"The location is pretty great — look at that view," said Brian Weitz, a.k.a. Geologist from Animal Collective, gazing out across the expanse of Liberty State Park at the skyline of Lower Manhattan. Indeed, the first thing you notice on stepping off the ferry and turning to look behind you is a cityscape that is hard to match anywhere in the world. It was day two of All Points West, the so-called "boutique" festival (meaning it accommodates 30,000 instead of 70,000) that at long last brought a weekend-long major music event to the Northeast. Saturday was the only sellout of the three-day weekend, and for good reason: Apart from the godlike Radiohead on top of the bill, there was a pretty exceptional supporting cast that included, on three stages, the Roots, Kings of Leon, Metric, the Black Angels, the Virgins, Chromeo, K'Naan and Sia.
But I began my day by speaking with one of my favorites, the Collective. A few hours before they brought their clanging, charging, joyful noise to the masses, we talked on the VIP bleachers overlooking the grounds. How great is the idea of Kings or Radiohead fans discovering Animal Collective? "That's the main reason, I think, you do festivals," said Weitz. The guys are not doing a lot of fests this summer — they're concentrating on mixing and finishing their ninth album, due out in January — but they were pleased to be at All Points West, in part because they were playing the main stage. While there is no doubt AC's sound is big enough to fill a large setting, Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear, is not a big fan of outdoor fests. Apparently, he and the sun "don't agree."
The brothers Followill — the Kings of Leon — are one of America's great, real rock-and-roll bands. But they are still underappreciated in this country, at least compared to their rabid European following. They've got a brand-new album, Only by the Night, ready for release in September, and a tour to go along with it, but this was their only U.S. festival date of the summer. When I caught up with them in the artists' compound, they were duly pumped to be back playing in their homeland, at New York's first big rock festival in a long time. They liked the fact that All Points West was a more manageable size than, say Coachella. They kind of liked its slightly "disorganized" feel, and regarding the fest's very restrictive beer policy drummer Nathan Followill, Corona in hand, declared, "They have no alcohol here, and since I stopped drinking, I like that." Um, you stopped drinking? Yeah, he said, "right after this beer."
Environmental issues were a big topic of our conversations with bands. All Points West highly touts its green initiatives, like promoting public transportation and recycling and reducing waste. Most artists seem to be all for it — in theory, if not necessarily in practice. The Kings told me they're not at a level at which they can really afford Radiohead-like commissions of carbon footprint studies or conversion to biodiesel tour buses — although they joked, "We want to have a bus that runs on alcohol and urine. It's the gift that keeps on giving."
Hey, we all make sacrifices. Like Donald Cumming, singer with New York pop-rockers the Virgins, who said he "just stopped showering, to save water." And then there was the time that he lived without electricity because he didn't pay his bill. "But I like to think I was doing my part for the planet."
The Virgins won some new fans during their APW performance.. I had more than one person ask me, "Who are these guys? They're cool!" Among those who didn't need to be converted was Jessica Szohr, Vanessa on "Gossip Girl," who told us backstage that she was there mainly to see the Virgins, "and, of course, Radiohead." Also spotted backstage was Gregg "Girl Talk" Gillis, who had performed at APW on Friday but came back on Saturday just to enjoy himself. He told me that between APW and his mobbed, completely bananas set at last weekend's Lollapalooza, it was a "pretty great" time for him.
Likewise, it's a great time for Canadian electro-pop-funk duo Chromeo, whose Dave 1 said he's gotten more into recycling recently. "It's the least I could do, since I recycle enough music already," he cracked. As for Chromeo's P-Thugg, he said he was psyched to be playing APW, just because he was told that Daryl Hall and John Oates played the same park many years ago. They're huge fans of the '80s pop-soul duo, and since an A-Ha homage worked so well for them with their "Momma's Boy" video, they said maybe next they'll try their hand at a Hall and Oates-inspired clip.
Finally, if Chromeo provided laughs, the ever-fearless Roots provided the day's conscience. ?uestlove wasted no time laying into the Bush administration when we spoke. "Any environmental effort is a good thing, considering the example being set by the people in charge," he said. Defending Obama's alleged flip-flop on offshore drilling, the drummer offered, "He only said he would be willing to consider whether there were more responsible ways of doing it. I want a leader who is willing to look at the facts and weigh both sides of something." Which is not to say ?uestlove doesn't lighten up. He joked about the "dry" policy of All Points West, causing his friends to make a run on the vodka supply in his trailer. He was less than thrilled about playing in the "death slot" — playing the second stage right before the day's much-revered headliners — and compared their situation to a bathroom predicament.
Quite a day at Liberty State Park on Saturday, and if it was any indication of how the rest of the weekend went, the inaugural All Points West was a success. Unless of course, you wanted to have a beer while watching a band.