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All Tomorrow’s Parties: Five Decades of Music in LA

By: Steve LowenthalIn LA’s edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties, sitcomcartoon king Matt Groening illustrated his diverse musical tastesas the festival’s official curator. The event, which unfoldedon two stages in Long Beach, CA, showcased acts from the past fivedecades, including ’60s avant-garde legends Magic Band andTerry Riley, ’70’s post-punk heroes James Chance andthe Contortions, 90’s indie-rockers Built to Spill and ModestMouse, and current prog-rockers Mars Volta.

Saturday started slow as Brooklyn hipster heroes !!! had the unenviable task of trying to invigorate a completely sober audience. Though the band was in top form, there was little in terms of crowd reaction save some awkward shuffling. The first great performance was Black Heart Procession, whose Poe-esque tales of lost love and gypsy death tangos translated remarkably well on the large festival stage. Indie idols the Shins played a bland, perfunctory set that was relentlessly interrupted by the inane ramblings of their bass player (“Our moms are here, you might say they are MILFs: Mothers I’d Like to Fuck. Our moms are hot!”) Hits from 2001’s Oh Inverted World like “I Know Your Onion” went over well with the crowd, but the Shins failed to distinguish themselves from every other Kinks-inspired pop band.

While the main stage was set on a field opposite a scenic view of LA, the second stage was in the basement of the Queen Mary ship. Within the legendary haunted vessel, drone ensemble Jackie O Motherfucker created a dense wall of sound that slowly built up steam over the course of their 45-minute set, incorporating slide guitars, keyboards, bells and shells, even scratching records to add to the spaced-out fervor. The set ended in a Mogwai-like crescendo that left the audience with their jaws firmly planted on the floor. God-like deity Terry Riley followed next, making an extremely rare public appearance. Riley is best known for his groundbreaking minimal electronic compositions which he pioneered in the 1960’s. He played an oddly cold-sounding digital keyboard that seemed out-of-place with the mood of his classic recordings. However, the crowd-which included the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and John Frusciante-still swayed along throughout the performance.

Back in the main area, the reunited Mission of Burma took the stage to thunderous applause and the band ripped into some of the greatest songs of the post-punk era. Clint Connelly belted out “I’m not judging you, I’m judging me” in the timeless “Academy Fight Song.” Roger Miller, despite his chronic tinnitus, toyed with his furiously loud guitar squall. The band punctuated their set with a plethora of new material-a first for the band since they broke up in 1983. Miller bantered with the crowd, joking, “Can you guys do me a favor and impeach the President? Don’t do it for yourselves, do it for me.”

Iggy Pop and the Stooges could very well be the quintessential American rock’n’roll band. The band received by far the largest applause of the whole festival as they launched into “Loose” from 1970’s groundbreaking Fun House. Ron Ashton played his wah-accentuated leads with the power and craft of a true original, while Mike Watt and Scott Ashton held down the rhythms with precision and grace. “This is an animal song!” shouted Iggy as the band launched into “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Upon hearing the thunderous three-chord riff, the crowd went wild as the Detroit rockers capped their set. In a weekend that would rival the Simpsons’ Hullabalooza, Groening proved that he can book outstanding talent both on and off the television screen.