MOST HEAVILY QUESTIONED GENRE: HIP HOP
With the Beastie Boys originally set to headline (before cancelling due to Adam Yauch's cancer-surgery announcement) and Jay-Z stepping in Friday as their replacement, the first afternoon and evening of All Points West 2009 took on a vaguely beats-and-rhymes orientation -- from the eagerly flailing hipster rap of the Knux to the reformed Pharcyde's good-natured '90s-jukebox to the lyrically elaborate "hypnotical gases" released by a reunited Organized Konfusion to Flying Lotus' torrent of perpetually tweaked beats to Q Tip's solo live-band excursions to Peanut Butter Wolf's always witty lessons on past/present/future, and Jay-Hova's thunderous Vegas-with-a-full-clip extravaganza that closed the rather grueling, rain-battered, mud-caked day.
But what was strangely notable was how virtually every act (save Flying Lotus and Peanut Butter Wolf) repeatedly asked the predominantly white, presumably rockcentric crowd: "Who loves hip-hop?" "Who loves real hip-hop?" "Is hip-hop in the building?" These sorts of shout-outs are, of course, common at any rap show, but here they had a particularly grasping, intrusive tone. It was as if the genre was an ill, or deeply troubled, friend that only the immediate family could be expected to minister to, so these outsiders had to be implored to remember that they too once might have cared.
It was a tiresome, pointless exercise -- almost like a rhetorical passing the hat -- which said more about the artists than the fans, about the longing for a mythical new age when hip-hop's cultural dominance will again be as strong (and aesthetically diverse) as it was from the late-'80s through the '90s. The paying customers, soaked to the bone and relieved to dance to any song with a serviceable rhythm/hook, etc., played along gamely.
FINEST ACT OF GRACIOUSNESS BY A PROFESSIONAL EGOTIST
After a New Year's Eve-like, 10-minute countdown via a giant numbered clock on the screen behind the stage, Jay-Z opened his set with a gloriously bludgeoning version of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" (amped up by a live band, a horn section, a DJ, and trusted, if lethargic, consigliere Memphis Bleek). It was easily the day's most galvanizing moment. A photo montage of Brooklyn street signs flickered, and the exhausted, soggy crowd was suddenly, if fleetingly, energized as one. Hov, ever the precise lyrical pro, even rapped Yauch's eternally corny verse -- "Born and bred in Brooklyn, the U.S.A. / They call me Adam Yauch, but I'm M.C.A. / Like a lemon to a lime, a lime to a lemon / I sip the def ale with all the fly women." It was a funny, touching tribute by a man who usually only pays tribute to his own omnipotence.
SECOND FINEST ACT OF GRACIOUSNESS BY A MAIN-STAGE ACT
During the National's late-afternoon slot, when the rain was at its most pounding and the thunder its most ominous, scruffy, introverted frontman Matt Berninger left the stage and descended into the slop to commune with the diehards during "Mr. November," moaning/shouting the doleful chorus, "I wish that I believed in fate / I wish I didn't sleep so late / I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders," as the crowd engulfed him and shouted along, until the lines became a defiant, loser's-lounge celebration of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but toasting the occasion regardless.
MOST WELCOME COMIC RELIEF FROM AN ARTIST ON A LEGENDARY GRUNGE LABEL
New York-based humorist Eugene Mirman, promoting his upcoming Sub Pop release God Is a Twelve-Year-Old Boy with Asperger's, wandered amongst kids sprawled in the grass in the fancifully named Queen of the Valley tent, passing out personally made greeting cards, which contained special, father-related messages (many of them oddly related to Robin Williams films). For instance: "Thanks for not being a dad like that day in Dead Poets Society." Or more generally: "I'm grown up so it's O.K. if you want to get divorced now." Or: "Thanks for teaching me the difference between right and wrong; I've never committed a violent, sexual act, although I've been tempted." There was also a bit about One Hour Photo, but I can't do it justice.
BEST GENERATION-GAP BEATDOWN OF THE DAY
Bearded, sixtysomething bluesman Steven Wold, a.k.a. Seasick Steve, who's made surprising bank the last couple of years playing U.K. festivals, sawed away at his janky three-string guitar, cranking out a slide fusillade and singing lots of songs about "being locked up." At one point, seated in his wooden chair, stomping on a wooden box for percussion and filling the afternoon sky with wails and growls, the otherwise genial former busker turned on a distracted patron and barked: "What ya yawnin' for -- ya bored!" Then, with his aforementioned "piece of shit" instrument, set off the day's most thunderously noisy reverberation (which was saying something).
MOST OH-SNAP PUNCH LINE BY AN UNIMPRESSED ROCK CRITIC
From SPIN contributor Thomas Golianopoulos: "Why does that guy in Vampire Weekend sound like Roger Federer -- isn't he from New York?"
MOST REVEALING EXAMPLE OF AN ARTIST'S WILLINGNESS TO EXPLOIT ANY AND ALL DEMOGRAPHICS
At the end of Jay-Z's set, the rapper gave thanks to the fans down front while pointing out their various sartorial choices: "I fucks with tie dye," asserted the crafty, Auto-Tune-politicizing mogul. Prepare for the Roca-Wear roll-out next summer.