Satisfactorily crammed full of the greasiest food available to me, I took a leisurely stroll to the What Stage to have my mind blown by "Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires.
The best explanation I can come up with for Charles Bradley is that he’s a time-traveller from 1966. He crashed his Delorean into a barn and is now trying to raise money for the plutonium he needs to power it by being an irrepressibly authentic soul singer. Bradley doesn’t phone it in because he doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase. Every lyric oozes passion, every wail is for the back of Tent City – Bradley doesn’t care if he’s playing for 5,000 people or just five, he’s in it to perform and completely wrecks the joint.
I don’t think I can overstate just how outstanding Bradley is, both as a singer and a performer. The cornerstone of any good soul band is sincerity, and Bradley has it in spades. In a day where I’ll later see Glenn Danzig nearly fight a guy in the middle of his set (uh, more on that in a minute), it was still one of the best things I caught all day. Bradley won me over immediately, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish when you’re barely awake and baking from the sun.
As I walked away from the main stage, I noticed a line of people who were deliberately not entering the (wide open) pits in front of the stage for Bradley. These were Red Hot Chili Peppers fans, and they were to spend 10 hours in line. I knew that this was something that happened at Bonnaroo, but I didn’t realize that at 1 p.m., more than 30 people would already line the fences — mostly decked out in RHCP gear. Bless their dumb hearts. Later that night, a volunteer friend told me that some of the people likely waited even longer than that because they were camped out at the wristband scanners so that they could literally run to the opposite side of the field and wait in line. Apparently, some kid almost got trampled by the Radiohead stampede.
Seeing as how four of us were able to get into Radiohead with nothing more than timing and 45 minutes on our side, I question the logic of this. Part of me wanted to shake these people and tell them they’re doing it wrong. But most of me just wanted to go see Bad Brains.
So, hey, what the hell happened to Bad Brains? More precisely, what the hell happened to H.R.? I was warned long in advance not to expect the back flipping, stage diving, spasmodic H.R. from the ‘80s, but I didn’t think that meant, “Expect H.R. to come out dressed like a blond wig-sporting plantation owner, not really playing the guitar that’s cinched up to his chest.” The rest of the band still has it — within seconds of “Attitude,” played as blazingly fast as it was 30 years ago, the crowd kicked up the mother of all dust storms. It was like being in the middle of the Sahara, except with more mohawks.
Much of my afternoon was spent flitting between venues, watching partial sets for a handful of bands. Das Racist was funnily self-aware and probably a bit better live than they are on their records. Wild Cub was charming in their pop sensibilities. Oberhofer, who I dug so much yesterday that I saw them again at the Sonic Stage, still rules my Bonnaroo world. All of this was leading up to Childish Gambino and part two of my aging punks world tour — Danzig Legacy. Also, there were Korean barbecue tacos. See my previous statement about how you should give Chef Maloney money.
On paper, I’m supposed to like Childish Gambino. I like hip-hop. I like Donald Glover. Two great tastes that taste great together, right? I wish. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get down with Childish Gambino. And, believe me, I’m trying really hard.
From a performance standpoint, Glover can’t be matched. He’s the most dynamic rapper I’ve ever seen onstage, making full use of the massive Which Stage to whip up the crowd. He’s fun to watch — I just don’t think he’s a very good rapper. You know how I just mentioned the importance of sincerity in soul music? That goes for hip-hop too, especially the kind of backpacker-inspired alternative hip-hop that Glover pursues with Childish Gambino. Unlike Das Racist, he’s utterly lacking in self-awareness, which has him going hard and confusing everyone. It’s not as bad as when MC Hammer tried to be 2Pac, but the dissonance there is heavy.
Danzig Legacy pulled me away from Childish Gambino like a tractor beam, and man, was I not disappointed. The Danzig Legacy show is basically what any other band on the planet would just call “a show.” Glenn Danzig and a crew of hired hands burn through the new record, throwing in a handful of older cuts, before moving on to Misfits (with Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, number three in the legion of Misfits guitarists) and his first record. And it was amazing.
Unlike Bad Brains, Danzig — who at this point is basically all torso — is still completely in control. He may be visibly winded after a handful of songs and he did make three costume changes over an hour-and-a-half, but he brings it. Maybe he brings it a little too hard. About midway through the first set, Danzig suddenly tore off stage, looking like he was going to kick somebody’s ass. We’re not exactly clear on what was happening — I assumed the feedback drove Danzig to seeing red, but others have said that it was actually Scene photographer Michael Bunch* who drew the Killer Wolf’s ire — but when Danzig was pulled back from the barrier, he stormed off, saying to the audience, “There’s always two assholes trying to fuck shit up. Fuck you and fuck you.”
* Editor's Note: Scene photog Michael Bunch did indeed have a lot to do with Danzig's storm-off, and we have more on that — including video — coming your way soon.
If this was part of the show, Glenn Danzig is a genius. No one, not even the guitarist vamping for time, seemed sure if he was coming back. He reappeared after a short delay, wearing a gimp mask and singing Samhain songs. Crisis averted, apparently. Thank God for that, because once the Misfits set happened, he and Doyle did “Night of the Living Dead” and “Astrozombies” back to back. My inner teenager has never been happier. I’m mostly just glad nobody got punched by any aging punk rockers today. It's a Bonnaroo miracle!