On Saturday, a day after hearing Jeff Mangum play nearly all of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and selected tracks from On Avery Island, I saw the guys from Swans playing the strongman game on a boardwalk, listened to Oneida play for eight straight hours with assistance from a member of Yo La Tengo, and witnessed Portishead’s first East Coast performance in 13 years. A day later, Mangum went onstage again and drew pictures for everyone who wanted one, and Public Enemy blazed through all of the hip-hop classic Fear of a Black Planet, remixed with selections from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. And Flavor Flav dove into the audience.
So was the scene at All Tomorrow’s Parties, which moved to Asbury Park, New Jersey, after three years at Kutshers Resort in Monticello, NY. It wasn’t an entirely smooth transition (the festival’s summer camp feel was gone, replaced by overpriced beer, an abundance of police officers, and less-than-spectacular sound quality), but that’s more a complaint of the setting, rather than the music. The majority of the 40-plus acts performed in either the seated Paramount Theater or, separated by a thin mall, Convention Hall, the recent host of the Jersey Shore Roller Girls League Finals.
Here’s what we saw, with photos to prove it. (Except for Mangum, because you weren’t allowed to take pictures, let alone turn on your phone, just the way it should be.)
photos by Nadia Chaudhury
The only “buzz band” of the weekend played their gloomy girl-pop, including set highlight “You Know What I Mean,” to a late afternoon crowd inside a bowling alley. Somehow, it worked, and the group coming onto the makeshift stage to the Twin Peaks theme song helped, too.
Maybe it’s because Matt Sweeney was in Zwan, but Chavez is one of Matador’s forgotten great bands from the 90s. But the post-rock quartet played in front of a dedicated group of hardcore fans in the spacious Convention Hall this weekend, though, and the cuts from Ride the Fader, such as “Top Pocket Man,” were rapturously received. Zwan still sucks.
Midway through their hour-long set, Shellac’s bassist Bob Weston began a Q&A session with the crowd. The answer to one of the questions was, “The guy running the sound monitors told me he fucked someone on a tank.” I don’t really “get” Shellac (their machine-like, post-hardcore minimalism doesn’t do much for me), but “The End of Radio,” where Steve Albini discusses, well, the end of radio and apologizes about Rush Limbaugh to the aliens listening to his broadcast thousands of years later, was great at last year’s ATP, and it was even better this time.
It was perfect, just perfect. The set began with “Oh, Comely,” and Mangum played everything you’d expect/want him to: “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “Naomi,” “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. II,” etc. He was chattier than you’d expect, saying thank you after every song and asking the crowd to sing along with him. (If you’re seeing him at Town Hall, sing along the entire time; it’s HIGHLY encouraged.) It’s momentarily off-putting listening to “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two and Three” and “Holland 1945” without a backing band, but Mangum filled in the sound with “de-de-de” and “da-da-da,” and you instantly forget there was more than one member of Neutral Milk Hotel. We’ve been waiting for a decade for Jeff to come out of reclusion—well, he has, and it’s been worth the wait.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy
After seeing JEFF MANGUM play everything from “Holland 1945” to “Engine,” it was inevitable that the next act was going to feel like a letdown. Oldham’s group was just that, and the dirge-like pacing of their songs might have worked better if they hadn’t just followed JEFF MANGUM.
Geoff Barrow’s OTHER band was just drums, guitar and synth, and their hypnotic, ambient buzz was one of the softer sounds of the day.
Beginning at 2pm on Saturday, Oneida played an eight-hour set inside Asbury Lanes with special guests James McNew from Yo La Tengo and members of Chavez, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog and Portishead. We saw a particularly loud and staticky 15 minutes of the performance (and it was, indeed, a performance; a non-stop swirling collage of colors projected onto a bed sheet played behind them), and even three hours in, the guys looked spent.
The band’s lead singer, Faris Badwan, leaned on his microphone like he was Joey Ramone. He’s not, and their revivalist shoegaze goth left a lot of people uninterested and many simply walked out.
The Pop Group
It was the first time that The Pop Group played in the U.S. in three decades or so, and they asked the previously seated audience in the Paramount to get out of their seats. Their dub-punk sound was all encompassing, and if you like the second half of Sandinista!, you’ll probably like them.
This was the second time in three months I’ve seen Battles live (the first being back in July at Pitchfork Festival), and I’m still not sure if the group’s drummer, John Stanier, is machine or man. Either way, he’s really sweaty, and “Ice Cream” is a great song.
While sitting in the Paramount Theater waiting for Swans to begin, the guy next to me handed me a flask of 14-year-old scotch and said, “You’ll need this.” He was right. Imagine lying down next to an airplane engine right before takeoff, while someone’s stomping on your face with a boot. That’s more or less what Swans sounds like. But never before has pain been so pleasurable. Something tells me Michael Gira, who punched himself at least three times, would enjoy the sadomasochistic analogy.
My one and only note from the show: “Critical Beatdown is such a good album.” The sound was crisp, the bass not too high, and DJ Kool Keith, who wore a glittery headwrap which made him look like a pharaoh, is truly one of the greats.
At the conclusion of a set that featured “Wandering Stars,” “Sour Times” and “Glory Box,” lead singer Beth Gibbons, after having spent much of her time on stage looking timid and facing away from the crowd during the instrumental solos, jumped into the audience. With a huge grin on her face, she was carried by the mass for a few moments before gently being placed back on stage. “Nobody loves me, it’s true, not like you do” is only a half-truth; you’re not unloved, Portishead, and no one loves you more than the crowd at ATP. (Oh, and during Sunday’s performance, while the band performed “Machine Gun,” Chuck D came out onstage and began rapping the Public Enemy classic “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.”)
She sounded like Nico (a fitting comparison considering the festival’s name) and ended her set with a cover of “Once in a Lifetime.” Not a bad way to start day three.
Deerhoof’s albums just don’t do justice to their avant-rock, highly cinematic live performances. You haven’t experienced Deerhoof until you’ve seen Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez synchronously move like they’re playing a game of Red Light, Green Light, or heard drummer Greg Saunier unleash a dry, droll tangent about electricity.
The best tracks from Fear of a Black Planet are two (“Brothers Gonna Work It Out”) and three (“911 Is a Joke”), so it’s a good thing midway through the album, Public Enemy performed “Don’t Believe the Hype” (Village Voice contributor Christopher R. Weingarten was randomly plucked from the crowd to join Chuck D & Co. onstage) and “Bring the Noise,” from It Takes a Nation. I expected the set to be a mess (see: Flavor Flav for the past five years), but bolstered by a live band, Chuck and Flavor haven’t lost a step, and DJ Lord filled in admirably for Terminator X, who now owns an ostrich farm. It was an instant jolt of energy to a tired crowd on a Sunday evening, and not even Flavor discussing his reality show and book (“You know I wrote a book, right?”) could derail the show.