CONCERT REVIEW: All Points West
July 31 - August 2, 2009
Liberty State Park, New Jersey
Last year’s All Points West festival made some mistakes and earned hefty criticism, but that was mostly excused by the fact that it was the inaugural event. Year two, we were promised, would be much smoother.
Nothing could’ve been further from the truth.
This weekend’s festival was a total disaster, largely due to torrential downpours on Friday and Sunday that turned the entire park grounds into a giant mud pit, but also due to incompetence and remarkably boneheaded decision-making by event officials, which included delaying the start of the music on Sunday for more than 3 hours, for no reason whatsoever.
The scarce musical highlights were outnumbered by the quantity and magnitude of the mishaps. Vampire Weekend, The National, and replacement headliner Jay-Z were among the weekend’s few acts whose performances transcended the awful conditions.
Let’s start with the events of Friday. After just a couple of hours of sunshine, the rain moved in around 4 pm, as Fleet Foxes were owning the main stage with their haunting folk balladry. Initially, concert officials were on top of things, bringing in piles of mulch and wooden boards to cover muddy trouble spots.
But the rain kept coming. The National were one of the few bands to take advantage of the situation. Frontman Matt Berninger strolled into the crowd during the band’s final number, “Mr. November,” getting drenched and endearing himself to the fans in the process. Vampire Weekend followed with a quality set, highlighted by the new “White Sky” and a majority of their self-titled release.
During the set, frontman Ezra Koenig announced that festival officials had made the decision that, due to the weather, all single-day tickets for Friday would now be accepted for Saturday and Sunday as well. Ticketmaster sent an email blast minutes later informing all Friday ticket holders of the new policy. This was ostensibly an attempt to ensure decent crowds for those two days, but it only served to irritate the thousands of people who’d already shelled out $240 for 3-day tickets, only to see others get the last two days for free. Pissing off your most loyal customers is not the way any reasonable person would do business.
The rain finally cleared up during an excellent set by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, just in time for the greatest replacement act in recent festival history, Jay-Z. He was only added to the bill two weeks ago when the Beastie Boys had to drop out due to Adam Yauch’s cancer, but Jigga commanded the stage and delivered the weekend’s finest performance.
As a tribute to the Beasties, Jay opened his show by rapping their classic “No Sleep Til Brooklyn,” followed by his own “Brooklyn We Go Hard” and his new single “Death of Autotune,” which made for a ferocious way to the start the show. Jay played all of his hits and changed up many of them for the live show. “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” gained new life, as it was performed to the music from the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” while a montage of Michael Jackson video clips lit up the video screen.
Jay’s video and light show was incredible, and his diverse live band included two drummers and a brass section. His sendoff was a crowd-pleasing encore featuring his most popular songs – “Hard Knock Life,” “Big Pimpin’,” “99 Problems,” and “Encore.”
Saturday was sunny and dry, though the crew clearly hadn’t done anything overnight to prepare the park. No new mulch or boards showed up on Saturday, so while the ground was drier, it was still very muddy in parts. To make matters worse, Saturday’s bands were mediocre at best. Headliners Tool pleased their hardcore fans, but casual and non-fans were chased away by the band’s first three songs, which took 30 minutes to complete.
A better option for these folks was found in the tent, where the Ting Tings delivered an infusion of pop music to an excitable crowd. The Ting Tings’ performance made up for the dismal showing of the previous band in the tent, Crystal Castles, who essentially performed nothing but instrumentals for the first 30 minutes since neither of the duo’s microphones seemed to be working properly.
The only other Saturday acts worth mentioning were Gogol Bordello, the crazy gypsy punks whose live show never fails to excite, and St. Vincent, the talented multi-instrumentalist who captivated with a set that featured tracks from her new album Actor.
On Sunday, things turned from bad to worse when it started raining around noon. This prompted festival officials to make the inexplicable decision to delay the start of the festival until 4 pm. Fans who showed up on time were forced to wait outside the entrance for up to four hours. What was the point of the delay? Fans were never told. It certainly wasn’t to tidy things up inside the park, because once doors finally opened, absolutely nothing had been done to the muddy grounds.
On top of that, festival organizers decided to simply cancel all the bands that were supposed to perform before 4 pm, so anyone who really wanted to see Steel Train or the Gaslight Anthem was out of luck.
Attendance was sparse, as expected, but the performances were better. Coldplay rocked the main stage on Sunday night and it was obvious they’ve grown comfortably into the role of arena rock gods. They covered the Beastie Boys and Michael Jackson, and the thunderous “Politik” was a climax near the end of their set. Across the way, psych-pop outfit MGMT showed they’ve grown musically from last summer, when they delivered abysmal performances at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Singer Andrew VanWyngarden sounded much better on “Electric Feel” and "Time to Pretend" than he had in the past, and a brand new song called "It's Working" was quirky and fun.
Elsewhere on Sunday, excellent performances were turned in from Akron/Family, Mogwai, Lykke Li, and Ghostland Observatory. Seeing Li cover Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” running around the stage singing, “Throw your muthafuckin hands in the air!” was one of the most fun moments of the weekend.
Logistically, the fest was just as bad as it was last year. The bathroom lines were still unbelievably long, the alleged water fountains were nowhere to be found, most of the food vendors were impossible to reach without trudging through mud pits, and there wasn’t even a lost and found. And it's still a bitch to get there. From Manhattan, it's a minimum of three trains to reach Liberty State Park - in many cases, four or five.
It’s hard to believe the promoters are the same folks who put on Coachella, because it felt like the event was run by amateurs. The APW message board is flooded with folks who say they’ll never buy 3-day tickets again, because of the possibility they could get the last two days for free based on this year’s absurd precedent. The organizers of All Points West should do everyone a favor and permanently pull the plug on this embarrassing event.