Bonnaroo is very much under way this morning. The music kicked off yesterday with performances from a few of the “smaller” artists playing the festival. We started our weekend out with a set featuring three 8th graders from New York City playing breakdown-packed metal. As ridiculous as all of those elements sound combined with each other, Unlocking The Truth played a set that earned them a lot of respect if not a lot of fans. When I was in eighth grade, I was excited to play middle-school basketball, meanwhile these kids played to over a thousand at Bonnaroo.
Denmark’s Iceage played an incredible 45-minute set, with antics that beyond confused and music that dazzled. Their spastic, gravelly voiced rock translated very well to the festival crowd that reacted with moshing and all kinds of energy. The energy didn’t really seem to be relayed back to the crowd by the band, however. The lead singer simply spoke the name of every song before playing it and then tore through it, clearly showing a frustration with some sound issues. The guitarist would simply stare into the soul of the crowd and not move. The bass player looked too strung out to play, but the music remained tight and intense, despite the seemingly distant approach. When the set ended, the set ended. The singer announced “We’re out of time. Bye.” dropped the mic and exited the stage. Whether a part of the act or genuine, it was a little bit bad-ass and a lot confusing.”
The quiet standout of the day was Courtney Barnett for me. Playing with only a three-piece outfit that demanded she cover guitar parts while dropping intricate poetry vocals. Not only did she cover the parts, but she tore on the guitar with a quiet confidence that makes her an unassuming star of sorts. Playing tracks from her latest album like “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best,” Barnett brought her stories to life in front of the festival crowd, wowing with her ripping guitar playing and talky-voice that somehow fills out a huge sound. It’s been a huge year for Barnett and after yesterday it’s easy to see why.
Mac Demarco was easily the most popular act playing last night, and his set didn’t disappoint. Famous for his wild antics, Demarco is a perfect fit for the high-energy crowds of Bonnaroo and he reveled in the festival setting. Demarco is a joker, but he’s also a new-age rockstar. Demarco has established the kind of cult following that the greats have. Whenever he shows his face, people scream. His sound-check received more applause than some shows will this weekend. The stoner chillwave sound took on a new life in front of a packed crowd (I literally could barely move) and put the crowd in a completely different world for 45 minutes. Sound issues kept him from lighting the crowd up with his ridiculous banter, but the music spoke enough words, even for Demarco who’s known to have no shortage of words to give. Songs like “Ode To Viceroy,” “Cooking up Something Good” and “Chamber of Reflection” not only got a late-night crowd moving but brought an undeniable positive energy. As Mac dove from the stage for a crowd surf during the quirky anthem “Still Together” the already-packed crowd condensed as tight as possible just to get a touch of Demarco’s shirt. Grabbing his shoulder among the crowd of thousands is easily one of my favorite moments.
SET TO NOT MISS TODAY: KENDRICK LAMAR
Kendrick’s poised himself among the pantheon of the rap game this year. With two almost flawless albums under his belt, Kendrick comes to Bonnaroo off maybe his best year yet. Featuring an amazing band that will bring Kendrick’s jazz-rap to life, Kendricks set may become one of the few that become folklore tales over the years at Bonnaroo.
SLEEPER SET: UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA
Mortal Love is one of the best indie-rock albums of the year. The band bring a unique funk sound with pop hooks and sensibilities to indie rock, and their set today should be one to remember. Sandwiched at the same time as powerful rock bands like Against Me and Dawes, the band will fit a very different niche, but their set today should be no-less memorable.
SET NOT TO MISS TOMORROW: STURGILL SIMPSON
Simpson is one of those artists who comes along once a generation. With a clear, cutting country music tenor, Simpson’s vocals would make Waylon Jennings shake. But he also has the songwriting chops to match, and he goes well above the cliche of country radio. His drug-infused psychadelic country is not only unique, it’s transfixing and a perfect match for Bonnaroo. You have to see Sturgill Simpson bring life to Turtles All the Way Down tomorrow. It’s be just like Nashville on DMT.