All Points West Day 2: Radiohead (again), Animal Collective, The Virgins, Chromeo
The Virgins at All Points West, photo by Rebecca Smeyne
Chromeo kicked off my second day here at APW. I saw the electro-funk duo a few months back at Bonnaroo, and the gig was incredible, largely due to the dramatic accompanying light show. At APW they played at 2:30pm, which isn't prime-time as far as lighting effects go, but they were still a great deal of fun. There were fewer kids duded out in 80s-inspired hipster wear here than at the TN gig, but I'm going to go ahead and attribute that to the fact that we're in Jersey. Chromeo continues to get a lot of mileage out of the talk box - P-Thugg uses it almost constantly in the live show and on the album - and I'm curious to see if they're going to rely on it this much in future albums. The effect suits their music perfectly, but has a whiff of a gimmick about it.
Apparently the Virgins, a NYC-based band, caused a stir at SXSW this past March, but I hadn't heard of them until a friend mentioned them a few weeks ago. I enjoyed their eponymous debut quite a bit and their live show was basically what I expected: a talented young band working out their sound and their image. That said, they appeared completely at ease onstage and performed most of the tracks from the album perfectly, which is to say that they sounded just like the album. It was endearing, however, when the last song (the crowd-pleaser "Rich Girls") ended and the front man said, "Holy shit that was a fun show!"
Animal Collective, photo by Rebecca Smeyne
Overheard in the line for the pizza booth after the Animal Collective show:
Kid 1: That was a great show.
Kid 2: Yeah, man. I mean, I dunno. I don't really get it. There's just too much going on, I guess. It's hard to listen to.
Kid 2 seemed to be in the minority at APW: Animal Collective played to one of the largest crowds here yet. The NYC-based avant-garde quartet doesn't so much perform songs as they improvise over drum loops and found sounds, weaving guitar and assorted electronics around a repeated beat. The resulting songs fall somewhere in between noise rock and classical music. The band members use their voices in especially strange ways. Avey Tare, who appears to be the band's primary vocalist, tends to switch back and forth from singing standard lead melodies and wailing long improvised lines on open vowels. In the extended intro to the APW performance of "Street Flash," a standout track from Water Curses, the group's 2007 EP, Tare did a long take on the theme to Ravel's Bolero, for example. These sorts of musical references are buried throughout AC's music, it seems, but it can be hard to hear them all through the noise. Maybe that's the point.
It seems like the most common topic of conversation around the press tent at APW is, of course, Radiohead. I think it says a lot about this festival that Nathan Followill, the Kings of Leon's lead singer, ended the band's rock solid APW set by saying, "It's an absolute honor to play before the great Radiohead." There is always band hierarchy at music festivals, but I've never seen it as pronounced as at APW. Then again, I've also never been to a Radiohead show. Maybe two tiers - Radiohead and everyone else - is the norm. APW was set up in such a way that no other bands are playing during Yorke and Co.'s set. They did this because everyone, artists included, want to see Radiohead, and rightly so.
The Oxford-based supergroup played a massive set, repeating most of the tunes from In Rainbows that they played last night, but generally mixing things up. Phil Selway turned the introductory 5/4 beat to "15 Step" on its head, for example, whereas last night he played it straight down. Strangely, Thom Yorke said, "Cool beans," a lot. The light show was incredible and unique (and used mostly recycled materials, to boot).
Radiohead is not perfect, of course. Last night, Jonny Greenwood, the lead guitarist, spent about 30 seconds cycling through different versions of the beat for "Videotape," apparently looking for the right one, when Thom yelled at him, "Hey, Jonny! Wake up! That's it!" At tonight's show Yorke started the guitar riff at the beginning of "Bodysnatchers" a bit fast, and was forced to slow down when the rest of the band came in. Later in the show he got through about 20 seconds of "Videotape" when he messed up the piano part and had to stop and restart, quipping, "I meant to do that." All great men have their foibles, right? Still, with the APW crowd Radiohead could pretty much do no wrong. Highlights included "Airbag" (which Yorke dedicated to Kings of Leon, remarking, "If we looked as good as they do we'd be famous,") and "Kid A," in addition to the crowd-pleasers "Everything In Its Right Place" and "Planet Telex."