I went to ATP

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ATP Festival, Frank Ocean

Day 1: Films vs. Comedians vs. Performances vs. $1 Pizza Slices Across the Street

For many, this year’s ATP festival was the first attended for pretty apparent reasons. Largely due to its location change: far removed from what I can only anticipate as the culturally lush and historically American Asbury Park, this year’s fest was held at Pier 36 in lower Manhattan. With the exception of the sporadic concerts held near the beautiful isle’s edge, there isn’t a lot going on here—at the end of the F train there are only homes.

In addition to two large stages—this year’s ATP had an additional surprise: film screenings on a boat, The Queen of Hearts. Odd to think early sets have to compete with the work of Wes Anderson, but a treat nonetheless.

The first day of ATP began on time, but with the introduction of a major fest to NYC boundaries for the first time, came criticism. As an ATP novice, it wasn’t hard to empathize. The ability to leave the grounds for a dollar slice made the setting feel removed, more or less like a festival because of its easy accessibility.

This year, as true to ATP’s latest structure, comedians were featured: a line up of Hannibal Buress (of 30 Rock fame,) Kurt Braunohler (IFC) and Janeane Garofalo, who closed the comedy set and was easily the best received.

In obvious opposition the music portion of the fest was kicked off by Providence noise duo Lightning Bolt who but literally and figuratively rebelled against classic show structure by setting up in the middle of the floor. Perhaps due to the high quality of the sound system present, the show was in many ways the most crystalline LB performance I’ve ever heard—interesting distinction when noting that the band’s m.o. has nothing to do with clarity.

Formerly of Battles, Tyondai Braxton took the stage with Philip Glass with monolithic persuasion, a cornucopia of sounds resulting in what could be dubbed a two-man orchestra. It is here where complicated music finds universality.

And closing night one was 2012 darling Frank Ocean, who’s cool continues despite the massively successful record Channel Orange, was arresting its sentimentality. Perhaps hard to follow a character like Phillip Glass, but with their diversity, here, it worked.

Day 2: Cleaning up JEFF for a future alongside professionals

Emeralds opened Day Two in a fashion that only Emeralds could—swirling and atmospheric—a lost of grounding that feels freeing. JEFF the Brotherhood took the stage later in the evening—hard to believe that this band is largely responsible for the latest and greatest wave of Nashville garage rock indie obsession, seeing the duo beneath an expensive lighting system and a Warner Bros contract. They were in no way disappointing, but very much akin to something larger. The days of Tennessee feel distant.

The Afghan Whigs and the Roots closed out the evening—there are very few words to describe the sheer professionalism of both acts but possibly the most important moments were when the Whigs performed “My Curse” with Marcy Mays and bolted into a rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Love crimes,” a track he performed on the same stage the previous night.

Oh and the Roots covered Zeppelin. Seriously.

Day 3: Settled in thanks to bias

I could be biased here but Day three of ATP was largely the most exciting for me. Kicking off with the Psychic Paramount, whose sole mission station, is to make apathy look cool (there was limited movement, if any)

But with the massive legacy of ATP and its performance space of choice, the indoor stage didn’t do wonders for some: namely, Tall Firs and the Album Leaf, who’s pop art ambience feel disappointingly flat.

Easy enough to recover Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo in tow, Thee Oh Sees, and a series of legendary guitar acts, namely, the Make-Up.

Few would argue that The Make-Up are anything short of legendary. Ian Svenonius shoves a microphone in his mouth and introduces his band with such a level of control, perhaps mirroring their matching uniforms of harsh navy blue collars and black suits he forces on his band. This is rock’n’roll, after all.

And rock’n’roll it was.

“Well… here we are, under the FDR,” begins Rick Froberg, the delicately ferocious frontman of Hot Snakes. He continues with a head nod to festival organizer Barry Newman (‘What a thankless job he has! And he works so hard to make this incredible every year…”) before bounding into what was easily one of the most physically charged sets of ATP. Hot Snakes are made of pristine transitions that leave no room for commentary. They create controls live from a place of percussion, the sort of noisy outdoor setting that places memories into a file that makes them more memorable, or, at the very least, interesting.

Unlike the rest of the acts of the festival, Hot Snakes do one thing and one thing remarkably well, but find diversity in a remarkable way: each song leads off with a guitar riff with so much power and a vocalist with the same velocity nothing seems fabricated. True with most 90s acts (or 90s inspired,) even the most sensible and sensitive songs drip with a certain testosterone that’s hard to ignore. No song breaks meant no break in attention, which here feels to be the most powerful move on anyone’s behalf. Until the very end, we are all on our feet…

A tough act to follow, to say the very least. That is until Godspeed You! Black Emperor took the stage inside the vacuous warehouse space. It’s almost unfair that Demdike Stare had to follow their performance because Godspeed is and possibly always will be one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen. A few shades short of a religious experience, the band performs with such professionalism it’s almost medical. They have dissected the live show experience to a point where only the soul is left, lifted without feeling out of body. They point you into the direction of their haunting black and white visuals behind their black attire and force you to quake. I am not exaggerating when I say tears resulted.