Barely recovered from Lollapalooza last weekend, I set out to cover the first annual All Points West festival this weekend in Liberty State Park, New Jersey. I didn't know what to expect going in, but if day one was any indication, APW will be quite an entertaining weekend.
One thing everyone heading to this event should know right off the bat: no matter how you get to the festival (train/light rail, ferry, or even driving) you're facing about a 15-20 minute walk to the entrance of the festival grounds. I wasn't prepared for that and it was quite the unwelcome surprise.
This being the festival's first year there were certainly a few quirks and kinks that will hopefully be ironed out in coming years. First, half of the event staff didn't know what was going on, who should get VIP bracelets, who is allowed re-entry, etc. I saw one staffer unable to immediately point out on a festival map the location of the stage at which he was currently working. Also, for future reference, stickers are not the best form of press credentials for outdoor festival press badges, especially on days it might rain.
The biggest hang-up, however, had more to do with the state of New Jersey than anything else. Since this APW is, apparently, the first time the state has allowed alcohol at an official state park the local government required several neat little restrictions on its consumption. Alcohol is only permitted in designated, fenced-in beer zones (separated by a double fence to discourage passing drinks over), and each attendee is limited to 5 drinks. This is accomplished by marking the hand upon receipt of a drinking bracelet that comes equipped with five tear-away tabs, one to be torn off by the bar tender for every drink purchased. It's quite an involved, mildly draconic system but according to an organizer it was hard enough getting the state to allow drinking in the first place so, when compared to no drinking at all, this set-up is quite an acceptable compromise.
On the plus side, the area set aside for the festival is about 1/3 the size of Lollapalooza's Grant Park, resulting in far, far less walking, and additionally, Friday temperatures were much milder. An extra bonus was the view. There are times when it's easy to forget just where it is I live, but when I looked back from the stages and saw the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the entire Manhattan skyline it made for quite a breathtaking reminder.
I arrived during the middle of The Go! Team's (Web site, Myspace) show on the main (Blue Comet) stage. They seemed to play the same set from Lollapalooza, and as always Ninja's energy was off the charts. Sadly, she seemed to be having a harder time getting the APW crowd motivated. Her repeated requests for the crowd to jump and move were met with less enthusiasm than she saw at Grant Park and at one point she teased "All Points Westers are notoriously too cool for school, but nobody's too cool to groove." There were several pockets of fans that did catch on to the infectious energy in Go! Team's hip-hop/rock/playground aesthetic, but sadly she did not get as warm a welcome on the East Coast as she did 7 days prior in the Midwest.
Michael Franti and Spearhead's (Web site, Myspace) set of funk and reggae 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.
By the time the New Pornographers (Web site, Myspace) began playing on the main stage the rain had let up and the sun began once again peeking through the clouds. I've never been huge on the New Pornographers for whatever reason, but I quite enjoyed their set of earnest folk-tinged rock and roll. It was incredibly catchy with a light atmosphere and an easy-going vibe. Even the band's between-song interactions with the crowd inspired no small amount of aw-shucks smiles and laughs.
As the New Pornographers were finishing up, Cansei de Ser Sexy (Web site, Myspace) was just getting started on nearby the Bullet stage. As with Lollapalooza, Lovefoxxx came out in garish attire, this time fluorescent floral print with various cray paper attachments. Her energy was just as playfully intense, however, and her dancing and antics on stage only enhanced the effect of the band's high-powered electro-clash. If anything the group looked to be having even more fun than they did in Chicago last weekend, evidenced in the dancing feet (or at least bobbing heads and tapping toes) of most nearby onlookers. Without that many tunes to choose from, their set included mostly the same songs from Lolla, but the band at least changed up the order. CSS has always been a great time, and Friday afternoon was certainly no exception.
Quick on the heels of the Brazilian six-piece was the occasional one-piece Andrew Bird (Web site, Myspace). Bird began his set accompanying himself on the violin, recording and playing back the 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 I've yet seen. 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.
Last Friday when I bailed before English powerhouse Radiohead (Web site, Myspace)several people chastised me and so as they took the stage at All Points West (the first of their two-night appearance) I could hardy leave again. What followed was one of the most intense shows I've 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.)
I was largely torn throughout the set, however. I've never been a huge fan of Yorke's voice when he croons, 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 seemlessly and fluidly forward. At times I found myself wanting to leave as Yorke let loose an extended wail, but couldn't move because I was entranced by the sheer brilliance of the music. During the moments when Yorke's vocal was under control and in shorter bursts or lower keys I could feel myself of the mindset "OMFG Radiohead!" in which so many people I know seem to reside.
All in all, a pretty decent first day.
Originally posted at ListenInMusic.com.
© Eric Atienza 2008 for Listen In.