Bonnaroo 2009: Thursday Day 1
Cloudy skies and rain cast a shadow over the festival’s first day
If the first night was highlighted mostly by sporadic weather, Thursday night’s attractions were met with similarly uneven results. The forecast ranging from bands that generated the high voltage of Tennessee lightning to ones that barely generated the excitement of a passing shower. Despite Kanye West’s infamous set problems last year, hip-hop regenerated in full force Thursday night with high-energy shows from festival newcomers, MURS and People Under the Stairs.
Both emcees were successful at integrating the crowd early and succeeded at keeping the drenched festival-goers dancing through the storm, each with their own individual styles. While MURS played mostly with hip-hop’s commercially successful bass thud and soul-beat model, he was able to breath fresh life into the medium with his spitfire verses and solid beats succeeding on his promise that he would offer a, “fun approach to hip-hop.” Despite that, the rapper born under the ironic name Nick Carter and who’s alter-ego is slang for “Making Underground Raw Sh*t,” offered surprising versatility with songs that discussed everything from his full-mane of dreadlocks to the nation’s economic crisis.
Conversely People Under the Stairs provided a style that would be fitting coming out of a boom box, with DJ scratching provided live by the group. The One and Double K, the principal members of the group, traded verses often conversationally dipping into freestyles often and drawing in the crowd with tunes dedicated to their troubled home city. While People Under the Stairs were largely unknown to the crowd, they quickly won fans with their wit and showmanship, even asking coyly when the crowd stumbled through a sing-a-long, “what you guys didn’t buy that record?”
The night’s rock acts provided most of the uneven moments, with the biggest pressure of the night falling squarely on the shoulders of Cambridge, Massachusetts natives Passion Pit. The group generated a heavy buzz throughout the scatted campground and drew what was surely the largest crowd of the night. The five-piece band talked a big game with lead singer Michael Angelakos stirring up the crowd like the ring leader of the circus. Draped by their lighting personnel in the soothing tones of pink and purple, the group’s sound was similarly limited by an equally bland musical palette. The song’s off their debut album “Manners” sounded full live however they failed to incite the large crowd in the same ways as last year’s This Tent headliners, Vampire Weekend and MGMT, a point of note as Passion Pit’s sound seems a likely adaptation of Vampire Weekend’s drum-heavy beats and MGMT’s catchy keyboard flourishes. Varying from slow soulful keyboard infused pop tunes, to more uptempo synth-driven pop tunes, Passion Pit often sounded like they were going through the motions, robotically trodding over musical group that has recently been mostly colonized.
White Rabbits, who graced the same stage before the torrential rain fell also saw a sizable crowd and similar mixed results. The Brooklyn, New York natives have received high praise from England’s premier music magazine NME, no doubt for their sound’s heavy drawing from UK bands like The Specials and Arctic Monkeys. In spite of lofty comparisons the band fought against the sizable evening crowd drawing applause and maintaining interest at what was still one of the day’s earlier shows.
Elsewhere The Low Anthem slowed things down at That Tent with a more mellow evening set. The Providence area band’s members formed a virtual musical carousel, switching instruments and tones often. The group’s members pulled duties on instruments as diverse as upright basses and violins while handing off vocal duties on song’s like “This God Damn House” which they dedicated lovingly to a former band member. The Low Anthem kept things simple, sticking to lyrics that used simple imagery to craft songs about drinking, debauchery and wild and simple rhythms to craft tunes that ranged from keyboard laced acoustic downers to uptempo blues ditties like “Cigarettes and Whiskey.”
Overall Thursday night’s bands did little but whet the appetite and expectations for Friday’s main event which offers up a lineup with acts as diverse as David Byrne, The Beastie Boys, and the main attraction Phish.