Solange jams with Ghostface, Animal Collective jams with ‘Police Academy’ guy, Macca jams with history
The pallid Brits of Foals might not write the most memorable hooks or have winning stage personalities, but at Bonnaroo they will forever be remembered as the group who played music good enough to convince a woman to crowd-surf on an inflatable crocodile. Midway into their “Bad Habit,” a standout among the group’s bass-heavy, danceable noise-rock, something must have snapped in her, because she took to the croc like Captain Hook in search of his lost hand. The inflatable animal was confiscated just in time for Foals to play “Milk & Black Spiders.” KORY GROW
9. Superjam, feat. DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q, Solange, Chad Hugo, RZA, Redman, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Inspectah Deck
The first hip-hop-themed edition of Bonnaroo’s long-running “Superjam” noodle sessions was anticlimactic and messy — but we should have expected nothing less than disappointment after ?uestlove unearthed D’Angelo for his own Superjam in 2012. With a parade of rappers backed by ’70s-tweaked hard-funk crew Lettuce, the set was mostly Wu-Tang members wandering over after completely dominating the Which Stage. There was some serious jamming involved — DJ Jazzy Jeff and Lettuce drummer Adam Deltch ran circles around James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” though Deltch’s heavy right foot seems more indebted to DJ Premier than Clyde Stubblefield. And, yes, it certainly seemed most special when famous people popped by to do covers: Schoolboy Q covered Nas’s “NY State of Mind,” (this was a beautiful moment in which a California rapper got a Tennessee crowd to yell, “New York, New York”) and Solange covered the Fugees’ version of “Killing Him Softly,” hitting those soaring notes in the bridge with relaxed ease and liquid cool. Unannounced guests Redman and Method Man finished everything with their usual shot of crowd-surfing, water-throwing, adrenaline — even though they had already surprised us once with “Da Rockwilder” a few hours earlier.
But when it was bad, it was brutal. The tepid crowd response to Neptunes’ Chad Hugo playing N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug,” made one of the greatest hip-hop beats of all time feel like homework. And RZA, taking swigs from a bottle of vodka, couldn’t seem to remember his own lyrics, wandering around the stage like Ozzy. When he got lost (which was almost immediately) he would begin rapping other songs. What probably should have been Gravediggaz’ “Diary of a Madman” became Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck”; “Triumph” ultimately turned into “C.R.E.A.M.” Other times, he just stood in place and danced. “I got to make a confession,” he said. “I’m getting nice and fucked up in here.” CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN
Superjam partial setlist
DJ Jazzy Jeff – “Funky Drummer” (James Brown)
DJ Jazzy Jeff – “The Payback” (James Brown)
Schoolboy Q – “NY State of Mind” (Nas)
Schoolboy Q – “There He Go”
Schoolboy Q – “Collard Greens”
Chad Hugo – “What Happened to that Boy?” (Baby feat. Clipse)
Chad Hugo – “Superthug” (N.O.R.E.)
RZA –”Diary of a Madman”
RZA – “Triumph”
RZA and Chad Hugo – “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” (Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
RZA – “Family Affair” (Sly and the Family Stone)
Solange – “Killing Me Softly” (Fugees via Roberta Flack)
Solange – “Umi Says” (Mos Def)
Ghostface Killah, U-God and Solange – “Cherchez La Ghost”
Redman – “Tonight’s the Night”
Redman – “Da Goodness”
Redman and Method Man – “Part II”
Redman and Method Man – “Da Rockwilder”
Wu-Tang Clan – “C.R.E.A.M.”
With a vintage nearing 20 years, alt-rockers Wilco are ripe enough to know how to work a crowd. For 90 minutes, they leaned on their oft-celebrated 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrotslightly more than their most recent record, 2011′s The Whole Love. And while a good portion of the concertgoers laid down, waiting for Sir Macca later, Wilco still managed to turn a few heads. They invited members of Calexico, who played earlier in the day, onstage to join them on the Yankee song “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and in between frontman Jeff Tweedy & Co.’s seamless texturing of guitars, the singer even took a few minutes to crack wise. “Stick around, Paul McCartney’s next,” he said “I’m not familiar with his work, but stick around.” K.G.
7. Pretty Lights
Someplace invisible in the mist of smoke that surrounded the Which Stage, DJ Derek Smith affirmed his Pretty Lights moniker with a wide array of lasers, bright mattes of color and, of course, the ubiquitous and effective all-white background. The mammoth-sized audience reciprocated, throwing fistfuls of glow sticks towards the heavens and shining their own custom lights from a football field away, as Smith assaulted them with a hip-hop–inspired blend of EDM. He didn’t speak much, instead offering the occasional aside, like, “If y’all like this jazzy shit, let me know.” K.G.
6. Charli XCX
On stage, British sensation Charli XCX seemed like an Internet-generation pop star around which multiple ideas collided at once — a voice like Björk, a look like Britney, a band that looks like Wavves, a grip on the mic as tight as Trent Reznor’s, a cover of the Backstreet Boys (not everyone was singing along, but the people who did were really singing along), and a nod to EDM culture: “This song’s about taking E, so if you’re on pills, this song’s for you,” she said before introducing “Take My Hand.” But some things never change — like having a hit song. When she got to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” (she made sure to mention she was featured on it and wrote it), the crowd went ballistic, bounding up and down, raising hands, and smacking beachballs. C.W.
5. Animal Collective
The most notable jam of the evening wasn’t even advertised as “Super.” Michael Winslow, a.k.a. “the Man of 10,000 Sound Effects,” a.k.a. “the guy who makes all the noises in the Police Academy movies,” stopped by Animal Collective’s very late performance, making EDM-centric sounds until the band joined him and it blossomed into a song. As the night progressed for their 2 a.m.(!) set, the music became a mushy boom caught somewhere between the idyllic vibes of chillwave and the delirium of rave music — i.e., it was very early. C.W.
4. Bombino/Fatoumata Diawara
African music took over the That Tent in the afternoon, hypnotic grooves prompting a small but sturdy crowd to sway like blades of grass. Niger’s Bombino took heroic guitar solos for songs of rebellion — not a lot of English was spoken, but his raised hand said a lot (though the audience member yelling “Bombinoroo” could probably use a better battle-cry). Following his set, Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara took a sunnier approach, her voice soaring and floating, her body spinning, her hair whipping back and forth. C.W.
3. ZZ Top
How does a band take to a stage immediately following a Beatle? Well, with a devil-may-care, hearty “haw-haw-haw,” some fuzzy white guitars and, of course, beards that stretch out for days. Although ZZ Top delayed their set by about a half an hour, as Sir Paul floated over his published ending time, they took the stage with aplomb and promptly rattled through a bevy of blues, including “Tush,” “La Grange,” “Tube Snake Boogie,” and “Waitin’ for the Bus.” As vocalist-guitarist Billy Gibbons and an unusually plush-looking vocalist-bassist Dusty Hill swapped verses on songs like “Pincushion,” they drove it home with coordinated body grooves which thankfully steered clear of drummer Frank Beard’s giant skull-front drumheads. These Sharp-Dressed Men even had a costume change. K.G.
2. Wu-Tang Clan
Despite only rolling with seven of the eight living members (they’ll still do “Ice Cream” without you, Raekwon!), the Wu-Tang were a powerful, merciless force. Barely giving the sea of fans time to catch their breath, they played hits back to back to back to back, going a good 30 minutes before dwelling outside of RZA’s 1993-1996 victory run. Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa had energy and volume that seemed ready to swordfight with Death Grips, RZA asked for some Southern hospitality (that’s applause), and Method Man got to interpolate Hall & Oates at a fest where Oates was actually playing. As for the lyrics of Ol’ Dirty Bastard? Those were chanted by everyone; no hologram needed. C.W.
1. Paul McCartney
Only Paul McCartney can tell a story about Jimi Hendrix asking Eric Clapton to tune his guitar and not sound like a total name-dropping douchebag. Only McCartney can play songs like “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Eight Days a Week,” “Band on the Run,” and “Live and Let Die” — the latter, punctuated by pyro-kabooms and streamers of fireworks — and not sound like the live band at your mom’s Saturday-night bar. Only Paul can cap off “Back in the U.S.S.R.” with a “Free Pussy Riot!” and a story about Soviet dignitaries telling him they learned English from “Love Me Do.” Only Sir McCartney can play for nearly three hours and still have a crowd in the tens of thousands captivated enough to sing every “na-na-na” of “Hey Jude.” K.G.
The stretch of highway from the Nashville airport to Manchester, Tennessee — which, if you’ve ever, even once, even accidentally, heard a Phish song, you might recognize as the home of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival — is, for the most part, as standard as they come. There are a couple of deviations: for one, instead of just your regular McDonald’s and Burger Kings, roadside Krystals and Chick-fil-As beckon as well. Oh, also: Say you think, at first, you’re listening to a radio station that’s soberly analyzing Middle Eastern geopolitics. What you’re actually hearing, it turns out, is a conversation about whether or not recent clashes in Damascus mean the biblically prophesied end of days are nigh. And they will break out the appropriate Book of Revelation verses to compare and contrast. Welcome to the South!
Before I actually arrive at the campgrounds, I get a phone call from a Bonnaroo rep: Would I like to check out rehearsals for a Superjam? If the term sounds familiar, it might be thanks to one of last year’s iterations, when Questlove lured beautiful recluse D’Angelo onto the Bonnaroo stage for an instantly legendary set of Hendrix and Zeppelin cuts. This year, Bonnaroo has put together its first hip-hop Superjam. On hand will be: RZA, Solange, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q, Pharrell’s partner in crime Chad Hugo, and, serving as the spine of the operation, the long-serving funk band Lettuce. Of course, I answer “yes” immediately, turn the car back toward Nashville, and find — tucked between Civil War–era Fort Negley and the local Dianetics Center (“How does Scientology work? Come in and find out!”) — SIR Studios.
The rehearsal room is a big, wide space with high ceilings and padded white walls dotted with black rhombuses of, presumably, sound-muffling material. I get there during what’s supposed to be a dinner break, but the music hasn’t actually stopped. Jazzy Jeff, in dark sunglasses and a Phillies hat, is spinning early Michael Jackson; as I walk in, Chad Hugo, casually rad in a white T-shirt and Lennon glasses, struts by me, still singing along to the bass groove on “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”
Meanwhile, the dudes in Lettuce are running between instruments, jamming along: These are the kind of music nerds who consider it a fun break from work to play instruments other than their regular instruments. (Later, Hugo will pick up a trumpet and jam like he’s been playing it his whole life; at another point, a guy with a snapback pulls out, I swear to God, a flute.) Guest keyboardist Borahm Lee, who’s played with Kanye West, jumps on Nigel Hall’s Rhodes, and promptly gets booted. “You can’t play Rhodes anymore,” Hall, in cargo shorts and a GI Joe hat, shouts out. “You’re done!” Lee, quietly, smiling: “Oh. You just smashed me.” Then the band turns its attention to the deep cuts Jazzy Jeff is dropping. “Sounds like a Fela Kuti beat,” one of the horn guys calls out. “That’s Harvey Mason! Are you fucking kidding me?” Hall responds, bug-eyed, incredulous about the obscurities being trotted out.
Corey Smyth, who managed Black Star and produced Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, is the dude who pulled these other dudes together. The loose concept, he explains, is to pay tribute to some of the great sources and practitioners of hip-hop sampling. (Without giving too much of Friday’s set list away: At one point, Hall trots around the floor, mic in hand, doing a damn fine James Brown impersonation.) Smyth says Jeff was the first person he called, and once he said yes, “the dominoes started to fall.” There were a few different iterations, and, of course, the understanding that it all might fall apart — Earl Sweatshirt was supposed to be there, but had to cancel his Bonnaroo appearances due to pneumonia; Solange is slated to get into rehearsal after a 15-hour trek from Zurich — or never quite click. But that’s part of the fun. “I learned a long time ago to let the creative happen,” Smyth says. “If you sit back, they work on the bonds themselves.”
Jeff’s done this kind of thing before, with the Roots, so I wonder if he asked for any advice from Questlove, whose Superjam went off so well last year. “Not at all,” he shoots back, smiling, supremely confident in his abilities. “My job is to add spice, to fill in the gaps,” he explains. “You have a real loose, rough structure, and with such accomplished musicians, it can be an awesome show.” So no nerves? “Not one bit. All nervousness is out the window. You come in with an open mind, you hear how great the band is — and, after a couple of days, you realize, you’re just dealing with fellow music lovers.”
After food, the rest of the band shuffles in. It’s a motley bunch: a saxophonist in a Supreme cap, a guitarist in Jordans and a bright red fitted, a bassist with long, blond metal-dude hair cascading down his neck. Drummer Adam Deitsch is the designated bandleader, but pretty much everyone takes their turn to chime in, shouting out instructions over the din and singing out chords: “E Flaaaaat! B maaaaaajor!” Here and there Lee drops in with samples, including the sound of Rev Run’s voice chanting out “body movin’” and “krush groovin’.” When track lists are handed around someone calls out, “Is this a W-9?”
Solange shows up only 15 minutes past schedule, looking — in a pink, lacy dress, tie-dyed platforms, and long braids — all the fresher for just having arrived from the land of the Swiss. Introductions are made, during which the guitarist drops his ax with a loud clang. Everyone laughs but he shrugs it off: “It’s a good guitar! American made!” Solange takes her spot at the lip of an imaginary stage, and, one hand in her dress pocket, immediately starts grooving. The chatter is continuous: “Should we go up a half a key? G? Are we doing G? Go to G? Let’s go to G.”
CX, a friend of the band, shows up, in tropical cotton shorts and slippers, to much hooting and hollering. “The brother CX is in the building …” Hall calls out, and as more screams arise, “… in what appears to be his pajamas.” They roar louder. Now Nigel’s practicing stage banter, with input:
“Ladies and gentleman, the Wu Tang Clan.”
“Don’t say the Wu Tang Clan.”
“From the Wu Tang Clan. The mastermind of the Wu Tang Clan.”
It’s around 10 people, quibbling, finessing, and bullshitting, fueled equally by Jameson and Skittles. But when they drop in, they drop in together. At one point, Lettuce lock in on a particularly aggressive rendition of Dilla’s “Workinonit,” and get cooking. Eye contact is exchanged, as are pleased smiles, but, for once, as the beat really builds, no one says anything.
by Amos Barshad