Day two of All Points West brought one welcome addition: sun. Not enough to dry up the mountains of mud of course, but enough so that the experience could be pleasant from the knees up. Against all odds, the good weather lasted the entire day, allowing for the kind of roaming musical exploration for which festivals were made.
First up was alt-indie rockers …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. From their aggressively melodic instrumental opening through the finale where singer/guitarist/drummer Jason Reece leapt off the stage and roamed singing through the masses the crowd was enraptured with every noise crescendo and short blast of feedback. The band got so into their emo-hardcore that everything onstage that couldn’t get out of the way took a beating. As a solo piano number picked up speed Conrad Keely hit the keys so hard the keyboard collapsed. A drum kit later suffered the same fate, as did a large stack of amps that almost landed on a stage tech.
With the passion the band played with though, they may not have noticed. The duel drum setup propelled the thrashing suites through their rhythmic changes. Songs like “Isis Unveiled” featured lengthy instrumental breaks characterized by Keely’s serpentine guitar lines and Jay Phillip’s crushing bass bombardments. After fifty minutes the audience still seemed generally alive, but the band certainly did leave a trail of stunned in their wake.
The auxiliary stage energy continued with Electric Touch, a group of four rock’n’roll revivalists with strut of the Hives and the sneer of Mick Jagger. Singer Shane Lawlor prowled the stage like a feral cat, daring the audience to call him derivative. Closing the set with a pair of Ramones covers – “Do You Want to Dance” (a cover of a cover) and “Blitzkrieg Bop” – didn’t get the crowd jumping like they should have, but showed that these boys know where they came from and are proud to wear their influences on their ripped-leather sleeves.
Over on the main stage the Cool Kids were generating far less excitement. They ran through all their hipster hip-hop hits, but even chant-along jams like “I Rock” and “Basement Party” failed to elicit much of a response. The crowd would cheer every tune’s intro as they recognized the song, and then quickly fall silent as the Kids delivered another half-hearted rendition. The stage looked pathetically empty with only the two of them and a DJ and they walked around it like an obligation. Even their frequent encouragements of participation seemed limp. The only excitement of the set came with the addition of a guest MC, who ran around stage yelling incoherently like a homeless guy on the subway. When a crazy hobo upstages you, bad sign.
Kool Keith put on a far more successful rap show for one reason: Ice-T. No one could quite explain the washed-up rapper’s presence onstage, nor did they try. Billing himself as “the most expensive hype man alive” (a claim Flava Flav might dispute), Ice mostly bopped along on the side, occasionally throwing in a line or two. He threw down song “real gangster” verses, but no one paid much attention to his actual performance. The novelty of seeing Ice-T was enough.
Keith and his two-man crew provided high entertainment value all their own, roaming the stage in capes and head scarves dropping rhymes that sounded more like the injured-list Beastie Boys than any of the acts paying tribute to them. “We don’t stop!” they frequently informed the crowd (stopping to do so). And whether people were truly into the music or merely the novelty, no one wanted them to.
The energy continued to be relegated to stage two though, as the Arctic Monkeys packed show on the main stage featured a lot of blank stares as the much-hyped quartet did…not much. The press-adored British brats seemed generally too impressed with themselves to pay he audience much heed, running through by-the-numbers renditions of their hits that somehow rendered even their brand of hyper-catchy dance rock boring. Even the new songs off their upcoming Humbug (including one, “The Cornerstone,” never played live before) came off jaded, like the Cars busting out “Just What I Needed” one more time. Perhaps the new manes of hair they sported made movement impossible or perhaps jetlag was taking its toll, but on this side of the pond we’re not quite as enamored with this group as the Brits and such tired performances won’t fix that.
All this may have been Gogol Bordello’s fault. Maybe they suck the energy from everyone around them death-eater style. Otherwise I cannot explain the excitement of each and every performance these gypsy punks put on. My fourth time seeing them was just about like my previous three. The setlist hadn’t changed much, but neither had the energy, making the umpteenth “Start Wearing Purple” and “Wonderlust King” destroy the crowd as expected. In only fifty minutes Eugene Hütz commanded his army of misfits in a medley of Eastern Europe yell-alongs while he poured red wine on himself, beat the hell out of a metal bucket or broke his guitar in turns. They’re the perfect festival band, and if they never change a thing the show still won’t get old.
The sweat-soaked crowd left Gogol panting, longing for the cool respite of Neko Case’s alt-country. Her crystalline singing pumped energy into the slow folk tunes as the sun set behind her. One can only imagine how nice lying on the grass taking in the scene would have been if, oh yeah, we weren’t still in a festering mud pool.
My Bloody Valentine really should have been paired more closely with Trail of Dead as they’re the only two bands remotely complementary to each other. Where Trail of Dead lays their fury in the hardcore riffage though, My Bloody Valentine expresses it in passive-aggressive waves of noise. Kevin Shields sullenly led the famed shoegaze quartet onstage, launching into swirls of sound that made bones rattle as the band played humbly onstage. As low-key a group of live performers as exists, the incredible stillness of the members onstage provides the perfect contrast to the pure volume. If they look like they’re about to fall asleep (as they always do), where is all that racket coming from? To give the crowd some visual stimulation psychedelic background videos accompanied each song, blurry colors floating on the giant screen as the reverb continued its onslaught.
Vocals have never been a major part of the Bloody Valentine sound, being just another instrument in the mix on their albums. However at least there they are in the mix; live they were completely inaudible. Playing absurdly loud is fine, guys, but make everything loud. The perfect balance of their classic Loveless is lost when the whammied guitars take over.
At all Valentine concerts earplugs are handed to the crowd and the brave few who made it thus far plug-less relented under the onslaught of “You Made Me Realize.” This traditional set-closer has reached legendary status among concert-goers, a fifteen-minute barrage of noise that makes the preceding hour seem tame. Vocals? Gone. Melody? Gone. Chord changes? Gone. The real instrument now was volume, and these guys are virtuosos. As the distorted reverb grew to ever more ear-bleeding level it became a religious experience, heaven for some, hell for others. Half the crowd was throwing the band the devil horns, the other half giving them the finger. If that doesn’t mean they’re doing something right, I don’t know what does.
In a way that fuck-you attitude proved an apt introduction for Tool, who channel their angst in slightly more crowd-pleasing ways. The army of Tool heads was as strong as at Bonnaroo two years ago, taking no prisoners in their drive to attain prime viewing position. Not that it mattered; lead singer Maynard James Keenan stage in the rear of the stage the entire show, throwing up robotic silhouettes as he warbles his tripped-out lyrics over the band’s prog-metal blasts. Videos of fire and explosions continued from all corners, lights and lasers flashing around creating a show visually fascinating if aurally a little painful. Tool is clearly an acquired taste though, and once a music fan get the itch nothing satisfies like Tool Time.