by Andrew Fraley and Laura Cooper
The year was 1969. With the success of Woodstock earlier that year, many people eagerly anticipated a festival of similar success on the West Coast. It looked as though the Altamont Free Concert, held December 6, 1969, was going to be the “Woodstock of the West.” Held in the then unused Altamont Speedway, about an hour outside of San Francisco, the festival was to feature such super groups as Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and headliners The Rolling Stones. The festival organizers, however, decided to tempt fate by hiring the Hells Angels as bodyguards, and tragedy could be the only possible outcome. What followed were multiple injuries to spectators as well as performers (Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the head by the Angels), threats on the life of Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards, and the death of four spectators, including the brutal stabbing of a would-be Mick Jagger assassin. The events at Altamont would symbolize the death of that scene, the end of the “Woodstock Nation.” Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship, Jerry Garcia is dead and we all know what’s happened to The Rolling Stones.
Fast Forward to 2008. The long-running successes of three day music festivals, such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, have prompted a similar attempt here in the Tristate Area. The first ever All Points West Music and Arts Festival was held on August 8, 9 and 10 in Liberty State Park in New Jersey, about an hour outside of New York City. APW was set to be the “Coachella of the East.” But with the past working against it, and history’s tendency to repeat itself, was this festival doomed to end in tragedy? Was this festival to be the end of the hipster scene as we know it?
As it turns out, it was just the opposite. All Points West was a huge success. Featuring some of the biggest bands of the hipster scene and an interesting array of art installations, the festival presented spectators with a three day feast of the senses. Liberty State Park acted as a near perfect venue for the event. Hoboken’s transit system was ill equipped to handle a mass exit of thousands of hipsters. It took about an hour to get to Liberty State Park; it took nearly two and a half hours to leave. Also, being a state run park, there was a very strict and inconvenient alcohol policy (although this may have contributed to the prevention of the aforementioned “Hipster Altamont”).
Those minor caveats aside, All Points West was the greatest thing to happen to the New York area all year. We here at The Press were ecstatic to be a part of history. Here are some highlights of festival:
Mates of State: You were seriously underbooked.
I hadn’t really listened to Mates of State before checking out their set. I was very pleasantly surprised, because the Mates of State are really cool. A bare-bones band, with singer/keyboardist Kori Gardner and her husband/drummer/singer Jason Hammel, Mates of State has a good sound, lots of spunk and plenty of devoted fans. This is always the sign of a great band. Since this was one of the first sets of Friday on the tertiary stage, the bouncers let us hang out in the photo pit for the whole set. We got to sit in front of the amplifiers as Gardner pumped up her keyboard’s volume for “Ha Ha.” It was fantastic. Not even the mid afternoon rainstorm could damper this crowd’s spirits.
The New Pornographers: Music and popular culture references
The New Pornographers were great. They were energetic and merry, easily switching from the pop powered songs of their earlier albums to the mellower songs of their most recent albums, Twin Cinema and Challengers. They also had a great report with their audience, joking about their primary demographic. “Look at that guy with the glasses…look at that guy with the glasses,” said Carl Newman about the hipsters who made up most of the crowd. Their set was kinda short, and made even shorter by their jokes about Cloverfield and Wall-E during instrument changes. Next time they should plan on a pit crew for faster song transitions, or something.
Underworld: You know, the guys who do that Trainspotting song.
Underworld is one of the biggest techno groups in Europe, and over the past couple decades has provide major influences for many other major bands, including (as they mentioned in their Friday set) Radiohead. They are relatively obscure in The States, but that didn’t stop a sizeable crowd from gathering for their set. And their performance was one of the more powerful ones of the festival. Even the hipsters who don’t really dance found themselves grooving to Underworld’s driving trance beats and hypnotic ambient tones. And sure enough, their penultimate song was “Born Slippy,” of Trainspotting fame. The crowd found themselves shouting “Lager! Lager! Lager!” right along with them.
Girl Talk: The juxtaposition of multiple established songs never sounded so good.
Girl Talk, or Greg Gillis, an electrical engineer turned mash-up DJ, also had a strong set at APW on Friday. He brought enough props to drown the crowd in beach balls, glitter confetti and toilet paper. This being due to a leaf blower equipped with a toilet paper holder that blew about one hundred rolls and its dust onto the dancing crowd. Gillis filled the stage with three tables, two fake cops to blow out the toilet paper, and two laptops to play his now relatively popular mash-ups. About ten minutes into the set, the stage filled with a group of interestingly dressed people that I found out were handpicked by Greg to dance on stage with him. Girl Talk shows typically begin with the crowd rushing the stage themselves, but security stopped anyone who tried to jump the fence and make the five-foot climb to the stage. This to dance alongside a transgender African American man in a white leotard who later in the set removed his top and played to the cameras, pouring a water bottle all over himself.
There is no other way to describe Girl Talk shows other than as a giant dance party. Blow up inner tubes, octopuses and huge rectangular balloons came into the crowd as Gillis stayed close to his Dell, dancing and, at one point, jumping around and ripping his shirt in half. Towards the end of his set, Gillis got on a blow up mattress, jumped into the crowd, and surfed his way across the dancing fans until he was dumped into the mob and somehow managed to fight his way back to the stage to finish his set. Girl Talk mashes together everything from Elton John to the new Lil’ Wayne. A very tan woman behind me in the crowd raved of Girl Talk, “It’s like re-living my childhood,” she said, “I saw him last week at Lolla and he just blew my mind!” Girl Talk’s music can appeal to anyone because it includes such a wide cross-section of popular genres that anyone can, and will, dance at a Girl Talk show.
CSS: Tardiness and balloons
Cansei De Ser Sexy (CSS) made their first New York area appearance in a year. The band, originally from Brazil, is best known for their song featured in an ipod commercial entitled, “Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex.” CSS has steadily gained attention since that extremely prosperous publicity opportunity and released their second album, Donkey, this year. The band took the stage a half hour late to a crowd full of balloons in front of a black backdrop with “CSS” printed in silver letters behind them. An Australian man came to the front of the press fence to the fans squeezing in as close as possible to the stage with balloons for us to blow up and throw into the crowd (its all about the mood!).
CSS took the stage with their full band and two background dancers equipped with wigs and neon leotards that looked as if they were from an 80’s Jane Fonda workout video. Their main singer wore neon as well, throwing sparkles onto her face that stuck to the sweat that formed after running around the nearly full stage. CSS, in my opinion, was the best set of the day. Even the many spandex clad hipsters on hand for Girl Talk’s set, which followed CSS, couldn’t help but show some enthusiasm. CSS’s particular brand of entertainment brought the standing crowd to a frenzy. Not only was it a miracle that the rain had stopped and blue skies seemed near, but that CSS was an unexpected and welcomed asset to the festival.
Metric: Making Fashion Faux Pas Sexy
I was originally looking forward to Metric’s performance more than Radiohead’s. And I wasn’t let down. They cleaned house. The Toronto-based dance rock group played a flawless 45-minute set. The only problem was that it was too damn short. This was another band that was severely under booked. Emily Haines was stunning. In her shiny gold romper, she looked like a sexy baked potato. Her angelic vocals and energetic stage presence make Haines a hipster idol. During “Empty,” Haines did her trademark hips-grabbing headshake between lines of the chorus. It was phenomenal. Then, after “Monster Hospital (a song which repeats the chorus ‘I fought the war and the war won’t stop for the love of God’),” there was a brief emotional moment before the band went into a slow version of “Live it Out” and Haines went crowd level to greet her fans. It was all very poignant, and refreshing to see a band emotionally attached to their music. Did I mention that I’m madly in love with Emily Haines?
Animal Collective: Weird, but pretty awesome
Another band I hadn’t really listened to before the festival, Animal Collective was an odd aural experience. The songs of their set were extremely hypnotic, and I found myself quickly zoning out. It was a good feeling, brought on by the band’s experimental tones and style. At one point, I was snapped out of my reverie by one of the Collective’s drumming. It was a steady beat that he maintained for nearly ten minutes, all the while he stood ready to switch back to his synthesizer at any minute. It was all very impressive. Their set all blended into one continuous experimental noise ballad. If you think that sounds bad, then you’re clearly not ready for Animal Collective.
Radiohead: What more is there to say?
Their sets were a good balance of old and new. They played the entirety of In Rainbows, but they mixed in just enough of their classics to keep it fresh and exciting. About halfway through their two hour set on Friday, they played “Idioteque,” which really got the crowd pumped. On Saturday, it was the second encore. So they did repeat some songs in each set, but having to play four original hours will tax even the most talented artists. You can’t really fault them for that.
The stage itself was a visual masterpiece. Comprised of three large LCD screens and a grid of hanging, dynamic light posts, the stage acted as a visual accompaniment to Radiohead’s set. These posts had a wide range of functions, including displaying neon rainbows, words, oscilloscope waves and anything else Radiohead is fucking genius enough to think of. The combination of this and Radiohead’s established style of play created an extraordinary bombardment of the senses. Apparently this performance, however, was not entirely unique to APW. They did almost the exact same thing the previous week at Lollapalooza. Even Radiohead has a limited number of innovations I suppose. After seeing them, it’s understandable why Radiohead is so damn popular. Leaving afterwards was a nightmare, but it was well worth it.