Asbury Park has been in a state of cultural and economic revival over the past ten years, so it was only fitting that All Tomorrow’s Parties brought their burgeoning I’ll Be Your Mirror music festival to the historic seaside town. FRIDAY. We arrived in Asbury in time to check-in, collect our Friday Jeff Mangum tickets and catch Cults at Asbury Lanes. The sound was absolutely meticulous, and the Manhattan-based duo (plus live members) plowed through their indie-pop catalog before a near-capacity crowd. Our next stop was to the Paramount Theater for visually-stunning The Album Leaf, the solo project of San Diego-based multi-instrumentalist Jimmy LaValle. LaValle and his live band took advantage of the Paramount’s top-notch acoustics, delivering an intensely atmospheric set that featured a superbly-lit backdrop.
We next strolled through the Grand Arcade to the adjacent Convention Hall, grabbed spirits, and waited for the Steve Albini-led Shellac to begin. Without any sort of notice, Albini and company ripped into their set with amps turned to “bleed.” I had to take my aging ear drums to the rear section of seats. Convention Hall does not have the best reputation for sound quality, but the sound techs were on their game all weekend. Shellac’s performance was one of the big hits at the festival. We ran into many who praised the performance, and the same question was repeated all weekend: “Did you see Shellac’s set on Friday?” The band later performed a surprise set at the much smaller Asbury Lanes.
Our next stop was the show we had anticipated since tickets went on sale and the lineup was announced. Having been previously teased by his five-song set at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC last year, the reclusive Jeff Mangum promised a 60-minute set at the Paramount Theater. As the crowd waited anxiously, the staff announced that Jeff had personally requested that all photo, video, and audio recordings be prohibited. We turned off our cell phones, and Jeff walked on stage to thunderous applause and howls from the crowd.
He sat down in a chair at center stage surrounded by four acoustic guitars on stands and went into my all-time favorite song, “Oh Comely,” the epic eight-minute closer to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Jeff was very reserved on Friday night but played favorites from NMH’s catalog, including “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One,” and “Holland, 1945.” The crowd showed genuine appreciation with loud applause after each song. Jeff returned the love with several “thank-yous” and grateful gestures. Mangum ended his set, and the crowd cheered enthusiastically for an encore. Jeff returned to the stage and continued with “Naomi” and “Engine.” We left with weak knees and heavy hearts. The rest of the night was spent at The Annex on Cookman Avenue relishing our experiences of the day.
SATURDAY. Saturday proved to be the strongest of the three days collectively. We started with Geoff Barrow’s recent side project, Beak>, at Convention Hall and stayed for excellent sets by Foot Village, The Horrors and Battles. LA-based Foot Village may have brought the most energy to Asbury, but the four-drummer set-up grew a bit tired beyond the 30-minute mark. The Horrors, a band I tried getting into after Trent Reznor’s high praise, were electrifying. Geoff Barrow produced their second and most-acclaimed album, Primary Colours, and his decision to bring them to Asbury paid off.
We’ve seen Battles twice before, and Ian Williams and company made tons of new fans based on our conversations over the weekend. Although their set was racked with technical issues, the veterans kept smiles on their faces and pleased one of the larger crowds of the weekend. We skipped Ultramagnetic MCs and Swans to grab dinner, proper drinks and prepare for the rare Portishead performance later that night. The performance by Swans seemed to get a lot of attention from social media, as audience members tweeted about the intense volume of the show.
As their 10pm set time approached, the largest crowd of the weekend flooded Convention Hall for Portishead. Save the three Jeff Mangum sets (I’m biased), no performance approached the sheer magnitude, emotion, or sound of Portishead’s Saturday night show (we gave our Sunday wristbands to family members). The setlist featured classics like “Sour Times” and “Glorybox” but seemed to focus on more recent tracks from Third. “Machine Gun” is a personal favorite (sorry, not regretting missing the Chuck D mash-up on Saturday) and was the high point. The obnoxiously harsh, brutal, and repetitive bass-heavy beat contrasted with the delicate voice of Beth Gibbons is such an aural mindfuck. The band experienced a minor technical issue while starting “Chase the Tear” but quickly recovered. Another personal favorite, “Threads,” served as the set closer, but the crowd quickly pleaded for an encore with thunderous applause. Portishead acknowledged and played “Roads” and “We Carry On” for their last two songs of the night. We all left knowing we had experienced something special.
SUNDAY. We planned a lighter day on Sunday with brief appearances at DD/MM/YYYY and Deerhoof shows after Sunday pitchers at Wonder Bar. Again, the focus was on the Jeff Mangum show, which was rescheduled for 3:30. Jeff put on another spirited performance and was a bit more vocal during his Sunday set. One audience member asked if he enjoyed performing, and Jeff responded, “Yes, very much so.” Another audience member asked about Scott Spillane’s horns, and Jeff teased crowds by hinting that the horns would eventually become part of his performance. We left again in a state of euphoria but could not possibly be prepared for what would come on Monday night’s show. We’ll post that show review separately. At the end of the day, ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror festival in Asbury Park removed everything we despise about large, bloated festivals (I tend to avoid them like the plague) and gave us one of the greatest musical weekends of our lives. Kudos to Barry Hogan and All Tomorrow’s Parties for bringing this perfect event to our backyard. If the festival returns in 2012, we’ll be first in line!
Our set list:
Cults @ Asbury Lanes
The Album Leaf @ Paramount Theater
Shellac @ Convention Hall
Jeff Mangum @ Paramount Theater
Beak> @ Convention Hall
Foot Village @ Convention Hall
Silver-Qluster @ Paramount Theater
The Horrors @ Convention Hall
Battles @ Convention Hall
Portishead @ Convention Hall
DD/MM/YYYY @ Convention Hall
Deefhoof @ Convention Hall
Jeff Mangum @ Paramount Theater
Jeff Mangum @ Paramount Theater