By Dan Weiss
We arrived on site today to ’90s alt stalwarts Cake performing possibly the most indicative song of all of Bonnaroo, “Rock n Roll Lifestyle” (as in “How do you afford your…”). It’s nice to see they’ve figured out how to answer their own question; the song is 20-years-old and they’re still reeling them in at a modest but consistent strength, with one of the lesser-known albums in recent memory to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
We’re supposed to hook up with EDM warriors the Glitch Mob later, who’ve been massaging festival crowds from the outset of their career, but for now, Saturday night belongs to Lionel Richie. Five minutes watching the 64-year-old, Grammy-devouring monolith and it’s easy to see where his TV star daughter got her comedic readiness. The man is a born entertainer whose great claim to fame might be ignoring trends altogether. His “comeback album,” if you want to call it that, is called Tuskegee, named after his hometown, and contains all new versions of his old hits, each performed as a duet with a different contemporary country star. It went to No. 1 despite him barely making a chart dent since the late ’80s. Maybe this has something to do with what longtime Village Voice critic Robert Christgau once termed Richie’s “well-established appeal to white people.”
(Photo by Jason Shaltz)
But you’d have to have a very specific hatred of old-school showbiz to not have enjoyed what was essentially the Lionel Richie variety hour. Between indelible standards like “Easy” and “Brick House” the man’s comedy never ceased, from the swampy way he’d ad-lib “Bonnaruuuuuuuuuuue” to his “explanations” behind three love/breakup/life-after songs that were all punctuated with “you grab your CD you grab your record you grab your 8-track—I’ll even let you download, I’ll even let you stream—and you call on…LIONEL RICHAYYY.”
Then there was the showboating “Dancing on the Ceiling,” which climaxed with his saxophonist suspended perfectly upside down with legs around the bannister of the drum riser stair, his guitarist soloing behind his head and a quick nod to Van Halen’s “Jump.” He nodded to his dad during “Three Times a Lady”: “Son…where is my money?” and let the crowd fill in for Diana Ross on “Endless Love” (“Who needs Diana? Come on!”). Does it go without saying that “Hello” got massive cheers after the first chorus? People, period, love this guy.
(Photo by Jason Shaltz)
We then met up with beat titans The Glitch Mob, three DJs who’ve been festival vets since they first joined voices who’d never been to Bonnaroo before. Their new album Love Death Immortality debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, a surprise to the group but likely a testament to their ongoing conquest of the summer festival circuit.
“When we were writing this new record, we definitely had put a lot of thought into these situations,” says the group’s Edward Ma. “But also hundred-person rooms, or in your car or riding your bike, whatever. We wanted to make the record available for any kind of listen.” While they don’t exactly cop to being this generation’s answer to arena-rock, Ma acknowledges how far electronic music has come, from only having on-your-headphones options like Aphex Twin. “If anything,” he says, “We’re trying to get away from that whole attitude that just like, kills music.”
Glitch Mob (Photo by Jason Shaltz)
As a native Californian, it’s Mob member Justin Boreta’s duty to favor Coachella most, of the numerous festivals the Mob have played, but “loved Kanye and Chance” on Friday at his first Bonnaroo. On Saturday, Ma was most psyched for Jack White, and the group also wished to catch the Flaming Lips, Frank Ocean and the Superjam with Skrillex, Big Gigantic, Damian Marley and Robbie Krieger — all of which were unfortunately funneled into nearly the same time bracket before the Glitch Mob’s set.
What we caught of the Super Jam from the back of the tent unfortunately sounded rather melted itself — no discernible Robbie Krieger organ or Marley toasting, just some spaced out wubbing meeting live drums at some wobbly reggaeton tempo. Too bad we only caught the jam in a primordial soup moment — A$AP Ferg reportedly coming out later to do Biggie’s “Juicy” and his own “Work” and “Shabba” sounds pretty super indeed.
The Glitch Mob’s Justin Boreta caught an “incredible” portion where they jammed on Toto’s “Africa”: “It was unique and something that could only happen one time.” The Mob themselves have only participated in something “totally improvised” before at Burning Man, with Bassnectar, whom they have a friendly, funny relationship with: “He’s the only person we’ve remixed who asked us to put in more samples from his original song,” laughs Ma.
Glitch Mob (Photo by Jason Shaltz)
We caught more of Jack White (Boreta: “He’s a huge influence on us”), who after a decade of duo minimalism is milking this “having a professional drummer” thing to the max—what an electrifying mess was made of the White-free opening jam leading into the riff tsunami “Icky Thump.” Only Skrillex at this festival matches White’s ear for shaping sound in real time as if on a pottery wheel—his violin(!) and theremin(!!) players matched his divebomb guitar-soloing (or let’s call it what it is: feedback-lassoing) squeal for squeal.
Jack White (Photo by Jason Shaltz)
The catalogue he draws from is vast with potential—who knew the Raconteurs’ commonplace single “Steady, As She Goes” would be a highlight to match the classic White Stripes hoedown “Hotel Yorba”? The rollicking new “Three Women” held its own as well, though it was patently ridiculous to hear a whole festival audience shouting “Teacher marks our height against the wall!” along with the twee miniature “We’re Going to Be Friends.” Universality, who can predict it? Certainly not White, whose rambling theories at times made him sound like a grumpy rock-uncle Kanye. Still, the guy who name-dropped Jim Jarmusch to a crowd of thousands might’ve actually encapsulated Bonnaroo’s weirdness with one non-sequitur: “This is like China meets the internet at once, it’s incredible.”
The Glitch Mob’s own set, which started at 2:15 a.m., was a fascinating amalgam of arena-EDM and rock strut, with little more than slabs of synth over positively tribal “drumming.” Two of the Mobsters drove this last point home with giant mallets fit for a gong with which they banged on their hovercraft-like equipment. Their thick waves of sound shift subtly from too-simple to perfectly-blunt.
Mystikal (By Jason Shaltz)
After we left the Mob’s danceable largesse, we’re not sorry about the last-minute decision to catch Cash Money legend Mannie Fresh DJing at the Sonic Stage. No sooner had we arrived to the sounds of the producer turning “Get Lucky” into old Lil Wayne bangers when Mystikal showed up—a phenomenal world-class rapper and crappy person, who served time for rape but briefly let us pretend that the blissful James Brown-goes-Neptunes manifestations “Danger” and “Shake Ya Ass” existed in a vacuum before peacing out with a shout-out to all the festival ladies with “clean,” um, vaginas. Talk about glitches.