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New York Cool - Music

All Points West Music Festival
New Jersey’s Liberty State Park
August 8-10, 2008

Written by Eric Atienza
Photographed by Amy Davidson

Opposite Photo:
Thom Yorke of Radiohead


The West Coast has Coachella and Outside Lands. The Midwest has Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. The South has VooDoo Fest, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and South by Southwest.

Until this year the CMJ Music Marathan was the East Coast’s only piece of the major music festival pie. This year, however, the first (hopefully) annual All Points West in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park seeks to establish this area that spawned so much iconic music as a perennial stop on the summer festival tour.

Day one began as a scorcher which was unfortunate for The Go! Team opening the (main) Blue Comet stage. The sweltering heat resulted in a rather restrained audience and lead singer Ninja’s repeated requests to jump and move (at one point she teased "All Points Westers are notoriously too cool for school, but nobody's too cool to groove") were not met with the sort of enthusiasm the band usually garners. Nevertheless, there were several pockets of fans that did catch on to the infectious energy in Go! Team's hip-hop/rock/playground aesthetic as they ripped through songs from both of their records including fan favorites “Ladyflash”, “Doing it Right”, and “Keys to the City”.

Michael Franti and Spearhead's funk and reggae tunes fared much better with the APW crowd. Franti's set of (often politically charged) party music had the crowd clapping, jumping, and grooving for the entire time the band was on the stage. Themes stretched from the touching love song "Say Hey", the thought-inducing "Remote Control", and a heavily political, war protesting "Time to Go Home". It's always extra moving when nature seems to reflect the music at an outdoor event and as Franti launched into this exhortation for protest the skies darkened, the temperature dropped and winds kicked up reinforcing the dire content of his lyrics. Franti's set concluded with a heartfelt number about his son moving away across the country to pursue his dreams, and as he and Spearhead left the stage the dancing crowds felt the first drops of the afternoon's light rain storm.


The New Pornographers

By the time the New Pornographers began playing on the main stage the rain had let up and the sun began once again peeking through the clouds. They launched into a set of earnest, folk-tinged rock and roll that was incredibly catchy with a light atmosphere and an easy-going vibe. Even the band's between-song banter inspired no small amount of aw-shucks smiles and laughs.


Lovefoxxx of Cansei de Ser Sexy

As the New Pornographers were finishing up, Cansei de Ser Sexy was just getting started on nearby the Bullet stage. Lead singer Lovefoxxx came out in garish attire: fluorescent floral print with various cray paper attachments. Her energy was playfully intense and her dancing and antics on stage only enhanced the effect of the band's high-powered electro-clash. Rolling through a large part of their catalog, the band played sure hits “This Month, Day 10”, “Meeting Paris Hilton”, “Off the Hook”, and “Music is my Hot, Hot Sex” overcoming the crowd’s overheating to get them moving and dancing. CSS has always been a great time, and Friday afternoon was certainly no exception.


Andrew Bird

Quick on the heels of the Brazilian six-piece was the occasional one-piece Andrew Bird. Bird began his set accompanying himself on the violin, recording and playing back a classical melody through a rotating phonograph while he plucked out a bluesy rhythm and alternately sang and unleashed his trademark whistle. He was soon joined by a full band, playing songs from (among others) last year's Armchair Apocrypha, and his acclaimed The Mysterious Production of Eggs in what would become one of the most stunning performances of the day.

Bird is easily one of the most talented musicians around right now with an incredible ear for arrangement and a fantastic execution. He somehow manages, between playing two instruments, singing, and whistling, to pull off a stage presence both utterly professional and charmingly human at the same time.



Chromeo

Day Two began with Chromeo (two guys from Montreal that look like they're from New Jersey) opening Blue Comet and attempting (and largely succeeding) to get the crowd moving despite the, once again, sweltering summer heat. Their synth boards, keys, and vocoder had the crowd partying like it was 1989, and they didn't stop until the stage was quiet and the last synthesized notes were fading into the air.


Animal Collective


Animal Collective

While Chromeo showcased its electronic tendencies effectively enough, Animal Collective used these same tools to create an almost transcendental experience on stage - though only two of the band's four members were present. The group wove together a mix of rock, electronica, noise, and glitch to project a monstrous, cavernous, reverberating wave of sound out into the audience and over the Hudson River. The crowd grooved, swayed, and got it's mind blown into little pieces as the pair opened up a can of experimentation on All Points West.

The Black Angels were up next on the Bullet stage adding a bit of dark, driving blues-rock to the afternoon's musical menu. The aesthetic they built was brooding and slightly menacing with an edge of excitement that managed to not let them be completely overshadowed by the fantastic set that preceded them.




Kings of Leon


Back on the Blue Comet stage, the Kings of Leon were unleashing the kind of southern-tinged, gritty, straightforward rock that the radio and a great, great many people seem to adore. Their brand of rock is perennially popular, if not
perennially interesting. The played their parts well, engaging the crowd and stirring them into a near-frenzy, but ultimately they sounded pretty much like every other band that's played in that style before them.

Closing the Bullet stage, the Roots built slowly expanding on Captain Kirk Douglass' bluesy guitar riffs until all seven members were jamming to the jazz-infused hip-hop the revolutionary group is known for. Black Thought laid down sick rhymes over ?uestlove's signature drum beats while Owen Biddle on bass and Damon Bryson on sousaphone dropped some funk into the mix. Kamal Gray's keys added texture over the top as occasional hype-man F. Knuckles' added percussion filled out the sound.

The crowd was moving and dancing from the performance's first notes as the forty-five-minutes-and-over-too-soon set showcased the dazzling abilities of each of the group's members. In the midst of the soul-filled party beats flying through the air Biddle tossed in a straight up jazz solo on his bass and Gray knocked some sweet Little Richard-style rock out of his keyboard. Somewhere in there the band broke to show off Bryson's sousa licks (through cheeks so pouched they'd make Dizzy Gillespie proud) and to let Douglass unleash one of the most wicked guitar solos the solo-rich state of New Jersey had heard in a long while. His picking channeled King and Hendrix while his riffs evoked Richards and Slash. His guitar was practically smoking from the heat he poured into it, switching speeds and styles at the drop of a hat. That is to say (for only the second time in the history of this column) that the dude could fucking shred. Last but not least, of course, were Black Thought's wicked rhymes, spit in varied rhythms to make the growing audience alternately bounce, bob, groove, and whoop its brains out as he defied all logical expectations of human speaking and breathing ability. The intensity never let up, the energy was wild, and nobody within earshot (even those trying to jockey for a good spot for Radiohead) was glad when it was over.


Thom Yorke of Radiohead

As night fell, an expectant hush fell over the growing crowd in front of the Blue Comet stage. Cheers erupted in front and spread quickly throughout the festival grounds as rock giants Radiohead took the stage, and what followed was one of the most intense shows I've ever seen. As should be expected (but was still fairly awe-inspiring) the band displayed flawless execution in every aspect of their performance. Their presence (and sound) was gigantic, displaying the group's superior songcraft an dynamic presence. I'd always pictured Thom Yorke to be a stock-still, grip-the-microphone singer but I was amazed to be proven completely wrong as he danced, high-stepped, and rocked his way through songs both new and old (though the front end of the set was certainly loaded with tracks from their newest, In Rainbows.)

Yorke's singular voice remains a point of contention between casual listeners and fans, yet musically Radiohead is one of the most complex, intricate, well-fashioned bands on the planet. Their songs include a lot of small flourishes and changes but each one flows seamlessly and fluidly forward. When Yorke lets loose with an extended, crooning wail, die-hard melt and skeptics bristle, but both generally agree on the sheer brilliance of the music. At the show, during the moments when Yorke's vocal was under control and in shorter bursts or lower keys it was easy to find space in the "OMFG Radiohead!" mindset in which so many people seem to reside.

Highlights from day three included Rodrigo y Gabriela whose live show presents some of the best guitar work outside of a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai show. The speed and sheer technical skill with which they pull off ridiculously complex rhythms and patterns is dazzling in itself; that they can do it for an entire set without resting between songs is mind-boggling. Between Metallica covers and a picking vs strumming guitar battle, the all-instrumental performance was mesmerizing, captivating and out of this world.

Cat Power also impressed with a moving, powerful, bluesy set that showed a significant departure from some of her past work. Her recorded music is full of a stark, beautiful poignancy accented with an edge of pure sweetness. Somewhere between the studio and the All Points West stage, however, her sweetness evaporated and she unleashed an hour of throaty, smoky blues tunes unlike anything heard on her original albums. She was Billy Holiday meets Chrissy Hynde powering a deep growl that often erupted into a visceral yowl. Introspection gave way to catharsis as Marshall's voice-straining vocal didn't let up until her last number ended, and she handed flowers out to a crowd that stood cheering cool, wet, post-storm grass.

All in all, All Points West showcased fantastic musicians from a breathtaking vista, pulled off as well as a first-time festival could possibly be executed. It's a fun weekend featuring several great bands, and should turn into a solid addition to the summer festival season.


Music Fans



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