Thursday night at Bonnaroo was an introduction for some, and a reacclimation for others. This year the festival ditched the giant bobbleheads of years past in favor of a flaming mechanical pig, added a giant screen to broadcast the World Cup on, and filled their Thursday night with some of the most exciting bands on the lineup.
Nashville-based Bully opened the festival, with a time slot as unopposed as Elton John’s. Luckily for Bully, quite a few fans were eager to get the festival going and the band enjoyed a large crowd of curious listeners.
Those curious ears were rewarded with punk-y alt-rock and growling female vocals, recalling contemporaries Speedy Ortiz.
Bully singer Alicia Bognanno comes off as alt-rock-lite, not quite jarring or brutal enough to stand up alongside the Kim Gordon’s of the world, but certainly not a pop singer. The tunes were catchy and strong, if not a little obvious, and the crowd was definitely into it.
Bully was the perfect appetizer for the Thursday crowd.
Cass McCombs has a secret weapon on tour with him, Joe Russo. If you know that name I could probably just quit writing right now and you’d get the picture. But for those not familiar with the former Benevento-Russo Duo drummer (who plays with everyone from Furthur to Morning Teleportation in his spare time), he is one of the most accomplished and entertaining drummers in music today. Russo has his hands in so many cookie jars, it’s hard to say how many times he’s played the farm, but he’s certainly no stranger. He filled the tall shoes of John Bonham at last year’s Bonnaroo with his Zeppelin cover band, Bustle In Your Hedgerow.
Which isn’t to take anything away from McCombs. If any complaint can be made about Russo it’s that he’s… distracting. But it’s hard to distract from the great material that made up Cass McCombs’ set.
Embracing his jammier side, McCombs lead his band through several breezy, grooving tracks. But the band knew when to pick up the energy, and fan favorites like “County Line” were the highlight of this set.
Real Estate brought a big crowd, and then lost a big crowd, but their set was anything but a gamble. Being a young indie band that are finally starting to see their hard work pay off, it was inevitable that Real Estate would run in to some confused faces. People who’d heard from more music-savvy friends how great the band is and showed up for a party were disappointed, but a party band Real Estate is not.
Instead Real Estate is the kind of band that makes a sweaty tent in a field feel intimate. Real Estate show up and play their songs to the sunset and either you like them or you don’t. There aren’t a lot of frills, just expertly crafted, convincingly delivered songs.
Real Estate provides a perfect example of why Bonnaroo is known for being eclectic. Some bands bring the songs; some bands bring the jams, and that’s variety.
In a sea of warm vibes and chilled out jams, Cloud Nothings were a defibrillator to the psyche. Aggression is the word, exemplified by the lightning fast flurry of bass notes and borderline assault on the electric guitar. Oh yeah, and a fucking mosh pit broke out. At Bonnaroo.
This might come as no surprise to some, but their records hardly do the band justice.
The sheer brutality in Cloud Nothings live show is unmatched by any other contemporary rock bands I’ve seen in the last 5 years, if they can even be considered a rock band. So far on the fringes of metal and hardcore at times, it’s hard to place exactly what Cloud Nothings are doing, but it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be out of place playing alongside bands like Big Black or Bad Brains.
Like Sonic Youth before them, Cloud Nothings dare to combine the best of both worlds into an onslaught on the audience that doesn’t let up until the last note drains from Dylan Baldi’s guitar.