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Festival Review and Photos: ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror, September 30 – October 2, 2011 – Asbury Park, NJ




Photo by Christopher Alvarez

As an aging, seasoned festival veteran that has become increasingly alienated from and disillusioned with current trends among festivals and popular music in general, the first American installment of I’ll Be Your Mirror from All Tomorrow’s Parties came as a refreshing change of pace. Corporate sponsorship was nonexistent, and a chiefly older crowd made for a mature, respectfully enthusiastic vibe. I’ll Be Your Mirror’s lineup focused less on ubiquitous buzz bands and fashionable DJs and more on the esoteric. Performers were generally cult acts or total obscurities that forged their own left-of-center path along the abrasive, the experimental, the avant-garde, or somewhere in between. Attendees were also given a variety of non-musical entertainment, such as comedy sets, a Criterion cinema, free access to miniature golf and an arcade with a pinball selection second to none, and Steve Albini’s annual poker room.

Relocating from the dilapidated Kutsher’s Resort, All Tomorrow’s Parties moved to Asbury Park for their inaugural American installment of I’ll Be Your Mirror, with the main festivities located on or within a block of the boardwalk. Since Asbury Park is only a two hour train ride from New York City, the location was more conveniently accessible than Kutsher’s Catskills, but just as kitschy. A formerly hip and happening resort town with a rich musical history, Asbury Park has seen better days. Everything has been worn with age, but cleaned with the sort of loving care that infers hope that the area will enjoy a resurgence of its glory days. Most artists performed in either the Paramount Theater or the Convention Hall, with an indoor hallway filled with bars, food stands, and tourist shops connecting the two. The Paramount Theater offered a relaxed, seated setting for mostly the gentler side of the festival, exhibiting a weathered beauty and ideal acoustics, while the larger Convention Hall provided surprising intimacy in a room one-third the size of the average arena with ATP’s legendary sound system.

I’ll Be Your Mirror’s smallest main stage, was inside an authentically ancient bowling alley Asbury Lanes. Dark, loaded with cheap beer and greasy food served by the friendly, tattooed staff, and so technologically out of the loop that score keeping had to be done on paper; the alley was the kind of charming festival environment that epitomizes All Tomorrow’s Parties. Ever wanted to bowl a strike while listening to a surprise Shellac set? Welcome to I’ll Be Your Mirror.


Photo by Christopher Alvarez

Cults

It’s almost too easy to be skeptical of an act like Cults. Retro pop that harkens back to the sounds of 60s girl groups is all the rage these days, and it can feel like a case of crass marketing when a band rises meteorically from a mystery-shrouded act with a couple demos to a major label band that’s seemingly everywhere. Nevertheless, Cults proved that such cynicism is unfounded as they opened the weekend’s festivities. During their 30 minutes in a packed-to-capacity Asbury Lanes, the New York quintet unleashed 11 pieces of vintage catchiness. While frontwoman Madeline Follin played the innocent card, belting out sugary melodies while swaying back and forth clutching the sides of her babydoll dress, a creepy underbelly was apparent beneath the layers of sweetness thanks to their dark lyrical content and cult leader sampling. After all, what better way to lead people to their doom than with a smile on their face? The most eerie moment of the weekend came after Collin Oblivion ordered a dimming of the lights to forget the beautiful day outside. In response, the skies opened to let loose a pneumonia-inducing torrent of rain that chilled the festival for the rest of the weekend.


Photo by Frank Mojica

The Album Leaf


Photo by Christopher Alvarez

Chavez


Photo by Christopher Alvarez

A Hawk And A Hacksaw


Photo by Christopher Alvarez

Shellac

Sure, Steve Albini has achieved godhood in these circles thanks to Big Black and all that production work, but the real reason why Shellac is the ATP house band is because they rock. When the band is not ripping the audience a new one with an unstoppable force of thunderous guitar and bass racket, savage drumming, and shrieking vocals, they are fielding questions from the audience. “What color are your pants?” “Orange.” “How long is a piece of string?” “Orange.” And apparently Frank Zappa songs are like being stabbed in the ear with a pencil by art students. Shellac also performed a surprise second set early on the festival’s final day, closing their “Sunday service” with a brutal rendition of “Prayer to God.”


Photos by Christopher Alvarez

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy


Photo by Christopher Alvarez

Awesome Tapes From Africa


Photo by Christopher Alvarez

Jeff Mangum

The music of Neutral Milk Hotel worms its way into the heart and soul of it fans with a unique frequency and severity that guarantees a performance from the band’s elusive frontman will be an almost unbearably emotionally charged affair. When a fan shouted that he saved her life, she was certainly not waxing hyperbolic. Jeff Mangum is not a natural showman, and that’s part of the appeal. Armed with four acoustic guitars and a raw voice that never lost its endearing vocal cracks and quirks, Mangum completely enthralled the crowds with the best selections from his collection of enigmatic, stream-of-consciousness lyrical masterworks, plus covers of Daniel Johnston and Roky Erikson.

Jeff Mangum’s occasional interactions with the crowd between songs and humble responses to declarations of love may have been honest to the point of awkwardness, but he seemed to be enjoying the experience of performing live again, as trying as it might have been. Despite Mangum’s pleas for the audience to sing along, the crowd was largely content with focusing on the man behind those beloved tunes. By Monday night, Mangum was so relaxed and into the groove of being onstage that he performed “Little Birds,” the only Neutral Milk Hotel song written after the release of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, for the second time ever. A partial band reunion occurred on Monday in the form of A Hawk and a Hacksaw joining Mangum onstage for “April 8th” and “The Fool.”

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