MUDDY TIMES @ ALL POINTS WEST

day 1 by pelly – day 2 & 3 by marc and eliza (photography by marc evan)

All Points West is the best thing to happen in Jersey City, well, ever. With a solid lineup (most notably on Friday) and acts appealing to a range of demographics, Day 1 drew a surprisingly small crowd. I know New Yorkers and Jersey folk aren’t the most enthusiastic about festies, but damn, if it keeps up this way, APW will be a short lived social experiment. The event endured financial losses last year, and the trend seems likely to repeat itself in ’09. Because of the torrential rain on Friday, Day 1 tickets were honored as viable admission for the subsequent two days. An extremely generous rain policy for a major market event which is somehow flying under the radar (at least to the general public) despite Radiohead’s involvement in 2008. In the same vein, kudos are in order for the festival organizers who seemed to remedy many of last year’s issues in terms of overall logistics and transportation.

Artist: Pharcyde
Song: Oh Shit
Artist: Shearwater
Song: The Snow Leopard

….

DAY 1:

Rain clouds proved foreboding, for what would turn out to be a soggy and mud filled Friday. QC arrived at the festival grounds just in time for Shearwater. This underrated band from Austin is completely off the wall in a live setting. Really intense and in your face, unlike their studio sound which at times can come across as melancholic and down tempo. This is the second time I’ve seen them, and again I was left more than satisfied. “Snow Leopard” acoustic is other worldly.

I could hear Seasick Steve stringing in the distance while I waited for Telepathe to begin their set at the Bullet stage. To oversimplify it, Telepathe is two cool chicks, a vocoder and a drum machine. There is something to be said for their syncopated rhythms and minimalistic lyrics but the tech gods were against them on this day. They had a series of sound issues at the onset, some of which carried over to their performance, but they peaked my interest enough to understand the hype and explore their properly produced sound further. It wasn’t an ideal setting for their music, but I appreciated the jolt to my expectancy and “Chrome’s On It” is a catchy and cool title track.

Artist: Telepathe
Song: Chrome’s On It

After jetting midway through Telepathe, Fleet Foxes provided the healthy brunch I was looking for. While gray skies loomed ominously, the gentle strings culminated in a harmonious sound that pierced through clouds and made rain fall. After a long hiatus, vocal harmonies are back thanks to a select group of artists combining seamless narrative craftsmanship with well conceived sound. After some mild reluctance, I fully understand it now. And as “White Winter Hymnal” soared, and raindrops hit my face, I felt fully content.

Ra Ra Riot offered a characteristic performance and drew a large audience on the smaller stage. Despite some feedback on front man Wes’ vocals, the sound was energetic and entertaining as the Syracuse alums bounced around to a slew of their young classics. Despite the tech issues, they pulled off another stellar festival performance.

Over at the tiny tent across the lawn, Australian golden boy Xavier Rudd performed. Because the tent was dry and right near the entrance, a few people wandered in not knowing who this guy was, killing it on the didgeridoo and wind chimes. He was phenomenal as always, and ended his set with a staggering version of “Don’t Understand,” leaving the crowd chanting “One more song…” well after he’d left the stage.

Simultaneously, The National graced the main stage kicking off their rain filled time slot with my personal favorite “Start A War.” They made their way through about half the tracks off of Boxer, played some new material, and ended with a stirring finale which saw front man Matt Berninger go twenty people deep into the soaked and soggy crowd where he stayed for a full two to three intense minutes of singing, hugging, and pushing. It was incredibly endearing that he broke through the third wall and stayed there amongst the concert attendees. The crowd was entranced and it provided a wise ending to a solid set.

The next few hours were chalked full with all star artists and strong performances including a buoyant set by Vampire Weekend where they sampled some tracks off their upcoming record which seems promising enough.

Also playing that time slot was the reunited Pharcyde crew who dropped classics like “Oh Shit” and “Passing Me By” as well as their featured lyrics off the Gorillaz gem “Dirty Harry.”

Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played an inspired homecoming set in which their It’s Blitz tracks seem to be assimilating themselves a bit more fluidly amidst their pre-existing track catalog. They also offered up an acoustic version of “Maps” dedicated to YYY loved ones everywhere as the sunset finally peaked through the sky splashing pinks and purples upon the New York skyline. In closing, she violently swung the microphone into the stage floor about a half dozen times until the mic bulb resembled a warped piece of scrap metal.

Meanwhile, Q-Tip rocked a side stage playing Tribe classics “Clap Your Hands” and “Check the Rhyme” along with his solo party anthem “Vibrant Thing.” A perfect transition into the night’s final performances by Jay-Z and MSTRKRFT.

A ten minute countdown appeared on the main stage’s video screen, winding down to the start of Jay-Z’s headlining performance in place of the previously scheduled Beastie Boys who withdrew due to health issues for rap pioneer MCA. As the timer hit quadruple zeros, the speakers blared “NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN!” and the crowd went crazy as Jay-Z appeared with an inspired flow and show opening that was second to none.

The comparison between Jay-Z and Nas may have had some credence five or ten years ago. But as true performers and accounting for overall stage presence, there can be no juxtaposition. Jay has cemented his legend with a true flair for the dramatic, a proficiency of flow, and a cultural awareness which has proved to be the true foundation of his rap empire. With more than a full band on stage (two drummers, a three piece horn section, a DJ, keyboardist, guitarist, and bassist) Sean Carter plowed through a greatest hit compilation in front of an impressive visual presentation on the video boards. This show left no stone unturned and noone dissatisfied, as well as providing me with a vile of energy I needed to dance the night out with MSTRKRFT. Jay-Z is straight diesel fuel and capped his show with the Linkin Park mash up “Encore” as well as his personal shout outs to audience members he noticed throughout his performance.

It was an incredible day of music that ended with a badass MSTRKRFT version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a ferry ride back to Manhattan while Lady Liberty stood tall in the peripheral.

DAY 2:

One of my favorite things about this festival is that it’s not too crowded. That might be a bad thing for the promoters, but when you don’t have to worry about getting knocked around or pushing your way to the front at the main stage, it’s a nice change of pace.

Saturday was glorious and though I was beat and broken from the night before, I threw on some shades and hit the ferry. I got there in time for The Cool Kids, despite not really feeling their music all that much, I was hopeful that they might play a good live show. A pretty big disappointment for me, as the band lorded it across the stage basically just shouting their homespun lyrics. And good lord, the bass! The mud between my toes was vibrating even from the back row. This may sound like a good thing. It wasn’t. It was just too much, and after a few songs the beer garden seemed like a really good idea. The Arctic Monkeys were playing the main stage next, so there was still much to look forward to.

I think we were all in agreement that the Monkeys didn’t quite live up to the hype. They played a lot of new stuff, and the crowd wasn’t really into it. Here I was expecting dancing, jumping, singing along, and throughout much of the uneventful show, people were just bobbing their heads and slowly wandering away from the stage. Too bad, as they were one of the expected Saturday highlights for me.

A friend of mine dragged me over to St. Vincent, and shit am I glad he did. After only having heard a couple of songs, watching them perform in front of the small crowd was moving and exactly what was needed after the last two acts. She is just a menace on that guitar, and seeing her frail little body tear it up was inspiring to say the least. Great set.

Gogol Bordello was on the main stage just as the sun was going down and the breeze was moving in. Good thing too, cause it was a non-stop dance party up in there. Eugene is maniacal and even though I’m almost positive nobody there is a huge fan of pirate gypsy punk, the crowds still went bananas for them. The bands energy is infectious, simple as that. Couldn’t tell you the name of one song they played, but twas so far the most fun performance of the day.

I was able to catch the tail end of Tokyo Police Club at the small tent, and these guys accomplished everything that Arctic Monkeys failed to. All the mojo and verve that a band full of kids should have. They didn’t have many new songs to play, but the audience was happy just to be a part of it all.

Ting Tings have always put on an entertaining show, and this festival go round was no different. Even though Katie White had some ridiculous Lady Gaga looking outfit on, she still killed it on guitar and gave a dynamic performance the whole way through. Jules was much more chatty than I’ve ever seen him, and the two of them had the crowd eating out of their hands. During “Not My Name,” it seemed much of the Tool crowd had found their way over, and were instantly mixing it up with all the glowstick, backpack wearing players.

Trail of The Dead gave a solid hard rocking mid day performance.  They belted through their tunes to a pretty packed crowd for the 2nd stage.  They definitely were able to bridge the wide divide between indie rocker kids and Tool fans.  They played a nice game of musical instruments throughout the show. with a guitar player who also plays drums and a singer who plays guitar and keys.  During one song Jason charged into the audience to join the fans in the mud and sweat singing while making his way through the crowds.  Conrad’s energetic moves on keys smashed the board to the floor taking out a few monitors in the process.

Saturday’s beautiful weather drew pretty massive crowds but the event staff and new layout of the festival did a really good job of managing the traffic.  The popular spots to watch the show from this year seemed to be the huge beer gardens and VIP bleechers which had great views of the main stage- a much needed improvement over last years biggest complaint.

It was going to be interesting seeing how the diverse crowds for the headlining acts would weave and mingle into the fabric of the festival throughout the weekend. Tool attracts quite a different audience from Coldplay or Jay Z.  That being said, it seemed to be a smooth transition, with everyone having to overcome the same elemental forces that were threatening the festival.  Rain, humidity, thunderstorms, and lots of mud were the common ground, unifying all.

Tool’s rare festival appearance brought out the masses of industrial and goth kids.  They may have scared away some of the younger hipster kids, but anyone who stuck around caught an amazing show.  There music is hard to put a description too.  Yes it was loud, but its so layered with complexity and raw emotion.  Tool made me feel somewhat nostalgic for some of my angstier, college years- a time when listening to music meant flipping through a book of CDs.  Lead singer Maynard, tends to stay pretty far back on stage, obscured from view.  This is compensated for by visuals that are both disturbing and surreal.  Utilizing footage from some of their classic videos involving stop motion animation realizations of deep dark secrets and nightmarish visions.

DAY 3:

Sunday morning was wetter than it had been all weekend, and it was looking like the event might actually get shut down. Total bummer since the day had some interesting people on the bill. But by 3 p.m. the sun came out to play, and everything was officially back on schedule.

Luckily, since things had been pushed back a little, I arrived to the muddy fest just in time for Akron/Family. Vaguely familiar with their sound, I was interested to see how they’d translate live. They were really quite impressive, and musically kind of fascinating. It was something different to put it mildly, and with flutes and horns, drums and harmonies. Absolutely awesome.

La Roux was playing at the small stage shortly after, and I’d heard they put on a fun show. Their sound is straight 80s and they look like they could play at prom in a Molly Ringwald movie, but hell, I say embrace it. Put on the song “BulletProof” and just try not to dance. The small tent was on fire as the duo jammed through their set and ended on a high playing “In For The Kill.”

Lykke Li was up next, and she was someone I’d been looking forward to seeing all weekend. Let me just say, that girl is one sexy bitch. Playing all the hits from her debut like “I’m Good, I’m Gone” and “Little Bit,” she had everyone locked in as she jounced around in her leather onesy.

She followed with a rendition of Kings Of Leon’s “Knocked Up” that was fucking golden. Anyone who showed up not knowing about Lykke definitely walked out of that little tent a bigger fan. As expected, she ended with the slow tune “Tonight,” which was served as en eloquent outro.

Artist: Lykke Li
Song: I Don’t Mind (Jump On It)

The Black Keys drew quite a massive crowd, mostly due to the fact that there was nobody rivaling them, which was still cool to see. As always, Dan and Pat were electric and when they played songs like “Strange Times” and “Lies” the crowd went from rhythmic head nods to hands in the air, singing along. Dan has been touring solo a bit lately, promoting his new album, but it was awesome to see the guys together again. Pat is a powerhouse on the drums, completely in his own element.

Coldplay’s performance was like live theater.  Really good live theater.  They are such natural performers dizzying the audience on an emotional journey.  There were several great sing alongs like “Yellow” but it was another track from their first album that stole the show for me.  “The Scientist” was the song that brought tears to the eyes and really reminded me why I fell in love with Coldplay originally (and then felt so betrayed  by their popstar turn).  Halfway through the set the band made an interesting move.  They literally moved the whole band a 100 yard from the stage into the crowds behind the soundboards.  This well rehearsed but seemingly impromptu acoustic set featured a crowd pleasing slow version of Beastie Boys favorite “Fight For Your Right” and a more fitting Coldplay take on MJ’s “Billie Jean.”  Needless to say, both were awesome and both drove the thousands in attendance nuts.  Now, I feel I have to say, Coldplay and I, we’ve settled our differences.  I forgive you.  Be pop stars.  Be huge rock stars.  Be whatever you want to be… just come back to NYC again soon.  With a live show as captivating and memorable as this they deserve to be rich and famous and… they deserve to be Coldplay.

After their long heartfelt goodbye, the massive crowd slowly waddled through the squishy and the smelly towards the front of the park, where if you were lured into the 1st stage tent like we were, you may have discovered the amazing electronic set by Etienne De Crecy and the best dance party of the weekend.

What a phenomenal way to end our three days at Liberty State Park. Here’s to hopes that despite the ticket sales, we’ll be able to do this again next year. Until then, enjoy some pictures from the weekend that was..

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