Bonnaroo 08: Sunday buffet with all you can eat Broken Social Scene
For Bonnaroo’s final day, the sun was shining, the pace was glacial, and I spent most of the afternoon plotting my money-making scheme for next year (Purell/spray-on sunscreen stand, $1 a pump). I was also treated to a terrific set from Broken Social Scene, during which I did the unthinkable: I took my backpack off, found a hospitable patch of grass, rolled up a sweatshirt under my head and laid down. For like five songs. And closed my eyes. And sort of let it all wash over me. I suspect that had something to do with why I started crying.
Yes, regular readers of this blog’s music festival coverage will recall that I am prone to tears whenever I’m tired and I hear a real good song; this weekend’s big winner is Kevin Drew (pictured) and the rest of his Canadian crew, for getting the waterworks going during their climactic, clangy performance of “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day).” More on the BSS set, plus Rogue Wave, Aimee Mann, Solomon Burke, Pat Green, and a teensy bit of Death Cab after the jump. Note to Alison Krauss/Robert Plant fans: I have been informed that their set was terrific by people varying dramtically in age and musical taste. Thus, I suppose, it was terrific. I didn’t make it over there, because I was lying in the grass at Broken Social Scene. You’re just gonna have to forgive me.
addCredit(“Kevin Drew; Whitney Pastorek/EW.com”)
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, we kicked Sunday off with the Rogue Wave, during whose lovely, slow-burn version of “California” I spotted teenage-girl catnip artist Mason Jennings hanging out in the crowd, wiggling his legs contentedly. Closer “Harmonium” sent me to the press tent to write, but it seems the news had just gotten out about the urination incident from Friday and people kept coming over with these wide eyes and exclaiming, “You got PEED ON??” Finished my post eventually, and made it over to Aimee Mann just as she was beginning a Magnolia block of “Save Me” (“This song lost the Oscar to Phil Collins,” she announced), “Wise Up,” and that great cover of Harry Nilsson’s “One,” after which some dude in the very-appreciative audience hollered something at the stage. “I have no idea what you said,” replied Mann. “But thank you, and you’re awesome, too.” Then she and someone who sure looked like her husband from the far away distance where I stood tried to decide what to play next as about a dozen people hollered, “4th of July!!” So she played “4th of July.” That’s service.
Over in That Tent, Solomon Burke was taking requests, too. He’d arrived backstage in a limo, chilled out in its A/C until his band had taken the stage, then was wheeled up to join them. A beautiful young female thing in a short skirt handed him his crutches and he stood, then danced in place, removed his black leather gloves and kicked the crutches away to sit upon his enormous Solomon Burke throne. She passed him a microphone, and he had the ladies shrieking within seconds. Despite his truly massive girth, the dude can pop and lock his head with the best of ’em– I believe dancing from the mid-torso up is still dancing– and after working us all into a lather with “Cry to Me” (oh, Dirty Dancing, how you educated me in the classics), he had his lovely assistant mop his brow and remove his jacket so he could better get down on it, as it were. Then he sang the Tom Waits-penned “Diamond in Your Mind” in a way that would make Scarlett Johansson weep.
Things did not start well for me as I headed towards Broken Social Scene: a frisbee hit me in the head. (If you’re scoring at home, that plus the peeing means I am one incense burn away from hitting the hippie trifecta.) Then I sat in the photo pit waiting and waiting and waiting for them to eventually start a half-hour late, and the combination of humidity and thumping interstitial-music bass and whoever was smoking opium in the crowd had my eyes drooping and my spirits flagging. But then nine Canadians appeared onstage before me, insisting that we yell “I’m alive!” which I did, and it helped. Then they all started humming into harmonicas in unison, and I perked up. Then they started jumping, grinning, nuzzling each other, as I darted all over the photo pit trying to capture the uncapturable action. In effect: Drew, of course, gregariously leading the festivities; Brendan Canning, who bounds about like a bass-playing Muppet; Andy “Apostle of Hustle” Whiteman; Amy “Stars in the house!” Millan; Sam Goldberg; Justin Peroff; Charles Spearin; and a couple more folks. Feist was not there, nor was Jason Collett, but actually, based on the power coming out of this small (relative to 19) group on songs like “KC Accidental,” “Fire Eye’d Boy,” “7/4 (Shoreline),” and “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” the full strength of BSS might be more than my heart could bear. Even new track “Churches Under the Stairs” (off Canning’s upcoming “solo” album, and for which the band unabashedly trotted out xeroxed lyric sheets) continued the tradition of epic instrumentation, though it featured a slightly more focused sound.
But it wasn’t just the music that made this show such a highlight. Drew and Canning are so comfortable in front of an audience, so welcoming and encouraging and downright blabbermouthed that it’s extremely hard not to get caught up in their energy. Despite driving 18 hours to get to Tennessee (including a three and a half hour holdup at the border), despite amp breakage and keyboard issues (“Can we fix those keys? Or I’m gonna walk,” mock-threatened Drew), and most of all, despite the fact that all of us on the grass were potentially watching our final band of the long, long weekend, the energy of the Broken Social Scene never flagged. “Dance party at sundown!” Drew hollered. “You made it!” Obligatory Kanye joke: “We’re doing another show on this stage at 5 a.m.! We got all this glow in the dark technical s—…” (BOOOOO!)
The band’s finest moment as both musicians and citizens of the world came about three-quarters of the way through the set, when Drew explained why they were playing every American festival possible this summer: “You gotta go and vote,” he said. “Because we can’t. But you’re not voting for America. You’re voting for every other country in the world. You realize that? Canada will go to war against America if we get another Republican in office.” And who, pray tell, were the Canadians supporting? Obama, natch. (“Even if I totally don’t know what he stands for,” admitted Drew, “he talks goddamn well.”) While doing a spot with CNN earlier in the day, they’d written a short song called “Put Down The Bong and Vote for Obama (You Know That You Wanna),” and they wanted everyone in the crowd to sing it. (“We gotta hear everybody or we’re leaving!” mock-threatened Drew again.) We all did, and as a reward we were given the most amazing rendition of “Ibi…” I’ve ever heard, and there went my waterworks, like I said. Tears kept flowing, right through the “personal therapy” portion of the set (in which Drew asked us all to scream, not for BSS, but for our past and our future, and all 500-some-odd of us threw back our heads and let loose). All I could think to write down after the Canadians went away was, “Oh, do it again. Do it again!”
Here’s where the story ends, PopWatchers, not with a bang but a literal whimper: I headed to Death Cab, where “I Will Possess Your Heart” made me well up again, then took my misty eyes over to Pat Green, who was playing for about 100 people, tops, and I felt like a bad Texan for not joining them. There I stood and cried a little more to “Don’t Break My Heart Again” and “Southbound 35” (which included a nice bit of Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream”), but I didn’t dare stay for all of “Dixie Lullaby” in my current state, and god knows I walked rapidly away from the strains of “Transatlanticism” before I went fetal under the bleachers. Back safe and sound in artist hospitality, I cracked open one last beer, very nearly jumped Kevin Drew (professional… I am a professional…) and started saying goodbye to all my friends. Maybe people thought I was sniffly because I was sad to see them all go. They don’t have to know the truth.
That’s it from here, PopWatchers– I’m about to hop a flight home to L.A. Keep an eye on EW.com for a gallery of my best photos from the weekend sometime either late today or in the morning, and come back this time tomorrow for my annual Top 10 Bonnaroo Moments. Because I sort of miss it already.