* From the first notes I heard of The Album Leaf, it was clear that All Tomorrow’s Parties would be offering something rare compared to other music festivals — Supreme sound. Both the Paramount Theatre, a space similar to Cleveland’s Agora, where The Album Leaf played at 5:30 on Friday and the adjoining Asbury Park Convention Hall, equal parts ornate and dumpy, comparable to Cleveland’s Public Hall, provided crisp, clear and robust sound. Personally, I preferred taking in The Album Leaf’s set from the second floor patio where their orchestral pop provided a fitting soundtrack to the exquisite views of the ocean and the city of Asbury Park.
* Cults did nothing for me.
* Can we quit it with the Dad Rock thing? Chavez sure looked like dads who had just spent their afternoon grocery shopping, takin’ in their kids soccer games and fixin’ shit around the house, in their jeans, plain shirts, and ball caps, then they f’n rocked the Hall, hard. Playing now as a four piece, as opposed to the five man, three guitar attack they wielded back in their prime, Matt Sweeney and company were no less loud and no less fierce. Piercing guitars ricocheted off the walls, while the lower toned chords could be felt in your legs and your gut. “Pentagram Ring,” “Unreal is Here,” and “You Must be Stopped” were all early highlights of the festival. Ed. For some reason I had it in my mind that there was at one time a fifth Chavez. As a commenter pointed out, this was not the case.
* Why had I not listened to Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 before Friday night? Had I heard them back in ’96 when their album I Hope It Lands first came out, they would have been my favorite band for years. This wasn’t the case for everyone in the crowd. Others, who obviously didn’t sleep on this band the first time around, heard their intelligent, detailed, and danceable post-punk and formed the first mosh pit of the weekend. It got so intense that near the end of the set, the fun police were inches away from breaking up the pit. Thank you, fun police, for showing restraint and letting the old kids have their fun. And yes, The Thinking Fellers were the most pleasant surprise of the first night.
* Jeff Mangum’s headlining performance at the Paramount Theater was magnificent on many levels. Psychologically, here was a man who appeared uncomfortable alone on the stage. He sat under a dim spotlight, surrounded by nothing but four acoustic guitar stands and one music stand. He rushed through many of his numbers, strumming quickly, barely speaking to the audience. His eyes, when they were open, were blank and distant. Yet, as his set progressed he became more comfortable. He didn’t seem as pressed and some way, some how, he began to enjoy the moment. The crowd who was quiet, reverential and polite, and even respected the no cameras, no cell phones rule, came alive once Mangum invited them to help him with selections from Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Hearing the crowd and Mangum gleefully sing the opening lines of “King of Carrot Flowers Parts 2 and 3,” “I love you Jesus Christ/Jesus Christ I love you/Yes I do,” was strangely inspiring, acutely moving, and magnificent. Yes, magnificent.
* Going back to an earlier point, the sound again was gorgeous for Bonnie Prince Billy’s set. With a large band which included a female vocalist, an extra percussionist, stand up bass, and a multi-instrumentalist his sad, sentimental and rustic ballads were nothing short of beautiful. Oh, I joked about having to leave for a minute, as to not slit my wrists, but his set was another highlight for a festival which was quickly providing one memorable moment after another, and that was before Chavez’s Matt Sweeney joined Bonnie Prince Billy for a two-song Superwolf reunion.
* That image above is a piece of a large mural Shepherd Fairey painted on the side of Asbury Park Lanes. From left to right (On the top image), it’s Glenn Danzig of The Misfits/Danzig, Ian McKaye of Fugazi, and Henry Rollins of Black Flag/Rollings Band. I’m including more shots below, so you can see full punk Rushmore with Joey Ramone, Johhny Rotten, and Joe Strummer.