smaller club gigs (at this point I don’t think any of us were prepared for the crowd that would mob The Other Tent in a few hours). Joe jumped on the reply, “I think it’s pretty healthy, it keeps you balanced….I don’t feel like you have to change anything you just enjoy it in a different way. Like when you come here everyone is having a party, this is their weekend that they’ve been looking forward to and spent loads of money on—so it’s an event—and it’s really exciting and you get that vibe. Then when you play a club show, it’s a bit more confined and intimate, they compliment each other well.” We continued our discussion of the nature of live performance by talking about the relationship between the album as a record of a certain moment in time and the live show as an extension rather than a replication of that moment. From Joe, “We don’t use backing tracks or anything like that. We want it to be live. We want to be able to adapt to the different types of show that we play…today I imagine will be kind of a party atmosphere so well speed things up a bit.” At which point Dave jumped in, “that means if I forget something halfway though a song everyone can carry on regardless…it means it can be flexible and live and we can change for the crowd—all the shows can be different for that reason.” This is the nature of Glass Animals’ live performance that makes it so impactful. They have constructed their show on the interaction between themselves and the audience. Dave summed it up perfectly at the end of our talk, “We wanted the live show to be something different it’s not just a replica of what you get on the record. When things that happen are different and special I think people remember them.” Their Bonnaroo set definitely lived up to this philosophy.
Ben Folds and yMusic
On Friday evening about the time that Tears For Fears were taking the stage to a rather large crowd at This Tent, Ben Folds sent out chamber music sextet, yMusic to open their show with a beautiful piece of polyrhythmic music. By the time Folds took the stage it was clear that we were in for a very different show than the high energy sing alongs that his Bonnaroo shows have been in the past. He commended the crowd for hanging around to listen to a set of songs that they had not heard before from a classically leaning ensemble. Of course, these are the moments that make Bonnaroo special. As the show progressed, Folds took a pause every couple of songs to highlight another member of yMusic and to invite the crowd to learn and repeat the member’s nickname. Once all six members had been introduced, Folds took to the front of the stage and conducted the ensemble with the help of the audience through the repetition of strings of punctuated nicknames. It was quite a site to behold. The audience was part of the performance and the joy of the experience carried over the crowd. It is fantastic to see Ben Folds branching out into new territory. The album with yMusic is called So There and will be out later this year.
Belle and Sebastian
There is very little to say about Belle and Sebastian that has not already been said. The group is legendary for their live performances. This year marked their first time bringing this experience to Bonnaroo. Everyone in attendance knew it was going to be a special show when Zach Galifianakis ran onstage ahead of the band and introduced himself as “Chad Farmhouse, I run Bonnaroo” and then proceed to introduce Belle and Sebastian as “one of the greatest bands of this generation”. From that moment there was no stopping Stewart Murdoch and and his bandmates. Over the course of a hour and fifteen minute long set we were treated to an amazing mix of new and old songs. There was a brief interlude while Jon Hamm came onstage to throw gummy bears into Stewart’s mouth. As they often do, when the band reached the song “The Boy with the Arab Strap” toward the end of the set, they invited members of the crowd up to dance on stage. On this occasion, the stage was positively flooded with folks—more than expected or than was probably safe. For his part Stewart was standing on top of his organ to be seen over the dancing fans. The enthusiasm at the end of this moment was so high that many people in the crowd began to wander off—thinking the set was over. The first chords of “Blues are Still Blue” brought them right back. The show ended with “Judy and the Dream of Horses” a seminal song from If You’re Feeling Sinister. It really could not have been a better set. The intersection of the right band with the right environment can create moments of sheer magic.
Watch the full performance here.
Laura Marling at One Eyed Jacks
On Tuesday night Laura Marling came to One Eyed Jacks for a solo show. As a huge fan of Marling, I was excited to see her in this stripped down setting. I was also a bit trepidatious as such soft performances are often threatened by crowd noise and other interruptions. The situation on Tuesday was excellent. Marling took the stage promptly at 10pm; and for the next hour, the only sounds in the building were her singing, the cheering between songs and the under-the-breath singing of a hundred and fifty people. The excellence of Marling’s records is actually surpassed by her live performance. Both her singing and guitar playing are truly effortless. The echoes I hear between her work and Nick Drake are only amplified by the live show.
To Do This Week
Hip-hop artist, Sage Francis is at Gasa Gasa on Sunday night. Australian pop singer Betty Who is at Republic Tuesday night. John Cleary and the Monster Gentlemen with Walter “Wolfman” Washington are at Wednesdays on the Point.
To Listen This Week
St. Vincent and The Chemical Brothers have released a track together.
Four Tet is streaming his new record on Bandcamp.
Iron and Wine and Ben Bridwell cover The Talking Heads “This Must be the Place”
They Might Be Giants cover Destiny’s Child via The AV Club