All Tomorrow's Parties New York 2008

I'm finally recovered enough from this past weekend to do a proper writeup! My friend Josh asked me today if ATP was everything I hoped it would be. I had to pause for a moment, and then answered absolutely. Why did I hesitate? Part of it was probably that we left immediately after My Bloody Valentine finished on Sunday night, driving home in the middle of the night, arriving home at 5am, foregoing proper event closure. But more abstractly, I hesitated because this year's festival was such a different experience for me than the previous three I attended (Slint '05, Thurston Moore '06, Portishead '07). Without the overseas red-eye flight, the other-side-of-the-road driving, the tall, greasy northern European weekend warriors, and the cold, dank, mildewy chalets, it just wasn't the same experience that I had come to know and love. It wasn't as trying. It wasn't as punishing on both the mind and the body as the trans-Atlantic adventures of years past. And I think that's part of my love for the event — the dedication that it required, the endurance and commitment that it demanded from its patrons.

I know I sound like I'm complaining, but I promise you, I'm not. I'm not that deluded. I'm just trying to sort through my thoughts about the event. It was an amazing weekend, absolutely thrilling and enchanting, even though it wasn't what I expected.

Driving two hours outside of New York City to Kutshers Country Club obviously doesn't even begin to compare to flying to the UK, in terms of effort or expense, even discounting the diminishing value of the US dollar. At Kutshers, you don't ever have to go outside if you don't want to — the on-site lodging is in the same building as the performance stages. We wanted to go out, though, and since we had a car, we were able to drive into the nearby town of Monticello to get food and avoid the nasty food court offerings. We were more free to come and go as we please, and less bound by the band schedules and weather and unfamiliarity of the surrounding territory. It was altogether easier, which was strangely disappointing.

I slept better this year, I ate better, and I drank less. I'm getting older, and softer perhaps, and I opted not to put myself through the wringer like years past. I adopted a true Rock Tourist mentality, avoiding the bands I had no interest in, sampling ones I was curious about, and seeing entire sets of only a select few. In previous years I tried to see everything (or at least as much as possible, hindered by conflicting schedules), figuring that they were all chosen for a good reason, and I should indulge the curators by making an effort to check them all out. I had a change of heart this year. I don't recall anything about a good portion of the lesser-known bands from previous festival, so this year I decided to skip the ones I had no interest in, and spend more time enjoying the other distractions on the festival grounds (though I've still yet to see an in-theater movie). I went swimming, I went row-boating, I played ping-pong.

The lesson I take away from this is the reminder of the one overarching truth about ATP festivals: expect unpredictability.

Sure, every single one is a wholly immersive experience, where you surround yourself with similarly-minded enthusiastic, geeky, passionate music fans. You segregate yourself from the rest of the world in a seventy-two-hour fishbowl of indie rock nerds. But it's never like the last one you attended.

I loved every single minute of ATP NY 2008 (well, except the sixty minutes stuck in Wal Mart). It once again proved that it's my singularly most favorite thing in the world to do.

Oh, and I'll admit one more predictability: Thurston Moore. He's always there. Except this time I didn't see him perform. "Psychic Hearts" isn't one of my favorite albums, and the allure of exploring the country club and spending time with my friends was too great. Donny & Katie were there, too, providing some consistency.

Here's my quick-list roundup of the weekend:

Highlights:

  • The final twenty minutes of My Bloody Valentine's set, the coda to their final song "You Made Me Realize," a.k.a. "noise holocaust." I've never had my senses so aggressively assaulted in my life. It was like standing inside a jet engine with a strobe light affixed in front of you. I heard other people's comparisons, saying it was like staring into the sun, or seeing the face of god, and while I don't completely agree, I can see how the comparison is sorta apt.
  • Spectrum — I walked into Stage 2 halfway through their set and couldn't pull myself away. Hypnotic and electrified, fuzzy and melodic, it's what I think Spacemen 3 would've sounded like live.
  • The Drones — definitely my new favorite band. I seriously don't know why they don't have more fans in the U.S.
  • Bardo Pond performing "Lapsed" — it was the first thing I saw, immediately after checking into the resort, and it got the festival off with a wallop. This is some seriously heavy psychedelic rock, you feel like the bottom-heavy riffs push you down, down, down into the ground. You don't feel like you're floating in space, you feel like you're being buried in the ocean floor.
  • The unexpectedly balmy weather, in spite of the forecasted frost warning. I didn't even have to wear my trademark orange festival hoodie!
  • Acatlan Mexican Deli & Grocery — we stumbled upon this Sunday morning when searching for lunch in town, and it was a surprise hit. Forty-five bucks for the five of us, and we did NOT eat lightly. Awesome tacos, sopes, tostadas, enchilada, chilaquiles, and more.

Pleasant surprises:

  • Seated comedy — I wouldn't have thought this fit in with the rock festival atmosphere, but it worked. It fit the bill Friday night when I needed to sit a bit while Thurston played.
  • affordable merchandise — ATP t-shirts were twenty bucks, posters were twenty, and hoodies were thirty-five. I got two of the three.

Better than expected based on past experience:

  • Shellac — I saw them at Touch & Go 25th Anniversary festival, and was bored. This set was nothing like that. No noodling or wanking around this time, just solid, skronky rock.

Wished I'd seen more of:

  • ...Trail of Dead, Dinosaur Jr. — The ten minutes each I saw of these performances made me wish that I had gotten there earlier.

As good as expected but not transcendent:

  • Built To Spill - "Perfect From Now On" — this album is just too huge, to legendary, too much in my top-five-of-all-time. There's no way it could have lived up to what I wanted it to be. It's not Doug Martsch's fault – he put on an expert rendition of it (and even seemed like he might have been enjoying himself for a split second) – it's my fault. It's such a wistful, nostalgic album that there's no way I could've forced myself to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the performance for what it was.
  • Tortoise - "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" — Looking back, I can't believe that they started an entire sub-genre of indie music. I think everyone just closed their eyes and wished they were Slint.

Couldn't have been happier to have skipped:

  • Yo La Tengo — Saw 'em earlier this year at McCarren Pool, and was bored then. I heard they were boring again.
  • Growing — I've seen 'em plenty over the years, and never taken to them.

Mild disappointment:

  • The inability to use the grill that we brought along. The room setup wasn't like I expected, and we would've had to tailgate in the parking lot.

Total, crushing disappointment:

  • Mercury Rev — What a load preening, adult contemporary pap. Never again.
  • The abysmal dj'ing in The Deep End bar — what the hell happened to the 2am post-show indie dance party? Who were these drunk, giggly assholes high-fiving each other and spinning atrocious electronic dance garbage?

Soul-destroying annoyance:

  • The incompetence on display at Wal Mart. It should not take an hour to buy five items.

Disappointed in myself for not being in the right frame of mind:

  • Harmonia — All reviews pointed to them being amazing. And in the five minutes I saw of them, I thought they were obviously great performers. I just wasn't in the mood. My bad.

Strongest opposition to the prevailing opinion:

  • Les Savy Fav — I just don't like them. I don't care that the lead singer does the most outlandish shit, stripping and running through the audience, letting himself being carried on a ladder. To me that's all distractions from the fact that your music isn't so hot.

Biggest shock to the system:

  • Driving home after My Bloody valentine, crashing off of Jamesons & Rockstar Energy drink, bones and organs humming from the wall of sound, arriving at 5:15am and trying to fall asleep in my own bed.
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