Toyota offered you a Prius, Twix a mist-off, Vampire Weekend bowed, Yeah Yeah Yeahs killed, and Jay-Z made it all worth it.
If you were like me, and chose to not take the twenty dollar ferry ride from Manhattan to Liberty State Park in New Jersey, then you may have been one of the many walking the nearly half-mile trek from the NJ Transit Light Rail to the grounds where on the last day in July, the first day of the second annual All Points West festival took place. Maybe you were one of the young girls with painted faces, and Gossip Girl attire; the guy wearing a Chris Mullin “Dream Team” basketball jersey (non-ironic I’m hoping), taking a hit from your bowl as we all marched along; or one of the folks who simply made the trek out in the hope of catching some sense of community, or good vibes thanks to the timeless tradition of paying a bunch of money to stand out in a field and hear a bunch of music.
That walk pointed out the fact that while this was a rock concert, a good old fashioned, all-American, honest to goodness rock concert (sprinkled with hip-hop), this was big business. You smelled it in the free bottles of mostly organic, all natural sugar drink you were handed as you passed a cavalry of Toyota Priuses, all waiting to drive you that last quarter mile of the schlep, but only if you would be so kind as to give Toyota all of your information that they promise not to sell. But of course this is 2009, art as commodity is no longer the issue, it is now commodity disguised as art that is the issue.
After standing in line behind a guy who paid off the security guard to let him bring his backpack full of “sandwiches” inside, I rushed over to the “Bullet” stage to catch Telepathe’s set. This being my first time seeing the duo (now with their dancers) in quite some time, as well on a stage so big, it was somewhat hard to get used to. While I have never claimed to be a huge fan of Telepathe, I have always found them to be at the very least, interesting. Here, with the million dollar sound system, the booming bass of their songs rang against the expanse of the field they occupied, only to be met with a response of sheer boredom by the fans who kept looking up at the sky, waiting for the rain to begin falling. At the very least, I give Telepathe credit for trying, or as they do so famously, trying to look like they aren’t.
On the main stage, dubbed the “Blue Comet”, it would be the darlings of last summer, Fleet Foxes who surprised me with what turned out to be the most appropriate, honest set of the entire day. Their ability to harmonize is a trick that only a few have been able to match, and coupled with the monstrous clap of thunder overhead, it was epic.
As I rushed back to the “Bullet” stage, the Jersey monsoon began. I dashed past the H&M tee pee, the extremely unnecessary Twix “misting tent”, and the MLB Playstation truck where a group of backward cap wearing schmucks spent the time playing a video game they probably owned at home, all to catch a set by Ra Ra Riot, who endeared themselves to me with a shocking intensity that I’d never sensed on their records, They kept the attention of the crowd as the skies began to resemble marble, and the water dropped down in buckets. I left ten minutes before the end of their set, trudging through the now muddy path, to see a band I was the most curious to see in this sort of setting, The National.
I could really care less about The National’s sound. What interested me was seeing how a band that came of age in a post-Stokes New York rock world as a moody step-brother to Interpol handled a big stage. In a perfect world, fifteen years down the line (if we’re around), I’d prefer that the American indie band that rockets to the heights of R.E.M, or even U2 not be the pompous, Springsteen-wanking claptrap of Arcade Fire. I’d rather take the Joy Division-as-a-stadium rock styling of The National.
A minor revelation, they were not. It was boring. At one point, lead singer Matt Berninger made some quixotic trip to the stoop just below the stage – that while still out of reach of the fans, was (I’m assuming here) supposed to be some sort of gesture of being with “the people”. There was that, and the fact that the denizens of the Playstation truck found their way back to the music they paid around $100 to sing along to.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in this life, it’s that if you suddenly find yourself in a sea of Boston Red Sox caps, and you aren’t at Fenway Park, it’s better to walk away.
Again, back to the smaller stage to catch the recently reunited underground hip hop duo, Organized Konfusion. At this point, the rainfall was steady, and while the DJ and sound crew fiddled with equipment, the crowd of people who looked like they were barely able to read when Organized Konfusion’s last album came out began to heckle. Their set was standard. Quips about the Grey Goose tent being open all night, and me wondering where the fuck the Grey Goose tent was; the awkward command of “bounce”; a bunch of mismatched hippies, white hip hop kids, and Long Island girls trying to play the part; and the shouts of “this is real hip hop”, which while a nice idea in theory, didn’t really match up with circumstances.
I got back to the main stage just in time to see Vampire Weekend lining up side by side to salute the audience. Say what you want about the band, but I’ve always liked them. While I do prefer their music with sunshine, the storm slowly started to ease as they introduced a new song, and played everything you would expect them to play. It was a cozy little set, and Ezra was a precious little Ivy Leaguer, thanking the crowd for braving the conditions to watch them. I then (somewhat regrettably) skipped out on The Pharcyde to save a good view of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, who I can honestly report were pretty fucking brilliant. Karen O truly is the front woman that every front man should strive to be more like, and they play with an intensity unlike any other band on a major label.
While many of the bands mentioned in prior paragraphs are touted as “indie rock” by certain publications, and various websites, it was the man of the hour who defined what this entire day was about. If the weekend music festival is indeed commodity disguised as art, Jay-Z is the example of art overtaking commodity, and turning it into a multi-million dollar business. The heights that the man has reached at this point are only matched by a handful of other artists who truly transcend the medium in which they work. To say that the man born in Brooklyn as Shawn Corey Carter was the biggest name of the weekend would be an understatement, because no matter who you can come up with, Jay-Z is the king of hip-hop, the Frank Sinatra of rap, and his mere participation alone is a story: That he could fill in so triumphantly for the Beastie Boys, (who cancelled due to MCA’s tumor diagnosis), and put on one of the rawest performances ever witnessed by all those in attendance, is simply another notch to his still thriving career. From the opening cover of the Beastie’s “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” to his tribute to the late Michael Jackson, and up until the end, Jay-Z did what I thought would be impossible at the start of the day by taking All Points West festival, which in all honesty lacks any sense of community or cohesion, and make it into a celebration of not only his sheer ability, but of the spirit of music.