Best performance of Day 2 of All Tomorrow's Parties in Monticello, NY? A little band called Mother Nature. She's serving some crisp, cusp-of-fall realness out here in the Catskills, and it's making a day full of numbingly loud music and general music-geek merriment that much more pleasant. Only thing better than this blast of Septemberness was watching Jim Jarmusch's hair shake upon UK-terror-synth duo [bleep] Buttons triggering their kick drum.
More coverage after the jump...
One of the first acts of the day was one of the day's finest hours; London's Sian Alice Group was a wake-up call in at least two ways. The shorthand: If Mazzy Star was a supernova: behold, Sian Alice Group. Though, that rather shortchanges what vocalist Sian Alice Ahern brings to the stage (which does not include the fabulous shoes we complimented her on in line at the ATM the day before when we had no idea who she was). Her voice can rise from a thin wisp to broad, soaring beam -- and the songs, which rise from boiling drones into wild frenzies of noise surround it in flashes like lightning to a rod.
Imagine Low or Galaxie 500 blown into sustained ecstatic smithereens and you've got the a good idea after the first few minutes -- beyond that, when the strobes flicked on and the band rose over the banks of their plans, it got a bit impossible to process. Gooooood morning, everybody!
Evan J. Garza
Certainly the band with the most curiosity aimed its way is Beak>, the new project from Portishead multi-knobbist Geoff Barrow. These question marks were quickly straightened out into exclamation points as the trio dropped future-minor-classic after future-minor-classic. Despite their musical chairs -- with Barrow switching spots with mates Matt Williams (of Team Brick) and Billy Fuller (of Fuzz Against Junk) -- their sound was remarkably together for a band formed around a set of songs written and recorded within a self-imposed allotment of twelve days.
Any fan of the tightly-bolted Kraut of Fujiya & Miyagi, or the crusty textural embellishments of Broadcast, or the steady-handed groove-keeping of, say, Hallogallo 2010 (who would play later on the same stage) would instantly warm up to the hard-stamped rhythms, spectral vocals, thick melodic slabs, feral oscillations and (big bonus!) disarming humor of Beak>. Their self-titled debut (along with the "Wulfstan" single) is available here, so seriously, go get it.
Apse, a five-piece with members spread across Connecticut, Cape Cod and Northampton, delivered a thrillingly loose, howling set that swerved between the dreamy tension of Verve (a reference tapped and treated with more psych later in the same day by San Francisco's Sleepy Sun), the artful roadhouse rock of Th' Faith Healers and their own increasingly recognizable brand of roiling post-punk that's almost got its cage open.
The only thing unfashionable about Neu! right now is that black T-shirt you see sometimes on guys who could use a Supercut. Everything else about the legendary German Großväters of Kraut-rock could not possibly be more on point. After drummer Klaus Dinger's death in 2008, it seemed like the relentless drive and extreme tidiness of their music would only be heard through the filters of others' stated or denied homage. Hallogallo 2010, led by Neu! guitarist Michael Rother (whose time helming Neu! landed between his work in Kraftwerk and Cluster), is as close to a real-life Neu!-ride as we're likely to get -- and these were no rote covers.
Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley was a flawless channel of the motorik Neu! spirit -- metronomic but explosive, dutifully servile to the rhythm but always representative of a threat to its extreme neatness. Aaron Mullan of the Tall Firs was impossibly solid on bass, forcing the songs (as the songs once forced all other bands in earshot) forward, a kind of magical chaos brewing in its relentless repetition. Plopped in the middle of the noisiest day I've had in months, it was the sonic equivalent of a cool shower.
Evan J. Garza
An inquisitive (and very sizable) Quebecois superfan (whom I first spotted stage diving into terrified smaller people during the Breeders' incredible set) clued me in later on that he'd heard tonight's Sonic Youth set-list wouldn't be the usual amalgam of old and new. True to the glory-dayed ethos of this festival, the band stuck firmly to the fruits of its earliest era, drawing from Sister ("Catholic Block"), Daydream Nation ("Cross the Breeze," "Eric's Trip"), E.V.O.L. ("Shadow of a Doubt"), and even real doozies from your shoebox of dusty tapes like Bad Moon Rising (a fierce unleashing of "Death Valley '69") and their 1983 (sort-of) debut album Confusion is Sex (stirring set-closer "Shaking Hell").
For the young'uns in attendance, it was a chance to walk through what made this band so important well before their Dirty-driven '90s parabola into the alt-major-mainstream gave them the pop pox; and the seemingly capless volume allowed in the Stardust Ballroom permitted us all to hear the band right in the gut, the way we ought to. Where guitars were meant to sound terrifying, they did; where the idea was to send Branca through a hall of cracked post-punk mirrors, they did; where the goal was to wick some sort of holy tenderness from the charred edges of decaying signals, they did.
For the oldsters in the room [raises hand] it gave us something we've been missing for years: that persistent ring in the ear that keeps you from sleeping. Until it loses; and it did.
About Sound Effects
ContributorsSarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.