Words by: Ron Hart | Images by: Rod Snyder
All Points West :: 07.31.09 – 08.02.09 :: Liberty State Park :: Jersey City, NJ
If there was anything that the mud, madness and mayhem of this past weekend's All Points West confirmed - besides the fact that this writer just might be getting a little too old for this shit - is that after many years of false starts, almost-happens and never-will-go-downs, it looks as though the NYC area finally has an official contender to the large scale international three-day music festival circuit.
|All Points West 2009|
What promoters Goldenvoice Productions - the folks behind Coachella on the West Coast - didn't expect, however, was that two out of their three-day concert would be mired in torrential downpours on a near-Biblical level, rendering the festival site on the otherwise beautiful, scenic landscape at Liberty State Park a veritable lake of thick, smelly mud. Thank God this one was a commuter festival and not some glorified sleep-away camp like Bonnaroo, right? Now the romantic in me could look at the events of this past weekend as a truly fitting commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, getting soaked in the rain and trooping through muddy lands similar to the way our parents' generation did on Yasgur's Farm back in the summer of '69. The pragmatist in me, however, kicked that flowery notion right to the curb after navigating around the tents and trailers of such blatantly corporate sponsors as Toyota and Sony Playstation 3, tending to swollen legs after walking what seemed like an eternity between the comedy/electronic music tent and the main stage and dealing with the stench of rain-saturated earth mixed with an unholy (and possibly toxic) combination of goose shit, lawn fertilizer and dirty feet. To be honest, I don't know who I feel worse for, the landscapers who have to reseed that massive swath of lawn mucked up by the human traffic all weekend or the poor masses risking Paddy foot from trucking through that mess for three days straight.
Yet for all the kinks that didn't necessarily make what one would-be comedian operating one of the festival merchandising booths hailed on a makeshift cardboard sign as "All Points Wet," the utopian experience Goldenvoice Productions had hoped for, it did succeed in providing a busy weekend of great live music by bringing together nearly three generations of acts from all areas of interest. And seeing all the aging college rockers and new wavers there to see My Bloody Valentine and Echo & The Bunnymen coexist with the Hot Topic goth kids in attendance for Tool intermingling with the hip-hop heads amped for Jay-Z and Kool Keith in the company of the young blog rockers there to upload images of St. Vincent and Vampire Weekend to their Facebook accounts was certainly a testament to the communal powers of the music festival as a concept. And while you might think that such a wild variety of personalities could stir up a good deal of drama for the overabundance of security and police overlooking the masses, there was a minimal amount of confrontation amongst the mixed assortment of folks in attendance. Well, at least from my perspective. The morning-after posts from the online dailies found a much more hostile vibe amongst concertgoers, with many slinging digital mud at everyone from the youngsters who didn't "show enough respect" for the likes of Echo and MBV to the concert promoters themselves.
|Vampire Weekend :: APW 2009|
"I know I'm going to come off as a grumpy old man here - but the APW crowd (for the most part) are a bunch of twats," lamented an anonymous poster on Brooklyn Vegan in regards to Echo and the Bunnymen's raggedly glorious Sunday evening set, which he felt was otherwise ignored and under-appreciated by the younger fans in attendance. "The kids there have no respect for bands like Echo - showing off their ZERO musical knowledge and their attachment to texting useless information during a great gig (and for watching something horrid like Crystal Castles why do these two have a career?). Fuck 'em - the kids today don't know shit."
Elsewhere, some fans took aim at Goldenvoice Productions, chastising the company for its lack of cohesiveness in choosing the acts to play for this year's festival. "[APW] still appears to be a random lineup shoveled together by people intent on making cash that are not music fans," griped one reader on Billboard.com who questioned the sincerity and expertise of those in charge of putting the festival together. "Perhaps if an artist curated it a la Bowie, Morrissey, Reznor, a.k.a. someone who knows what they're doing AND knows about music, it could be a better experience and I would be more interested in attending again while dropping hundreds of hard-earned dollars on a three-day pass."
|All Points West 2009|
While the lineup seemed a little discombobulated to some, there was, in fact, some form of order to the festival, albeit in some odd Chinese arithmetic kind of way. In looking at the schedule of events prior to the weekend, one could easily surmise that Friday was the hip-hop and indie darling combo platter day, Saturday was relegated to a gloomier, heavier rock theme, and Sunday was reserved for the British. On paper it seemed like it could make sense. Yet why was it that acts who looked like they should have been on the Friday bill ended up playing Saturday and those who would have been a better fit on the Sunday lineup wound up performing on Saturday? For example, why did they put the Arctic Monkeys before the rowdy likes of My Bloody Valentine and Tool when they would have been better served to play on Sunday? And why leave Kool Keith and The Cool Kids stranded on the rock-heavy Saturday bill when they would have been much more at home playing on Friday alongside Q-Tip, The Pharcyde, Organized Konfusion and Jigga?
APW was hardly the cultural event that Woodstock has grown into, both in intention and dimension. However, despite some of the rather large generational gaps in the audience, the unity of such a diverse array of people stuck together in the mud and the rain could definitely be seen as a tribute of sorts to the communal spirit of the granddaddy of all rock festivals. That is, of course, if Woodstock had a tent sponsored by H&M that served shitty-tasting tap water and Toyota Priuses shuttling people to and from the site. Nevertheless, this year's All Points West was certainly an upgrade from last year's festivities and, given some pretty amazing performances from not only the headliners but the dozens of acts that outweighed the sorrows of soaked heads and sore feet, here's hoping next year will bring us Metro area folks another weekend of summer sounds. Now if I can only get that stink out of my nose...
Ominous thunderclouds hovered above Liberty State Park on Friday afternoon like a bad head cold that's about to turn into a full-blown case of swine flu. And while they were staved off enough for the likes of Ra Ra Riot and Seasick Steve to enjoy relatively dry sets in the early afternoon, once Fleet Foxes arrived on the main Comet Stage and kicked into the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Dennis Wilson-isms that have made them such media darlings, the sky ripped open right in the middle of a particularly fervent rendition of "White Winter Hymnal." Thanks for bringing some of that Seattle weather over here to the East Coast, fellas.
|Fleet Foxes :: APW 2009|
Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincinnati's The National followed them on the main stage and enjoyed a soggy but inspired 50-minutes of the kind of rainy day rock that perfectly fit the climate. There was even a moment when frontman Matt Berninger went into the crowd to soak in the weather and the adoration of his fans. The storm, however, hit its climactic crescendo during the legendary Queens-based underground rap duo Organized Konfusion's first live show together in over a decade. But the rain didn't put a damper on the reunited duo of Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch's fiery and unforgettable set peppered with material from all three of the group's classic albums (1991's Organized Konfusion, 1994's masterful Stress: The Extinction Agenda and 1997's The Equinox), highlighted by an appearance from longtime friend and fellow under-appreciated rhyme hero OC of the DITC Crew, who is said to be officially joining the group in 2009 alongside the group's other new member, the mighty DJ Boogie Blind of the new X-Ecutioners crew. For the modest legion of true underground hip-hop heads in attendance at APW, this particular set proved to be one of the great highlights of the entire festival.
In spite of the driving rain, Vampire Weekend, NYC's most loveable Afro art poppers since Talking Heads, maintained positive vibes throughout their fun-filled set jam-packed with such hits as "Cape Cod Kwasa Kwasa," "Oxford Comma," "M79" and "Walcott." "Beautiful park, New York City behind us, it's not so bad," enthused frontman Ezra Koenig before debuting a new song, "White Sky," which presumably will be featured on the group's forthcoming sophomore album, which is rumored to come out later this year.
|Karen 0 - Yeah Yeah Yeahs :: APW 2009|
A long trek across the festival site from the main stage to the comedy/electronic tent was well worth the screaming kankles as we walked in on Los Angeles abstract hip-hop young blood Flying Lotus deep in the mix of a kinetic set. Fans who were expecting to hear the heady Madlib-meets-Aphex Twin grooves that helped to make FlyLo's Warp debut, Los Angeles, one of 2008's finest moments were greeted with a more dance-heavy blend from Alice Coltrane's grandnephew with snippets of Snoop Dogg and dialogue from WarGames tossed into the chopper for good measure. Hearing the tit-for-tat between the WOPR and Matthew Broderick about chess and global thermal nuclear war ride atop skittering tech-hop beats was certainly well worth missing half of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set, although Karen O and co. certainly were doing their thing quite impressively as we were walking back and caught images of guitarist Nick Zinner looking quite funny sporting some sort of reverse Kate Gosselin haircut on the giant jumbotrons on the horizon.
As the sky cleared up, New York City's garage punk-cum-new wave dance mavens were steady rolling through a stream of crowd favorites, including some great choice cuts from their pop-tastic new album, It's Blitz!, like "Heads Will Roll" and "Zero" intermeshed with old fan favorites like "Y Control" and a beautiful reading of "Maps," which Karen, wearing a white arm band in his honor, dedicated to Adam "MCA" Yauch, whose recent cancer diagnosis forced the Beastie Boys to cancel their headlining performance on Friday.
|Q-Tip :: APW 2009|
Q-Tip, delivering that low end theory he does so well on the smaller Bullet Stage with an amazingly talented band in tow, also paid homage to MCA by performing a snippet of his verse from "Get It Together," Tip's collaborative hit from the B-Boys' 1994 masterpiece Ill Communication. "That's my family right there," Tip proclaimed before going into the Midnight Marauders gem "Sucka Nigga" followed by a cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" in homage to the fallen King of Pop.
The most poignant tribute to Yauch, however, came from the man who pinch-hit for the absent Beasties on Friday night. Flanked by a full band on par with the likes of Prince and D'Angelo, Jay-Z kicked off his set with a genuinely rockin', verse-for-verse version of "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." "Born and bred in the U.S.A., they call me Adam Yauch but I'm MCA," Jigga lovingly proclaimed to a sea of adoring fans dancing in the mud like they didn't care before setting fire to the Comet Stage with a 28-song performance spanning the entire length of Mr. Carter's 15-year career in hip-hop, on his very first appearance at a U.S. music festival.
"I want to dedicate this show to Adam," said Jay-Z prior to delivering an expertly executed set featuring such classic Hov anthems as "Blue Magic," "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" (which featured a shout out to Michael Jackson with the reconfigured line, "Ladies love me long time like MJ's soul") and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." Jigga announced, "Y'all are pioneers. One of the reasons I'm on this stage is because of y'all."
For over 90 minutes, Jay and his band blasted through the Brooklyn MC's catalog with the breathless pace of a Green Lantern mixtape, delivering knockout punches with heated renditions of his Reasonable Doubt gem "Can I Live," a brassy cruise through "Roc Boys" and his latest heater "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," which saw images of bling and boxes of the notorious voice manipulating computer program exploding into pieces like the Death Star at the end of Star Wars.
|Jay-Z :: APW 2009|
Jigga also took time to contemplate some major cultural turning points as well. Following a soulful run through his Vol. III: The Life and Times of Sean Carter anthem "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," Jay's DJ played the song's source sample, The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" as images and footage of Michael Jackson and his brothers filled the jumbotrons to the delight of verklempt fans still reeling from the Gloved One's sudden death in July. "If you take one thing from this concert, remember this," an emotional Hov declared, "we don't mourn death, we celebrate life."
When Jay reemerged for the encore, he offered up an a capella preview of a verse from his upcoming Blueprint 3 album before literally pummeling the crowd with a sprint through some of his biggest hits, including "Big Pimpin'," "99 Problems," "Can I Get A..." and "Hard Knock Life." Then, following an extended thank you that saw him shouting out random people in the crowd ("I see you Guido," for some reason, had me howling with laughter), the Jigga man hopped into an awaiting Maybach backstage and jetted as quickly as he emerged.
No Sleep Till Brooklyn, Brooklyn Go Hard, Say Hello, D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune), U Don't Know, Blue Magic, My President Is Black (Remix), Beware Of The Boys, I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me), Show Me What You Got, Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix), Roc Boys (And The Winner Is), Izzo (H.O.V.A.)/I Want You Back, Can I Live, Swagga Like Us, Jigga My Nigga, Jigga What, Jigga Who, Public Service Announcement (Interlude), Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Run This Town
Encore: A verse from The Blueprint 3, Medley: Money Ain't A Thing/La La La (Excuse Me Miss Again)/Fiesta(Remix)/Where I'm From/"Feelin' It, Can I Get A..., 99 Problems, Big Pimpin, Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), Encore
Continue reading for Saturday's coverage of APW...