A big music event in Brooklyn where no one played a cheesy hits medley! Where the performances didn't leave you feeling kind of gross and sad and too old to be witnessing them! Imagine...
I feel like it must have been a harrowing experience for any person attempting to use a nearby porta-john when New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia was unleashing her massive bass booms. It must have felt like squatting during a particularly grody space shuttle launch! Or that one guy in Jurassic Park who got eaten on the toilet by a T-Rex, right before getting eaten on the toilet by a T-Rex!
When I saw legendary Detroit band Death at CMJ a couple years back I was struck by their synthesis of sturdy Motown basslines and garage rock oomph. Yesterday, emboldened by a raise in profile from the recent documentary, A Band Called Death, they were more of a classic rock beast. Extended rum solos, odd time changes. They were strong, and the mix was overwhelmingly crunchy. There were even times, like when performing their 1975 song "You're a Prisoner" , when it struck me that you could shift the emphasis slightly, swap out the guitar tones for something more expensive and add some gross 30-piece drum set, and they might be playing a Metallica song! Or at least what Metallica songs I remember from being 12 were like. "You can't run! You can't hide! YOU'RE! LOCKED! INSIDE! (riff riff riff riff riff). I mean, right?
As always, the festival grounds were tricked out with skateboard shops, food, drinks, a skateboard half-pipe, and other assorted active diversions. This year, there was a huge rock wall column in the second stage area, which, I dunno, seems like something only crazy people would do at a sunshiney music festival?
Vintage Trouble, a retro-by-design band from Venice Beach possessed with plenty of stage presence and little to no hipster cred, kept the audience participation slightly more basic. They were led by hard working singer Ty Taylor and his sweated through powder-blue suit and his buttery soulman voice. The guys rounding it out were Santana-looking, in less flashy suits and Heisenberg pork-pie hats. Their whole set was geared towards getting the crowd to move, making them sing. "Na na na na" comes together as a mass chant a little easier than "Cli-tor-is!" While the musical intrigue was limited, you had to admire how easily they wrapped a big crowd around their finger (and then dry humped it).
Sacramento hardcore band Trash Talk moved the masses in a more chaotic, but no less impressive way. Short, thrashing guitar riffs, and a break-neck energy infused their set from the start. Singer Lee Spielman, slightly out of the festival's intended demographic with his dirty t-shirt and Gary Cherone from Extreme hair, delighted in agitating a willing mosh pit. He jumped into it, onto it, rode it all the way to the back of the crowd, trailing rowdy kids like a pied piper. He ordered a circle mosh pit for a quick song, tried to force people from the left side to mix it up with those on the right. Their set had a sense of active unpredictability, it mucked up how quick and formulaic festival sets usually unfold. It was exciting, and more than a little endearing in a hangdog, softie-at-heart sort of a way. Spielman orchestrated the wreck of a security barrier, but then tried to get the security dudes back on his side. "Aw, c'mon, it wasn't so bad."
It was a bold move for New York City rock band Living Colour to open with their biggest/only hit "Cult of Personality". Though they've been a have-to-mention-them ground-breaker for mainstream rock bands of color since their formation in the 1984, honestly their set didn't do much for me. Coming from Trash Talk's set, their late-80s brand of guitar snarl even seemed sort of sedate and old-fashioned.
"I haven't had an afro since the 70s, and I ain't never been a punk." Old-fashioned, sure, but never sedate, Public Enemy leader Chuck D led a hit-filled set with plenty of righteous digressions. In between direct hits like "Fight the Power" and "Black Steel", D expressed his ire towards Stand Your Ground Laws, J. Edgar Hoover, the radio station Power 105.1 ("hate music" he called it), and smart phone addiction ("don't be a dumb motherfucker with a smart ass phone"). He took time out to burn copies of the New York Post, Rolling Stone, Source, and XXL, calling them sensationalist and demeaning. Anger, laser guided and articulate, can be pretty refreshing. Chuck D should probably be in Congress?
The night ended with an extended DJ set from The Roots' ?uestlove, which was surprising for its lack of big deal surprises. It's not entirely fair to hold Afropunk's organizers to the standard of outlandish Twitter rumors that Prince might show up, but programming even a hits-packed record spinning session at end of the night was rather anticlimactic. Maybe they had something special in line that fell through? That seems to be the consensus about Saturday's lack of a big-shock cameo as well. I mean, ?uestlove is a hell of a DJ, and his set floated from snippets of Kanye to Nirvana to Biggie in a pleasing fashion, but it never really came to the crescendo that might have really stolen the headlines from a gaudy and garbagey VMA telecast.
Afropunk is established to its current beloved point, because the show is well-booked, well-run and easy to access and enjoy. Its got a point of view that goes well beyond "which big-name act is avaialble?" It's a testament to that competence and vision that the festival now feels like its perpetually on the cusp of truly breaking through. A niche movement based on defiant individualism that ends up offering something for most everyone who wants to attend! Its a miracle that this event even exists, and yet it feels like it could grow even bigger, change how things work. Not yet, but it'd be nice to think that one of these years it might truly own the city and its music world chatter, if only for an afternoon.