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Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

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portishead mangum atp Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Hey, who said festival season was over? A certain All Tomorrow’s Parties event, the inaugural U.S. I’ll Be Your Mirror, just took Asbury Park, New Jersey by storm (sort of literally, but that’s okay because it was inside!) and it surely qualifies as a festival. That’s right, while every other festival is in its 10th year and booking the same 250 acts as the festival preceding it, ATP just swoops in with an unglamorous but effective idea and declares itself a contender for U.S. festival of the year!

At least as far as the music goes. What other American festival in 2011 booked two rare acts to play two shows each? Jeff Mangum performing what amounted to an intimate Neutral Milk Hotel greatest hits set and Portishead playing its first U.S. shows since Coachella 2008. What other American festival provided a platform for pioneers from the golden age of hip-hop like Ultramagnetic MC’s and Public Enemy, as well as underground heroes like Company Flow? With apologies to Best Coast, what other American festival was willing to forgo flooding its bill with indie hype in favor of superb avant-garde acts like The Album Leaf and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra?

And it’s not just the music; it’s the little things. Where else can headliner and co-curator Adrian Utley walk unnoticed amongst the commoners to check out a band? At what other festival can Utley’s bandmate Geoff Barrow greet fans in a crowded bowling alley without being ambushed for autographs and photos? At what other festival are you surrounded by people who are there for the music, not just to be seen? Where else are you not limited to $8 Heinekens or trapped inside the grounds all day?

I’m not making the argument that I’ll Be Your Mirror was the best festival this year; I’m just saying it’s a contender. Pound for pound, anyway. I mean, if Herman Cain…well, you get the point.

-Harry Painter
Senior Staff Writer

Feature photo by Joe Parker.

Friday, September 30th

The Album Leaf – Paramount Theater – 5:30 p.m.

Friday opened after business hours, and if early band The Album Leaf was a sign of things to come, people were in for a treat. Jimmy LaValle’s group kicked off the weekend with a flurry of driving drums, electronics, and avant-garde rock.

The Christmas lights that were the backdrop for the Paramount during the whole weekend fit The Album Leaf’s aura quite nicely; and thank goodness this was an indoor fest, because seeing The Album Leaf outside in the sun is unimaginable. Um, even though they played songs called “Rising Sun” and “Falling from the Sun”. Just go with it.

Chavez – Convention Hall – 6:30 p.m.

In contrast with The Album Leaf, Chavez‘ light show was decidedly modest. Chavez, fronted by a baseball capped Matt Sweeney, played a screeching brand of fuzzy ’90s rock. The sound was off for these guys, and it’s not the sort of band for which one wants to deal with bad sound.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Paramount Theater – 7:30 p.m.

hawkhack atp2011 030 Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes also plays accordion and has traveled to exotic locales like Hungary and Romania. His band A Hawk and a Hacksaw plays music meant to sound like it’s from these places. As Barnes announced the next song was a tribute to his memory of the sound of “country music from western Romania”, he put on a poncho, fake white beard, and carrot nose and danced around, and ran up and down the aisles. It was about as fun and as pointless as it sounds.

Shellac – Convention Hall – 8:30 p.m.

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Photo by Sohrab Nafici

It’s always enjoyable seeing a hard rock band at a festival and watching people not know what to do. It took seven songs for people to realize it was okay to mosh to Shellac, the trio led by engineer and guitarist Steve Albini.

Shellac somehow finds it possible and fully tenable to get metalheads amped up while playing songs like “Wingwalker” and making airplane arm motions, or “End of Radio”, in which Albini delivers a monologue about his snare drum directed at an imaginary alien civilization. Shellac’s crunching, 17/8-time head-banger could be about anything and it would hit just as hard. It happens to be about squirrels.

The band took extended time outs to take questions from the audience. Unsurprisingly, each member had a witty response to any question asked; subject matter ranged from the band’s favorite Republican Presidential candidate (“Sarah Palin; she’s hilarious”) to the band’s favorite instrument (i.e. sex toy, of course).

Reggie Watts – The Berkeley – 9:30 p.m.

Comedian/beatboxer Reggie Watts had a tough act to follow in Shellac, but he got the job done. He came out with a shy persona, stumbling into a microphone drumming session and twiddling knobs awkwardly. The bulk of his set consisted of a looped a cappella song over which he spouted gibberish and non sequiturs. Watts gave a nod to the nerds by line dancing, gauging the “energy frequency response” on either side of the room, and later showing off his suspenders as he laid down a flow. It can’t be overstated Watts has tremendous musical talent alone, and the funny is a bonus.

Saturday, October 1st

Beak> – Convention Hall – 2:30 p.m.

Geoff Barrow’s other band aired some new tracks at ATP, and by all accounts the new album will be worth a listen. Like many of the bands picked for ATP, Beak> was focused primarily on rhythm; in particular, the band displayed elements of krautrock, and sprinkled in plenty of knob mastery and sound effects. The show ended with some delightful post-rock fuzz.

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Paramount Theater – 3:00 p.m.

Here’s what the world needs more of: experimental rock bands that emphasize the rock side of the equation. Not that there’s anything wrong with the other side, but how about some balance?

While Newark native Marc Ribot and his Ceramic Dog shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a rock band, they were sure heavy on the extended noise jams at ATP. The trio was marked by a riotous rhythm section and Ribot’s spoken-word vocals, a phenomenon that was strangely commonplace at the festival.

Silver-Qluster – Paramount Theater – 4:30 p.m.

Silver-Qluster, the collaboration between Simeon of Silver Apples and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster, played one song for an hour. Whether that’s a positive is up to personal taste, but those who got it loved it. Those who didn’t get it will be forgiven for thinking they walked into the most fucked up planetarium of all time.

The set began with entrancing ambient synth sounds, swirly lights, and smoke, which lasted 10 minutes before a minimalist MacBook beat kicked in. For the next 50 minutes, Roedelius turned his knobs ever so slightly while Simeon threw in creepy samples, dancing now and then in his goofy hat, which earned applause. Those who weren’t fast asleep gave a standing ovation.

The Horrors – Convention Hall – 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sohrab Nafici

While the heart of ATP lies in the ’90s, The Horrors are a lot closer to being an ’80s throwback. Playing dressed in black leather amidst even more smoke than Silver-Qluster, The Horrors delivered a helping of passable post-punk; nothing memorable.

Battles – Convention Hall – 6:45 p.m.

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Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Without Tyondai Braxton, Battles aren’t quite the same band; there’s just a certain aesthetic missing from their performance that was so enjoyable before. It’s either the afro or the vocal loops.

Both were missing for Mirrored tracks “Atlas”, which featured samples of schoolchildren singing the munchkin lines, and “Tonto”, which was something of a disaster. The new stuff (“Africastle”, “Ice Cream”, “Sweetie & Shag”) was the focus anyway, and it shined. Battles work their asses off — clench-faced drummer John Stanier was dripping wet from head to toe by the end — and have never been about a singer anyway.

Side note, it’s criminal to give your audience tinnitus when half of it is on its way to catch Swans immediately afterwards.

Ultramagnetic MC’s – Convention Hall – 8:15 p.m.

Kool Keith is clearly the star of Ultramagnetic MC’s, and they know it. That’s why TR Love and Ced Gee, accompanied by KutMasta Kurt, came out and performed two songs on either side of Keith’s unused mic, before Keith finally showed up, and not quietly. Black Elvis was adorned in a sweater inside a military jacket, accompanied by shades, a keffiyeh, and blue jeans.

People were just confused for those first two songs, but Ultramagnetic MC’s quickly won the crowd over performing the catchiest songs from the early part of their catalog, including “Two Brothers with Checks (San Francisco, Harvey)”, “Ease Back”, “Make it Happen”, and of course “Poppa Large”. Keith is always obligated to play his Dr. Octagon hit “Blue Flowers”, and he did, but it felt out of place here, taking the place of what could have been another track from their classic Critical Beatdown.

TR Love (“Portishead is my peoples!”) and Kool Keith (“Hopefully we all tour together”) both proclaimed their respect for Portishead  as they closed the set and left the crowd satiated for the 45-minute wait.

Portishead – Convention Hall – 10:00 p.m.

portishe atp2011 061 Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Portishead‘s first of two performances was the first time Convention Hall looked anywhere close to full. If there were any justice in this world, there wouldn’t have been an empty seat in the house, and the room would have been bursting at the seams with kids trying to sneak in. Then again, the security checked wristbands Sunday night, so perhaps the kids were in full force.

Regardless, Portishead met its call of duty, and then some, to front the bill the band handpicked itself. Beginning with opener “Silence”, also the opener of Portishead’s three-and-a-half year old most recent album Third, the Bristol troupe demonstrated itself to be able to command a crowd with sheer presence, a presence that permeated the building at least until the fleeting display of mortality that colored a botched attempt at late 2009’s Amnesty International single “Chase the Tear”.

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Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Radiohead’s new touring drummer was on hand for the weekend, and while Clive Deamer (who has contributed to Portishead’s studio efforts) was superb, a little miscommunication between Deamer and Geoff Barrow led the band to skip “Chase the Tear” and move on to “Cowboys”.

The rest of the set was much the same as the last time Barrow, Beth Gibbons, and Adrian Utley graced the states, all the way back in April 2008. Portishead concentrated heavily on Third material but indulged the fans in hits like “Mysterons”, “The Rip”, and “Over”, which prompted a surprisingly widespread singalong. Utley appeared to be winging it much of the time, but there could be no faulting his precision on “Glory Box” and the stripped-down “Wandering Star”, which comprised a bass-wielding Barrow sitting opposite Gibbons, whose work here was tearjerkingly heartfelt. If you have a chance to witness that vibrato closer to Halloween, take it.

“We Carry On” ended the night with a bang, and the bright-smiling, relatively tiny Gibbons uncharacteristically diving off the stage. She showed tremendous class and shook nearly every hand in the front row before rejoining her equally cheery bandmates for good byes.

Sunday, October 2nd

Anika – Paramount Theater – 2:15 p.m.

Beak> collaborator Anika‘s speak-sing is a little reminiscent of Kim Gordon, until her keyboardist starts scaling some gothic rock organ lines that won’t be found in the most melancholy Portishead tracks. A fine opener, the singer/songwriter closed on a high note with a less-than-inspiring but unique, robot-voiced “Once in a Lifetime” cover.

DD/MM/YYYY – Convention Hall – 2:45 p.m.

ddmmyyyy Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Joe Parker

One’s first thought when he happens upon a band with awful hair playing in front of a Halloweenish skull backdrop under a blue-purple light is not to stick around. The lack of a real name doesn’t help much either. But then one notices the drummer has a NEU! t-shirt, and something about the dueling synths accompanied by atmospheric guitar noises and deceptively impressive vocals makes DD/MM/YYYY worth the time. The band loathes the boring concept of genre, as it does assigning permanent instrument duties. The Canadians also apparently loathe each other, because this was “the last show in the U.S. ever,” and they are calling it quits. What a shame.

Jeff Mangum – Paramount Theater – 3:30 p.m.

It’s hard to come to terms with the reality that the highlight of Sunday happened at 3:30 in the afternoon. Jeff Mangum was originally scheduled for 4:00 p.m., but like much of Sunday, he was switched around at the last minute. This may explain some of the empty seats, but many seats were left unfilled throughout. Still, being that most people only had tickets to one of Mangum’s two performances for the weekend, the energy was impeccable.

As was the unofficial and impromptu theme of the weekend, Mangum invited audience participation and question and answer sessions. Indeed, the Neutral Milk Hotel frontman acted a bit uncomfortable, perhaps out of his element, in the formal environment. He went out of his way three or four times to make sure the crowd knew it was allowed to sing along and even “shout at me if you want” — song requests and declarations of love ensued. The back-and-forths continued for most of the afternoon, giving the place an extra air of intimacy, as if the guy with a guitar in a sweater sitting on a stool under a spotlight wasn’t intimate enough.

Mangum played everything a Neutral Milk Hotel fan could hope for out of a Mangum show, and in the right order. Opening with “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two” into “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”, Mangum established early on that the set would be heavy in material from the album which shares the latter’s title. Surrounded by four acoustic guitars, he continued with a couple of On Avery Island selections before delving into “Oh Comely”. Mangum worked particularly hard on that one, spitting a wad after a difficult high note.

The show included a couple of rarities in the non-album song “Engine” and a cover of Roky Erickson’s “I Love the Living You”. Mangum ended the show where he began, requesting that people “fucking sing the song” if they knew the words to “Two-Headed Boy”. The standing ovation was implied, but the room gave him one anyway.

Deerhoof – Convention Hall – 4:15 p.m.

deerhoof atp2011 047 Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Sohrab Nafici

San Francisco’s Deerhoof followed DD/MM/YYYY in Convention Hall and continued the pattern of frantic instrument swapping, not to mention outright weirdness. It’s confusing that this band has been around for so long, however, and had such a decorated career, and not become much more of a big deal (DD/MM/YYYY, for one, praised them earlier). Sure, it’s a little strange — and hilarious — for a band that rocks so hard on “Milk Man” to later close with a song like “Gore in Rut”, wherein singer Satomi Matsuzaki jumps around with two fingers above her head and sings “bunny bunny bunny bunny”, but that’s kind of the appeal. These guys need fame and money, like soon.

Earth – Paramount Theater – 5:15 p.m.

earth atp2011 016 Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Mogwai’s cancellation left Sunday with a minimal helping of instrumental post-rock, but Earth was hardly an unacceptable option. Still, Earth played a set full of subtle yet lush, meandering songs that maybe didn’t mesh with the extra comfortable chairs — or maybe it was the cello. Selections included new songs “Father Midnight” and “Old Black”, as well as “Blackwaterside” and “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull”.

Company Flow – Convention Hall – 5:45 p.m.

company atp2011 023 Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Sohrab Nafici

The Convention Hall wasn’t ideal for hip hop, nor for anything else, really, as far as acoustics are concerned. But Company Flow made the best of the situation, aptly commanding a modest crowd, much of whom seemed unaware of who the group was. Still, El-P thanked the crowd for still “giving  a shit” about Co. Flow “after all these years.” Rapping their lungs out on tracks like “The Fire In Which You Burn” and “Patriotism”, both El-P and Big Juss demonstrated skills deserving of whatever love was reciprocated.

J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia – Paramount Theater – 6:45 p.m.

Composer J.G. Thirlwell came out with an unconventional collection of folks, including a string section, a pianist, and a percussionist. Thirlwell himself contributed a sampler to the mix, which comprised experiments in dynamics that would make the Pixies blush. It was a bizarre phenomenon, sandwiching Manorexia between Company Flow and Public Enemy, but Manorexia proved to be the must-see of late Sunday afternoon.

Public Enemy – Convention Hall – 7:15 p.m.

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Photo by Sohrab Nafici

The decorated hip hop group featuring reality TV sideshow Flavor Flav and afterthought Chuck D was originally scheduled for an hour like everyone else, but then Mogwai postponed its tour, and ATP decided to give Public Enemy a full two hours to perform their 1990 landmark LP Fear of a Black Planet and whatever else Flav and Chuck deemed worthy of the audience’s time.

Chuck D began by assuring fans they’d get their money’s worth, but already had some ground to make up after letting DJ Lord and some dancers occupy the first 10 minutes before Flav and Chuck came out. When they did, they knew how to entertain but too often appeared to be killing time — it’s only an hour-long album, y’all.

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Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Flavor Flav offered an autographed clock to the best tweet of the night, thanked everyone for watching his various VH1 programs, and introduced his grown daughter to New Jersey. Chuck D waxed political over Occupy Wall Street and Troy Davis. But amongst all the fluff Public Enemy delivered most of what fans wanted, albeit not at an ideal pace.

Chuck D asked more than a few times how low the bass could go as they delivered hits from Black Planet like “911 Is a Joke” and “Welcome to the Terrordome”, as well as throwing in outliers like “Bring the Noise”, “He Got Game”, and “Don’t Believe the Hype”, for which they invited a fan (who AV Club points out was rock critic Christopher R. Weingarten) onstage.

And who knew Flavor Flav could play bass and drums?

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Paramount Theater – 9:00 p.m.

silvermt atp2011 009 Festival Review: CoS at ATP Presents: I'll Be Your Mirror New Jersey

Photo by Sohrab Nafici

Godspeed You! Black Emperor was unfortunately not booked for America’s version of ATP, but the festival was able to land Efrim Menuck’s other band Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. The five-piece was four parts orchestral post-rock, and one part punk. Fans wandering into the Paramount were just as likely to walk into a beautiful violin arrangement as a heavily distorted jam in 9/4 time accompanied by Menuck’s nasal vocals. Or a tirade about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose portrait was on upside-down display, and who Menuck so fondly described as “our Nixon”.

Portishead – Convention Hall – 10:00 p.m

The energy was still there for Portishead’s second night and most attendees’ final show for the weekend. The band didn’t change the setlist or even the set order much, the only exceptions being replacing “Hunter” with “Nylon Smile” and adding “Chase the Tear”, making it the band’s first performance of the song on this side of the pond.

However, where the song variation lacked, Portishead made up for it in a host of goodies. Beyond the gift of “Chase the Tear”, a few friends came on board to drop some exclamation points here and there. Chuck D jumped back on stage during the breakdown of “Machine Gun” and laid down a verse from “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” — the same song Portishead’s contemporary Tricky covered for Maxinquaye track “Black Steel”. It felt like a cheap little wink, but it made for a much-needed distinction between night one and night two. Simeon of Silver Apples fame, who performed the day before with Silver-Qluster, later came on stage for some spooky electronics on “We Carry On”, after being introduced as a “new friend” of the band’s.

Gibbons, apparently having had enough Saturday, opted not to crowd surf this time around but again offered her hand to everyone in the front row. Simeon joined the other six on stage in waving their farewells before calling it a weekend.

Thought Forms – Asbury Lanes – 11:30 p.m.

Elsewhere on Thought Forms‘ tour, the English trio signed to Geoff Barrow’s Invada Records will serve as opener for Barrow’s Portishead. At ATP New Jersey, however, the band was the post-headliner bonus, appearing on a tiny stage in the bowling alley down the street. The line to get in extended to the end of the block for the intimate helping of piercing noise rock, led by a two-guitar attack and one of the hardest working drummers at the festival, who looked ready to pass out by night’s end.

The Culture of ATP: I’ll Be Your Mirror

Gallery by Joe Parker and Sohrab Nafici

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