Photo by James Bunoan All Tomorrow's Parties
Queen Mary, Long Beach
Sat.-Sun., Nov. 8-9
Well this was a different festival: small, compact and uncrowded, absent of not only stupid teen punk acts, but joyously lacking a Warped Tour-sized preponderance of corporate advertising as well. The gloomy cloud cover also meant we didn't have to goop on the sun block. The Queen Mary locale, with a large outdoor stage overlooking the harbor and the smaller second stage ensconced deep inside the bowels of the old ship itself, made interesting scenery.
And while we could gripe about such things as the lack of food choices, the annoying security policy that required everyone to be patted down each time they entered either staging area (meaning the more restless types were searched upwards of 10 times per day—20 if they went both days—and often by the same security guy) and the obnoxious appearance yet again of the trying-to-be-cool-by-association KROQ van, shilling for a station that has absolute zero of the 29 All Tomorrow's Parties (ATP) bands in regular rotation . . . well, we could, but we won't—though we guess we just did.
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We actually loved tons about the ATP—the whole thing was like a saner Coachella or what Lollapalooza should've been all along. Here was a congregation of mostly small-but-rising indie bands, many with beefy cult followings, and each band's groupies were enough to bring out some 5,000 people, practically all of whom it seemed were either record-store employees or had their own college radio show—yep, Nerd City!
Chief among them was Matt Groening, the Simpsons guy and ATP's chosen curator. Since Groening hand-picked all the bands, this was like being at the mercy of his record collection. And, like anyone who's not us, Groening's tastes run from the extremely pleasurable to the horrifically unlistenable. So on Saturday, we had the great swampy blues shuffle of longtime LA scenester Moris Tepper, then the dull noise of the Black Heart Procession. The intriguing rock of !!! (Chk Chk Chk)—even if we only heard them way across the parking lot—then the Danielson Famile, four shticky nurse-outfit-clad girls trying too hard to be Polyphonic Spree. But we also liked the dreamy Shins, who came off like a happier Grandaddy when they weren't being the Kinks, and we would've loved Daniel Johnston had he not missed his plane and had his set bumped till later than we could stick around for. (We passed on the Minutemen duet and the Magic Band, fearing that neither could be nearly as entertaining without D. Boon and Don Van Vliet; we were saving our ears for the Elliott Smith tribute, anyway.)
Sunday didn't begin well, what with the predictable cookie-cutter estrogen punk of Olympia's Bangs. We shifted to the boat for Liarbird, an ultraquiet combo who played fiddles, acoustic guitars, piano and standup bass—stark, beautiful lullaby music perfect for the drizzly weather outside and so calming that people were spread out across the carpet, snoozing (much to the chagrin, we're sure, of the two furrowed-browed security guys at the front of the stage who looked desperate for someone to start a fight). Electrelane were Electrelame, a synth-heavy band with music as boring as their singer sounded (yet not as awful as Jackie-O Motherfucker, an ambient noise band with nine people onstage twiddling with a cluttered assorted of instrumental whatzits—they brought everything imaginable with them, only they left any actual music back home).
We went on to experience: the sad, unfunny joke that is Har Mar Superstar (imagine Pauly Shore rapping to backing tapes, if you're sick enough), as good an argument we can think of for partial-birth abortion; the experimental classical duet of Terry Riley and Stefano Scodanibbio, who were fascinating in their subtlety, so delicate they performed for a good five minutes before the chatty audience realized it enough to shut up; the generic, wanky rock of Mission of Burma; the superb Elliott Smith tribute, as sad and heartbreaking as a celebration of someone who's suddenly no longer around can get (especially at the end, when all the musicians —Lou Barlow among them—faded away with the chorus from Smith's "Happiness": "All I want now is happiness for you and me"); the terrific five minutes we caught of Cat Power before a fire alarm went off and had us running for the exit while thinking of Great White shows; and of course the fest-closing set from Iggy and the fabulous Stooges, the eternally shirtless Iggy dry-humping amplifiers, stage-diving into the crowd, wriggling about as his jeans drooped to just below his asscrack, spitting up "1969" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "No Fun" with no less than fucking Mike Watt on bass, and generally showing everybody what punk rock looked like at its holy immaculate conception.