Not gonna lie, there was a good half an hour between Fleet Foxes and the National that I really wanted to get the hell out of Liberty State Park. Not because Fleet Foxes didn’t deliver on their spotless harmonies or their beards were anything less than fully formed, but because it was, as it is well documented by now, raining — heavily and steadily — for over three hours, turning the festival grounds into a swampy, muddy mess. It was also cold. And I was also sunburned from the few hours of throbbing sun and heat that preceded the downpour. Bearing the elements seemed to be the theme of this year’s All Points West, and props go out to the bands, organizers and fans who stepped up the plate and turned the weekend into a memorable shit-show. Once the clouds gathered during Fleet Foxes’ set (“We kind of look like a guild of wizards here to deliver an ominous warning,” they joked), you really only had two choices: embrace it or be miserable.
More rain-soaked memories after the jump.
Conveniently, the National’s music is pretty much tailor-made for a summer storm. Like the thick, low clouds, Matt Berninger’s thick, low voice pushed through one brooding ballad after another. After a new song (steady drums, muted trumpet swells, repeated line “I was married to Ohio”), he jumped from the stage, climbed over the barriers, and sang “Mr. November” in the crowd — very Patrick Swayze-in-the-rain-scene-of-Dirty Dancing. He was greeted like a hero for coming down to groundling level and getting soaked with the rest of us. By the time Vampire Weekend hit the main stage, people had reached the sort of mud-hippy, slap happy point in the day. Ezra Koenig, as charismatic and charming as ever (the most energetic I had seen him in a while, actually) had the audience eating from the palm of his hand, leading them in what had to be the world record for the most people dancing in ponchos.
And then, just as God began to show mercy on our souls and the rain tapered off, out came the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In a gray hooded poncho dress with draping sleeves, Karen O looked like a sorceress granting wishes: You want a sunset, I’ll give you sunset; you want to hit a beach ball around in the crowd, here’s a few gigantic inflatable eyeballs to play with; you want to hear “Maps,” I’ll sing you the slowest, most heartbreaking version of “Maps” you’ve ever heard. Kudos to them for delivering what people wanted to hear. With a new album to promote, they could’ve easily turned this into an It’s Blitz-saturated set, but instead we got “Cheated Hearts,” “Gold Lion,” “Y Control” and Karen shoving the entire mic into her mouth. There’s a reason why she is onstage and I am not. They killed it.
The energy after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs never really let up. With the rain at bay, the work week over, and Jay-Z on the horizon, more and more people had crawled out of the woodwork and made their way to the Jerz. An L Mag co-worker hit the nail on the head: “I haven’t been this excited for someone to get onstage since New Kids on the Block.” It’s true, an apparent amount of giddy anticipation was stirring in the crowd, partly because Jay-Z is one of the biggest hip-hop superstars in the world, partly because there was the unspoken acknowledgement that we had all just gone through some pretty awful circumstances, and partly because there was a huge clock on stage, counting down to his arrival. When it hit 0:00, and Jay-Z strolled out and broke into the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn” leading into “Brooklyn Go Hard,” chaos ensued. Singing duties volleyed between Hova and the crowd, with a respectable lull to let MCA’s “feel the beat dddddddrop” interlude ring out loud and clear.
Jay-Z is clearly a performer. With the huge projector behind him, he looked like a giant standing over the park. He was there to entertain, to deliver one hit after another without ever stopping to take a sip of water. His set, backed by a spot-on band, included tributes to Obama and MJ and a “99 Problems”/“Big Pimpin’”/“Hard Knock Life” run that had people freaking out. It ended like it began: dedicating the show to Adam Yauch and then pinpointing people in the audience and giving them personal shout-outs (“I see you, guy in the yellow who knew all the words,” etc, etc). I don’t know how much street cred it gives him for being so appreciative and gracious, but for the thousands of people huddled together in a sodden mass, it made the hours of rain and cold well worth it. All Points West-1, Mother Nature-0.