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All Tomorrow's Parties Music Festival

Preview
Readers of freewilliamsburg.com watch out - All Tomorrow's Parties Music Festival starts March 14, 2002 in Los Angles.

Even if you can't attend, watch this site for daily updates, reviews and sorted tales directly from this meta-music festival. The four-day fest, curated by New York's own Sonic Youth, will run the gamut of new music styles from the avant garde piano of jazz legend Cecil Taylor, to the loop-driven pop of Stereolab, to the unmistakable sounds of 70's rock icons Big Star.

Indeed, just when the proclamations about the death of new music seem to bubble from every crevice, along comes a giant all-encompassing forward-thinking musical celebration. Stay tuned for tomorrow's update as the festival kicks off with special coverage from freewilliamsburg's own columnist Charles Waters on assignment in LA.

This year APM will feature:
Wilco
Television
Cat Power
Papa M
Sonic Youth
Jim O'Rourke
Smog
Lydia Lunch
Califone
Big Star
White Out
Chris Lee
Sonic Youth
Unbound
Bardo Pond
Peaches
Aphex Twin
Merzbow
Stephen Malkmus
Cannibal Ox
and many more.


Installment 1 - - March 15


Pod-People Live!

Before we heard one note of music we met the alien hospital Social Security Dancer with the white serum alien pod stories. He was on a verbal rampage early in the morning of yet another sunny day in LA. Sometimes the one-way conversation got heated. We backed off until my man Memory broke the schizophrenic spell:

"Are you certified?" asked Memory.

"Um…well, I'm legitimate," responded alien pod man.

That was good enough for us, off to the All Tomorrow's Parties festival at UCLA.
First off at Royce Hall was the improvisational quartet of Kim Gordon, Ikue Mori, Jim O'Rourke, and DJ Olive. These are all downtown NYC noise provocateurs, generating heat and sound from within their manipulated soundscape. It is a new type of concert music caught somewhere between art rock and noisy pyrotechnics. It was a refreshing set and the group played with skill and actually communicated some interesting music to the audience.

Next, we took a quick walk over campus to catch the Bardo Pond set in Ackerman Grand Ballroom, a room with a very barn-like quality. I want to enjoy Bardo Pond's Sabbath-rock meets jam band aesthetic, but it's not really a moving set. But its a festival - there is always something simultaneously happening elsewhere. Back to Royce Hall.

Now the crowds for Eddie Vedder have grown out the door and the line has a mean look in its eyes. They want Vedder now. Finally wiggling my way back into the concert room, I settle in for the set. Vedder plays solo with the mandolin and miniature guitar love ballads. His voice is still a powerful, albeit overplayed, baritone. It is the sound of alternative radio rock from Christmas past. But his confidence is striking and seeing him solo was a rare peak into pre-Pearl Jam days when Vedder must have played a lot of solo singer-songwriter gigs.

Following, Vedder was a chilling solo set by Catpower, aka Chan Marshall. Marshall explained in her typically unsettling manner that her recently broken finger caused her problems in playing guitar. But damn if she didn't play. The audience was remarkably silent, awkwardly spellbound by the pathos of Marshall's beleaguered agonizing performance. Backstage, I overheard someone whisper during the strained silence of Marshall's set, "Yea, Chan makes Will Oldham sound like party music."

Two solo sets back to back, Vedder v. Catpower, revealed the essence of "legitimate" music that pod-man informed us about earlier. The overground and the underground meet onstage in LA, like a classical concert for the aging alterna-nation. But the party continues tonight with a full round of psycho-noise and rock underbelly to jump-start a new minimalist decadence of rock.


Installment 2 - March 16



The Boredoms

The Noise at Jericho

Chris Lee Band from Brooklyn opened up Day Two of the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival here in LA. The trio consists of Lee on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Wilms on bass, and the ever-present Steve Shelley doing drum duty. This band rocked through a short set of light but bright music with clarity and focus. Lee sounded relaxed and comfortable in his growing role as new soul sensation. His voice has grown in depth and girth over the last few months of solo concerts. But today there is much to be heard so I'm off to Ackerman Hall.

NEW GRASS RISING

Thurston Moore and Nels Cline, guitar gladiators from opposite coasts, played the early set with William Winant on percussion and the searing Swedish tenor saxophonist Mats Gustaffson. Mats showed the LA crowds what it sounds like to be THE saxophone idol in the best (to quote Boston critic Stu Vandermark) "Post-Ayler" sense. The group, which will hopefully last longer than this festival, sounds like a new flower blossoming into the promise of music played by great saxophonist Albert Alyer (a heavy influence on all of these musicians) on his much maligned 1968 album "New Grass". Instead of backbeat funk rock though the palette today is all metal machine music.

Moore and Cline unleashed a torrent of guitar feedback filled with distorted, angular geometry while Winant punched the sonic blasts with staccato vibraphone attacks. Thurston especially contoured the set with his high energy playing, creating an almost arco bass-toned field of noise. After a few minutes of two-guitar and drums buildup, Gustoffson raged into the center of the sound-wall blazing a path of machine gun articulations and explosions. The blend of avant jazz directions fused with the guitar smashing discord brought the ATP crowd to its feet. After about 40 minutes of ecstatic wave vector music, the four improvisers clamped the ending with rock and roll style - boom, off. The crowd was totally mesmerized.

Now back to Royce Hall (I'm getting my college glow back on campus in this sunshine) to catch Chicago maverick Kevin Drumm with another Sonic Youth member Lee Rinaldo. Royce is a concert stage, so the rock-show feel of the earlier set is lost. But Drumm and Rinaldo, both definitely excellent improvisers, have a plan. Drumm is a prepared (in a Cage way) guitar player. The origins of his sound experience come from tweaking guitars into otherworldly sound generators by using modulators, effects and computer sampling.

Rinaldo was responsive, fueling and directing the music that accompanied the beautiful images of Leah Singer projected on the black wall of the stage. At the very end of their set, surprise guest Mats Gustoffson joined the duo and manipulated his horn into a growling, halting stutter box of sound .

Now back to Ackerman Grand Ballroom where I see Acidman is still standing with his back to the crowd. When I left earlier he was frozen with his hand inside a box of popcorn. I think he was a one-man protest against…against what? He was my constant reminder of the power of dissent. Even at an alternative, underground music festival people must express themselves.

More to come, but the highlight of ATP fest is at hand, the Boredoms.

TUMBLING WALLS

Before the Boredoms took the stage, Sleater-Kinney showed the kids how to rock. Their set was fast and fun and full of new songs. S-K is amazingly tight with their material showing real dedication to the craft and to just plain rocking in general. Corin Tucker has an amazing voice and the three really pumped up the energy level of the ATP crowd, especially after the dark noise vortex created by Merzbow left everyone aching for harmony.

But now the Boredoms are on stage. From my (highly) informal survey most of the audience members were at the festival to see the Boredoms. I admit I have not kept up with their work over the years, but when I first heard the Boredoms, about ten years ago, I was blown away by their speedy, Japanese noise freak-out rock. Their new (to me) line-up consists of three drummers and front man EYE on organ and vocals. Their show is an absolutely mind-blowing amalgamation of pshychedelia sometimes reminiscent of Piper at the Gates of Dawn. EYE burns his organ, vamping up and down leaving everyone with some kind of chromatic vertigo while the three drummers move from avant garde20th Century percussion ensemble music ala Lou Harrison, to Butoh dance music, to full throttle drum and bass beats. And when their velocity heats up, the Boredoms dissolve all fears about the future of music.

Tonight the sun burned bright at midnight for the sounds of unbridled ecstasy…long live the avant electro-acoustic revolution!


Installment 2 - March 17

The big news today in LA - it rained! For your typical East Coaster, rain is part of life, but in Southern California it's an event. But the rain did not deter the spirit or the energy of the music at the All Tomorrow's Parties final day of shows. For many in the crowd, Day Three was the big-ticket item of the whole festival.
First off, early in the afternoon was the Brooklyn noise-rockers Black Dice. The band played a screeching drug-addled set of freak-rock burning through the haze of the previous nights musical explosions.

New Zealand rockers Dead C filtered the festival's noisy common denominator through the slow-jam rock backbeat and walking bass. The nebulas guitar driven cap of Dead C's sound is different than the pure noise of some improvisations of Black Dice or German sound manipulator Pita's wall of floating noise. It's the beat, a very important element, which keeps the music moving forward even when the static overdrive of guitar hum deadens the ear. Dead C was very polite, thanking the audience for coming to hear their music. Sometimes noise can be nice.

PEACH HONEY

The highly anticipated set by Berlin-based singer/dancer/(anti) porn-rocker Peaches did not fail to pump up the crowd. The energy came more from matching the unseen sound to the seen face of Peaches the singer, live versus the record of the same name.

Peaches is a very strange conceptual-art project taken to the extreme. Peaches the singer meshes trashy Euro-house music with dogmatic, slogan-like one-line riffs. The opening track and essential Peaches theme music "Fuck the Pain Away" is in-your-face porn-glam. Peaches is sexy, but the deconstructionist tendencies and the lack of real musicians (all of the music is piped in, like a Madonna or Cher concert) deter from any real impact. Though her cover of Berlin's "Metro" was flashback ecstasy.

The most interesting aspect of the show was the blending of the music with the art of illustrator Shary Boyle that was projected behind Peaches during the set. Boyle uses dark water-soluble inks on the overhead project to dress the singer out in a variety of sets and within a series of conflicting visual dioramas. The combination of the music and the projection art tried to strike a blow at the testosterone driven-noise rock that dominated this festival (and most of rock in general), but it was only momentarily arresting. Peaches is fun to see, briefly titillating, but ultimately lacking in some essential ingredient.


HOME STRETCH

Sound has it's own weariness and the look of sonic fatigue surrounded me by 9PM on Sunday night. The enthusiastic crowd worked hard to stay focused after three days of noise blasting at stadium volumes. Thankfully Sonic Youth, veterans of innumerable festivals, wisely programmed Stereolab as the grand respite and preamble to their own set.

"Everything Stereolab does is cool."

This overheard comment from the people in front of me at Ackerman Grand Ballroom expresses the general feeling of Stereolab's music -it's cool, very cool. Stereolab put on a great live show. They don't really dance around or wear flashy rock and roll garb, but their subdued stage presence is compensated by the tight rhythm and control maintained by the band throughout the set. The only drawback was the lack of new material. Stereolab played through a mostly "hits" set, resting on the originality of their looped cool beats. But the opening number might offer a clue. It was a slightly up-tempo tune with a western twang and a lot of Mama's and Papa's tambourine. We'll have to wait and see if Stereolab goes country.

SWEET THUNDER
"Why be a writer when you could be a fucking rock star?"
-Neal Pollack

The last act of the festival was of course Sonic Youth. After three days of noise and rock, where each member of this band played their own sets of improvised mayhem, the band converged to rock the house down. Everyone was betting - rock set or noise set? The way Sonic Youth plays these days in terms of improvisation and longevity is oddly reminiscent of the Grateful Dead though with a different vocabulary. I can't stretch the comparison too long, but even with fan loyalty, people love Sonic Youth because what they play is different every time and that is what the audience expects. It's a great place to have contoured a group after playing for twenty plus years together.

Sonic Youth gave us the rock set and it was rock and roll to live for. Raging through some crowd-pleasing Dirty-era hits, the Youth slammed the Ballroom with all they had in them. Some of the new material is excellent with each member singing and playing, including a new Lee Rinaldo song layered in moody and thick jazz guitar harmonies. Thurston's new song "Disconnection Notice" is a spooky departure from the wall of noise.

But the best part of this set was the addition of Jim O'Rourke. I don't buy all of the "fifth-Beatle" nonsense; he is a member of the fucking band. Jim has been in the mix since his early work with Sonic Youth on SY3 (the Dutch language-covered record from the self-released Sonic Youth improvisational albums series). O'Rourke has done excellent work as a composer, sound manipulator, DJ, re-mixer, film composer, whatever seems to strike his fancy, and its great to hear him back rocking the guitar and bass. It's easy to forget that O'Rourke was one-third of the Chicago vanguard rock trio Gastr del Sol, a band that even through its super-intellectual stance never forgot how to rock the house. So when Sonic Youth hit it the stage, Jim was right there in rock star heaven and he deserves it.

In the end Sonic Youth was a great end to a dynamic, complex festival of underground new music. The post-festival fallout has been thoroughly provocative from both local radio and press. Everyone seems to have strong opinions about some aspect of the festival with plenty of suggestions about the future of All Tomorrow's Parties.

The 2003 date for the next LA festival seems surely poised for continued exploration of every possible realm of music. Let's hope they continue the party and this time try and accommodate the 9,960 bands left off the bill this year. And please, no more writers trying to be rock stars!

--Charles Waters




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[email protected] | March 2002 | Issue 24
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