Pop quiz, PopWatchers: Name two bands you would never expect to have beef with Kanye West.
If you just said “Pearl Jam and Rogue Wave,” congratulations! Treat yourself to a cocktail, because I think it may be, as they say, “on.”
The headliners, of course, pissed West off by playing an hour longer than scheduled last night, a well-deserved extension after a terrific set of favorites and rarities that included just a little neon-flavored taunting from Eddie Vedder (pictured). Rogue Wave, on the other hand, started things off on the second stage today (poor boys keep getting that nasty 1 p.m. slot) and, by way of introducing “Chicago x 12,” frontman Zach Rogue asked the crowd, “Did Kanye really come on at 4:30 last night?” “BOOOOOOOO!!!” the crowd responded by way of an answer. “I’ll tell you one thing,” said Zach. “I would never do that to you.” (He then hastily followed with, “But seriously, I kid Kanye all the time.” Nope. It’s still on.)
So here’s your answer to the most anticipated questions of the weekend: what time would Kanye start, and would I go? Well, Kanye went on at 4:29 a.m., and I stayed for about three songs. I found out when I got here this morning that he went on to play for a grand total of one hour. Total. A single hour. I do not want to know how much they paid him for that; it probably could have bought everyone in this crowd an Escalade and offset their carbon emissions for a year. The only word that comes to mind is “lame,” especially coming off Friday night’s Jacket marathon. From which, I have since learned, they may have actually cut five songs. (Note to Jackets: good call.)
Follow me through the jump to read all about Pearl Jam– plus B.B King, Levon Helm, Ghostland Observatory, some rappers who played on time, and the whirlwind that was my post-1 a.m. existence.
After leaving it all out on the field for the Jackets Friday night, I needed much sleep– or so it turned out when I woke up at 1pm, having slept through not one, but three alarms (blackberry, cell phone, clock). Filing yesterday’s blog post took me well into the evening hour, and by the time I left my B&B, it was 4:30 and I hadn’t eaten. A quick swing through Taco Bell remedied that, and if I can make one recommendation to you, PopWatchers, it is this: Get yourself a 7 Layer burrito (6 layers if every tomato in the world is poisoned), a Cheesy Bean and Rice burrito and a large bottle of water. Find a nice spot on the front of the Bonnaroo mainstage guest bleachers. And then slowly eat the Taco Bell, relishing each bite, as B.B. King plays a wise, funny set that reminds you that 82, in the grand scheme of things, is really not that old.
Honestly, I felt bad for missing the first half of the day, but to walk into B.B. and his blues band taking the young crowd to school was the perfect start: After two jams from the band, the mayor of Manchester appeared on stage and presented Mr. King with the key to the city, a gesture that brought even the folks in the handicapped section to their feet and a tear to my eye. B.B. thanked her profusely, then sat down with Lucille in his lap. “I know you’re saying, ‘Oh child, B.B. You so old you can’t stand up and play no more?’” he said. The answer? Yep. He announced that he’s now “too old to break an egg”… but thank god he doesn’t make omlettes for a living. Instead, he rolled through the good times, including “When Love Comes to Town,” a Bono-penned tune he stopped after the first couple lines. “They don’t know the song,” he lamented. (“They don’t know the song!” his bandleader agreed, faux-shocked.) Once we’d been appropriately chastized, things could proceed. Consider yourself witnesses to greatness, Bonnaroo. I doubt I’ll be able to lift my arms when I’m 82, let alone put on a mainstage show this compelling.
Meanwhile, across the grounds, another legend was getting ready to ramble: Mr. Levon Helm, who brought the feeling of the midnight shows he’s been hosting at his upstate New York home to the Other Tent. Its tiny stage was packed to the gills: guitars, trumpet, trombone, sax, standup bass, keys, fiddle, mandolin… and of course, a golden drum kit off to the side, waiting for its tiny master. With little fanfare, he sat down, grinned from ear to ear, and launched into a set that would still be going two hours later when I swung by. The band opened with “Memphis” and the bump n’ grind of “Rain Down,” and then made the day of every tubby dude in a baseball cap with a celebratory “Ophelia.” At this point, I started wondering if music was better 30-40 years ago, or if it was just my last couple hours talking. Helm and King couldn’t be different in style– B.B. hardly ever stops his witty chatter, while Helm seems content to sit at the kit and let everyone else swirl around him– but they’re both the musical ancestors of every band at this festival, and they’re taking a well-deserved victory lap. The Tennessee hills smiled for both.
Quick hits: Iron & Wine lulling the crowd into focused slumber; Ben Folds (no five?) and “Kate” reminding me, for some reason, of the Barenaked Ladies; and a golf cart tour under a darkening sky past the tent where Sigur Ros would be playing in four hours and at least a hundred kids were clustered, waiting. On the mainstage, Jack Johnson was doing his happy barefoot acoustic pleasantry thing, now with 100% more Eddie Vedder, who joined him for a bro-duet (bro-et?) on “Constellations.” Note to future festival organizers: Sunset is the right time for Jack Johnson time. The crowd– larger than Metallica’s, if the sprawl out to the sides of the stage was any indication– ate him up with a spoon. I stood against the photo pit barricade, within pinching distance of both Olsen Twins, and tried not to piss off their three enormous bouncers.
Pearl Jam have been incredibly festival-wary ever since the tragedy at Roskilde in 2000, but let it be known that everyone seemed in fine fettle as they took the stage to a deafening roar at the end of a beautiful day. The lovely “Hard to Imagine” bled into “Corduroy,” then the outtake “All Night” showed up for the first time in history to test the song-recognition skills of everyone present. (For the record, neither I nor some people who really should have known could figure out what it was until we heard it.) “Elderly Woman…” was its usual en masse effort (Hel-LOOOOOOOO), and by the time things reached “Severed Hand”– a newish track now warm and familiar– Ed was coated in sweat, his Boy Scout uniform shirt soaked through as he reached out, imploring the audience to join him on whatever emotional plane he’d found. On “1/2 Full,” he pulled out my favorite Vedder trick: using his guitar as a mirror to reflect a stage spotlight out into the crowd, holding the exploding beacon above his head like He-Man’s rock n’ roll sword.
From the platform above the stage, the crowd was a literal rainbow of orange, red, yellow, green lights, faces and arms outstretched all the way back to the arch that marks the farthest spot on the mainstage field, at least a three-minute golf cart ride away. I ran a couple system checks to determine the ratio of Jamily to casual fan– do they know to boooom at Boom? do they have the hand gestures up and running?– and amazingly, I think most in attendance were just here because it’s Bonnaroo, and Pearl Jam are something to see. Last night’s wasn’t a greatest hits set, particularly, but who needs that? The strength of this band is in their ability to transfer their passion into others, “Jeremy” or not. Everyone stayed, everyone sang, everyone responded when Ed asked them to. “Music cannot make change,” he said at one point, saying it was instead the right and responsibility of each and every one of us to change our world. “Do you agree that this is the time and place for this kind of talk?” Yes. Yes we did.
Further snippets from the show stand out: the cover of “Reign O’er Me” that got me psyched for VH1 Rock Honors, and whose violent beauty I have decided to rename “Rain On Me” and dedicate to MMJ; the 4-minute breakdown in the middle of “Rearviewmirror” that reminded me the second word in this band’s name is, after all, “jam”; Ed comparing the crowd to Amsterdam (“If you told me to f— off in Dutch right now, I wouldn’t be surprised”); hearing “W.M.A.” live. Eventually, because I am an extraordinarily lucky girl and the Pearl Jam staff are the nicest people on the planet, I found myself on the side of the stage, able to look out from the band’s perspective and gasp at the sea of lighters that appeared during the opening chords of “Betterman.” The music quieted down, Mike McCready kneeled at the back line, at we all took a minute to marvel at the sparkling black. “F—in’ beautiful,” Ed said, before resuming the singalong.
At some point in here, I found myself with a video camera in hand and the honorary title of PJ videographer for the remainder of the show. That last sentence is braggy, but I loved what I saw through the viewfinder, and I’m in a sharing mood: I zoomed in on faces in the crowd, belting out words. I zoomed in on Ed’s bottle of wine as it traveled down the front row during “Crazy Mary.” I zoomed in on Ed as he dedicated “No More” to its lyricist, Tomas Young. (Get well soon, man.) And I panned the crowd as they punctuated every yeah! of “Alive” with fists, flags, hats, girlfriends, shirts, anything they could find. And then it was time for one more song, or “one more song before it gets all neon,” as Ed put it (beef! beef!): “All Along the Watchtower.” “Yellow Ledbetter” was on the set list; I’m still not sure if “Watchtower” replaced it or if they meant to follow Hendrix with “YL” but got booted from the stage for going an hour overtime. Either way, McCready fans got plenty of action there at the end. I’m pretty sure fans of music in general got their money’s worth.
Speaking of money… Back in the press trailer after the show, I paid a dollar to join a “When Will Kanye Go On” pool (I had 4:20, dammit). And THEN it was time for America’s fastest-growing game-show sensation, 1 A.M. Golf Cart Lottery! That’s the way to see this festival, PopWatchers: clinging to the back of a motorized Hot Wheels vehicle driven by a madman who may or may not have drank his weight in moonshine earlier that evening. (P.S. I would never, ever touch a drop of moonshine. Not ever. Which is why I absolutely, positively, did not take a swig from a soda bottle myself at any point last night. Ever.) There’s no rhyme or reason to 1 A.M. Golf Cart Lottery– you just hang on and see where it takes you. First stop: Firebreathers! Second stop: Lupe Fiasco, just in time to hear “Superstar”! Third stop: the porta-potties 20 yards away from where we’d been parked but certain members of our party were too lazy to walk! Fourth stop: Sigur Ros and their soaring Icelandic fairy music, which is apparently “beautiful” when one is on nitrous, and where I had a brief Wayne Coyne sighting! Back into the night we went, whizzing past the outer walls of Centeroo (best graffiti: “Metallica Sucked”) to Ghostland Observatory and their laser light show, from whose backyard I could hear Phil Lesh do “Truckin’ ”… to Talib Kweli, who may have also taunted Kanye a little, taunting Kanye being the sport du jour for everyone, it seemed… a drive around to the mainstage to see if Kanye was anywhere near starting, considering it was at this point at least 45 minutes past his scheduled set time. No dice, but a dude hanging out in his car in VIP camping posited the theory that Mr. West wouldn’t go on until everyone else stopped playing. This would prove to be almost exactly correct.
At 3:45 a.m., the Pearl Jam trucks rolled out the front gates, and my group of stronghearted companions and I decided it was time to head for the soundboard to wait on His Egoness. We approached the bridge backstage that leads to said soundboard. We were told we could not pass. This was particularly irksome because many of my companions were in possession of the all-powerful “Infinity” laminates, meaning that they are rather in charge of, you know, running the festival. “Infinite isn’t so infinite anymore,” one security guard said. We asked who the guards worked for, Bonnaroo or Kanye. “Kanye is Bonnaroo right now,” we were told. It was 4:10 a.m. From the mainstage, we could hear the crowd booing.
So what do you do when you can’t use your fancy passes? You mingle with gen pop. Thankfully, gen pop was only about 30,000 strong at this point (though that’s bigger than I expected by far), and as we wandered out into the crowd, the skies overhead began to lighten. What good is a glow in the dark show at dawn, I ask you? Not very. I left after most of a dully stripped-down “Heard ‘Em Say.” Now that I know he only played an hour, maybe I should have stayed. But at the risk of starting my own beef with the man– that’s right, Kanye, I ain’t skeered– I really do not think the kind of self-importance that leads to demanding your set be moved to the mainstage then rescheduled for night at which point you will force a crowd full of tired, broken children to stand in a field for two and a half hours past your rescheduled start time is anything I wish to support. You are a rich, rich man, Kanye. You make good music that people like. Stop being such a douche all the time.
And on that note, I’m off to see Aimee Mann, kids. See ya tomorrow for my recap of a short, calm Sunday, and Tuesday for a look back at the highlights. I can tell you one thing that won’t be on that.