Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Oct 1st 2011 12:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Held for the first time in Asbury Park, N.J., the three-day music binge opened with the quasi-religious invocations of New York City duo Cults. Although they're signed to Columbia, a major-label association that made them arguably the biggest band on Friday's roster, they played in kitschy-cool (and kitschy-cramped) Asbury Lanes, a bowling alley with rock ephemera on the walls and tofu BBQ at the snack bar.
Cults' songs are retro-pop hymnals and deep expressions of 20-something uncertainty, and on the goth-soul standout "Curse" -- not found on their self-titled debut -- singer Madeline Folin and multi-instrumentalist Brian Oblivion cast a creepy spell worthy of Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
The pair writes sparse tunes built on hip-hop beats and '60s-pop melodies, but live, they flesh out their material with a full band. Toward the end of 'Never Heal Myself,' Oblivion unleashed a nasty guitar sound not heard on the record. Later, the group's drummer added an abrupt counter-rhythm to 'Oh My God,' rubbing against a prerecorded beat.
At one point, Oblivion asked the alley to dim the lights and make the place a little darker.
"Let's try to forget it's a beautiful day outside," he said.
That's the right attitude for ATP, where music fanatics ignore sleep and sunlight and spend their days bouncing from performance space to performance space, checking out acts handpicked by guest "curators." Portishead is responsible for this year's typically eclectic lineup, and it seems fitting that they would select sonic abstractionists the Album Leaf. Playing the Paramount Theater -- one of the festival's two big rooms -- shortly after Cults' set, the quartet made instrumental post-rock for the American prairie, pitting trumpet and violins against fussy prog rhythms and atmospheric keyboards. 'Rising Sun,' their benefit single for post-tsunami Japan, expressed mournfulness and hope, benefiting from the band's lack of lyrics. Some things are better left unsaid.
Then, some things best expressed with precision noise, and those are the kinds of things Chavez writes songs about. Performing in Asbury's Convention Hall, ATP's largest venue, the '90s underground faves followed the Album Leaf with the day's first real dose of heavy-duty guitar, offering caustic, gloomy riffs and plenty of crunch. On 'Pentagram Ring,' frontman Matt Sweeney and fellow guitarist Clay Tarver played a catchy lead riff that, were it not for the squealing bit at the end, might have once broken the band huge, for better or for worse.
The San Francisco quintet Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 has never stood a chance of reaching the mainstream, despite a brief tour with Live back in the '90s. Onstage at Asbury Lanes, the '80s-era art-rock quintet flitted between the loud-soft grandeur of the Pixies and the twitchy punk-funk of Talking Heads. By the end of their hour, the veteran weirdos had inspired a mosh pit down on the lanes, and fans grinned and laughed as they slammed into each other.
The big draw Friday was enigmatic Neutral Milk Hotel founder Jeff Mangum, but since Spinner plans to see him on Sunday afternoon, our night ended with Shellac, iconoclastic producer and musician Steve Albini's ferocious hard-rock trio. ATP's annual "house band," Shellac attacks with grinding guitars and sudden rhythmic change-ups, and in between songs, Albini and bassist Bob Weston open the floor to questions, inviting dialogue every bit as disjointed and sharp-edged as their music. On Friday, talk turned to bondage and baseball, among other things.
On 'Squirrel Song,' one of the evening's highlights, Albini spoke-sang a line that functioned as a kind of closing prayer and quick summation of his amused, irritated attitude: "Goddamn, this is for real."