Heading All Points West

Written by Jennifer Minsky & Joshua Horowitz / Photos by Mitch Manzella

August 25, 2008

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There is history behind the All Points West Music and Arts Festival. Named after the experience of the bold, determined immigrants who came to this country with visions of a brighter future with a destination to “all points west,” this brilliant concept obviously could only be carried out at Liberty State Park, one of the most unequivocally unique festival environments one could hope for.

Carl Newman of the New Pornographers perfectly summed it up: “Shit, the Statue of Liberty.”

Reinforcing this historical influence, information about the festival was contained in a passport offered to each person as one passed through the long security lines on the festival’s opening day.

 

Scoping out the environment, it was clear that the organizers tried to delicately balance the overtly corporate sponsorship side with the artsy/environmentally responsible side in an attempt to fascinate the masses. Tents set up by PlayStation, Nokia, and Virgin were off-set by carnival games and large sculptures, including a merry-go-round-esque one that actually moved up and down. Music was offered through three stages that were easily accessible if one wanted to attempt to get comprehensive coverage.

Day One: Friday, August 8th, 2008

The festival commenced on a rather hot Friday afternoon, which could provide the rationale as to the limited crowd that surfaced early on. As the day-glo garbed Ninja from The Go! Team proclaimed, “Special thanks for those of you who blew off work to come see us.” A highlight of the afternoon was Michael Franti, who seems to always have one of the most strong, energetic stage presences in music today. Despite the hampering rain and wind that occurred mid-set, Franti and company brought everyone’s spirits up and even got the crowd to sing responsively, “The Rude Boy’s Back in Town.”

As the rain cleared, The New Pornographers took the main stage. They opened with “My Rights Versus Yours” and after rocking out great versions of “Use It” and “The Laws Have Changed,” they cheekily went into a teaser of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” before going into “All the Showstoppers.” The merriment continued throughout their performance as a dedication of “Adventures in Solitude” went to the “Dark Knight” and to top everything off, they closed with ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

The Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear, expressed a pure, harmonious, and mellow vibe as expected; a mood that would have been further enhanced if it were darker out but unfortunately light still permeated the skies. Songs from their critically acclaimed Yellow House album such as “Little Brother” and “Knife” (no, Girl Talk did not make an appearance for the remix) were best received by the audience throughout their set which was comprised of mostly newer material.  The band thanked Mates of State as they walked off fifteen minutes earlier than their slated slot, which was quite disappointing.

The unmistakable whistling Andrew Bird came on stage next with a perfectly-pitched voice that saturated the air. Accompanied at first only by a violin, he belted out his poetry as couples everywhere embraced. Highlights included “Opposite Day” made by special request, as well as “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.”

apw-girltalk.jpgInarguably, Girl Talk, a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, provided the day’s most energy and fun. Apologetic for interrupting Underworld’s “Born Slippy” who were performing at the same time (and which incidentally Gillis samples), the show began with a rush of dancers that filled the stage and subsequently tossed out rolls of toilet paper, beach balls, and huge balloons to the frenzied crowd. Mixing recognizable tracks from Night Ripper and his latest Feed the Animals, the only reason one could ever want to leave this party was to find a coveted spot to see Radiohead.

The most highly anticipated and probably the ultimate reason for people’s attendance, Radiohead definitely did not disappoint.  The chanting was in full force as Thom Yorke and company took the stage and belted out “15 Step.” Their sound was perfect, the audience was intoxicated with awe; having the opportunity to witness one of the best bands to come out of England in the last fifteen years is an experience that should be mandatory for all. On this night, highlights included, “Morning Bell” and “There There.”{mospagebreak}

Day Two Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Poet and hip-hop artist K’NAAN was a bit of a disappointment to witness live. Although his his spoken word performance was quite spirited, it nonetheless was not captivating. Perhaps it was the atmosphere – it was difficult to truly get into his message amongst a carnival-esque environment. Next, a quick walk past The Virgins revealed a band that shows promise. They are young, full of energy and have both songs you can rock out to and ones that tap your emotions.  There is almost a feel of an early 80’s Bon Jovi vibe.

apw-sia.jpgThe all-mighty Animal Collective epitomized their modern, experimental rock sound in their set, although it was clear that the audience was divided between those who got it and those who did not. For the latter, it was probably due to the fact that some of their songs felt like they were building towards a climax that just never happened.

Walking back to the Queen of the Valley stage, Sia was a fun entertaining set of music. Perhaps better fitted for a coffee shop than a festival environment, Sia Furler mixes Australian pop sounds with classical arrangements, including a cellist which added to the beauty of the music. The band members were all wearing colorful VOTE t-shirts provided to them by Headcount.

First and foremost, The Black Angels are cool. A steady rotation of members sticking a tight groove on the bass, and Stephanie Bailey’s feisty drumming, gives room for guitar licks and shadowy tones from the keyboards. There’s something akin to visual art coming out of the psychedelic poetic styling of Alex Maas’ lyrics, which can be glorious or filled with doom.

The Kings of Leon have a lot of fans in New Jersey, clear by the ample crowd despite strong competition on the other two stages. The highlight from the Followill brothers (and cousin) had to be their newest song “Sex on Fire,” released only four days prior to the festival on the band’s MySpace page.

Interestingly, The Roots opened with a really chill instrumental, featuring guitar, bass and congas. A little while into their set, there appeared to be a problem with the tuba player’s microphone, but that did not distract the audience as ?uestlove took the stage.

apw-radiohead.jpgThe opportunity to see Radiohead again was almost too unbelievable to conceive, but once again, they took the main stage.

It was glorious.

It was beautiful.

It rocked.

Radiohead flawlessly busted out hit after hit, from “The Bends” to “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” This was not a band promoting their latest album or riding for years on one hit – these were artists excelling at their craft and those there on the second night were lucky enough to see it happen again, light show and all.

The setlist was a little too close to the previous night; with such an incredible catalog of music, one would expect a completely different set of songs from one night to the next, but that’s merely an observation, not a complaint.{mospagebreak}

Day Three Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Sunday opened with rain. Many chose to stay home or in their hotels to wait out the weather before coming to the festival. But, live music must go on, and umbrellas and ponchos do a whole lot to make the experience enjoyable.

apw-catpower.jpgCat Power (aka Chan Marshall) started the day with a soulful set of enchanting music that perfectly captured the feeling of standing in the pouring rain.  People dressed in fanciful, surreal balloon costumes (Jason Hackenwerth’s brainchild known as Mega Mites) pranced around the field, gathering awkward and astonished stares from the crowd.

Jason Isbell brought some southern soul from Alabama to the shores of New Jersey. Best known for his role in Drive-By Truckers, Jason left the band in 2007 and has performed under his own name since, with a bluesy backup band, The 400 Unit. Jason’s songs are introspective, sensitive, and easy to dance to, a perfect precursor to an evening anchored by Jack Johnson. No one could walk away when Jason began singing the phase, “We were born before the wind.”  How could anyone leave before singing along to the Van Morrison classic, “Into the Mystic?”

apw-greyhound.jpgSunday evening was chock full of great music, and Earl Greyhound was ready to take their share of the accolades. A trio based in Brooklyn with Matt Whyte on guitar (who looks and plays a little like a young David Gilmour), Kamara Thomas on bass, and Ricc Sheridan on drums. This band surprised a lot of people with their talent, and sheer energy.

The Secret Machines, who reliably put on a good show, were a bit shaky in their performance, perhaps due to their new lineup (Benjamin Curtis was replaced by Phil Karnats). Something about their songs is still really captivating, but it seems like they are still working out some kinks. There is something really deep there when you hear them perform “Alone, Jealous and Stoned.”

Scheduling at festivals always causes one to make tough choices, but missing Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals was simply not an option. Ben’s acoustic sounds and his mastery of the lap steel guitar pleased everyone. You just can’t help but smile from ear to ear and sing along to toe tappers like, “Diamonds on the Inside.”

apw-gracepotter.jpgSunday evening was a heavy dose of soul, rhythm and the kind of rock and roll that gets deep to the bone. The Vermont-based Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were the perfect choice to close out the Queen of the Valley stage at All Points West. Gracie was thrilled to be back in Liberty State Park, a place she had not been since grade school when she visited the Statue of Liberty: "It’s exactly the same as it was when I was eight, except now I get to have sex." As always, their performance epitomized sexiness and soulfulness. Right as they were finishing their encore, one of Vermont’s Phinest was about to take the stage.

Trey Anastasio and the Original TAB was, for many, the most compelling reason to be at All Points West aside from Radiohead. The seriously tight hour-long set was full of familiar songs, led by Trey’s guitar. The band opened with “Sand” which got everyone moving in synchronicity. Tony Markellis held down the bass, but it was Ray Paczkowski on the keys that gave “Sand” its Phishy feel. Trey gave a quick narrative about Ellis Island that included a dedication to his grandfather (who came through Ellis Island in 1910) and all grandfathers who followed the same journey.  “Drifting” took on a whole new feel, and found a way into people’s hearts as an airy tribute to those immigrants who came to the US at the beginning of the 20th century.

The band played some new songs, such as “Alaska,” and some classic songs like “Cayman Review” and “Gotta Jiboo.” The only thing missing was the horns and depth that Hartswick, Grippo and Moroz added to these songs six or seven years ago, but with so few Anastasio appearances in the last year, no one’s complaining. The set closer “First Tube” was a real highlight for everyone there. The crowd begged for more as we could hear Jack Johnson taking to the main stage a few hundred feet away. Trey came back out for a poppy “Heavy Things” before taking his final bow

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The entire Sunday lineup was punctuated by the master of sensitive pop rock, Jack Johnson.  Johnson’s entire catalog feels like one mega hit after another, and the crowd just loved him. The interplay between Zach Gill (piano) and Jack on the vocal lines was so sublime one could just “Sleep Through the Static.” Zach mentioned the greatest thing about playing music festivals is all the other musicians who come to hang out at the back of the stage, and on cue, Trey came out to lend some guitar licks to the wispy sounds of “Mud Football.”  Trey’s cameo was short, and then it was right back into a battery of Jack’s tunes before inviting Matt Costa on stage to close out the final songs of the festival.

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