Bonnaroo 2012 has begun in splendid fashion. The day’s high temperatures never got out of the low 80’s, which is practically Springtime at Bonnaroo. From a musical perspective, Thursday already saw a slate of performances by Southern Rockers The Dirty Guv’nhas, Mexi-Punk Fusion band Mariachi El Bronx, and Funk revivalists Orgone.
We began the second half of our day with a show by some hometown favorites, Nashville’s Moon Taxi. Already a band with a significant cult following due to their New Years Eve shows in Nashville, their position on the lineup allowed them to draw a spillover crowd, with many late comers just getting into Centeroo and being drawn in by Moon Taxi’s impressive light show and Jam Rock infused Progrrssive Rock. Their hour long set was heavy on the trippy Jam their fans have come to expect, pulling from the band’s entire catalog. But what Jam show would be complete without a mind blowingly re-imagined cover and Moon Taxi delivered, showing off their Hard Rock chops with a sludgy cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of.”
Closing out Bonnaroo Thursday night in That Tent was Alabama Shakes. With a critically lauded album recently released and a high profile tour supporting Jack White building momentum, Alabama Shakes entered Bonnaroo on as much of a buzz wave as any band in Bonnaroo Thursday history.
But not content to rest on reputation, the Athens, Alabama quartet hit the stage with a determination to prove every kind critical word true. Playing to an overpacked house that spilled out across the street, Alabama Shakes seamlessly blended the blistering Funk guitar of Heath Fogg with the driving Rock rhythm section of bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson. Holding court over it all was the soulful voice and commanding stage presence of Brittany Howard. By the time Alabama Shakes left the stage, they left no doubt why they have already been nominated for an Americana Music Award for Best Emerging Artist and are considered by most to be odds on favorites for this year’s Grammy for Best New Group.
After Alabama Shakes, it was time to enter a time machine to the 1930’s by way of Bonnaroo’s Solar Stage courtesy of The Carnivalesque Cabaret. One of Bonnaroo’s little known gems, the Cabaret is part burlesque show, part belly dance demonstration and part Vaudeville comedy show.
The look of the Solar Cafe area helped create the illusion, with the partially enclosed tent structure calling up images of the “behind the tarp” shows at old time traveling carnivals. The performers also played up the feel of the past. The comedian, named Sammich the Tramp, looks like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Manson and plays up the silent mimic comedy of Chaplin and Keaton perfectly.
The burlesque artists, courtesy of Nashville’s own Panty Raid, all played the part as well. Defying the current trend of stick-thin sex symbols, these ladies looked like the voluptuous and curved vixens of yesteryear, much more Betty Page than Jessica Alba. Their routines, set to everything from The White Stripes to Led Zeppelin, were beautifully coreographed mini stories.
If you see the striptease aspect of burlesque and associate it with what you can get at your local Showclub, you owe it to yourself to see the Carnivalesque Cabaret for yourself. While the revealing of skin is an important part, it is only a piece of a bigger story being told. It is to nude feature “dancing” what an artful nude painting is to Penthouse.
The bellydancer could have stuck out in the sea of comedy and striptease but only managed to enhance the illusion of an old-time carnival. Her pair of appearances in between the other aspects of the show brought to mind the “exotic taste of a foriegn land” that a Carny might use to sell tickets to a Midwestern audience.
Bonnaroo begins in earnest on Friday, with performances by headliners Radiohead as well as Rodrigo y Gabriela, Sam Bush, and more. We will be providing coverage of Friday’s shows as well as bringing you an interview with The Dirty Guv’nahs live on-site at Bonnaroo 2012. Click Subscribe at the top of the page to have every update delivered right to your inbox.