The Cave Singers – 2012 Bonnaroo Thursday June 7th
After barely nodding to the EMA set, I was nervous about the prospects of spending four days in the hot sun, unwashed masses, and dust clouds of Bonnaroo. What I had dreamt would be a wall-to-wall sensory overload of music, dancing, and excitement had soured all because of one set. Bonnaroo was looking like it was going to be a slog and I was freaking out. How could I have ever thought four days of music wouldn’t be anything but monotonous? Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, right? When the sign for the Cave Singers was hauled above the crowd it was met with cheers but I admit that I might not have cheered that loudly as I was too busy wringing my hands. The band stepped on stage and my brother tapped me on the shoulder with a smile. If anyone was gonna pick our group out of our Bonnaroo bummer, it was the scruffy blues-folk of the Cave Singers. I repeated the Bonnaroo mantra, “Be Here Now,” turned my attention to the stage, and crossed my fingers.
Pete Quirk, looking the part for a casting call for an extra on Deliverance, looked at the audience with awe while Derek Fudesco tuned his guitar and Morgan Henderson tuned his… flute? I laughed in giddiness as flute notes snaked over my head. A flute in a rock band? I thought, “They have courage or, better yet, they’re weird.” Either way, I was excited. My Deliverance impression was only reinforced by “Shrine” as bongos ushered the audience into the back-country. Quirk’s reedy voice soared above and dove into Fudesco’s riffs. Less than thirty seconds in, I was hooked by the song’s tight but simple structure. Fudesco’s riff was open yet restrictive; I imagined walking down a forest path lined with dense foliage. It was certainly a good start to clearing the hanging worries of Bonnaroo still in my mind.
The stuttering riff of “At The Cut” made sure to clear out all remnants of my Bonnaroo worries right before Marty Lund hammered them into the ground. With each drum hit, EMA seemed further and further away while the sound seemed to amplify. It grew bigger and bigger until all I could hear was Quirk’s screams, Fudesco’s sledgehammering riffs, and the miniature explosions of the drum and all I could see was the neon sign proclaiming “Other Tent” above my head. I suddenly realized where I was. I knew that riff would rip me and the hundreds of people around me off the ground and into the air. Bonnaroo loomed above me and as Quirk screamed “Oh, I said to be ready!” the crowd in front of me seemed to stretch and then snap into a single undulating mass. I was at Bonnaroo and the Cave Singers were putting on one of the best shows I had seen all year. I had three more days of music that were sure to rival or even surpass what was going on in front of me. I was excited and had completely forgot about my EMA disappointment.
Although I couldn’t understand much of Quirk’s drawl and lyrics, his voice was perfectly suited to the understated music that surrounded him. The four musicians of Cave Singers played as if they were carrying on a conversation. The bass supported and complimented the brash statements of the drums while the drums interjected on or emphasized Quirk’s lyrics. Quirk’s harsh voice skimmed the surface of the guitar on “Swim Club” or wrestled riffs to the ground as they fought on stage. There is a current of mystery, deep and dark, that runs through their music and Quirk’s mush-mouthed delivery was appropriately incomprehensible, warm, and raw.
Quirk’s playful delivery of lyrics made songs take on the characteristics of their subjects: “Swim Club” gently pitched back and force, “Celebrate” bounced and jostled inside the groove of the guitar and deep tones of the bass, and “Dancing in Our Graves” leapt, flipped, and wept around an anxious cabasa. “No Persecution if We Bail” was scary as Quirk barked over sneering slide guitar. With every scream, Quirk stripped himself of the good ol’ boy impression attached to his beard, beaten up fedora, and tank top. He was all energy and smiles with his shirt drenched from sweat, his throat raw from shouts, and his feet perpetually blurred from dancing. The music seethed in restrained fury. By the time “Black Leaf’s” staccato riff shot through the tent, I didn’t have that hard of a time believing that most of the members of the band had previously been in post-hardcore bands. The song rocketed along, pausing only briefly to rev up during the bridge before Quirk’s “’Round and round and round and round it goes!” flung the band into a foot-stomping climax and deafening sound of applause. Their excellent set was all that Bonnaroo had needed to rear up and swallow me whole. I was here, now.