An Under Cover Weekend Returns

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AUCW returns to St. Louis for 2017 with a renewed sense of purpose. Not only will it be taking over a new venue, Delmar Hall, but it will also feature a more diverse set of bookings than the local festival has ever featured before.

The first night of the festival will feature the best of the 80s, with Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Dolly Parton w/ Kenny Rodgers and Chaka Khan taking to the stage in the form of some of St. Louis most intriguing acts. Paige Alyssa promises to shine as Janet Jackson. Alyssa leans towards newer acts like Thundercat and Flying Lotus in her vibed out 80s sounds on “Beautiful” and “Lost Your Love”.

Night two rings in the 90s with Outkast, Third Eye Blind, Lauryn Hill, Counting Crows and the Offspring. Ramona Deflowered should prove interesting as the Offspring, and the band isn’t a stranger to AUCW as they return from a past performance as Joan Jett. Blank Generation should SHINE as Outkast if their Door No. 1 EP is any indication.

The 00s feel good on night three with Gorillaz (Blank Generation could make a killer Del the Funky Homosapien, just saying), Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Amy Winehouse and Death Cab for Cutie. I am in love with Aida Ade as Badu and 20708344_400360467027785_5125459013846865304_nshe will definitely be a crowd favorite after her set. Her Soundwheel EP should definitely be on your shortlist for best releases by St. Louis artists in 2017.

There is a decent chance that the weekend will sell-out, so pick up your weekend tickets now on Ticketmaster. A three-day pass can be purchased for only $30.00  or you can pick which night you’d like to attend for just $12.00 a night.

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Twenty One Pilots | 2.13.12

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Firebird, St. Louis

Note: I wanted to share my review of Twenty One Pilots from their 2012 show at the Firebird in St. Louis, MO. Seeing how far this band has come in just five years gives some perspective.

Twenty One Pilots fully encompassed every inch of the Firebird on a cold Wednesday night in St. Louis. Over an hour before the doors opened, hundreds of fans lined up outside for the sold-out show. Once doors opened, they did not move an inch as the headliners as well as the openers from Denmark, New Politics, took the stage.

New Politics, having previously played the Firebird, seemed extremely impressed looking at the large crowd that had filled in. The band from Copenhagen played through the majority of their first album in their short set and kept the crowd in it with a mix of fun pop-rock and rap, as well as a brief look into Euro-style break dancing by lead vocalist David Boyd.

The band played well with the ladies in the crowd, and given their (supposedly) not self-given doppelganger appointed looks, this was no surprise. Boyd proclaimed he was the James Franco of the group, with guitarist Soren Hansen playing the part of Kurt Cobain and drummer Louis Vecchio as Adam Levine.

All dancing and looks aside, the band put on a seriously awesome performance that left the crowd wanting more and looking forward to their upcoming album. New single “Harlem,” which is not related to the current “Harlem Shake” fad, gave a good sneak peek into the sound of the new album and got the crowd pumped up for the Ohioan headliners.

Twenty One Pilots—consisting of lead singer/pianist Tyler Joseph and drummer Joshua Dun—have jumped into the public eye since their December set at Peabody Opera House opening for fun. and The Joy Formidable. They scored a record deal with Atlantic subsidiary Fueled by Ramen a year ago, and now receive heavy radio play on alternative rock stations.

The duo quickly got the crowd moving, taking the stage in hoodies that fully covered their faces with the first song off their new album Vessel, “Ode to Sleep.” The song owes its intro to alternative bands like Hollywood Undead and further-reaching ’90s rap-rock, but quickly dives into a much more piano-pop friendly demeanor that takes over the rest of the night.

Seeming almost shocked by the crowd singing to every word and his every movement, Joseph had to take almost a full minute in between ukulele-featuring songs “Screen” and “House of Gold.” He proclaimed that every member of the crowd was a member of the band, though later in the show he admitted it felt a bit as if “you guys chased us around town all day, finally got us cornered and made us perform for you.”

Part of that awkward, uncomfortable feeling of watching a band discover its newfound fame is fun in itself. This is only amplified by an awareness that the next time they come through town will be at a much larger venue, losing some of that intimate feeling of a band personally expressing its appreciation.

Joseph spouts lyrics about depression that appeal to a new generation, while also bringing everyone together to say “remember this moment, when you and the other people in the room experienced this together, and how happy you are.” That group mentality is what drives fans to line up in the cold to get closer, and develops a near cult-like devotion. Alternative bands like 30 Seconds to Mars and My Chemical Romance have developed this so wonderfully by bringing the “broken people” together, as everyone in the crowd sings, lifting them all. | Bruce Matlock

The New Ticketmaster Presale Scam

Over the past few months, and particularly the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a new trend among new bands releasing albums and pitching them via Ticketmaster. It began as a bonus for buying tickets. As if the band appreciated you attending their show so much that they’d treat you to their new album free of charge.

Then… the “Verified Fan Presale”. Here’s the pitch for that… “Hey, here is a presale password for our show, specifically for our fans.” Except there is no restriction to prove fandom, so anyone can get in on it. But it continues, “If you buy our new album, we will make sure you get the best tickets, first come.” Okay, now I’m listening. Except scalpers will happily pay the $10 dollar fee for a new album for an opportunity to make hundreds of dollars for the best tickets.

Next problem. I don’t know if it is Ticketmaster, or the venue, but somewhere along the line the message seems to be, put the worst tickets up first, fans will suck them up because they think that’s all that is left and they actually are fans, so they will be mad, but still click purchase. Then when the regular on-sale comes, put up whatever is left. The worst tickets in the building are sold to “verified fans” like me, and unless you have hours to spend waiting for the best tickets to pop up, you are stuck with whatever they so graciously offer.

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I do not have proof of this, only my fairly extensive experience in concert ticket buying, but over the past few days, I have spent approximately three hours trying to buy Queens of the Stone Age tickets for the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis. Consistently, without fail I’ve seen the cycle over and over. Only mezzanine, only single tickets, release better seats. Only mezz, only singles, release better seats. Shortly after the image above, I scored tickets in row F in the Orchestra. Does it look like those were tickets that were available five minutes earlier?

My point being, presales are about as effective at getting the best tickets to your fans as shooting a t-shirt cannon in a crowded square at one person. Bands beware. Fans also beware the “Verified Fan Presale”. If you normally just listen to your music on Spotify, keep on doing it. Spotify presales actually seem to be more legitimate fan presales anyway.

 

Best Week of New Music This Year

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So, this week is really incredible. On top of long anticipated releases from Lorde, Royal Blood, Fleet Foxes and Portugal. the Man; we also had new singles from some unsuspecting parties. The four I’ve chosen to feature were Queens of the Stone Age, The Killers, Shania Twain and George Ezra.

Melodrama is perhaps as close to a perfect pop record as we will get in 2017. It should win awards. Lorde is 20-years-old. Let that sink in… 20. Hasn’t she been around for like… 5 years? Yeah. She has. Moving past that, Jack Antonoff of Fun./Bleachers/Steel Train guided this record lyrically and musically, and Lorde couldn’t have picked a better partner. “The Louvre” is silly, light and perfectly sums up the feel of the album. “But we’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in the Louvre. Down the back, but who cares—still the Louvre.” The album also has it’s more dramatic moments, like any good house party. “Liability” is a still-teenager coming to grips with her stardom. “The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy, ’til all of the tricks don’t work anymore and then they are bored of me.”

How Did We Get So Dark? is the second album from British rock revivalists Royal Blood.  They’ve opened for the Foo Fighters, sold out tours in support of their first album, and will open for Queens of the Stone Age in America throughout the Fall. Given their short but excellent track record it’s no surprise that they’ve delivered another banger of an album. It does have a few shortcomings in that some of the tracks feel somewhat generic. “Hook, Line & Sinker” is the band at their heaviest, but also catchiest. Every riff sounds like it comes straight from the same desert as the band they’ll open for in the Fall.

Crack-Up – The first time I witnessed Fleet Foxes was opening for Death Cab for Cutie in 2008, just a few short months after the release of their first album. Bandleader Robin Pecknold looked fresh and awed by the beautiful venue surrounding him, The Fox Theatre in St. Louis (it is stunning). Fleet Foxes have always been a dense listen that takes a long time to grasp, and that’s how I feel about this album as well. It sounds like Fleet Foxes, it’s beautiful and Pecknold still has a feel for folk, but this album feels less Americana and more global, worldly. I hope he is still as fascinated by the world around him as he was in 2008. It sounds like he is.

Lastly, Woodstock by Portugal. the Man. The first words you hear after the album starts is, “No fake presidents.” It might be the first alternative rock album of the resistance to President Donald Trump. Their first single, “Feel It Still” got the band attacked by Alex Jones, which is pretty much like receiving a liberal gold-medal. It has also been at the top of the charts longer than any other song this year. Oddly, they are already mid-way through a year-long tour in support (or anticipation) of the album, with more dates coming in the Fall. “Noise Pollution” might be the song that takes the band furthest from their comfort zone, but works well to end the album. It features frequent contributor, Zoe Manville, as well as Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Scott Pilgrim fame, and more recently the latest season of Fargo, speaking French… so that’s cool, which this band seems to exude.

Now, for the song I’m most excited about this week, “The Way You Used to Do” by Queens of the Stone Age. If this is an indication of their new album, Villains, we are in for a change in direction like the band has never seen. Mark Ronson produced the new album and it shines though. Speaking with Zane Lowe of Apple Beats 1 Radio, Josh Homme shared this on the decision to work with Ronson, ““I think one of the reasons was to act like a talisman as a reminder of listening to ‘Uptown Funk’. It’s very tight and vacuous. It sounds fucking great.”

Shania Twain returns! “Life’s About to Get Good” is a great summer song. Twain certainly hasn’t removed herself from paying attention to today’s music scene. The album is more pop than country, but it does features instrumentation you’d normally hear in country music. There is some sort of… mandolin (perhaps) incorporated in an electronic way. Anyways, you’ll be hearing this one if you listen to pretty much any station that doesn’t purely handle rock.

“The Man” sounds like it could have come off the Killers 2008 album, Day & Age. It has the potential or perhaps a bit stronger than “Human” or “Spaceman” off that album. It features a swagger similar to Aloe Blacc’s song of the same title. This song could very well push the band back into pop culture in a way that they haven’t seen in some time.

George Ezra hasn’t found the same fame as others that came out around the same time as his first album. The first time I heard “Blame it on Me” and “Budapest” I thought Ezra would easily be as popular as Hozier. That didn’t pan out as Hozier topped music festival lineups by the end of his album cycle while Ezra still remains mid to low on posters. I still feel Ezra has that potential, and this new single, “Don’t Matter Now” feels like a good start. The horns separate this from his previous work and compliment it well.

 

 

 

 

I’m begging you, please wear earplugs

My first concert was in 2004. Since then I have attended 223 concerts. I am now 29 years old and have tinnitus. Another thing I have learned in the past few months is that tinnitus worsens anxiety, and anxiety makes your tinnitus worse. It used to be that I would hear the ringing every night while going to sleep, so I’d turn on a fan and hope it would drown out the noise.

Now, I hear it non-stop, regardless of how quiet a room is. There is no cure.

If I regret anything in my life it would be that I didn’t heed the advice given to me and wear earplugs at every show I went to. Maybe if I had known you could spend $10-$30 dollars and get quality earplugs that didn’t completely muffle out nearly all sound I would have. Those cheap foam plugs you buy at your local CVS are great for being on a factory floor or in a construction area, but for hearing a wailing guitar solo they are about as effective as pouring cement in your ears.

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If you’re someone like me, you probably lose everything that isn’t literally strapped to your body, so it’s hard to justify spending $15 dollars on something so small that you’re almost certain to lose before you even use it. My last purchase was EarPeace HD Ear Plugs. They are on the higher end cost-wise at $21.95 on Amazon, but in my opinion, they are worth it. They come with a small metal cylinder that can be put on your keychain when you go to a show, so you’re less likely to lose them and more likely to use them. They also don’t ruin all levels of sound going into your ear. In fact, when I saw the Flaming Lips last month at The Pageant, I felt like I could actually hear the music better than if I hadn’t had them in at all.

There are plenty of option out there that are barely visible in your ear so your friends won’t think your lame for wearing them, and when you’re 40 you might even still be able to watch TV without the volume being pumped to the max. Or you could join me and keep your fingers crossed that science develops a procedure to reverse a condition that forces musicians off the road, and people like me to lose sleep.

The Glorious Return of Gorillaz

Just in time for the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump (I feel nauseous just typing that) comes a track for the times via Damon Albarn and his band of cartoon co-conspirators known as Gorillaz. English artist/poet Benjamin Clementine comes along for a scary ride into the true religion of America, the almighty Dollar. Hopefully more details of a new album aren’t far off. Enjoy!

My Top Live Acts of 2016 (and what i’m looking forward to in 2017)

2016 may have been the most depressing of my life (29 years). When it came to live music however, it was one of my best. It featured TWO shows at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, a Beatle,  two Cage the Elephant shows and an exclusive show in St. Louis by rock and roll hall of famers Green Day. While this year guaranteed i’ll never see David Bowie or Prince live… I also saw the emergence of Lewis Del Mar, Judah and the Lion and Anderson Paak..

10.14.2016 – Lewis Del Mar at Blueberry Hill Duck Room, St. Louis, MO

These dudes ended up being the top of my most listened to according to Spotify, in spite of the fact that their album didn’t come out until October. When I realized I had an opportunity to see them in the dark basement of Blueberry Hill, class the next morning wasn’t going to stop me.”Loud(y)” was my top song of the year and the eruption from the minute crowd upon hearing it let me know Lewis Del Mar is destined for much bigger venues.

12.4.2016 – Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – The Pageant, St. Louis, MO

Stardom looks good on the 38 year old from Hermann, MO. It was clearly a very emotional night with Rateliff avoiding cracking up most of the night, and early on mentioning he didn’t want the evening to go down a darker road. It felt more like a celebration, like a returning champion, though the band calls Denver, CO home now. By the time “S.O.B.” arrived, the crowd was in a fervor that ended in the entire building humming the tracks famous chorus until the band returned to the stage.

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6.22.2016 – Sia – Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

The first of my two prior mentioned Red Rocks shows. It was not a pleasant evening, especially if you weren’t a local who knew. As show time approached a chill swept over the mountain and rain licked the faces of fans. No one was leaving, maybe to the gift shop to buy every blanket and rain jacket they had. Those who waited and laughed at the pure oddness of being shown a preview of BBC nature show “The Hunt”. Even the spokespeople for the event were almost blown offstage. Arrive Sia did, and a performance ensued. I say that word specifically because it was not a concert. Yes, a vocalist performed, and dancers acted out breathtaking scenes, it was beyond what a concert is. There was no front man cracking jokes or doing power fists. There was a shy Australian named Sia Furler hiding at the back and exiting with a meek “thank you”. Coloradans are insanely tough.

10.26.2016 – Green Day – The Pageant, St. Louis, MO

Green Day have never been ones to shy away from a small venue tour. Hell, they go as far as to tour as other bands entirely. This felt special though, in a way that St. Louis doesn’t normally get this kind of show. It was supposed to be the first of the tour, but due to sickness ended up being the last show. Maybe that was for the best as the band were as tight as you can imagine any band being. All of the new songs were great, and extremely well received. The selection of covers are silly and lighthearted, and the politically commentary was sharp. Billy Joe Armstrong lead the crowd in a chant of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” only two songs in during “Bang Bang”. The closing combination of “Ordinary World” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was surreal, even though the real world came back all too fast.

01.22.16 Tool/Primus, 3.19.16 Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals

I’ll call these two shows, having your cake and eating it too. Normally with bands this large, you either settle for a sub-par opener or perhaps more often none at all. These mega-tours broke that norm early in the year. No band I saw this year was a better live band than Cage the Elephant. The antics may have calmed down a bit, but the band sounds all the better for it, and the lightshow is excellent but not distracting. Tool may be the most perfect sounding live band on the planet. The intensity is doubled somehow live, and after the oddity of Primus, Tool somehow levels everything in you spiritually.

 

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SO far next year we have Red Hot Chili Peppers, Roger Waters, the Flaming Lips, Jay and Silent Bob, Colony House, Guns N Roses (yes, you read that right). Hopefully a return to Bonnaroo as well as Beale Street Music Festival. Fingers crossed for a North American Radiohead tour in the Spring, a A Perfect Circle show somewhere within 6 hours of me and whatever new and crazy things I can discover.

New Music | 10.28.2016

This week is a little slow as far as new albums are concerned. We have Mayer Hawthorne releasing Party of One. The short EP features three songs that get funky. “Time For Love” sounds like something Jamiroquai could have released in the 90s, and that is absolutely a good thing. Synthpop group Empire of the Sun come out with Two Vines that will absolutely get you dancing, and should be a hit at all the music festivals next summer (here’s looking at you Bonnaroo).

We have two new Christmas albums (yes, already) from Jimmy Buffet and country starlet kacey-musgraves-christmas-album-coverKacey Musgraves. They both features covers of all those songs you’ll be hearing in every store in the next few weeks. Musgraves album has some great guest spots with Willie Nelson joining in for “A Willie Nice Christmas” and Leon Bridges on “Present Without a Bow”.

On the singles front we have Drake with, “Two Birds, One Stone” which sounds more like a stream of consciousness than actual song. AFI spring back to life with “Snow Cats”, which is not a Christmas song, but a promising look into their next album. Lead singer Davey Havok is on form with a familiar cadence and a song that sounds like it could have been a b-side from Decemberunderground.

A new single from Charli XCX, “After the Afterparty” and new album from Tove Lo, Lady Wood wrap things up in fun fashion that no doubt will get much play in 16 year olds vehicles everywhere. | Bruce Matlock

Bonnaroo 2015

 

Live Nation will ruin Bonnaroo. Coffee County’s new DA will ruin Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo will ruin Bonnaroo. The list of things that will end Bonnaroo never seems to end, but the festival keeps going, improving, and growing. Coming from a veteran of seven years, the festival’s infrastructure and experience has never been stronger.

This year saw several new and rather large improvements to the grounds, including a couple groups of flushable porta-johns (which did amazing things for the smell walking into Centeroo); large screens outside all the tents, which changed the vibe from one of frustration for many to a more relaxed, sit-down experience; and lastly, yet another year of growth for shade trees planted on the Farm a few years back.

It was a dusty, hot year, however. By Sunday, facemasks were widely accepted apparel. As the crowd rushed in to the What Stage area on Sunday, an intense dust storm kicked up behind them the closely resembled something you’d see in a desert, or Mars, perhaps.

Thursday 6/18

Thursday continued to be a day for the new. Unlocking the Truth started off what would turn out to be one of the stronger metal lineups the festival has had. The insanely young thrash metal band from Brooklyn got several mosh pits going, which is several more than there are at Bonnaroo some years. Ryn Weaver played several songs off her new album, The Fool. She did suffer from poor sound from which The Other Tent seemed to suffer for a large portion of the weekend. Unless you were right underneath it, you had better luck hearing what was going on at other stages.

As dark approached, a crowd gathered under the newly placed disco ball that had been previously topped by the clock tower. Excitement grew as the end of the parade promised the opening of the Grove. The area would supposedly add whimsy to a festival jam-packed with it. As the lit-art cars approached, a ring of enclosed porto-johns opened and people wearing little more than see-through raincoats and clear umbrellas emerged. The crowd quickly caught on and ran into the area. Over the weekend, the Grove featured insane dance parties, magic acts, and plenty of time to relax in hammocks. As a side note, there have also been reports of people emerging from the Grove with poison ivy.

Other Thursday highlights included the comedy stylings of Ron Funches and Cameron Esposito; an advance screening of Trainwreck, the new film featuring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader; and Vernor Winfield Macbriare Smith IV, aka Canadian singer-songwriter Mac Demarco.

Friday 6/19

With the sun and Tennessee humidity oppressively beating down like Apollo unhitched his carriage and took a break directly over the farm, Friday was a day not to be taken lightly. Metal bands generally don’t come along with bright sunlight and drinking as much water as possible, but Pallbearer and Brownout (presents Black Sabbath) both received the opportunity to bring their sludgy sounds to an otherwise bone-dry day.

Pallbearer vocalist Brett Campbell quipped that it was unfortunate the festival had booked “two Black Sabbath cover bands” in the same timeslot. He most likely noticed the crowd, albeit enthusiastic, was rather thin. Metal has a shaky history at the fest, although Tool notably delivered a memorable headlining performance in 2007 and Gwar received a coveted late night spot in 2010. Brownout, on the other hand, swapped out Pallbearer’s doom metal for Latin-infused renditions of Black Sabbath hits and deeper cuts alike.

Continuing the day’s theme of ear-busting rock, Royal Blood took the Which Stage in a fashion that would be impressive for someone on their 3rd or 4th Bonnaroo. The U.K. duo was not overwhelmed by the size of the gathering crowd but right at home as they continue playing to massive festival crowds worldwide. Running through their entire discography (all one album), they took little time for chatter and only a few brief moments to look over the crowd and soak it in.

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Bonnaroo veterans would consume most of the next several hours. Ben Folds brought along Y Music to play an almost entirely new set of songs that will be released in the fall. Folds noted that everyone in the crowd must be very smart to have come seen a chamber ensemble. The band was not enough, however, as he often turned the entire audience into an instrument, bringing beautiful music from both behind and in front.

Nashville band Moon Taxi has been at the festival what seems like…every year. This year, however, felt different. They captivated a large Which Stage crowd and worked them into frenzy with their combination of indie and jam sounds, which no doubt has been developed and influenced by playing Bonnaroo over the years. They are a band that could easily play with Walk the Moon or Phish, and they closed their set with an excellent cover of “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine. If that doesn’t get your interest, keep listening to your Florida Georgia Line album.

The night suffered from what felt like the lack of headliner. Technically, Kendrick Lamar and Deadmau5 held the title, but the fact neither were unopposed seemed to give away the festival also felt like neither could please a large enough audience. If anyone after dark put on a headline-worthy set, no one received more buzz the rest of the festival than Earth, Wind and Fire. That’s right: A band more used to playing at performing arts centers delivered a packed set to twenty-somethings while Deadmau5 was showing off his new toys and Run the Jewels were putting on one of the best hip-hop sets in Bonnaroo history.

Saturday 6/20

Saturday morning starts out with the feeling that two more days are an eternity. Saturday night brings the realization that this is your last chance to listen to music until sunrise for another year. Andrew Hozier-Byrne, aka Hozier, felt like the perfect Bonnaroo act. He may be Irish, but somewhere in there is a little Tennessee. His presence is captivating and his voice smooth as apple butter on a hot summer day. One could easily see him playing in the same place a few years later, after another successful album or two.

My Morning Jacket are the consummate Bonnaroo musicians. Enough hits to bring in a crowd, enough jam to keep the old-school Bonnaroovians happy, and enough sound to fill the entire What Stage field with dreamers soaring through the cool night air. Their new (excellent) album felt right at home with a heavy dose of songs from Z and It Still Moves. Jim James isn’t the reincarnation of Jerry Garcia, but My Morning Jacket may be the closest thing this generation has to a band that knows how to jam, yet also keeps the casual interest of the many with solid singles.

After two solid hours of My Morning Jacket, having Mumford and Sons to follow felt excessive coming after a night with lesser headliners. Their new album may be the definition of meh, but the band had something to prove after missing its last headlining Bonnaroo gig due to bassist Ted Dwane’s requiring surgery to treat a blood clot. The band made light of the situation, but took its redemption very seriously. They (as well as their stage) looked the part of headliner, and the setlist followed suit. The band is used to pulling out special guests on the farm, and this time was no different as My Morning Jacket, Hozier, Ed Helms, and members from several other bands came out to perform “With a Little Help from My Friends” (the Joe Cocker version) to close out the night.

Walking back into Centeroo, an amazing (or devastating) realization set in. Bassnectar had begun on the Which Stage. What that essentially meant was you were either about to jump into a crazy rave, or about to hear a crazy rave while you watched D’Angelo bring his new album to fruition. In the case of the latter, it was very disappointing to find that, unless you were right underneath the This Tent, your chances of hearing any of D’Angelo were next to zero.

Things were slightly better over for the Superjam at the Other Tent. Producer Pretty Lights, DMC, Robert Trujillo (Metallica), Jack Antonoff (Bleachers/fun.), Chance the Rapper, and Jamie Lidell promised to bring a throwback dance party. What actually happened was fun, but a bit disjointed. Zach Galifinakis and Jon Hamm kicked off the party. After a few songs, things devolved into a Pretty Lights set, which was great but not as advertised. The mix of metal, pop, hip-hop, and soul didn’t leave much room for continuity as the vibe constantly shifted between headbanging, dancing, and awkwardly waiting for the next act to get its mic ready. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but calling it a dance party might be going a bit far.

Sunday 6/21

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Sunday is a more laid-back Bonnaroo experience. There isn’t very much EDM left, so many who came just for the party head out early or stay at camp for the majority of the day. It is a day for those aware of the marathon ahead on Thursday. There were, however, lots of great tunes that a large portion of the crowd could enjoy. Robert Plant led the Sensational Space Shifters through a solid career-spanning set that saw him put a twist on classic Led Zeppelin songs “The Lemon Song” and “Rock and Roll.” If you are against revisionism of art, his set would most like cause more pain than joy, but given how long he has been performing, it’s only fair that he should still be able to enjoy the songs, as well.

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Twenty One Pilots win for having the set that caused the most number of dust tornadoes. As the What Stage gates opened around 2:00 p.m., somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 5,000 people rushed in for a chance to stand in the sun and get as close to the stage as possible. Though the band arrived close to half an hour later than scheduled (supposedly due to Bonnaroo forcing them to sign anti-climbing stuff paperwork), they quickly got the crowd jumping and climbing on each other’s backs. Twenty One Pilots undoubtedly spent more time in the crowd than any act all weekend, and ended in a climactic version of “Guns for Hands” with drummer Josh Dunn and singer Tyler Joseph riding the crowd on top of drum kits as confetti covered the sky over the pit.

Thankfully for those looking for something besides Billy Joel, the Bluegrass Superjam ran late and seemingly featured every musician still on the grounds. Annually curated by Ed Helms, this year’s version of The Bluegrass Situation featured Trampled by Turtles, Punch Brothers, Rhiannon Giddens, Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, Jerry Douglas, Shakey Graves, and probably more. The group covered staples of Bluegrass music as well as other songs throughout pop culture. One cover featured Shakey Graves singing through “Little Red Corvette.”

All good things must end. Though few in attendance could admit to having actually seen Joel, the man from the Bronx did a fairly successful job of wrapping things up. Some odd things occurred. For instance, did anyone need to hear his backing band cover AC/DC and ZZ Top? Even Joel asked the crowd to stop him if it was awful, but Southerners are too kind for that. The rest of the set was a tight collection of hits that put him on par with the last two Sunday headliners Elton John and Tom Petty.

Bonnaroo is unique in that its crowd (in large part) is composed of true music lovers. You don’t come to the middle of nowhere in Tennessee to be seen or noticed. You don’t bake all day to check one or two bands off your list. You’re just as likely to see 70-year-olds in the audience at Childish Gambino or Twenty One Pilots as you are to see teenagers at Billy Joel or Robert Plant. We are just music lovers coming together to share in a judgement-free zone, and dance. | Bruce Matlock 

The Mars Volta get sick in Memphis (10/19)

Few bands on this earth are capable of putting on a show on par withThe Mars Volta. No matter how you look at the band’s elongated jams and nonsensical lyrics, they do put 110% into their show, and that’s precisely what they did at Minglewood Hall in Memphis, TN last night. On a Monday, no less.

Despite a nagging sickness, an ailment that lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala made clearly evident of early in the night (noting that he would be expelling “large amounts of bodily fluids” and a promise that a few in the front row might be going home with more than their concert tickets), the lead singer leaped, danced, and hit notes higher than previously recorded on the band’s five albums. It almost begged the question, “How do I get this sickness?”

With a few nights off, due to their recent cancellation in Cincinnati, the rest of the band didn’t miss a beat — at least for a Volta show. Drummer Thomas Pridgen hit the drums so hard that he frequently floated over his drum seat, while Omar Rodriguez-Lopez soloed like a dazed madman, forcing Bixler-Zavala to frequently look at him, and then back out to the crowd, as if to say, “Are you guys seeing this shit!”

Naturally, fans new and old would be pleased, and the band treated both alike, running through several tracks off ofDeloused in the Comatorium all the way through to this year’s, Octahedron.  Opener “Inertiatic ESP” sounded pristine, highlighting every performer that brought it to life. “Goliath” took off next, sounding as large and ominous as its title. Drummer Pridgen furiously beat away at the drums with forceful fills and a beat that couldn’t be stopped. He’s worth the price of admission alone. “Eunuch Provocateur” showed off the skills of bass player Juan Alderete, who is frequently overshadowed by band mates.

Latin freak-out “Ilyena” shook several in the crowd out of their glazed stupor, thanks to keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens pounding and intoxicating rhythms, rocking out as hard as a keyboard player can. Though it’s exciting to hear live, it’s time for Frances the Mute single “The Widow” to go… for good. Taking a short break before the song, Bixler-Zavala came out and hit every note, but it pales in comparison to the rest of the set, coming off rather stale and without the intense passion that any other song carries. Luckily, hard rocking “Wax Simulcra”, though short, gave the band one last chance to prove that they probably could have kept going for another hour or two.

The short hour-and-a-half setlist did however leave several in the crowd wondering what happened to the band that used to play marathon two and a half to three hour sets without a pause. Though there are few bands that could please a Mars Volta crowd (Portugal. The Man perhaps?), for $35 dollars, it may be time for someone else to step in — at least, as long as the band intends on playing a shorter set. Still, it’s one intense event. No, few left the small club grumbling; however, faces were melted, souls were shaken, and grossly… many bodily fluids were drained. It just all seemed less a journey and moreover a short, quick trip.