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Wolfmother, Decemberists Bring the Rock

Unfortunately, my rock’n’roll vacation is drawing to a close, and by day four of Bonnaroo I am on the brink of exhaustion. However, things in Manchester didn’t slow a bit, and after making the morning rounds, I jetted over to the Which Stage to kick back on a blanket and relax during the Wolfmother set. At least that was the plan. The band had another idea.

From the moment the three-piece took the stage it was an unbridled headbangers ball, complete with crowd surfing, fist pumping, self-indulgent soloing and everything that is missing from rock’n’roll today. It was difficult not to think of AC/DC and Black Sabbath as epic riffs pour from singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale’s double neck Gibson SG and the fuzzy haired Aussie flailed around stage, bouncing off the drum risers, soloing behind his head and playing to the crowd from atop the monitors at the front of the stage. “I think we’re just going to jam a bit if that’s alright,” Stockdale informed the approving crowd after blazing through “Woman,” “Tales,” and a new track, “Pleased to Meet You.” During this bass-driven jam, the chaos reached its pinnacle when Stockdale carelessly threw his guitar offstage and began swinging the microphone feverishly overhead. Just in front of me, a topless girl danced like no one is looking, and I heard a middle aged man behind me shout to his friends, “These guys rock!” Thunderous applause followed, and suddenly I felt like I could stay a few more days. Fan or not, if you didn’t enjoy Wolfmother’s Bonnaroo set, you don’t like rock’n’roll. Period.

With a few minutes to spare, I squeezed past the comedy tent and back around to the Brewers Village where hordes of thirsty fans have congregated on hay bails seeking relief from the unrelenting 95-degree heat. A few beers later and it was back to Which Stage where the Decemberists opened with “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” Loaded heavy with material from last year’s The Crane Wife, their set was a seamless marriage of baroque pop and bluesy, organ heavy roots rock, finding the band jamming on tracks like “The Crane Wife 3,” the twelve minute narrative “The Island” and a cover of the Band’s classic, “The Weight,” that featured Mavis Staples. “Eat your heart out Wolfmother!” frontman Colin Meloy jokingly shouted from stage, recognizing his ascent from intellectual poet to full-fledged rock hero.

Between songs, Meloy was playful and witty, teasing the “meaty” security guards for the “carnage” they unleashed by deflating countless stray beach balls. “We’ll keep them safe if you wanna send a few up here,” he assured the crowd below. Mixing in older tracks such as “July July” and the five part, eighteen minute epic “The Tain,” the Decemberists winded down their set as the sun closed on Bonnaroo’s final day. Then, in a picturesque moment of unity, Meloy directed the crowd as thousands of sun-kissed fans pointed at the sun and waved it down to the horizon. Hesitantly, I made a break for Wilco as the Decemberists played on. Too much music, too little time. DANE SMITH