The hoopla of the 10th anniversary is through, and it’s back to business as usual for the East’s biggest summer music festival. In a way, that’s a good thing. The retreads that dominated last year in the name of sales have been minimized in favor of fresh blood, there’s an entire subset of silent-film scoring that most will probably never see, and this year’s festival just looks far richer than last overall. Analysis paralysis is the death of a good time here, however, so in the interest of fun expediency, here’s one man’s path to the end. The event is from Thursday, June 7 to Sunday, June 10.
Bad Brains: Band In DC (Cinema, 12 p.m.) It seems implausible that someone is just now getting around to making a documentary on Bad Brains, but as Bad Brains: Band In DC depicts, they aren’t exactly the easiest group to corral. Filmed primarily during the group’s 2007 reunion tour, the film includes a ton of fan-submitted archival footage, some animation and deliciously adulating interviews with professional fanboys like Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye. Each of the four members of the band get face time as well, though of course frontman and certifiable nutcase HR chews up every bit of scenery he can.
Water Knot (Lounge, 4 p.m.) An extremely Brit-alternative-sounding band from NYC, they’re flying so far under the radar that they might as well still be in the hangar. Just give it some time, though.
Danny Brown (This, 7 p.m.) Orgone (That, 7 p.m.) It might as well be a coin flip between two acts that demand undivided attention. Motor City’s Danny Brown is the Franz Mesmer of lyrical hypnotists, but the LA funk and Afrobeat crew Orgone are a no-bailout-required, well-oiled machine.
Moon Taxi (That, 8:30 p.m.) White Denim (Other, 8:45 p.m.) In a sense, both bands are throwbacks; White Denim to the juiced-up Kinks-y garage rock, and Moon Taxi to Bonnaroo circa-2003. Both bands are awash in primitive energy, but also speak to two very different subsets of the festival’s audience.
K. Flay (Silent Disco, 9 p.m.) Before Kreayshawn and Iggy Azalea demanded that privileged white women be able to rap as awfully as any man, there was K. Flay. It’s a safe bet that her DJ skills are nearly as suspect as her mic skills.
Alabama Shakes (This, 11:30 p.m.) The spirit of Otis Redding apparently found a resting place in the body of one young singer name Brittany Howard. Her band Alabama Shakes’ well-received debut Boys & Girls was at its core boilerplate soul, but their sterling execution will propel it among the best of 2012.
The Chris Gethard Show (Comedy, 2 a.m.) Trapped in the Closet Sing-Along (Cinema, 2:15 a.m.) To be clear, no one is stopping anyone from having a drunken group sing-along to all 22 chapters of R. Kelly’s Trapped In the Closet saga at 2:15 a.m. on any given night. When it comes time to shout, “Man, what the hell is that smell? Somebody done broke wind,” it will matter that there are at least a few hundred others to absorb the blame. On the other hand, comedian Chris Gethard has one of the most surreal shows ever to hit public access, and he’ll be walking from Los Angeles to Bonnaroo over the course of 12 days with no money, phone, car or anything of the sort. The craziest part? He lives in Queens.
Steven Bernstein’s MTO Plays Sly (Other, 12 p.m.) Sex Mob’s Steven Bernstein is a noted jazz deconstructor of pop and rock covers, and with his 12-piece MTO Orchestra that features Ben Allison and Bernie Worrell, he’ll be giving the avant garde treatment to the best of Sly Stone.
Trixie Whitley (Lounge, 1:20 p.m.) In a weekend full of volcanic vocalists like Sharon Jones, Brittany Howard, Sandra St. Victor and Reggie Watts, a striking young blonde girl born to blues great Chris Whitley stands head and shoulders above them all.
Trixie Whitley was the voice on one of the most underrated albums of this young decade — Black Dub’s self-titled — and her solo work finds its spirit in vocal jazz and gut-wrenching soul.
Marc Maron, World Champion Judah Friedlander and Amy Schumer (Comedy, 2:30 p.m.) World Champion Judah Friedlander is going to officiate a wedding this weekend for one lucky (desperate?) couple who humbly sought his services via Twitter. It’s probably going to be during this set, and yours truly will be their wedding photographer.
Colin Hay (Sonic, 3 p.m) Save “Who Can It Be Now” and “Down Under” for the comedy sets earlier in the day; bring “Overkill” and “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” to this one.
Fitz & the Tantrums – That/Little Dragon (This, 5 p.m.) There’s hardly a cooler looking group of people in music that Fitz & the Tantrums and their new-wave/retro-soul oeuvre plays perfectly to the late afternoon, when temperature allows for the (responsible) hammering of beers. They’re a fun band, even if they feel like they’ve peaked after a single album. Little Dragon, on the other hand, look fairly bland and have almost no energy outside of what comes with their pops and snares, but their music is otherworldly.
Ludacris (This, 6:45 p.m.) It’s muthafu**in’ Luda, mane (sic), what else is there to say?
Foster the People (Which, 8:45 p.m.) They really didn’t offer many other options, did they?
Major Lazer (This, 12:30 p.m.) Black Star (That, 12:30 p.m.) Mark Foster DJ set (Silent Disco, 12:30 p.m.) Two celebrity producers vs. two celebrity MCs vs. one celebrity with a laptop. Major Lazer was almost a can’t-miss simply on the dancehall-electro duo’s colorful hypeman/toaster Skerrit Bwoy, but then he had to go and find Jesus and now we’re left watching Diplo and Switch Instagram crowd shots. Mos and Talib are sure bets for an awesome set, while it’ll be 1:29 a.m., you’ll be standing there with gargantuan headphones on, and Mark Foster still won’t have let the beat drop.
Big Freedia (Other, 3:15 a.m.) Repeat after me: azz everywhere, azz everywhere, azz everywhere, azz everywhere, azz everywhere, azz everywhere, azz everywhere. Twenty minutes later, Big Freedia has hopped a plane back to the Big Sleazy to get a milk punch at the Ninth Circle, and you’re still dropping the boom on a stranger’s head wondering why they call it Sissy Bounce.
Darondo (This, 12:30 p.m.) Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires (What, 1 p.m.) In a year full of scheduling faux pas, opposing the two deep-soul acts is among the oddest. But as amazing of a story as the once-homeless Charles Bradley possesses, his songbook can’t buckle the knees quite like that of the festival’s second-flakiest invitee Darondo. The sweet, sweet crooner’s lost-but-found track “Didn’t I” might never take its rightful place in the recognized canon of great soul, but at least a rare Darondo performance (backed by the Park) might help bring his music back into the light of day.
Bad Brains (That, 1:45 p.m.) Das Racist (This, 2 p.m.) Didn’t arrive early enough for the Bad Brains documentary? No worries. The festival’s most flaky single performer has aged out of pinning audience members down and shrieking “Big Takeover” three inches from their faces, but HR still isn’t and never will be quite right, and that always makes for good drama.
Punch Brothers (Which, 4 p.m.) Because you’ve got a better chance at seeing Chris Thile up close among the 90,000-plus at Bonnaroo than at MerleFest.
Puscifer (That, 5 p.m.) SBTRKT (This, 5:15 p.m.) If the Van Halen tribute nonsense is actually just that, there’s almost no chance that bass prodigy SBTRKT’s weird slot sticks. The indignation is just too fierce. Seeing Maynard James Keenan in a smallish space — even if he’s reigning in the pipes considerably and playing weirdly funny, darkly sexual ambient music in an attempt to sell you clothes — is a numinous experience.
Danzig Legacy (That, 6:45 p.m.) It’s almost a guarantee that that dark diva Danzig will wait until the sun has set before taking the stage to perform a career retrospective that includes solo stuff, the more gothic Samhain material and the best of the Misfits with fellow musclehead Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein.
Spectrum Road (Other, 12 a.m.) Superjam (This, 12:45 a.m.) Having 75 minutes to dissect the career of one of the most prolific and influential jazz drummers ever is like going to the Thirsty Monk in Asheville and having to pick the first beer you see. There’s no wrong, but so much is being left on the table. There’s no indication who’ll be playing Superjam, but Spectrum Road’s crew of Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Jack Bruce (Cream), John Medeski and Cindy Blackman Santana (the virtuosic drummer in Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” video) are a Superjam of sorts unto themselves.
Unchained “The Mighty Van Halen Tribute” (That, 2 a.m.) GZA with Grupo Fantasma (This, 2:30 a.m.) Booking a Van Halen tribute band given how awful the real thing is these days might be preferable, but putting them in one of the festival’s most coveted slots is a crime to many. They probably came cheap, and given the Scrooge McDuckian sum it took to book Eminem last year, probably warranted. Of course, Phish could walk out and play Diver Down followed by 1984, or this could be a real thing and GZA performing Liquid Swords in its entirety could be the most packed set of the weekend.
Delta Spirit (Which, 12:30 p.m.) As hard as it will be to become mobile before noon on Sunday, it’s amazing how a 95-degree tent can spur one to consciousness. Delta Spirit is worth the “early” arrival, even if Matthew Vazquez won’t be hanging from the ceiling for an encore like he did at their Grey Eagle show last month.
Honey Island Swamp Band (Lounge, 1:20 p.m.) The YES! Weekly crew caught these guys last summer at Tipitina’s in New Orleans for the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s annual convention and we approve. Hopefully, they’ll bring the strippers in nurse outfits with them.
The Beach Boys (What, 3 p.m.) It should take nothing less than massive head trauma to miss the closest thing to the original Beach Boys one can behold in 2012. The quasi-imposter crew led by Mike Love last summer was a reminder of how deep their catalog goes, and having crazy old Brian Wilson in the fold (how many times did he fall down at the Raleigh show) while he’s still performing is going to make my year.
Ben Folds Five (Which, 4:30 p.m.) Kenny Rogers (Other, 4:30 p.m.) Winston-Salem’s favorite son retired his charming cover of “Bitches Ain’t S*it“ on this very spot four years ago, so the urge to resurrect it might be too great. However, so is the impetus to wade around in “Lady” and “Islands In the Stream” just to hear “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” sung by a plasticized, too-tan Kenny Rogers.
The Shins (Which, 6:30 p.m.) Don’t be Manny Ramirez and stick around too long. Go out on top.
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