Bonnaroo 2009: Brooklyn Go Hard

By Scott Lapatine & Amrit Singh
Not that it’s a competition, but at any summer festival you’ll be expected to answer What Was The Best Set So Far several times a day. We have a tie for Friday, at least from what we saw, between two Brooklyn bands at their peak. The melismatic strains of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” and the singalong chamber pop of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” were equally enthralling moments that will be tough to top. Both acts’ sets focused heavily on their respective weeks-old LPs, rare instances where a grab bag festival audience actually wants to hear all the new stuff. (Don’t get any ideas, Bruce.) Afro-indie forebearer David Byrne was beaming sidestage (along with a bopping Bon Iver) during DP’s early afternoon set at That Tent; for the last song, he joined the sextet for the collaborators’ second-ever live performance of “Knotty Pine.” Especially with the Talking Head onstage, you’d be hard pressed to find a group of more photogenic musicians. A few hours later, Grizzly Bear’s sweaty performance cross-site got a late start. It was actually cooler outside the shaded tent, which is expected when you have too many bodies under one roof. The delicate crescendos and pristine harmonies of “Southern Point” and “Fine For Now,” mixed with the boys’ casual patter (“Who’s going to see Phish?” Chris Bear inquired at one point) made for a mellow, rapturously received sundown soundtrack. Unshaven and sporting thrift-store tees, Animal Collective took an expectedly breezy and aloof approach on the Which Stage a few hours prior.

For pure weirdness you can’t beat the trio’s assaulting mix of rhythmic shrieks and hypnotic electro beats; still, it would’ve went over better at night. On the same stage two hours later, Yeah Yeah Yeahs started a dance party with cuts from their new wave throwback It’s Blitz!, but all anyone was talking about after was the equipment fail that forced fan favorite “Maps” to be performed acoustic. Santigold had her own dance party going under That Tent, singing songs your TiVO normally fast-forwards through. (Get it? Because they’re all in beer commercials!) And if you still weren’t convinced that Brooklyn art-rock can translate to a farm in Tennessee, TV On The Radio followed neighbors and labelmates YYYs with new and old funk. It didn’t compare to Coachella, where the band’s horn crew was more sizable (yesterday just one Stuart Bogie on sax), but that’s probably our fault for going to too many festivals.

David Byrne, whose ubiquitous bicycle was parked next to the Which Stage in the afternoon, matched the energy of his interpretative dance crew in a two-hour set culled from Eno-assisted solo work and Talking Heads classics like “I Zimbra,” “Born Under Punches,” “Crosseyed & Painless,” and “Once In A Lifetime.” David invited everyone, not just the professionals, to take photos of the set using whatever technology they had. He just insisted we delete the bad ones. (There’s no taking a bad pic of you, David.) Meanwhie, Beastie Boys were cold kicking it live on the main stage, and their big surprise was a guest spot from Nas on a track from the forthcoming Hot Sauce Committee. (The foursome watched Santi’s set together a few hours earlier.) They did their best to bring their celebrated manic energy, offering Check Your Head punk (“Time For Livin'”) and “Sure Shot” early, and there’s a certain thrill to seeing them give it their all, but their tour rider probably should specify an oxygen tank waiting for MCA at all times side stage. Yauch was winded, y’all.

Phish closed the night. Knowing they once covered Talking Heads’ Remain In Light cover-to-cover one Halloween years ago, we thought maybe they could convince Byrne to come out on a “Cities” or a “Crosseyed & Painless.” Since he was in a collaborating mood earlier in the day and all. But, well, that was a pipe dream. The band did play some covers (AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” and the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”), along with old jammy staples and some new songs that sounded like rewrites of old. The band’s as dexterous as ever — tautly reproducing the complex arpeggiated passages of “Divided Sky,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Harry Hood,” etc. — but their jams were endless and, aside from some sorta interesting interaction/modulation during “Stash,” pointless. But the phans were enthralled, making them either incredibly patient, or incredibly loyal, or incredibly stoned, depending on who you asked. It was good to see the guys, though — aside from a lot of white in Mike Gordon’s hair, they look about the same, Fishman’s mumu and all, and Trey and Mike handled the trampolines during “YEM” with ease. If you’ve ever seen a Phish show before, you’ll probably be pleased with these reunion shows. Just be incredibly patient, loyal, or stoned during the improvs. Same as it ever was.