All Points West Pt. 2
Liberty State Park; Jersey City, NJ

{(Part 1)} (Part 2) {(Part 3)}

If the lineup at Friday's All Points West was evenly spread with a slew of notable bands turning in performances of varying repute, then Saturday's schedule was utterly front-loaded on the back end. The main stage (no, I will NOT refer to it as the "Blue Comet" stage, thank you) was packed with almost all of the most notable acts of the day, save for a sunset show with The Roots. As strangely anti-climactic as the day was, a minor concession offered to myself: at least it wasn't Sunday's lineup.

...

{Day Two, Saturday}

{Chromeo}

When approaching the massive crowd gathered at the end of the park that was waiting for Chromeo to (dis?)grace the stage, I did a double-take while considering the possibility that either Chromeo were a more popular band than I thought they were, or that a lot more festivalgoers were from Los Angeles than expected.

As it happens (it always does), I was wrong on both counts: turns out the turn-out was nothing more than the result of necessity, as not nearly as many audience members were interested in checking out no-namers Alberta Cross (good move) or Jersey's own Nicole Atkins (whatever). This was a fact that only rang truer as the are-they-ironic-or-aren't-they? ’80s-electro duo launched into a set leaning heavily on their relatively successful -- and, it must be said, catchy -- sophomore effort, Fancy Footwork, encouraging singalongs that weren't sung along and dance parties that never had the chance of getting crashed.

It's not incredibly fair to slot an act like Chromeo, whose tongue-in-cheek, sunglasses-at-night routine seems to only work well at night, in the first slot of a balmy afternoon on a lineup where musical kindred spirits are non-existent; thus, part of me felt bad for them, especially when dropped instruments and technical malfunctions unexpectedly made their way into their setlist. However, even though their energy waned near the end of the set, you got to hand it to them for at least consistently trying to engage the crowd, if not successfully.

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{Metric}

Since when was this band so popular? A large crowd of audience members that had been previously still in their tracks for Chromeo morphed into a larger crowd of lyric-reciting, bad-dancing 23-year old women, as Emily Haines and several unknowns kicked off their set. Haines, wearing a skintight, gold lamé dress-thing with no clear sign of underwear underneath (something could be said here about indie-rock's devaluation of sensitivity into what has become self-destructive sexism, but I'm probably not the right person to say it), writhed and thrashed about as she knocked over microphone stands and set off keyboard runs. Her boundless energy might have made for interesting viewing, but it didn't help Metric's fuzzy musical math -- late ’90s No Doubt + early electroclash - negativity / Elastica = Live it Out -- sound like it was close to balancing the equation.

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{Animal Collective}

It's always worthwhile to catch a live set from Animal Collective near the end of a long string of shows, rather than at a tour kickoff -- it's as if they feed off of the creative energy that gestates on the road, making their performance more effervescent than it was earlier in the year. Case in point: as the quartet whittled themselves down to a temporary(?) trio for live appearances post-Strawberry Jam, surrounding themselves with drum machines and samplers, the new material being previewed contained a dewy, tentative twilight within its looping piano lines and directly indirect lyricism.

Flash forward to APW, where the dew became undeniably sticky and the naked introversion manifested itself into a harsh, outgoing smile. New favorites "Social Status" and "Walk Around" were equal parts drum-sample-heavy dance music and Afro-pop, as Avey Tare flared around the stage with joy while running back and forth to his bed of samplers -- but it was the massive stretches of ambient meditation undercutting everything that truly floored the audience, along with a tear-inducing, crowd-deadening rendition of "Comfy in Nautica" that emphasized the band's recent mentionings of Person Pitch as a recent influence. Another three steps forward from a band that refuses to stand still.

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{The Roots}

With frustration-fraught, knee-deep depressive anger surrounding The Roots' last several studio albums, one would expect their live show to be equally tension-ridden -- especially if one, like me, had never seen The Roots before (I know, I know). Most likely, the under-attended nature of their APW set added to their long-term shit list; onstage, however, the lean and mean six-piece played off of each other with a sense of discovery and happiness that was seldom found during the weekend.

As a showman, Black Thought's stage-commanding ability is surprisingly unnerving for a lyricist who could be considered ‘competent at best’ on record, delivering a poignant "moment of humor" for the dearly departed Bernie Mac mid-set; with all the performance-enhanced flair and grin-creating surprises, there were moments of humor all around. Even as ?uestlove's drum setup deteriorated early in the set, hilarity was had: "I'm going to need a minute," he said mid-song, as he hammered out a snap-crackling beat with one hand and winding his snare with the other, struggling not to burst out laughing at the inanity of it all. A set that was alternately tight and loose, on point and off the wall, faithful and irreverent -- why couldn't these guys have headlined on Saturday night? Which brings us to...

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{RADIOHEAD.}

- Part 1: Winning the Battle, Losing the War

[(The following is a fictional discussion between fictional APW promoters.)]

Promoter 1: So, I just got off the phone with Radiohead's publicist. They're on for Friday night.

Promoter 2: Excellent. So we've got them for Friday, and Jack Johnson for Sunday... who do we get for Saturday?

Promoter 3: It would be pretty funny if we had Radiohead play Friday and Saturday night.

Promoter 2: Oh yeah, great fucking idea, Todd. Real great one. Radiohead as the headlining act both nights? Do you know how stupid that sounds? What, do you think that we aren't creative enough to get an interesting, crowd-drawing headlining act for Friday that isn't Radiohead?

Promoter 3: Hey, I was only making a jok--

Promoter 2: Save it, Todd. You're fucking fired. See you at Bonnaroo.

[Exit Promoter 3, a.k.a. Todd]

Promoter 2: Alright, Billy, get Radiohead's publicist on the phone and offer them $4 million for Friday and Saturday.

Promoter 1: Bob, I thought you just said that Todd's idea was stupid.

Promoter 2: No, I fired him so I could steal it and make it my own. It's genius.

Promoter 1: But, but, but... you were right about everything you said. Choosing Radiohead as a headliner for two consecutive nights does reveal a total lack of creativity and an underlying contempt for our audience.

Promoter 2: Sorry, what? I was playing with my iPhone. We're going to be rich, Billy.

[Fin.]

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- Part 2: Just 'Cause You Hear It, Doesn't Mean “There, There”

"Do you know how much these guys got paid for playing both nights here?" the woman at the butterfly fries stand asked my friend and I while we got root beers as the titanically boring (let the tomato-throwing commence) Radiohead launched into their set of rote career window-dressing.

"No, I have no idea, I'm sorry," I said politely.

"Yeah? Well, I heard that they're getting paid a lot of money for this," the woman leaned in and whispered, as if the guy putting cheese on fries in the back might run into Thom Yorke and tell him that she was spreading rumors. I didn't even have to open my mouth for her to pleasingly tease, "Guess how much. Just guess."

"$500,000," I said.

"Higher."

"$1 million."

"Higher."

Alright, $4 million."

"Oh, not that high."

"$3 million." At this point, the woman stopped and gazed listlessly, as if caught up in her own processes. "To be honest, I don't know the exact number. I know it was high. Why would these guys be getting paid so much money? What have they done for that?"

It was an honest question, and as my friend and I stared at each other for a bit, contemplating longingly, we couldn't figure out the right answer. "To be honest with you, ma'am, I don't even know anymore."

Such is the problem that the increasingly irrelevant (yet incessantly and paradoxically relevant) art-school grads in Radiohead face. In Rainbows, while being the least lyrically sophomorically-inclined (and, by default, best) record in the band's catalog, was also a signal of defeat from a band that could never decide whether or not they should keep complaining while getting fucked or just close their eyes and let the hot tears of resignation flow. Yeah, it's a sexy record, but only these guys could make sex sound so lonely and miserable in the end.

Of course, the increasingly narrow-minded fanbase that surrounds and scavenges these guys would never admit any of that -- not because they like being miserable, but because they like the idea of it, sort of like when your friend listens to nothing but Joy Division for a year because he thinks it's going to induce suicide. Given the forever-staid attitudes of Thom Yorke and co., it could be safe to assume that they've grown sick of entertaining these widespread notions of mainstream grandeur via live settings (although it must be said that the stage setup for this current tour carries its own minimalist, glacial charms) and would rather appease their more techno-savvy fans with endless webcasts and remix contests.

I make these assumptions not because of my thinly veiled disdain for Radiohead, but because I'm genuinely trying to find an explanation for how a band that is so revered by its fans manages to go out on stage and put on a clinically perfect, absolutely bloodless performance night after night. Like a meaningless art installation, Radiohead's live presence can only be appreciated for a short while before inducing massive dopamine levels of ennui, as Yorke and crew disengage themselves in front of thousands of fans while unraveling a set that plays less like a well thought-out selection of songs with a unified theme and more like a grab bag of career highlights and forgotten repeaters.

During the last couple of weeks, I have encountered friends and strangers that attended the show who have strongly disagreed in varying amounts of elegance with me about the points at discussion here. "Do you have no soul?" "You're retarded." "But they sound so good!" Yes, but if that's why I'm going to a concert, I'd rather stay home and listen to the record. Sure, they offered some varied sonic treats (a Kraut-y, dubbed-out "The Gloaming" and that last third of "Optimistic" with its guitar-led air assault that gets me every time), but at a festival where the few simple pleasures to be had were found in acts that enjoyed sound, solidarity, and spontaneity, Radiohead ended up looking like just another brick in the modern rock wall.

[Photo: John Shearer]

{(Part 1)} (Part 2) {(Part 3)}

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