All Tomorrow's Parties, New Jersey USA 2011 - live review, photosAll Tomorrow's Parties
Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA
Saturday 1 October 2011
Due to ongoing penury, TheVine wasn't planning on heading to ATP this year, but when the opportunity of a last-minute ticket for Saturday comes up, music geekery overcomes financial good sense. And so it is that we find ourselves up early to board a New Jersey Transit train from Penn Station in NYC to Asbury Park in New Jersey. It's a two-hour journey that takes you through the backblocks of Jersey, past innumberable abandoned warehouses and rusting factories, out to the Jersey Shore, where Asbury Park sits overlooking the moody grey expanse of the Atlantic.
Before this weekend, Asbury Park was best known for being the town that Bruce Springsteen was trying to escape in all his early songs. Coming here, you can see why Bruce wanted out: the place is a strange and faintly menacing beachside resort that's a mix of faded former grandeur and newish development; a place where you get the feeling that there's all sorts of strangeness beneath the crumbling facade. It's just after midday when we arrive, and evil-looking clouds are threatening rain (it poured last night). The beach is deserted except for a lonely workman setting up white plastic chairs for a very optimistic wedding party. The festival patrons who were here last night are all talking about Jeff Mangum. We try not to appear too murderously jealous.
The ATP crew seem to delight in staging their festivals in strange and incongruous locations, so with two hours before the day's proceedings are due to kick off, we decide to explore for a bit. A stroll along the town's apparently iconic boardwalk takes us past a pinball museum (home to 200 vintage machines!), a mini-golf place, a strange kiddie pool that features a giant watering can, a series of fast food joints and bars, and then through the ruins of what appears to have once been a casino — it's now an empty shell of a building that's adorned with graffiti and a mural that relates the town's glory days.
Beyond the casino, shit gets really weird — Asbury Park gives way to Ocean Grove, a creepily pristine town that apparently owes its chocolate box perfection to the fact that it's entirely owned by the huge church that dominates its centre square. According to Wiki, it's known as the "Queen of Religious Resorts". There seems to be some sort of Christian fair happening today — the square is full of market stalls selling self-help books, framed scriptures and something called "Jesus water". Entertainment is provided by a steel drum band called "Deliverance on Steel". We purchase some holy perogis and then decide it's high time to head back to the heathen festival we're actually here for.
As is their custom, ATP's being held across a variety of venues — the two main stages are in the Asbury Park convention hall, a beautiful old art deco building that's adorned with a slogan that Springsteen fans will recognize immediately: "GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK". There's also Oneida playing an eight-hour-set at a bowling alley called Asbury Lanes, which has been decorated for the festival with a brand new Shephard Fairey mural featuring punk icons like Joe Strummer, John Lydon, Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins. We finish our sainted perogis and, with plenty of time to see Oneida, we decide to head for the convention hall — it's time to see the day's first band, which is Geoff Barrow side project Beak.
The hall is vaguely reminiscent of a pint-sized Festival Hall — cavernous interior, seating on three sides, lingering smell of popcorn. Happily, the sound's substantially better than at Melbourne's notorious venue, and Beak sound great. More specifically, they sound like Neu!, which is absolutely fine as far as TheVine's concerned. Barrow spends most of his time on drums, and proves himself a dab hand behind the kit. The room's about half full, and everyone here seems to be enjoying themselves in a very music geeky kind of way — we retreat to a seat to conserve our energy for the rest of the day, and we're rewarded with the mildly hilarious spectacle of a crowd that looks like a shelf full of those bobblehead dolls after someone's given it a good old whack.
After Beak finish, we retreat to the Beach Bar to watch the last of the wedding preparations and drink a $10 bucket of something called Beach Bar Cruzan Rum Punch. As we slurp from the bucket like a buck's party in Thailand, none other than Michael Gira walks in, clad from head to toe in black, wearing a cowboy hat and wielding the biggest cigar TheVine has ever seen. He surveys proceedings briefly and then heads to the bar. It's probably safe to assume that he will not be ordering a Beach Bar Cruzan Rum Punch.
We don't stick around long enough to find out, mind, because in the convention centre's other venue — a gorgeous little 1,600-seat theater called the Paramount — Silver Qluster are starting. This is a genuinely once-in-a-lifetime event, because Silver Qluster comprise Simeon of Silver Apples and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, once of Cluster and Harmonia. On paper, clearly, it sounds amazing. In reality, as with any dream collaboration, it could go either way. But happily, after a shaky start where the duo seem to be falling into the experimental music trap of playing two entirely different parts and seeing what happens, they lock into what they're doing and the magic starts happening, with Simeon providing rhythmic underpinning to Roedelius' atmospheric keyboard excursions.
Honestly, it's hard to overstate how exciting it is to see two men who've contributed so much to the world of electronic music on stage in 2011, let alone on stage together. Simeon recorded Silver Apples in 1968 on a home-built synthesizer — and now here he is, 43 years later, right here in front of us, up on stage with a laptop and a MIDI controller, looking just as comfortable as someone a quarter his age. He grins happily throughout the set, while Roedelius maintains Teutonic sternness, concentrating intently on a big Nord synth and what looks like a little improvised sampler. The music that results is both hypnotic and surprisingly, well, groovy — and definitely better than we'd dared hope for. After the duo finish, they're met with a standing ovation, and look genuinely chuffed.
Afterward, with The Horrors still sound-checking, TheVine decides it's time to head over to see how Oneida's eight-hour marathon is progressing. There's word that Geoff Barrow is sitting in, although as it transpires, he's gone by the time we arrive. Instead, it's James McNew of Yo La Tengo who's guesting. It's not every day you get to see a band play an eight-hour set of crazily loud avant-garde drone music in a bowling alley — especially one that looks like it hasn't changed since the 1950s — and it's a sight to behold. The generally surreal air to the scene is heightened by the fact that the lanes are still active and people are bowling right next to the band. The bar staff look less than enraptured, bless them.
We stick around for a half hour or so, and then mosey on back to the main stage, hoping to catch the second half of The Horrors' set. In the event, it turns out that we haven't missed much at all — the band have been proving their credentials as proper rock stars by sound-checking for bloody ages, meaning that they're late on stage (something that'll have implication as the day goes on, as we'll see). They're definitely the odd ones out on this bill, especially since their live sound seems to have fully embraced the '80s influences that pervaded their most recent album Skying — Joe Spurgeon's drums, in particular, sound terrifyingly like Phil Collins circa 1987. They're great performers, sure — and Farris Badwan has clearly studied all Joey Ramone's moves — but it's not until the epic version of "Moving Futher Away" that closes their set that they really win over the crowd. Excellent band, but perhaps not quite the right setting.
If there's any really bad news from the weekend, however, it's this: Battles really aren't the same without Tyondai Braxton. Sure, John Stanier is still a remarkable drummer, and sure, Ian Williams and Dave Konopka are also great musicians — but without Braxton, they're shorn of both a vocalist and a focus. And using pre-recorded vocals to replace him… well, it's not the answer. We stay for a few songs and then decide that gourmet hot dogs look like a better option. Sadly, the combination of a lengthy queue and staff members who appear more interested in drinking beer than producing gourmet hot dogs mean that we miss the re-emergence of reunited Bristol post punk quartet The Pop Group from 30 years of inactivity, which by all accounts is a most unfortunate oversight — they've just finished their set as we dash back to the Paramount. Curses.
(Continued next page: with Oneida, Swans, Ultramagnetic MCs, Portishead and more)
Join the conversation below