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Bunbury Day 1 in Review

Photo by Rich Shivener

Rich Shivener & Nat Tracey-Miller are on the ground for us this weekend at Bunbury Festival. Here is a set-by-set recap of Bunbury Day 1!

Wussy, 2 PM, Yeatman's Cove Stage
Before they worried about shade, food and craft brew, hundreds followed the mesmerizing sounds of indie-rock local Wussy’s festival-opening set. I say mesmerizing because many of us, including yours truly, were greeted with the band’s 2011 track “Pizza King,” a swirl of  crunchy, tremolo-laden guitars and driving drums that lifted Lisa Walker’s haunting vocals about days in Indiana. I haven’t seen Wussy in years, so a plus that afternoon was hearing John Erhardt’s pedal steel kindling underneath much of Walker and Chuck Cleaver’s open chords and harmonies. Those two––and perhaps the band altogether––are at their best when they sing together. I remember thinking this as Walker and Cleaver sang “I’m not the monster that I once was,” a resonating lyric from the band’s 2014 record Attica! Here’s hoping many Bunbury-goers got hear that “Beautiful” cut before moving on for the day. (RS)

Machineheart, 2:30 PM, River Stage
Machineheart’s singer Stevie Scott had a question for us: "You guys staying hydrated?" As the sun beat down on the Serpentine Wall, busy with more than 500 people, Machineheart burned up the River Stage with a quick set of electro pop. The five piece from Los Angeles had a knack for dynamics, evidenced by moments in which rumbling drumbeats and delay-soaked guitars were the gasoline for explosions including Scott’s lyrical prowess. In the set, I could hear the echoes of Lana Del Rey and early Lykke Li, but I could also hear the young band’s promising future in the radio-ready single “Circles,” in which a buzzing synth riff dances with Scott’s infectious chorus “One more time, pull me in circle.” You can find it on a music-streaming service near you. (RS)

Father John Misty, 4 PM, Yeatman's Cove Stage
In the midst of a heatwave, Father John Misty was Bunbury’s honeybear, whose swagger included a black suit (from Olive Garden, he joked) and a set full of truths and tales from the West Coast. To say the least, Misty embodies the mystique, whether crooning about painted ladies or dead men and playing with a backing band that rattles the genres of alt-rock, gospel, folk and country. I got into Misty when I heard his spiritualized song “Every Man Needs a Companion,” featured on season one of True Detective. We didn’t hear that one at Bunbury, but we did hear “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.,” a self-referential, slow-burning memoir about dealing with a troublesome woman. “I found her naked with her best friend in the tub,” Misty sang. “We sang ‘Silent Night’ in three parts which was fun.” His gift for telling stories was on high as he sang “Bored in The USA,” only accompanied by a bandmate on piano. Anyone there at the time found Misty soaked in sweat and musing, “How many people rise and say ‘My brain's so awfully glad to be here for yet another mindless day’?” As he later meditated on a subprime loan and prescriptions, seemingly the items of his critique of America today, I suspect no one said just that. Perhaps they did say, “We love you, honeybear.” (RS)

Matt & Kim, 6:45 PM, Sawyer Point Stage
Walking from Yeatman’s Cove Stage to Sawyer Point Stage and back, and back again throughout the day, was exhausting, but Matt & Kim helped us forget all about that trek when they electrified a massive crowd. The duo, known for mixing frenetic dance beats with anthemic lyrics from hipsterdom, played such singles as “Get It” and “Daylight,” but I’m not here to review those. I’m here to tell you––or remember with you––their 45-minute party, in which the two were at the helm of jumping and balloon blowing, all the while encouraging crowd surfing and shaking to samples a la DMX, R. Kelly, Beastie Boys and Salt-N-Pepa. Well before bodies were bouncing and Kim was making her momma proud (Matt’s words) by walking on the hands of those near the stage, it was clear that Matt & Kim were here to give us the fuel we needed for the evening’s headliners. (RS)

Walk the Moon, 7:30 PM, Yeatman's Cove Stage
Oh oh oh! Cincinnati faves Walk the Moon opened with the four-on-the-floor, dance rock single “Tightrope,” no doubt burning up thousands of hearts at the festival. The band played Bunbury two years ago, but this year’s festival saw the band as one of the most desired. Dark clouds looming above were outshined by the band’s bright and highly stylized set, which notably included neon lights and singer Nicholas Petricca’s blue-grey pants (if my eyes served me right from afar!). Style aside, the band hooked in more than half of Bunbury’s sold out-crowd with such uptempo, body-shaking tunes as “Avalanche” and “Shiver Shiver,” in which Petricca channels David Bryne to great effect. Also included was a cover of The Killer’s “All These Things I’ve Done,” its anthemic closing line perhaps serving as the soul of Bunbury Friday. By the time Walk the Moon closed with its neo-80s command “Shut Up and Dance,” no one was holding back. (RS)

Royal Blood, 7:30 PM, Pavilion Stage
I only caught the end of English duo Royal Blood’s set, and got the sense it was pretty similar to the rest of it, but I’ll be damned if their cranked-volume thunder isn’t a tremendously effective festival presence. A drum-and-bass blues rock combo, the pair draw obvious comparisons to both The Black Keys and Death From Above 1979, but definitely fall closer to the former. After a crashing finish, bassist Mike Kerr left his instrument feeding back while he and bandmate Ben Thatcher coaxed a progressively louder ovation from the crowd before jumping back to their respective stations for a final crescendo. (NTM)

Tame Impala, 8:45 PM, Sawyer Point Stage
In the last two months, Tame Impala have found themselves atop best-of-festival lists for Coachella, Sasquatch, and Boston Calling. Their upcoming LP, Currents, is among the most highly-anticipated releases of 2015. So there was a palpable buzz in the air as the audience swarmed the easternmost stage in the park. Unfortunately, some of that electricity was from the looming storm clouds. The Australian quintet’s bass-heavy set opened with a jammed-out introduction that led right into the brilliant Currents lead single “Let It Happen.” While the song’s sinewy guitar outro drifted away, the storm hit with full force. Stage techs adorned with lab coats scrambled to cover pedalboards and synthesizers with plastic wraps. 

To his credit, bandleader Kevin Parker took the whole thing in stride. “You all want to keep going?” he asked amidst the monsoon; we were game. The remainder of their set consisted of well-tested Lonerism material, and a loud singalong erupted for the chorus of “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” as the first forks of lightning darted across the sky. By this time, the backdrop had been lowered, and the elaborate projected animations could barely be made out amidst the downpour. The group fought for every minute, though. Parker’s guitar gave out during a stomping run through “Elephant,” and he had to abandon the instrument entirely for the “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” still the band’s finest hour. He stalked the front edge of the stage, revelling in the rain, but informed us at the song’s end that they had to end the set after only a half hour. Hopefully, we’ll see them back soon to give the Queen City more than just a taste. (NTM)

The Black Keys, 9:55 PM, Yeatman’s Cove Stage
A huge westward rush followed the truncated Tame Impala set. The Bunbury mainstage has never seen a crowd of this magnitude before, and the area in front of the soundboard was completely packed a full half hour prior to The Black Keys’ set time. They arrived a couple minutes late--forgivable given the weather--and hit the ground running with “Dead and Gone” from El Camino. This set a trend: for the first two-thirds of the show, you could never have guessed that this was part of the tour from last year’s Turn Blue, an album which they’ve all but abandoned in the setlist, instead focusing on Camino and 2010’s Brothers. The lurching blues of “Next Girl” followed, but “Gold on the Ceiling” got the biggest early reaction from the crowd.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were in fine form, a well-oiled machine three years into their career as an arena act, and this was a no-nonsense set. Auerbach’s limited stage banter primarily focused on their shared Ohio heritage, but for the most part, one tangled riff led right into another. In many ways, The Black Keys are the perfect festival headliner. They’re alt-rock radio mainstays by now, but their work is readily accessible to the uninitiated, the choruses are easy to sing along to, and pretty much everyone will come across one riff or another during the show which they’ll realize they know. Their Bunbury show was stripped of most of the audiovisual trappings of last fall’s North American tour, but I’d argue that this straightforward music is best simply adorned by an arsenal of flashing white strobes, as it was tonight. A toned-down version of their video production occasionally appeared on the screens flanking the stage, but the rainstorm seemed to have left that on the fritz, much to the chagrin of many stuck behind the soundboard tower.

Ten songs in, a Turn Blue track finally showed up in the form of “Gotta Get Away,” which was a top ten hit late last year. Shortly thereafter, the album’s other single, “Fever,” arrived much more aggressively than on the studio version. Auerbach’s guitar is brought to the forefront, and producer Danger Mouse’s keyboards (handled expertly in concert by Shins member Richard Swift) take a back seat. It made you wonder what might have become of Turn Blue with another producer’s vision. By now, we were into the band’s end run of hits--the audience erupted with the opening shuffle of “Tighten Up,” but it was the wobbly riff to omnipresent El Camino hit “Lonely Boy” that really went off like a bomb. Bright yellow spotlights combed the audience, and it really felt like a defining moment in Bunbury history--their biggest headliner playing their biggest song to the biggest crowd in the festival’s young life. 

For a moment, it seemed like the Akron boys were ready to end things there, but Auerbach grabbed an acoustic guitar from his tech and fiddled with the opening chords to “Little Black Submarines.” Enraptured, 20,000 voices lent themselves to the folky Zeppelinesque melody, before the lights went dark, and Auerbach plugged his electric back in and rained down sonic hellfire. He’s not a flashy guitarist, but his solos always have a sense of purpose and direction, and this was no exception. The big, crunchy Tom Petty-referencing chords sent the capacity Bunbury crowd trudging well-sated away from the muddy Yeatman’s Cove field and into the muggy Cincinnati night.(NTM)

Dead and Gone
Next Girl
Gold on the Ceiling
Strange Times
Nova Baby
Leavin’ Trunk
Too Afraid to Love You
Howlin’ for You
Money Maker
Gotta Get Away
She’s Long Gone
Tighten Up
Your Touch
Lonely Boy
Little Black Submarines