Bonnaroo 2009: Progging Out with The Decemberists, Mars Volta

Music  |  Features
Still royally tuckered out from some late-night Girl Talkin', day three at Bonnaroo was pretty mellow for me. I spent most of it catching the tunes at the Sonic Stage (Brett Dennen, Grace Potter, Heartless Bastards, etc.) where the lovely Paste oasis is stationed. In early evening, I caught a solid half hour of Athens, Ga. kooks, Of Montreal, who absolutely won me over. As soon as I return from Manchester, I plan on listening to their songs that have been sullenly sitting on my iPod, just waiting to be loved.

Once relieved from my shift at the Paste tent, I was all about the prog-rock indulgence. Two of my favorite bands from high school, The Decemberists and The Mars Volta, played overlapping sets at neighboring stages, competing for my attention with their virtuosic guitar solos and fantastical, convoluted storylines. The Decemberists took forever to go on, and I grew ansty while hearing Cedric Bixler-Zavala's infernal howl emanate wildly from the Which Stage, so I traded places. From then on, I cruised back and forth between the two stages, hearing many songs I didn't know by The Mars Volta (likely off of The Bedlam in Goliath, or maybe their new album, Octahedron, which drops next week), and parts of Hazards of Love, which the recent Paste cover artists played all the way through. I'm not nearly as big a fan of their latest metal-infused "folk opera" as I am of their earlier albums, but I did manage to hear some of its standouts, including "Annan Water." It also helps that stellar guest vocalists Shara Worden and Becky Stark have joined them for their recent live shows.

In terms of total time spent at one stage, The Mars Volta definitely won. Their set, chock full of Zeppelin-style guitar-shredding and microphone-stand gymnastics, featured a killer run-through of Amputecture's "Viscera Eyes," and at least a song or two off De-loused in the Comatorium and Frances the Mute. Sure, these guys might take themselves a tad too seriously, but it's difficult to deny their live presence. Maybe it was the result of being alone, or sporting that patterned headscarf I purchased earlier in the day, or just listening to the meandering guitar of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez...but I caught myself hippie dancing. Unabashedly. In plain sight. I don't know what came over me, but I couldn't stop from flailing about, entirely uninhibited. "Cyngus...Vismund Cygnus," clocked in at ten minutes at the very least--which might've irked me normally--but I was totally into it. Perhaps I've fully absorbed the Bonnaroo vibes by now and am just all about jamming out. I still refuse to see Phish tonight. 

I thought The Decemberists' set was long since over by the end of Volta's, but the band kept playing well past its allotted time. I was heading over to hear The Boss when the sounds of "O Valencia!" beckoned me back to the This Tent. That was soon topped by a hilariously awesome cover of Heart's "Crazy On You," which featured a Stark-and-Worden duet. It was great to catch the tail-end of their encore, but equally heartbreaking to learn that I had missed "The Engine Driver." It's still a sore subject. 

To pay tribute to my Jersey roots, I listened to a good hour of Springsteen's headlining set, but unfortunately passed out in our minivan before Nine Inch Nails took stage. The plot of land in front of said van has turned into a glorified mud pit, so hopefully we can make it out tonight without getting stuck. I might have to stay for Phish after all.

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