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Live Review: Moogfest, October 29-31 – Asheville, NC



It’s funny: I spent the majority of my teen years growing up in a suburb outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, and my house was situated on a long stretch of rural road called Asheville Highway. Supposedly, if you followed the route long enough, you could end up in Asheville, North Carolina. I didn’t know that for sure—I never tried it. But in theory, that’s what would happen. It was as though the mountain town of Asheville was connected to me, and I, connected to it.

Years later, I would find myself drawn to the little town more and more, as if on that stretch of highway, there was a person on the other end tugging the highway like a carpet. Each time they would tug, my feet gave way and I’d be dragged into the open arms of the homey little city, although I never struggled. Stockholm syndrome kicked in, and I grew to love my captor. Asheville pulled me into various concerts, but it never held me for long—hours after each show, something whipped the carpet and bounced me straight back into my adjacent Tennessee city. Like a captive thrown back into mainstream society, there was a tremendous sense of whiplash, realizing how quickly I’d been separated from Asheville. I always vowed to go back and enjoy a few more moments with the city. I was Carolina’s victim, but only to her charm.

When I learned about Moogfest back in August, noticed the festival’s chosen date (Halloween weekend), and saw the lineup that would make most electronic-leaning music nerds tremble with excitement, I knew that I had to go. I’d skipped out on Bonnaroo months before because I was being financially conservative and worrying about silly things like “consequences”, so I knew I had to make it up to myself. Finding out that the festival was helmed by AC Entertainment was icing on the cake: this is an entertainment firm (based out of my hometown of Knoxville, TN) that has almost single-handedly revolutionized the Southern music scene, if only in the sense of bringing quality festivals to the Southeast, especially a little festival called Bonnaroo. It’s not easy growing up as a non-country music fan in a state that’s only well-known as Country Music USA, and I think AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps understood that better than anyone. As a young dude, he opened up a club in my hometown called Ella Guru’s, booking bands like Black Flag back when our “cool” music scene was struggling. He knows what kids like, mostly because he also likes those things too. He was the perfect person to appropriate the dying festival in New York and transfer it to a cool-ass, intimate town where Moog creator Bob Moog spent his dying days. I trusted Mr. Capps completely.

Fast forward to October 29th, and I found myself navigating the circuitous one-way streets of downtown Asheville, running rather late (per usual) to the first show on my agenda. I went through check in, security, the works—and ran my legs off to the first show I wanted to see at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium: the Octopus Project.

Octopus Project is a band that I had heard casually and was only mildly impressed, but a few people had come to me singing their praises as a live act. “Go see them—they’re amazing! They have a Theramin, and they’re just all over the place, but in a good way!” I slipped into the historic Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and was welcomed by neon lights and a band hammering out this aggressive, trancelike song. There were several members on stage, all very involved in their individual tasks. There was a lot of energy in the room, both from the cephalophilic band and the audience, who was just settling into the festival and bracing themselves for an unforgettable Halloween weekend. You could feel the buzz in the air (and no, that wasn’t a drug reference).

MoogfestOctopusProject1

Photo by Brian Sarzynski

You could tell the members of Octopus Project were skilled musicians: each person switched from their post and effortlessly slipped into other instrumentalist roles. It’s part of their shtick. But the night started to get really memorable (for the audience and the band) when members of Devo appeared onstage. Devo had been scheduled to perform at the festival, but the weekend had been marred: guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh had sustained an injury and could not join his bandmates for the festival (and some tour dates). However, two physically healthy members Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh trekked to the tiny mountain city to accept a Moog Lifetime Achievement award—and join the Octopus Project onstage, of course. Casale and Mothersbaugh performed a few spirited, Devo-like songs with the band (the Devo guys admitted to being big fans), entertained the audience with some Moog-centric banter, and then everyone onstage took a bow. What a way to ring in the festival.

MoogfestOctopusProject2

Photo by Reggie Tidwell

The great thing about Asheville is that two of the city’s major venues, the Asheville Civic Center and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, are essentially interconnected, so it’s easy to bounce between them, and the other smaller venues are not far away. AC Entertainment must have taken this convenience into consideration when deciding where to relocate Moogfest, and it was a good call: with only a handful of minutes to spare before Big Boi’s highly-anticipated set, I was able to relocate from TWA to ACC with aplomb.

MoogfestBigBoi1

Photo by Hannah Davis

Determined to get on the floor level for what was sure to be a crazy dance-filled set, I waded through a sea of costumed hipsters waiting for the renowned half of OutKast to come onstage. He finally appeared, flanked by a few hype guys and dancers, proclaiming that they were “the coolest motherfuckers on the planet” and delivered a pretty dope party in true ATL fashion. Big Boi had tons of new quality solo material to roll out for us, but instead, he did perhaps the smartest thing for a festival full of people who just want to dance the Halloween weekend away: he played the favorites. OutKast favorites, that is: “Ms. Jackson,” “So Fresh So Clean,” “The Way You Move,” “B.O.B.,” and others dominated the set as the music videos played behind the crew. There was a bit of room on the setlist for “Shutterbugg” and “General Patton,” thankfully, but you could tell the crowd didn’t necessarily come for new Big Boi material. Oh well. What can you do when you’re half of one of the planet’s most popular hip-hop duos? Big Boi handled his blessing-curse with finesse and slayed the early part of Friday evening.

MoogfestBigBoi2

Photo by Hannah Davis

Photo by Tess Malijenovksy

Drenched in sweat, I stayed on the floor for the next act, MGMT. I had intended to see them at Bonnaroo the year before, but I was too exhausted, so I slept on them (quite literally). Admittedly, I was also exhausted after dancing my ass off at Big Boi’s set, but I was not about to let exhaustion best me this time! I was determined to see MGMT!

MoogfestMGMT1

Photo by Tess Malijenovksy

Truthfully, I probably would have been better off attending a different set and exploring a new artist, because MGMT proved to be something of a disappointment. Now keep in mind that I am actually a huge fan of their latest LP, Congratulations, and was not necessarily there for some “Kids” or “Electric Feel” shakedown. Musically, the guys are tight and well-rehearsed, but what they have in musical skill they greatly lack in energy. Unfortunately, their Oracular Spectacular days were a little more fancy-free and possibly influenced by narcotics, and I say “unfortunate” because of where that puts them now—in a prison of stiffness and insecurity. Almost all of the energy came from the audience during songs like “Electric Feel” and “Time to Pretend,” and when it was time for newer material, the audience assumed a stance that was as awkward as the band’s. Members Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser are fully aware of this dichotomy, and it shows. It’s just a shame that the reception for their latest material, both onstage and offstage, had to be so cold. If they had been more confident, perhaps they would have owned the stage.

MoogfestMGMT2

Photo by Hannah Davis

After MGMT, I only had time to eat and catch a glimpse of the legendary Van Dyke Parks’ set, which was good from what I could gather, but my experience was only in passing—he’s definitely an act I’d like to see again. Alas, I was only a one-person team at this festival, and Dan Deacon is usually the talk of the festival circuits, so unfortunately I am not talented enough to see Dan Deacon and Van Dyke Parks at the same time. Like MGMT before him, I had also missed out on Dan Deacon a couple of times, and I couldn’t let it happen again.

Photo by Tess Malijenovksy

It’s easy to see why Deacon called one of his albums Spiderman of the Rings–he really is something of a ringleader. He’s a plushy, bespectacled geek, affable and funny, and not afraid to headbang while twisting the knobs on his electronic music-making devices. Deacon, who performs as a one-man show, played the slightly overwhelming Civic Center, which swallowed his larger-than-life stage presence. He cracked some lighthearted jokes about the obviously awkward scenario but carried on like a professional—he even made the most of the arena by asking people to make an enormous circle. He tried to urge people to follow his instructions, but of course chaos ensued and hipsters got their dance on. It bothered me to hear people occasionally interrupt Deacon and scream, “Shut up and play some fucking music!” Because, sure, Deacon talks to his audience through the majority of his set, but Deacon’s live sets aren’t strictly about the music—anyone can onstage and turn knobs and give you virtually the same experience as an album. But very few of those knob-turners confront the audience and attempt meaningful connections and conversations. With Dan Deacon, it’s more about community, and the intimate Moogfest in the closely-knit city of Asheville was the perfect place to exercise that tendency.

After Dan Deacon, I decided that I could only handle one more act for the night, and I knew Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis) would be worth the exhaustion I’d inevitably feel the next day. The hype and energy from his Bonnaroo ’09 set was the stuff of legend, and given Halloween weekend and everyone’s willingness to celebrate the holiday to the fullest, I was eager to see what would happen. Gillis came out onto the huge Civic Center stage in a Freddie Krueger costume and mask, jogging around the stage and basking in the applause like a basketball star. “What up Asheville? Make some noise,” the non-DJ demanded in his usual DJ way. He then took a few moments to praise the festival, calling it one of the best lineups he’d ever been a part of—and rightfully so.

Photo by Hannah Davis

The show got started with the same mashup that kicks off his All Day album, the combination of “Move Bitch” and “War Pigs.” It was the audience’s first time hearing this combination, and they responded positively (now that the album has been released, I get the impression that those two samples have been opening Gillis’ sets for a while). It didn’t take long for Gillis, who is notorious for losing articles of clothing as his set progresses, to shed his costume and become shirtless. The crowd was feeling his set—they were mostly lost in the moment, celebrating the final huge crowd-drawing act of the night and feeling good about the days to come.

Photo by Reggie Tidwell

Unfortunately there was a lag in energy, probably from Gillis’ laptop losing its power source for a few minutes (as is bound to happen when you invite scantily-clad witches and bunnies onstage to dance around expensive equipment). Perhaps by the midway point of Girl Talk’s set, the tikes were finally tuckered out from dancing all night.

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