In the damp hallways and moldy, decaying edifices which recall a mutated fusion of 1960’s-style kitsch and the drab stylings of Eastern Bloc architecture, one of the more remarkable events in my lifetime unfolded last weekend. Anchored by the heady news that KEVIN SHIELDS and the rest of MY BLOODY VALENTINE would be playing on US soil for the first time in sixteen years, a festival organized by UK-based ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES was unleashed upon 3,000 fans from around the world. Though mainly a ‘90s indie rock fan’s wet dream, there was a wide-ranging flavor to the entire lineup, from ‘70s Krautrock (*HARMONIA*) to classic ‘80s hip-hop (*EPMD*), ‘00s apocalyptic visionaries (*A SILVER MT ZION*) and all sorts in between. If thirty-five bands isn’t enough to keep one occupied, aside from on-location diversions like tennis, boating, whiffle ball, golf, and the ever-popular sitting in the sun and drinking beer, CRITERION lined up a very nice selection of movies, highlighted by a screening of *PAUL SCHRADER’*s MISHIMA and a Q and A session with the man himself afterwards. Not to mention the poker table helmed by STEVE ALBINI when he wasn’t on stage with SHELLAC. More things to do than Baskin-Robbins has flavors.
Ok, now that the introductions have been made, let’s get back to writing about the main reason people shelled out $$ and travelled great distances – the music. Friday night was part of the “Don’t Look Back” series, where bands play a selected seminal record from their past, in its entirety. Though this is becoming more and more popular (this year alone I’ve seen MISSION OF BURMA perform Vs and LIZ PHAIR do Exile In Guyville), with the right band and right album it’s a brilliant idea, despite the faint scent of dewy-eyed nostalgia. The first night would be kicked off with the heavy, lysergic trudge of BARDO POND playing 1997’s Lapsed. CLINT TAKEDA’s bass was howling in feedback while the Gibbons brothers stomped pedals and smooshed smeary guitar tones around the room. An air of levity amidst the clouds of sound was brought by ISOBEL SOLLENBERGER’s celestial vocals and occasional flute.
MEAT PUPPETS were next, playing their second record (oddly enough entitled II) which was likely their most popular due to KURT COBAIN’s decision to play “Lake Of Fire,” “Oh Me” and “Plateau” while the Kirkwood brothers provided musical backdrops to their own songs. Personally I think the next records (_Up On The Sun_, Out My Way, Mirage) are all much stronger, and the spottiness of the selected material showed in some lackluster bits like “New Gods,” with Curt’s singing about as sloppy as his sweatpants and t shirt attire. Things did pick up after the proper LP was dispatched, with “Up On The Sun” and a mutated “Tomorrow Never Knows” reclaiming some lost points.
The most talented band of the weekend hit the stage next, Chicago-based TORTOISE. Baseball teams like to have some utility players on their bench, people who are kinda jack of all trades but masters of none, but still valuable to fill holes as they appear. Tortoise are like all-stars who can play shortstop, pitch relief, catch, hit 40 HR and steal bases at will. The entire lineup is like that, equally facile on a variety of musical tasks. Their sharp fusion of electronics, rock and jazz are steadily helmed by JOHN MCENTIRE but Tortoise is the kind of band where every member assumes equal pull. I saw the band on the Millions Now Living Will Never Die tour back in ‘96 or so, and the material still sounds as great as ever. The highlight of the evening.
THURSTON MOORE never seems shy on being sly, and so it wasn’t a complete surprise that he’d rework the tracklisting of Psychic Hearts as it was played onstage. This first solo record was recorded during SONIC YOUTH’s downtime during KIM GORDON’s pregnancy, and is a bit more immediate than the traditional (if there is such a thing) SY material. I can’t say I listen to this record much, but Thurston’s such a great performer to watch, and the band (*CHRIS BROKAW*, MATT HEYNER and STEVE SHELLEY) was the same which backed the Trees Outside The Academy tour, a crack squad for sure. I left this set before it ended to head over to catch some of the comedy portion, and PATTON OSWALT was en fuego. Damn, it’s been a while since I’ve laughed that hard. Tears streaming down the face kind of giddiness. Highly recommended.
The evening closed out with an expanded BUILT TO SPILL lineup, with cello augmenting the massed guitar attack. Leader DOUG MARTSCH is one of the few indie rockers who wields a Stratocaster (though oddly enough both IRA KAPLAN and BOB MOULD were also playing this weekend; the fender Jaguar or Mustang were by far the most popular choice amongst bands), and he wields in an exceedingly verbose fashion. The noodling got to excessive boilover point by the ~20 minute version of “Car,” which mercifully came to a stop before the sun was making an assault on the horizon.