Beach Boys can still surf; Peppers pack ‘em in at BonnarooWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
While the band’s name no longer describes the members, the Beach Boys can still rock.
I went into the final day of the 2012 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival hoping they had enough left in the tank to pull together a decent performance of their classic hits. Apparently their tank overfloweth, because they obliterated their set.
Brian Wilson looks a little worse for wear than the other three remaining original members, but he still played inspired piano. His voice is coarser than before, but it sounded beautiful when he sang alone on “God Only Knows.” God only knows all of the demons Wilson has battled in his life, so it’s great to see him back to doing what he’s best at on tour.
Mike Love has taken the reins as leader of the band, and he displayed a natural ability to work the crowd. He made jokes to seamlessly transition from song to song. He winked and gestured at members of the crowd while taking the lead on a majority of tracks.
There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of their subject matter. Nearly everything they perform is about surfing, fast cars, treating your girl right or a combination of the three. The Beach Boys somehow touched on nearly every track from their greatest hits albums during the set. Just when I thought they’d capped them all off with “Kokomo,” I realized I was forgetting one of my favorites as they busted into “Barbara Ann.” Sticking around for it cost me the first song of Ben Folds set, but the price was well worth the reward.
The biggest surprise of the set was the Beach Boys’ new material. I went into Sunday hoping they’d minimize the new songs so it wouldn’t interfere with the classics. After performances of “The Good Times Never Have to End” and “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” I was craving more new tracks.
Getting to photograph the first three songs of the Beach Boys set from the front of the stage is a memorable career experience I’ll be telling my grandkids about someday.
The third day of the festival was filled with some memorable experiences as well, starting with “Community” actor Donald Glover taking the stage as his rap alter ego Childish Gambino. Glover’s rap career has skyrocketed in the past year. He went from a tent performance at Bonnaroo in 2011 to one of the headlining gigs on June 9.
Gambino’s lyrics often touch on not being taken seriously as just another black actor rapping because he can. For a talented comedic writer like Glover, who started as a writer on NBC’s “30 Rock,” it’s a deep well to pull from with verses like, “Man, why does every black actor got to rap some? I don’t know. All I know is I’m the best one” and “Nerdy ass black kid, whatever man I’m sick of him. That well-spoken token who ain’t been heard. The only white rapper who’s allowed to say the N-word.”
Glover also crafts lyrics on the fly. During technical difficulties, he freestyled for five minutes straight. It was right on par with any of his written material with lyrics like, “N***** think that I am so tight now. Back in high school that was bullshit. Talk about that shit. Yo I might clip, I might pull it. Not saying that I got a gun, but I might pull out one that goes ‘bang’ at the end just for fun.”
The Roots performance at my first Bonnaroo in 2007 was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Their set June 9 wasn’t quite on that level, but it was still a great show featuring hits like “The Seed 2.0” and even a cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” “Captain” Kirk Douglas was the highlight of the set when he spent several minutes scatting over his guitar solos.
The new discovery of Saturday was Dispatch. They are an established acoustic folk rock band I’d heard a couple of times before, but I never realized how good they were until seeing a live show. It was a high-energy performance with plenty of sing-alongs. The band even worked a cover of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” into their hit “Out Loud.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers played to the most packed crowd I’ve ever experienced at Bonnaroo. I started the set at the front of the stage and finished at the back of the crowd, from which the band looked like ants, to experience both ends of the spectrum. Anthony Kiedis started the set in a trench coat and eventually joined many of the festival goers in going shirtless. Flea opted to leave his shirt behind all together. The 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees played nearly every hit including my favorite, their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” My friend was bummed they didn’t play their other cover “Love Rollercoaster,” but it was still a solid show.
Along with the Beach Boys, Sunday’s lineup featured ALO, one of my other favorite West Coast surf bands. I’ve been waiting for years to see the band and they lived up to my lofty expectations. They are able to create a wealth of sound with just a guitar, bass, drums and piano.
Zach Gill is masterful on the keys and has smooth vocals, both of which he also puts to use as a member of Jack Johnson’s band. In their one-hour set they managed to give equal time to material from their past four albums. Gill jumped down to the front of the crowd during “Barbecue” as the band broke into a cover of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” They also closed the set with a cover, playing Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” I wanted to check out the band’s second set at 3 p.m., but unfortunately they were up against the Beach Boys. Gill said he was also bummed about being up against the Beach Boys when I ran into him later that day. He asked plenty of questions about their set. He was excited to catch Kenny Rogers though.
My biggest discovery of the weekend was Grouplove. Almost everyone has heard them whether they realize it or not as their hit “Tongue Tied” was featured on a recent Apple commercial. No band at the festival showcased more energy. The second they hit the stage, Hannah Hooper was jumping around and dancing in circles while Christian Zucconi was whipping his long hair around and playing guitar. I’ve had their debut album “Never Trust a Happy Song” on repeat since getting home from the festival.
Ben Folds and Bon Iver also put in solid sets on the main stages before I closed what was a very mellow Sunday with The Shins. A lot has changed for the band as James Mercer replaced his entire backing band for the album “Port of Morrow.”
Jessica Dobson, Joe Plummer, Richard Swift and Yuuki Matthews did a solid job on former Shins hits like “New Slang,” which turned into a big sing-along. I gave the album a 4 out of 5 when I reviewed it, but the live performances of the tracks would get a solid 5 out of 5. The band even jammed out on some of the more up-tempo tracks with great solos from Dobson on lead guitar.
With so many different acts performing, it’s always difficult to compare one year of Bonnaroo to the next. However, with the discovery of solid new acts like Grouplove and Yelawolf and seeing legends like the Beach Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers, 2012 was the best out of the five years I’ve attended the festival.