* Sunday began with the Browns game at Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar with a group of a dozen or so Clevelanders. We won’t talk about the Browns. Nor, will we talk about the dirty looks I got once I figured out it was more fun to root for whoever was playing the Steelers on the tv across the bar. Yins Steeler fans didn’t appreciate that too much. Sunday NFL football was followed by fifteen minutes of Deerhoof in the Convention Hall. And, I really don’t want to talk about Deerhoof, either. Their style of ADD post-punk is not for me and that fifteen minutes tested my limits.
* Now, Earth’s performance at the theater early Sunday evening is something I do want to talk about. I had seen Dylan Carlson’s foursome earlier this year at the Grog Shop and while impressive, their sound wasn’t nearly as robust as I would have liked. In the Paramount Theater, one could cleanly hear the dedicated musicianship of guitarist, Carlson, Lori Goldston on cello, Adrienne Davis on drums and Angelina Baldoz on bass as they took the slow and patient path through American roots music. The repetitive melodies they so delicately worked were dark, heavy, purposeful and a pure delight for the ears. After patiently snaking their way through “Old Black” and “Father Midnight” from 2011’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull,” from the 2008 album of the same name, and “Ouroboros Is Broken,” off of 2007’s Hibernaculum, the band turned up the volume and introduced elements of chaos and dissonance into the mix with an alternate version of “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light,” set to appear on a new album early next year.
* Previously, I had seen Chuck D, Flava Flav and Public Enemy play their 1998 classic album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival and it was an enjoyable performance if only because they are true masters rap game. It was enjoyment of the intellectual kind, but not necessarily memorable. Sunday night’s performance, ostensibly based on 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet, but really a greatest hits set, was something quite different. With a full band on stage along side Chuck D, Flava Flav, DJ Roy, and The Bomb Squad, this was the loudest, rowdiest, punkest, most rockingest performance of the weekend, hands down. The energy was evident in the way Chuck D and Flava Flav worked the stage, running from side to side, in the way the band energetically boosted the bottom end of their tracks, and it was evident in the audience’s response. The convention hall floor became a jumping, swirly, and sweaty mess as the band ripped through classics like “911 is a Joke,” “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Shut ‘Em Down.” Later they’d dig through their deep catalog for “He Got Game,” and Black is Back,” a song which lifted the big AC/DC guitar riff from “Back in Black,” something they couldn’t afford to do on record. And not only was Public Enemy’s performance intense, but it was relevant, too. In introducing “Arizona (Ball of Confusion,” Chuck D was quick to point out that the state’s gun laws and immigration laws still make it a fucked up place in this great nation of ours. Their final song, “Fight the Power,” held similar poignancy as just a short trip away to New York City, thousands of young activists are busy working for change as they occupy Wall Street. I would write that the world needs more bands like Public Enemy, except one thing — There is only one Public Enemy and Sunday night’s performance was proof positive that they are still able to inspire a crowd to a greater purpose.
* It was Public Enemy’s Chuck D who would later provide the weekend’s most stunning collaboration when he joined Portishead on stage during their second weekend set to rap a verse during “Machine Gun.” Yes, there’s a youtube.
* And about that second Portishead set. While some were displeased to have them headline on two consecutive nights, this set up worked out well for me since I skipped out early on Saturday night to see some Factory Floor. And yes, they were just as impressive as the were during Saturday night’s set. Again, Geoff Barrow tweaked healthy doses of noise into older tracks like “Only You” and “Glory Box,” but knew better than to mess with songs like “Roads,” whose stark and desolate tone is perfect just as it is.
* One thing I did miss during Saturday night’s Portishead set was Beth Gibbons’ stage-dive at the end of the show. Who saw that one coming? She didn’t stage dive Sunday night, just a two-minute victory romp through the adoring throng packed in front of the stage. Yeah, it’s probably for the best she didn’t take another leap.
* I say this in the most complimentary way possible — I want Shepherd Fairey to dj my wedding. His mix of classic punk rock tracks by the likes of The Clash and The Cramps, ’90s hip-hop (Ice Cube, NWA, etc), new wave (Blondie), classic rock (Metallica) and cheese (“Der Komissar,” “Black Betty”,”Jump Around”) turned Asbury Park Lanes into one hoppin’ party for all of the 30-somethings and 40-somethings still out and about early Monday morning.
* Oh, and if you heard a rumor that Radiohead were set to play a secret set at the Wonder Bar, that was my rumor. It was cold outside and I wanted the line outside the lanes to clear up, and what better way than to clear out a room of hipsters than to announce secret Radiohead gig. I’d like to think my disinformation campaign got me into the lanes, oh, maybe two or three minutes sooner than I would have otherwise.
* Lastly, a big thanks goes out to the staff and crew of ATP and the locals who worked throughout Asbury Park this weekend. There were a lot of drunken old people out there lookin’ for their groove and we appreciate the soft approach you took to security. And, I can’t say enough about the supreme sound quality in all three venues. I’ve seen too many festival sets come undone by technical problems and sound issues. Sound was a non-factor at ATP. Lastly, an even bigger thank you goes to my traveling companions Kevin, Tim and Bill for letting me sleep through Pennsylvania on the way home. I wouldn’t be writing this wrap up if it wasn’t for that wonderful nap.