See also: Bonnaroo Thursday
See also: Bonnaroo Friday
Do not, under any circumstances, forget to bring earplugs to a Mogwai concert. Thank the concert gods I didn't learn this lesson the hard way during their Saturday evening set at Bonnaroo, having just bought a pair from some high-schoolers raising money for their band. I never saw a decibel measurement, but it certainly sounded just as loud as My Bloody Valentine's most recent Dallas show. Or, I should say, it felt as loud. The word "awesome" gets thrown around so loosely these days that people will use it to describe their favorite breakfast cereal.
This was awesome in the true sense of the word, as in the whole crowd was truly in awe, mouths agape at the chest-thumping, balls-tugging, bowels-loosening, not-fucking-around set with bass so heavy it was disorienting. But it wasn't merely loud; it was a rhythmic, tight display that transported me into some other world, even relatively sober. Even quieter, more contemplative songs like "I Know You Are, But What Am I?" were enchanting.
It was the best performance of the day, far as I was concerned, though the strutting badasses in The Roots gave it a run for the money. Every bit as tight, it was hard funk backing nimble rhymes so perfectly, it made clear why a live band backing an MC is always more compelling than backing tracks. Drum solos from lesser bands can be tiresome, but ?uestlove's thumping, just-long-enough-without-being-excessive solo was a clear reminder that he's not just the funny guy with an afro on Jimmy Fallon's show.
The headlining Red Hot Chili Peppers played all the hits you'd expect: "Scar Tissue," "Give It Away," "Higher Ground." The crowd screamed hysterically for each number, and that's about all I can tell you, as I heard it from the not-far-enough-away distance of my tent. Alice Cooper's midnight set was so showy and darkly funny, it was almost enough to overlook how boring his music is.
No matter how boring Skrillex's music may sound listening to it in a car or on laptop speakers, I have to admit the man puts on a good live show. It was interesting to watch neo-hippies dance to EDM rather than the noodling jam bands I associate them with. Also, a friend and I came up with a new game: Pick out the douchiest-looking guy in the audience and try to peg him with any glow-in-the-dark object that lands within reach. Skrillex fans provided plenty of ammo. (It wasn't anything sadistic -- I'd been hit with enough of them to know it was painless.)
As the rain started coming down, GZA's Liquid Swords set closed out the night, though he strayed quite a bit from a track-by-track recreation. Watching a bunch of white kids throw up the Wu-tang W hand sign was a bit cringe-inducing, but you're going to get that at any Wu-affiliated show. You're also going to get the first chorus of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," the now perfunctory Ol' Dirty Bastard tribute. We caught about half of Delta Spirit's 12:30 p.m. set Sunday, but that wrapped up our weekend, as my traveling partner's son had a surgical procedure scheduled the next day.
Even cutting it short by a day, Bonnaroo was a draining experience, but a good one. Music aside, it means camping and communing with strangers, letting hygiene go by the wayside and finding drugs more easily than a non-vegan meal. There are annoyances, like the bros who feel the need to shout "Bonnaroo!" like some horrible alarm clock at 8 a.m., the confusing and not at all funny stage names (This, That, Which, What, The Other, etc.), and the deplorable portable toilet conditions. In fact, I'm not sure the shit-strewn toilets weren't responsible for the day-long puking bout I suffered on Monday (which is why this write-up is late).
But it's also a life-affirming experience that shows how good a festival can be, despite or perhaps because of the dirt-caked shoes, tents crammed together so close their poles practically touch, nudity by people who had no business being unclothed, and occasional utter chaos.