The fourth edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties’ annual East Coast music festival was one big greeting from Asbury Park. After three years of setting up shop on the charmingly dilapidated grounds of Kutsher’s Country Club in New York’s Castskills area, ATP’s 2011 “I’ll Be Your Mirror” event found a new home on the more scenic and less moldy Jersey shore last weekend.
While the locale changed, the songs remained largely the same as several thousand like-minded music geeks gathered on the boardwalk for a weekend of experimental rock and heady hip-hop, curated in part by two-night headliners Portishead. Here’s some of the highlights from the three-day event:
• Live Portishead appearances haven’t been easy to come by since the late ’90s, so it was no surprise that the Bristol, England’s first East Coast concerts since 1998 was the weekend’s biggest draws. The downbeat pioneers packed nearly all of ATP’s attendees into the Asbury Park Convention Hall for their Saturday and Sunday night closers. Led by the haunting, quivering vocals of bluesy frontwoman Beth Gibbons, the six-member band treated enthusiastic fans to most of the tracks on their 2008 album “3,” as well as influential ’90s standouts like “Sour Times” and “Glory Box.” Geoff Barrows, the group’s musical mastermind, traded between percussion, guitar, bass and turntables during the 90-minute set that ended Friday with the typically reserved Gibbons diving into the audience and surfing on the hands of the crowd. On Saturday, the band got a hand from Chuck D, who dropped a verse from Public Enemy‘s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” over the percussive “Machine Gun.”
• Drawing nearly as much attention throughout the weekend was reclusive indie godfather emerged Jeff Magnum, who emerged from his much-publicized seclusion to play two shows during IBYM weekend. The The Elephant 6 co-founder moved 1500 fans with a 14-song solo acoustic set that included several songs from his most famous body of work – Neutral Milk Hotel‘s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” – and a heart-wrenching cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” that left everyone in the Paramount Theater weeping into their cardigan. His shows had a strict “no cameras or recording” policy, but despite his reputation, Mangum was anything but withdrawn between his Friday and Sunday afternoon sets — he toured the ATP grounds throughout the weekend, checking out sets from several other bands and often stopping to snap pics with his fawning disciples.
• “Fear of a Black Planet” may boast some of Public enemy’s most militant lyrics, but the hip-hop group came to their Sunday ATP set to party rather than preach. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and the rest of PE brought the noise to Asbury Park with an extended set that featured a modified, “remixed” version of their 1990 “Black Planet” album, as well as other hits from their catalog, including “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Night of the Living Baseheads.” Flav began the set by thanking fans for making him the “number one reality TV star of the decade,” but also reminded the audience of his musical prowess by trading his microphone for impressive stints on drums and bass guitar during the set.
• While the larger Convention Hall and Paramount Theater got the most foot traffic, the Asbury Lanes bowling alley easily won out as ATP’s most rocking venue. Attendees traded their Chucks for beat-up bowling shows and picked up spares as a slew of artists — including new indie darlings Cults, post-hardcore trio Shellac and hip-hop DJ Peanut Butter Wolf — performed on the tiny performance stage, which was set up between lanes 5-10. The space boasted ATP’s most vivacious parties (including an event-closing DJ set by artist Shephard Fairey, who dropped everything from AC/DC to Ice Cube) and also its most extreme musical performances, such as Oneida Presents the Ocropolis III, an 8-hour psychedelic art-rock extravaganza that featured Portishead multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow, guitarist Matt Sweeny and members of Japanese noise-rock band Boredoms joining the band’s audio onslaught at various times on Saturday.
• Street artist Shephard Fairey turned Asbury Park into his own personal canvas. Curated by the Jonathan Levine Gallery, his works decorated the facades of several buildings near the convention center. The pièce de résistance of the pop-up gallery was a huge wheatpaste mural on the wall adjacent to Asbury Lanes immortalizing the images of punk icons Joey Ramone, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Glenn Danzig, Ian McKay and Henry Rollins.
• Keeping with the community vibe ATP in known for, organizers made sure there was plenty of pastimes for attendees between bands. Among the free leisure-time activites offered on the grounds: a ghost walk of Asbury Park’s haunted past, mini golf on the boardwalk, access to the Pinball museum and arcade, evening bonfires on the beach, a rock & roll bingo tournament and, of course, a game room in room 842 of the Berkley Hotel run by famed rock producer and resident cardshark Steve Albini.