The nerdiest of music nerds seized control of a dilapidated country club in Upstate, NY, this weekend for the third annual All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Their leader: indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Coffee and Cigarettes). Their entertainment: the leaders of noise- and indie-rock, from vets like Sonic Youth to newcomers like Girls, partially curated by Mr. Jarmusch himself.
The event -- the American spinoff of the 10-year-old UK fest -- was held at Kutsher's Country Club, the last of the grand Borscht Belt resorts in the Catskill Mountains, about 100 miles outside New York City near Monticello, NY -- and the ensuing party was an alt-rock free-for-all!
For three days and nights, roughly 2,500 rock fans ran rampant at Kutsher's, the all-inclusive getaway that inspired Dirty Dancing. Still furnished in 1970s décor (it's no longer in regular use), the resort features video game arcades, smoking lounges, a movie theatre, a mess hall, ski lift, numerous bars, 18-hole golf course, over 400 hotel rooms, a play ground, and a small lake on which concertgoers can go paddling. There's a sense of freedom -- security is minimal; there are no lines or photo pits; you can drink and smoke anywhere; skinny-dipping in the pool is a nightly activity; and the rooftop party went until 9 A.M.
There's no backstage area, so Kim Gordon could be ordering a drink at the bar beside you, or Iggy Pop chatting with fans in the lobby, or Steve Albini organizing an open game of poker (all of which actually happened). It's an indie rock utopia.
Here, read SPIN's Best Moments from ATP 2010.
BEST. PERIOD: SONIC YOUTH
"Apparently they age like fine wine!" exclaimed one concertgoer. He was right. The New York vets -- now all pushing 60 -- showed the young'uns how it was done during their 90-minute-plus set Saturday night. Performing as a four-piece (touring bassist Mark Ibold is reunited with his original outfit Pavement), Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Steve Shelley, and Lee Ranaldo played loud, furious, and noisy, banging their instruments with abandon (Moore switched between no less than 10 guitars, scrapping their strings with drum sticks and his mic stand) on gems like Daydream Nation's "Cross the Breeze" and E.V.O.L.'s "Shadow of a Doubt." Bad Moon Rising's "Death Valley '69" was the fiercest track with menacing guitars delivered by Moore in rock hip-lock pose, while Gordon, bouncing and feigning like she was being beaten, flailing her blonde hair, huffed and puffed, "Hit it! Hit it! Hit it!" in increasing volume and urgency. Ears were a'ringin'.
BEST MARRIAGE COUNSELING: THE BREEDERS
Steve Albini is officially out of the doghouse thanks to the Breeders. Instead of staying at home in Chicago to celebrate his one-year wedding anniversary, alt-rock's go-to producer hit ATP -- so Kim and Kelley Deal stopped their 17-song set to help him smooth things over with the lady. Kelley called Albini's wife, Heather, from the stage and had the crowd shout, "Happy anniversary, Mrs. Albini!!!" The packed audience was just as participant on set highlights "Bang On" and "No Aloha," clapping and singing along.
BEST MUSICAL FIREWORKS: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY
True to their name, this instrumental quartet's sound is indie rock's equivalent of bombs bursting in air. With Texas flags draped over their amps to rep their Austin roots, guitarists Mark Smith, Michael James, and Munaf Rayani built cinematic electric guitar symphonies -- see the soundtrack to Friday Night Lights (both the movie and TV series) -- on tracks like "Your Hand in Mine," then detonated them in a heavenly fury of cymbal crashes from drummer Chris Hrasky. The Stardust Ballroom, Kutsher's main stage, was an ideal venue: Concertgoers lounged on the floor and watched as multi-colored lights circled the room in slo-mo, illuminating the decor of comets, stars, and galaxies. It was truly stunning, and if you closed your eyes you could almost see the millions of shimmering sparks falling around you.
BEST SONIC SEDATIVE: HOPE SANDOVAL & THE WARM INVENTIONS
"You all look quite tired," Hope Sandoval, the onetime singer for '90s dream-pop hit makers Mazzy Star, told the Sunday crowd in the Stardust Ballroom. They did. And Sandoval's music is blissfully responsible. Her five-piece band, including collaborator Colm Ó Cíosóig of equally ethereal outfit My Bloody Valentine, sedated the crowd with jazzy electric guitar riffs with the reverb set to 11. "Blanchard," a spine-tingler off their new album, Through the Devil Softly, and "Suzanne," an older tune with xylophone plinks, both lulled the crowd as the chanteuse sang in a breathy whisper. Grainy black and white video of a ballerina twirling in a flowing dress, and footage of blue, green, and yellow watercolors smudging together added to the opiate dream state. Nighty, night.
BEST SAD SONG SUITE: GIRLS
Christopher Owens, leader of this San Francisco indie-pop band, is a master of the brutally honest and exposed sad song -- dude doesn't disguise his emotions. Sunday in the Stardust Ballroom, the quintet played their three best, back-to-back: "Solitude" (in which Owens pleads about "his aching heart" over a '60s pop chord progression); "Lust for Life" (their breakout jam about wanting "a father," a "boyfriend," a "loving man in my life," paired with a jangly upbeat melody); and "Hellhole Rat Race" (a extended ballad about "not wanting to cry my whole life through"). This all sung by a guy in scrappy basketball high tops and a backwards cap, puckering his red lipstick-covered lips. "You go, Girls!" screamed one fan. Indeed.Read More From All Tomorrow's Parties On Page 2 >>
BEST CREEP OUT: FURSAXA
No summer getaway is complete without a chilling ghost story, right? Right. And this all-girl Philadelphia freak folk outfit's hour-long set Saturday night was downright frightening. Their sound is that of three witches holding a séance deep in the forest: harp, cello, rattling percussion, droning organ, chimes, and flutes swelling and whooshing like wind howling in the trees, as leader Tara Burke chanted in a hypnotic falsetto on tracks off their latest release Mycorrhizae Realm and 2007 standout, the aptly-titled Alone in the Dark Wood. It's enough to make you sleep with the lights on.
BEST LOW END: TORTOISE
15 years into their career, the godfathers of Chicago's experimental scene are as schizophrenic as ever -- attempting to classify their sound is plain futile. Their Saturday night set was an avant-garde rock barrage led by intense and shape-shifting rhythms that stole the show like a wicked guitar solo would for an archetypal rock band. Turning on a dime, they touched on angular math rock, cool jazz, psychedelic techno, and freak funk. And that's not just in one song, but in 60 seconds time. On one highlight from their new album, Beacons of Ancestorship, two bass guitars and two drum sets rattled the venue. "It was shaking my teeth," said a concertgoer.
BEST REASON TO VISIT THE RECORD STORE: BARDO POND
Imagine the offspring of Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine high on mushrooms and rocking out on the surface of Saturn. That's what this Philadelphia space rock six-piece's Saturday night set sounded like: big, heavy electric guitar riffs; washes of white noise; brain-rattling rhythms and feedback. And nearly 20 years into their career, the best may still be to come: the set's highlight was a hyper-melodic slow jam with gorgeous and distorted guitar solos and singer Isobel Sollenberger cooing, "I'm not begging. I'm not going to get down on my knees," then blaring on her flute.
MOST AVANT-GARDE: THE BOOKS
It's tough competition for the Most Avant-Garde prize at a festival that celebrates the offbeat and artier sides of music. But this New York duo wins by a long shot. Their songs are often born from the bargain bin at their local Goodwill. Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong will find, for example, an instructional science video or homemade cassette tape of a baby's first words, then add acoustic and electric guitar, cello, banjo, xylophone, drum machines, and keyboards. During their performance Saturday night of "Cold Freezing Night," the trio -- they have an extra hand live -- played over home audio of children teasing each other (which they explained that they found in old Talk Boy recorders, popularized in Home Alone 2) while accompanying video of children playing rolled on a projection screen.
BEST COVER: THE GREENHORNES
If you're going to cover Mr. James Brown you can't mess it up. That's the Godfather of Soul you're talking about. And the Cincinnati quartet did his 1960 R&B hit "I'll Go Crazy" justice to close out their midday set Sunday. Playing one of their first shows since 2005, when drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence joined Jack White in the Raconteurs (Lawrence also plays in White's Dead Weather), the Greenhornes returned rock steady and swaggering, giving the tune rock grit with a hot blooded blues solo and hollering vocal from frontman Craig Fox, and a stomping backbone from Keeler and Lawrence, who reminded just why they're one of the best rhythmic duos in the business.
BEST VILE BANTER: RICKY POWELL
The appearance by the New York photographer who is known for his shots of the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, and other 1980s pop culture figures, was less a slide show and more of a drunken clown and comedy act. "Tequila! Now! Bitches!" he demanded to his camera man, who he nicknamed the "White Negress." "Pack me a bowl, bitch." Disheveled in a barely-on black suit with a Mets jersey beneath it, headphones around his neck, and a handheld radio inexplicably resting in his front coat pocket, he told stories -- some presumably true, others presumably bullshit -- about photos ranging from Jam Master Jay in Hamburg, Germany during DMC's world tour ("he tried to hook me up with one of those chicks with dicks they have there") to a pic of a young Chris Rock ("oh, this guy was on my dick") and a shot of a young Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon ("I can't fucking snap my fingers to their music"). Two hours later he's still going... then officials pulled the plug: "I want to see some shaved pussy right now." Good luck with that, dude.
BEST PARTY STARTER: RAEKWON
And what better way to start that party than with the Ron Jeremy? "I'd like to bring out the man, the myth, the legend," the porn star told the Stardust Ballroom crowd, introducing the Wu-Tang Clan rapper's Sunday night set. From then forward it was all instructions to "put your hands in the air" and "smoke that weed," and Kutsher's happily obliged. Raekwon dropped the Wu hits ("Killa Bees," Cream," and "Ain't Nothin' Ta Fuck Wit"), plus the hard-hitting coke raps off his new album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, and thus ATP's farewell party was underway. See ya next year, Kutsher's.